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Showing posts with label Ayn Rand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ayn Rand. Show all posts

Sunday, June 27, 2021

RIP Hollis Joslin, JD '14, attorney, pilot, novelist

I'm heartbroken to report the sudden death of a dear friend, attorney, and alumnus, Hollis Gordon Joslin, JD '14, at age 56.

A husband, father, and grandfather, Hollis was a real-life "Renaissance man."  Besides lawyer, he was an auto mechanic, entrepreneur, licensed pilot, outdoorsman, poet, musician, and novelist.  In law, he practiced in bankruptcy and personal injury.  He made a series of funny ads for his practice, but also a serious one.  Owing to popular skepticism of lawyers, a viewer might misinterpret his serious ad as saccharine, but I can say from knowing Hollis, and knowing his Christian faith, that his down-home expression of compassion for would-be clients is purely genuine.

Hollis came to formal higher education only later in life, finishing his bachelor's in 2010.  In the finest tradition of a non-traditional student in law school, he was respected and adored by youthful classmates, whom he mentored generously with gentle and humble wisdom.  If formally a student in my torts classes, he was foremost a teacher to me, too.  He thought deeply about philosophy, economics, and politics, and was eager for a discussion partner to test out revelations.  I obliged to my own benefit.

One auspicious fruit of Hollis's deep thinking—I like to imagine forged at least in part by our conversations, but I probably self-aggrandize—was a clever novel that he conceived of as a contemporary revision of Randian objectivism, incorporating his own ideas.  Like me, Hollis subscribed to laissez-faire regulatory policy in principle, embodying the libertarian impulses of his native Texas.  But he also was deeply troubled by the prospect of corporatocracy.  Here is a prĂ©cis of the book, "Citizens United":

If, as the Supreme Court said in Citizens United, the political speech of a corporation is no less protected by the First Amendment than that of natural persons, then the First Amendment implies a right for corporations to speak from elected office. That is the theory Vizion Inc. proposed to justify the corporation's candidacy for president of the United States: a less than remarkable development in a dystopian world dominated by the Global Trade Partnership. But the new Republic of Texas is having none of it. Flourishing under a policy of liberty and individual empowerment, Texas is all that stands between freedom and the tyranny of a corporate new world order. 

Hollis had an exciting video trailer made for the book.

I had always intended to write something about Citizens United (the book) here at The Savory Tort, but Hollis had asked me to wait until he devised a sort of "grand premiere."  I think that ambition fell by the wayside as he dove into law practice, and, I admit, I never followed up.

Hollis is survived by his lovely and loving wife, Dr. Cheryl Wathier, a kind and patient soul the likes of which a Renaissance man needs in a partner.  I was privileged to visit Hollis and Cheryl once in Arizona, and I never imagined that would be the last time I would see him.  Now I pray for strength for Cheryl and the kids.  In memory of Hollis, the family asked for donations to St. Jude's Children's Hospital.  My thanks to Justin Kadich, '14, for apprising me of the sad news.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Could 'inverse' First Amendment save us from ourselves?

Journalism professor Stephen Bates, J.D., University of Nevada Las Vegas, has published a fascinating article in The Atlantic on "the inverted First Amendment," as envisioned by philosopher William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) in the 1940s.

Hocking on National
Educational Television
As Bates explains, Hocking posited that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment command, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," incorporates the command that, sometimes, Congress must make laws that further the freedom of speech.

Post-war America was beset with the perception that mass media were out of control, contributing, as Bates describes, to "polarization, echo chambers, and provocateurs."  That's a good reminder for our times that since the Spanish-American War and subsequent, in part consequent, invention of modern journalism, it's never quite been the idyllic institution of our imaginations.  Hocking contributed a key study to the work of the U.S. Commission on Freedom of the Press, on which he served.

The commission, otherwise known as the Hutchins Commission after chair and University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins, produced a landmark 1947 report.  Concluding that the press is a vital institution in American democracy, the Hutchins Report could have been read as justification for government regulation in furtherance of social responsibility.  The report was read to bolster the controversial development of journalism professionalization and ethics codes.

Hocking's inverse, or positive, First Amendment would have compelled the government affirmatively to protect free speech and even to promote journalism.  This model of positive speech regulation is not unknown in American media law.  In the broadcast medium, because it was not afforded full First Amendment protection, the dubiously constitutional fairness doctrine was instigated by the Hutchins Commission.  In the same vein and medium, we still have, however increasingly irrelevant it is, the equal time rule.  There is some debate over whether there is not some minimal positive requirement in the First Amendment penumbra.  For example, due process in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments may be read to require that a court respond to a complainant's filing—a petition for redress of grievance—if only to dismiss it.

