Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Poli sci papers embrace power plant implosion, populist revolution, and constitutional convention

Here are a few of my favorite gleanings from yesterday's day one of the 2019 annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association in Portland, Maine, April 26-27, kicking off with the Brayton Point tower implosion this morning, Saturday, April 27.




The Brayton Point cooling towers are no more
(CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimaster97commons).
Imploded towers invite study of environmental law, policy, and urban aesthetics

Professor Aaron Ley, on the faculty at URI Political Science and also a town council member in Bristol, R.I., is working at the point where environmental law and policy meet public aesthetics.

After presenting on Friday, April 25, Ley left NEPSA to get back to the Massachusetts South Coast and witness the implosion Saturday morning, April 26, of the cooling towers at Brayton Point.  The towers have become a defining feature of the skyline in the region, so their absence in the vicinity of Fall River, Mass., and eastern Rhode Island will be an adjustment for locals (me included).  Though oft invoked as a symbol of adverse environmental impact, Ley explained at NEPSA, the towers functioned actually to mitigate the impact of the coal-fired power plant they grace, because they cooled water before it was released back into the Taunton River, sparing fish and their eggs from destructive warm water.

Ley is working interdisciplinarily with colleagues Bryce DuBois, lecturer at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Katherine LaCasse, in psychology at Rhode Island College, to complete survey and conventional research into public perceptions of urban spaces relative to environmental law and policy.  At NEPSA, Ley detailed the fascinating history of policing pollution in American waterways, from riverkeepers back to bounties on the 19th-century Hudson.


Are we living in Google and Facebook 'company towns'?
They have courts now


Professor Kevin McGravey at Merrimack College is collecting and analyzing social media cases to see whether the First Amendment public forum doctrine still has some vitality in deciding these disputes, such as the President's ability to mute or block Twitter users.  See Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump, 302 F. Supp. 3d 541 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (holding President's blocking of users on Twitter violated First Amendment requirement of viewpoint neutrality; now on appeal to Second Circuit). Cf. Packingham v. North Carolina (U.S. 2017) (holding social media restriction on registered sex offender violated First Amendment.)

The Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation, pictured here after WWI, owned the
Chickasaw, Ala., company town at issue in Marsh v. Alabama after WWII.
From Destroyer History Foundation.
McGravey thinks that the old company town case of Marsh v. Alabama (U.S. 1945) is relevant.  He concedes that the Marsh analogy to a social media platform was rejected by the court in Prager University v. Google, LLC, No. 17-CV-06064-LHK, 2018 WL 1471939 (N.D. Cal. 2018) (now on appeal to Ninth Circuit), in which the court refused to intervene in YouTube classifications and restrictions of PragerU's conservative political videos.  (See Eric Goldman's skepticism of the Marsh theory.)  But McGravey disagrees on a number of grounds, including the exclusivity of certain social media platforms as access avenues to public officials.

A company-town analogy doesn't get all the way to where we should be, McGravey admits, but the public forum doctrine might ought be reformed and extended to achieve worthwhile policy goals such as viewpoint neutrality on Facebook.  Still sounds like a stretch?  Well, consider, Mark F. Walsh in the latest ABA Journal reports on Facebook's plans to create a quasi-judicial appellate body to hear free speech claims.  Google already is adjudicating—internally and not transparently—right-to-erasure claims at the bidding of European data protection authorities.  Is that the town hall bell of the company town I hear?


Federalism panel spans Rehnquist Court, religious freedom,
and the 1825 Constitutional Convention that never was


