Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label presidency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label presidency. Show all posts

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Defamation case against Trump fits woeful pattern, while DOJ defense is defensible, if disconcerting

Notice of Removal in Carroll v. Trump
The recent news (e.g., N.Y. Times) that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will defend the President in the defamation suit arising from sexual-assault allegations by E. Jean Carroll has caught the interest of both my Torts I class and my Trump Litigation Seminar (TLS).  The DOJ's announcement manifests on the docket in removal of the case from the New York Supreme Court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Links and key court documents are now posted atop The Savory Tort's TLS blogsite.

The strategy of using a sexual-assault denial and accompanying charge that the accuser is a "liar" as the basis for a defamation suit against the alleged perpetrator, i.e., Carroll v. Trump, is now, unfortunately, a familiar feature of our high-profile tort-litigation landscape.  It might have been Bill Cosby who committed the pattern to popular culture's long-term memory.  The Cosby case came complete with counterclaims, making the defamation dispute the dueling ground for truth and falsity.

It's unfortunate, because the tort of defamation was not designed to be a truth-finding mechanism.  Historically, truth wasn't even a defense; that's a modern artifact inferred by the freedom of speech.  The flaws in our defamation law are legion and one of my favorite subjects; one that matters here is that defamation is rarely capable of delivering exoneration, much less satisfying any of a plaintiff's legitimate aims.

Among reforms of defamation that have been proposed over the years are mechanisms to ferret out and publicize truth, rather than focusing on the plaintiff's alleged injury or the defendant's asserted rights.  Though not always well crafted, laws that incentivize correction or settlement over protracted litigation at least aim in the right direction.  Regrettably, reform of defamation has been hamstrung for decades by the Supreme Court's well intentioned but ultimately improvident constitutionalization of defamation in the 1960s and 1970s.  I hope one day, we'll wade our way out of that morass.

Anyway, on the question of the DOJ's intervention, there's a curious conundrum about Carroll v. Trump.  The DOJ position is that Trump was acting in the scope of the office of the President when he denied Carroll's sexual-assault allegations.  We would, after all, hope that any President would deny such allegations, and we would have to admit that the truth of the allegations bears on his fitness for office.  Thus, the DOJ reasons, it must represent the position of the President.  The bitter pill for Trump opponents to swallow is that that's probably right.

The kicker comes in that Trump's denial is only presidential if he's telling the truth.  If he did what Carroll alleged, then the operative facts of the case occurred before Trump was elected.  His later denial then feels more like the mere pleading of a private defendant in an ordinary civil suit.  You know, one in which we might debate what the meaning of is is.  So the rationale for defense by DOJ is predicated on the very question at issue in the litigation.  For DOJ to take the President's denial as true, for now, is a fair, if uncomfortable, choice.  If one day the court rules in Carroll's favor, though, maybe we can send the legal bill to the former President.

Thanks to TLS student Ricardo Serrano and Torts student Paul McAlarney for helping me think about this one.

[UPDATE Oct. 27, 2020.]  The court denied the government's motion to substitute party on Oct. 27, 2020.  See Special Coverage at the Trump Litigation Seminar.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

US President haunts African 'ghost capital'

Main traffic circle in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, characteristic landmarks found in town centers, parks, and traffic circles are large, dilapidated blocks of painted concrete, often graffitied. These blocks are actually bases that have held statues of prominent leaders during the country's tumultuous history since independence was declared in 1973.

For Guinea-Bissau, it's been a journey as rocky and potholed as the nation's roads. Independence from Portugal was hard fought, with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China pouring in arms for the revolutionaries to the end of establishing a communist foothold in West Africa. Anti-revolutionary soldiers were mass murdered after their defeat. Subsequent instability and corruption led to civil war in the 1990s, and election turmoil and political violence marked the 20-aughts. The presidential election in 2019 was contested, and just this week, since inauguration of the ultimately recognized victor, there are reports of military intimidation of the courts. No wonder statues don't last long in poor Guinea-Bissau.

That makes one statue still standing all the more an oddity. In an overgrown park in the heart of the main town on Bolama Island, in the Bijagos Archipelago, at the center of low walls of crumbling concrete that once demarcated colorful stars, the likeness of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant rises defiantly.

The Grant statue is a curious throwback to Portuguese colonial rule. Actually, all of Bolama Town is a throwback to colonialism. Once grand Portuguese constructions crumble in slow decay in what's sometimes called Guinea-Bissau's "ghost capital." European powers such as Portugal favored locating their colonial bases of operations on offshore islands, where winds kept malarial mosquitoes at bay. Today the ghost capital is inhabited, despite its state; thousands of people live in subsistence, and sometimes dependent, conditions amid the ruins.

In the 1860s, President Grant became the mutually agreed upon arbitrator between Portugal and Great Britain over territory in the islands. After Grant awarded Bolama to Portugal in 1870, the Portuguese erected the statue to honor him. Notwithstanding the resolution of that dispute, and despite British efforts to aid the Confederacy and topple the Union in the Civil War, Grant was ultimately credited with strengthening U.S. relations with Britain during his two terms as President in the Reconstruction era. Grant proved so popular abroad that he and his wife embarked on a world tour after his presidency, and, with the imprimatur of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant inaugurated the custom of former presidents conducting informal diplomacy abroad.

The tale of Grant's Bolama ghost gained an unusual epilog in 2007, when the statue went missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported the story for NPR. Apparently stolen to sell as scrap metal, Grant was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him--not how things usually work out for statues in Guinea-Bissau.

Ruins of Portuguese palace in Bolama Town

Abandoned cinema in Bolama Town


A storefront in Bolama Town painted for politics

Kids swinging in a refurbished Bolama Town park

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Remembering 'very unique,' 'extremely historic,' pre- post-literate politics

Comedic media have recently lampooned with delight the President's sing-song description of litigation over the "national emergency" at the border.  (My favorites are Trevor Noah's "Guitar Hero" take and Stephen Colbert's "Torah reading."  Jake Tapper told Colbert aptly that Trump's description might actually prove correct.)  Then Bernie Sanders entered the race and admonished media that if his ideas were once fringe, they are no more.  Access to higher education always has been a key part of his platform.

This confluence of events made me nostalgic for the quixotic character of the savant President Bartlett of The West Wing (1999-2006).  To be clear, this is not a political statement: I'm not condemning Trump, nor endorsing Bernie, nor, least of all, saying anything about the politics of Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, and Allison Janney.  I just wanted for a moment to set politics aside and revel in the appeal of a President who appreciates good writing and the power of language.  So I looked up this video introduction to West Wing season 2, episode 9, "Galileo V," aired November 29, 2000—ten months before September 11.  O simpler times and innocent idealism.


Hat tip to Kayla Venckauskas, UMass Law '19—editor-in-chief of the UMass Law Review, 2018 Rappaport Fellow, ALDF scholarship winner, and survivor extraordinaire of my 1L Torts class—for reminding me of this gem.  (If any of my media law colleagues still want to jump into this year's Law and Media Symposium on March 28, get in touch ASAP, and I'll do my best to hook you up.)