A positive First Amendment could have been the basis for a constitutional right of freedom of information, or access to information, in lieu of the later enacted and oft beleaguered Freedom of Information Act of 1967.  Some states and many countries, not to mention international human rights systems, declare a constitutional or human right of access to information, which may require government transparency and even the affirmative publication of information.

Pres. Roosevelt
proposes a Second
Bill of Rights in
January 1944.

More broadly, the notion of positive civil rights, as opposed to the mostly negative commands of the U.S. Bill of Rights, animates constitutional law in many other countries, especially in association with what are sometimes called "second" and "third generation," or "red" and "green" rights, guaranteeing socioeconomic interests, such as employment, food, housing, and a safe environment, as opposed to "first generation," "blue" rights of a political nature.  ("Generations" models of human rights have been criticized fairly as inadequate, if not patronizing, to describe socio-legal development, but the model is still usefully descriptive in some contexts.)  In fact, some positive, "second generation" rights would have been enshrined in U.S. law, had President Franklin Roosevelt's "Second Bill of Rights" gained traction.  The famously expansive constitution of South Africa well models the codification of socioeconomic rights, while the experience of the courts and the people of South Africa speaks simultaneously to the challenges of making the model work, and the arguable perils of constitutionalizing aspiration.

Prof. Bates
An inverted First Amendment could empower the government to combat misinformation, or "fake news," today in ways that the First Amendment as presently understood forbids.  However, Bates recognizes, such a positive First Amendment would have a dark side to contend with.  A strong interpretation of a positive First Amendment could justify government regulation that would suppress speech in the interest of furthering other speech, just as the fairness doctrine was said to have done.  Critiquing contemporary calls to regulate the internet, Paul Matzko for the libertarian Cato Institute wrote in 2019:

In one of her early newsletters, Ayn Rand excoriated the public interest standard as an excuse covering “the right of some men (those who, by some undefined criterion, are the public) to sacrifice the interests of other men (of those who, for unspecified reasons are not the public)” [1962].

Rand’s words were meant particularly for FCC Chairman Newton Minow, who, in what may be the only famous speech by an FCC commissioner, had described television as a “vast wasteland” and called for limits on the number of game shows, Westerns, and cartoons aired....

.... The more serious danger was the routine weaponization of the public interest standard to advance private or partisan interests. For example, during the early 1940s, the Roosevelt administration pushed for a ban on newspaper ownership of radio stations, ostensibly because of the public’s interest in preventing cross-media consolidation, but also to prevent anti-New Deal newspaper owners from having a radio platform from which to criticize the President’s policies. The FCC during Richard Nixon’s administration would use a similar rule to try and pressure the Washington Post into abandoning its investigation of the Watergate scandal. 

Sometimes the government does, itself, get into the business of journalism.  Yet recent rancor between President Trump and the Voice of America over what the President seems to perceive as partisan disloyalty shows that VOA's very credibility throughout the world depends on its statutorily mandated editorial independence.

The line between government action to protect a negative First Amendment, such as an artistic-value savings provision in indecency law, and government regulation to further a positive First Amendment, such as leveling the free speech marketplace with a must-publish or must-censor rule, is much finer in practice than in theory.  As Bates observes, "Hocking was a philosopher, not a lawyer."

The article is Stephen Bates, The Man Who Wanted to Save the First Amendment by Inverting It, The Atlantic, Oct. 7, 2020.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Civil rights suit claims a right to education.
The problem might be bigger.

My UMass Dartmouth colleague in history, Professor Mark Santow, also a member of the Providence, R.I., School Board, is part of litigation filed Wednesday, November 28, against the State of Rhode Island, claiming that the government is violating civil rights by failing to provide adequate education to youth in the public school system.

The complaint in Cook v. Raimondo, in federal district court in Rhode Island, where I reside, is available online from WPRO.  The suit was ably contextualized by Alia Wong for The Atlantic and covered by The New York Times.  Wong's piece, along with its sidebars and links, recounts the troubled history of claims to education rights under the U.S. Constitution and the unique if stubborn position of the United States in the world in refusing to add children's education to our pantheon of civil rights.

Personally I worry about the overuse of human rights language to enshrine the mundane as sacred and thereby downgrade basic human needs to aspirational wish lists—witness the dilapidated state of South African townships while the courts struggle to engineer economic rights into reality.  But I also readily admit that our 1789 Constitution, in part owing to its excessively burdensome Article V amendment process, has fallen behind the times on some omissions that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem to be no-brainers—such as sexual equality, the right to privacy, the freedom of information (a.k.a. right to access to information), and quite well arguably, rights to breathable air and basic education.