A smattering of views from a panel on federalism and the administrative state: 
  • Christopher McMillion, Oklahoma Baptist University, is looking at the deep underpinnings of the "Rehnquist revolution" in federalism.  It's not about conservative politics, nor about federal power per se, he explained.  Rather, it's about protecting individual liberties—and actually the same kind of force can be witnessed in 10th-Amendment state jealousy of local officials' prerogatives relative to federal immigration enforcement.  
  • Beau Breslin, Skidmore College, is working on a book on the constitutional conventions the United States has never had.  Surely Article V of the U.S. Constitution contemplated conventions with some periodicity.  What if we had had one about every human lifespan?  An 1825 Constitution probably would have opened with a lengthy declaration of rights and would have created an explicit voting franchise for white landholders, Breslin theorizes.  Oh, and Madison would have been so peeved that he sat out the Second Convention.  What would have been the implications in U.S. history for the Constitution thusly revised?  What would the Constitution look like after a 2022 convention?  Breslin examines these questions in part with reference to the real evidence of evolving state constitutions.
  • Maine Gov. Baxter with Irish Setter Garry Owen
    (public domain)
    James Stoner, Louisiana State University, exposed the thinly veiled nuance of religious freedom questions in the United States, from Employment Division v. Smith (U.S. 1990) to present.  The courts have looked the other way from legislative prayer, for example, and for that matter from the intertwining of government and religious practice since the days of George Washington himself.  He concludes that the judiciary is ultimately not the best forum for resolution of debate over religion in American public life.
  • Sean Beienburg, Arizona State University, is researching the curious political journey of 1921-1925 Maine Governor Percival Baxter (namesake of Maine's beautiful Baxter State Park).  Republican Baxter advocated against the Ku Klux Klan at a time the Klan was making inroads with Maine Republicans.  He also staked out the political territory that would become Republicans' 20th-century economic libertarianism.  I note that Baxter was also an animal rights advocate before there was such a thing, and Maine's beautiful Baxter State Park is named for him.


Populist revolution and American electoral politics
are both about more than red versus blue


I moderated and discussed on an afternoon panel with three fantastic papers.
  • Erik Cleven, Christopher Galdieri, and Ashley Motta of Saint Anselm College are studying "down-ballot roll-off," when voters stop voting as they move down the ballot from "US Senator" to "Town Dogcatcher," or, really, "Register of Probate."  They set out to see whether there is merit in criticisms that voting college students dilute local electoral power because college students aren't interested in local races.  That turns out not to be true—not entirely true, anyway.  Looking at New Hampshire data, they found that new voters in a jurisdiction are responsible for down-ballot roll-off, and college students might just be part of that.  Other correlations arise with low education and lack of partisan tags to indicate party affiliation.  I suspect that an underlying cause is low information, a problem that dovetails with my own interest in transparency and affirmative disclosures of information to correct democratic deficit in developing political systems.
  • The "heartland-coastland" divide is more complicated than it seems and not
    merely an expression of partisan sympathies, R.I. political scientists June
    Speakman and Matthew Ulricksen show in new research.
  • Two papers were strikingly complementary.  Isaac Effner, Brown University, took the normative lens off of "populism" to recount how a populist labor movement effected the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike and contributed dramatically to the evolution of organized American labor and 20th-century norms for the protection of American (and for that matter global) workers.  Don't be too quick to judge populism in scoffing at frustrated voters who support Trump, is the lesson, because populism per se can be a force for the vital expression of human rights, notwithstanding a temporary flirtation with demagoguery along the way.  Effner notes that similar populist motivations animated support in the last election for both Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders.
  • And there comes to bear the remarkable work of Matthew Ulricksen, Community College of Rhode Island, and June Speakman, Roger Williams University and a representative in the Rhode Island legislature and former member of my Town Council in Barrington, R.I.  Ulricksen and Speakman showed some stunning maps of voting patterns in Rhode Island in the last election—I'd like to share, but they're not copyright-clear for my reuse; see the New York Times results.  Suffice to say the electoral maps reveal a deep divide in what looks like what Speakman and Ulricksen call a "heartland-coastland" divide, the former, Rhode Island's interior, Trump red, and the latter, in the salt air, Clinton blue.  Problem is, a number of data sets about who these voters are—wealth, ethnic identity, even partisan affiliation—do not actually bear out the divide.  What does?  Spoiler alert: population density.  What's more, because there is correlation with population density and not partisan loyalty, the heartland proves as receptive to Bernie Sanders's message as to Donald Trump's.  Speakman and Ulricksen identify one factor that explains voter behavior across the board: being "mad as hell."  The research leaves off there, but implications and questions abound for what will make an effective political movement in the future to capture increasingly alienated voters—and what conditions might trigger a populist revolution analogous to the 1934 general strike, or something bigger.

The annual meeting of the New England Political Science Association wraps up today, when I'll be presenting some findings on access to information and social and economic development in eastern Europe.

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