The Cook complaint smacks of activist litigation, aimed as much at media and policymakers as at the courts.  It gets around to its legal claims in number 121 of its 133 paragraphs.  Nevertheless, the claims are clever and worth pondering.  In five counts, the complaint neatly alleges violation of (1) the equal protection clause (mostly "fundamental interest," though there's a strong thread of "diversity" too), (2) the due process clause, (3) the privileges-and-immunities clause, and then—here's where things get spicy—(4) the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, and (5) the republican guarantee clause.

The Fourteenth Amendment claims are built upon a compelling background that heralds the Framers' recognition of education's essentiality to democracy, followed by a depressing account of how public education in civic virtue lately gave way to a bottom-line-oriented mill of standardized test preparation, woefully inadequately equipped and devoid of vision or values.  The story is downright Orwellian, as the complaint describes the plodding production of glassy-eyed sheep to populate America, children robbed and broken of the knowledge, skill, or will to challenge the status quo.  One wonders that Ayn Rand herself would not be persuaded to the cause of public education.

Added to the conventional Fourteenth Amendment angle are those thought-provoking latter claims about jury service and republican governance.  Citation to the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, as well as the federal Jury Act, focuses on that vital and rare obligation of citizen direct participation in government to assert a denial of rights both to the jurors who are ill prepared for the job and, consequently, the litigants and criminal defendants who depend on an informed jury to vindicate their rights.  In the final count, the republican guarantee clause is cited with indirect reference to the First Amendment ("free speech and other constitutional rights"), suggesting that an ill informed electorate can neither vote nor participate in government sufficiently to maintain representative democracy.  I can't help but think of the seemingly insoluble dilemma of money in politics, evidenced by the fealty to corporate donors pledged by our paralyzed, gerrymandered, and hardly-any-longer representative Congress.

Cook brings readily to mind the Juliana climate change lawsuit (and the Dutch Urgenda decision), about which I wrote recentlyJuliana seems doomed in the U.S. Supreme Court, if ever it were to get that far, despite a curiously indulgent ruling by Judge Ann L. Aiken in federal district court in Oregon (and later), sending the case on to trial.  It's overwhelmingly probable that the Juliana plaintiffs do not expect to win.  Rather, they seek to make a point, and they're doing so well.  So in Cook, too, as in a similar case on appeal in Michigan, the litigants have opined publicly that they hope to draw the attention of lawmakers and to stimulate public discussion—even to educate student-plaintiffs through the process, something also happening in the Juliana case, in which students appears as plaintiffs, and Judge Aiken relies deliberately on the work of student externs.  Consonantly, these cases stir up amicus feeding frenzies; NGOs in Cook already are jockeying for position to get their say on the public record.  (I'm not above it.)

As something of a separation-of-powers formalist, I'm troubled by the use of the courts for policy-making activism.  The courts are not designed for policy-making, and judges are not hired to be activists.  The late Justice Scalia famously and aptly lamented the prospect of nine black-robed "moral philosophers" in Washington, D.C., with lifetime appointments, making policy decisions for a purportedly democratic nation.  When I see a complaint that is drafted for public consumption and political persuasion rather than for judicial interrogation and a search for truth, I fear the strategy undermines whatever remains of the bar's reputation for professional integrity and objective clarity.

At the same time, this rise in judicial activism is a sign and symptom of something very broken about our democracy.  People are resorting to the courts because the political branches are not responsive.  Much as the Cook plaintiffs suggest, our system of government is failing to represent its constituents.  The complaint asserts, "Most social studies classes in Rhode Island do not discuss social problems and controversial ideas ...."  The complaint concludes: "A positive civic ethos requires all students to feel that they have a stake in the society and in its political system, and that institutions can work for them and their families in the future, even if these institutions have not been fully responsive to their needs in the past."

Whether for the right to breathable air or a basic education, a frustrated youth is turning to the courts not as a first resort, but as a last resort.  If in the end, none of our three branches of government delivers on the American promise—not the dream per se, but the opportunity to attain it—where will complainants go next?

The Brookings Institution opined in 2011:

Education has played an important role in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa with many commentators noting that educated youth have been integral to what has come to be called the “Arab spring.” However, what they fail to mention is that spending many years in school has failed to give many Arab youth a good education. These revolutions were not propagated by well-educated youth; these uprisings were spurred by the needs and demands of poorly educated youth, whose knowledge and skills do not meet the demands of a rapidly-advancing world.... [Despite near universal access to education,] there has been very low return on investment in terms of meaningful educational outcomes. Education systems throughout the region are hindered by low quality, irrelevancy and inequity.

Next stop: American Spring?