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2020

Assessing the Validity of an Election’s Result: History, Theory, and Present Threats

Edward B. Foley

In the wake of President Trump’s acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, and even more so because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States will need to hold a presidential election in unprecedented circumstances. Never before has an incumbent president run for reelection after the opposing party in Congress has declared that the fairness of the election cannot be “assured” as long as the incumbent is permitted on the ballot. Nor have states been required to plan for a November presidential election not knowing, because of pandemic-related uncertainties, the extent to which voters will be able to go to the polls to cast ballots in person rather than needing to do so by mail. These uniquely acute challenges to holding an election that the public will accept as valid follow other stresses to electoral legitimacy unseen before 2016. The Russian attack on the 2016 election caused Americans to question, in an unprecedented way, the nation’s capacity to hold free and fair elections.

Given these challenges, this essay tackles the basic concept of what it means for the outcome of an election to be valid. Although this concept had been considered settled before 2016, developments since then have caused it to become contested. Current circumstances require renewing a shared conception of electoral validity. Otherwise, participants in electoral competition—winners and losers alike—cannot know whether or not the result qualifies as authentically democratic. Accordingly, after reviewing the history that has led to the present difficulties, this essay offers a renewed conception of electoral validity. This essay then explains the theoretical basis for this renewed conception and applies it to some of the most salient threats to electoral validity that are foreseeable in the upcoming 2020 election, as well as in future elections.

In brief, the proposed standard of electoral validity distinguishes sharply between (1) direct attacks on the electoral process that negate voter choice and (2) indirect attacks that improperly manipulate voter choice. Direct attacks undermine electoral validity, whereas indirect attacks do not. It is essential, however, that the category of direct attacks encompasses both the disenfranchisement of eligible voters—which prevents them from casting a ballot—as well as the falsification of votes reported in the tallies of counted ballots.

Revisiting Hate Crimes Enhancements in the Shadow of Mass Incarceration

Shirin Sinnar, Beth A. Colgan

Although civil rights advocates have largely supported hate crimes laws over the last four decades, growing concern over mass incarceration is now leading some to question the focus on enhancing prison sentences. This Essay explores two alternatives to the traditional sentence enhancement model that might retain the expressive message of hate crimes laws—to convey society’s particular condemnation of crimes of bias—while relying less heavily on police and prisons: the reformation of victim compensation programs to help victims and targeted communities and the application of restorative justice processes to hate crimes. Each of these alternatives presents complications, but both offer sufficient potential to justify further exploration.

Unraveling Williams v. Illinois

Edward K. Cheng, Cara C. Mannion

This Essay addresses one of the key evidentiary problems facing courts today: the treatment of forensic reports under the Confrontation Clause. Forensics are a staple of modern criminal trials, yet what restrictions the Confrontation Clause places on forensic reports is entirely unclear. The Supreme Court’s latest decision on the issue, Williams v. Illinois, sowed widespread confusion among lower courts and commentators, and during the 2018 Term, Justices Gorsuch and Kagan dissented to the denial of certiorari in Stuart v. Alabama, a case that would have revisited (and hopefully clarified) Williams.

Our Essay dispels the confusion in Williams v. Illinois. We argue that Williams involved three difficult and intertwined evidentiary questions: i) when experts may use inadmissible evidence as the basis of their opinions under Rule 703; ii) whether Rule 703 itself is consistent with the Confrontation Clause; and iii) whether reports that arise out of rigorous scientific processes implicate the Confrontation Clause at all. Along the way, we show that the answers to these questions help predict the future of the Confrontation Clause and offer a potential tool for improving forensic science.

Online Symposium

Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

Mehrsa Baradaran

This Article explores a few remedies to closing the racial wealth gap rooted in a theory of contract damages. The U.S. government has failed to live up to its promises to Black Americans to treat them equally under the law and thus a remedy is justified. Though a full reparations program is necessary and theoretically justified, this Article does not focus on a full-scale reparations program. Rather, the Article explores how a housing grant might work as one solution to closing the racial wealth gap given the current constitutional interpretation and political barriers.

 

Exporting Islamophobia in the Global “War On Terror”

Khaled A. Beydoun

The War on Terror is far more than a domestic project aimed to deter terrorism and shore up national security. The War’s policy, strategy, and accompanying epistemology, since its very inception, created opportunities for other nation states to initiate—or expand existing—domestic programs that conflated Muslim identity with terror suspicion. In turn, adopting the fundamental presumption of the War on Terror that drove American Islamophobia, feeds state-sponsored Islamophobia in states where the War on Terror was formally adopted.

This Article theorizes how Islamophobia is exported by way of the American-spearheaded War on Terror, and how it fed and still facilitates the structural Islamophobic policies in China and India—where the host governments are unleashing two of the most ominous systems of Islamophobia in the world. While led by the United States, the War on Terror gradually became a global crusade, whereby states across the world found an opportune moment to persecute and punish their own Muslim populations to achieve their ends.

 

Public School Admissions and the Myth of Meritocracy: How and Why Screened Public School Admissions Promote Segregation

Richard R. Buery, Jr.

Public schools in America remain deeply segregated by race, with devastating effects for Black and Latinx students. While residential segregation is a critical driver of school segregation, the prevalence of screened admissions practices can also play a devastating role in driving racial segregation in public schools. New York City, one of the most segregated school systems in America, is unique in its extensive reliance on screened admissions practices, including the use of standardized tests, to assign students to sought-after public schools. These screens persist despite their segregative impact in part because they appeal to America’s embrace of the idea of meritocracy. This Article argues that Americans embrace three conceptions of merit which shield these screens from proper scrutiny. The first is individual merit—the idea that students with greater ability or achievement deserve access to better schools. The second is systems merit—the idea that poor student performance on an assessment is a failure of the system that prepared the student for the assessment. The third is group merit—the idea that members of some groups simply possess less ability. Each of these ideas has a pernicious impact on perpetuating racial inequality in public education.

 

Race Decriminalization and Criminal Legal System Reform

Michael Pinard

There is emerging consensus that various components of the criminal legal system have gone too far in capturing and punishing masses of Black men, women, and children. This evolving recognition has helped propel important and pathbreaking criminal legal reforms in recent years, with significant bipartisan support. These reforms have targeted the criminal legal system itself. They strive to address the pain inflicted by the system. However, by concerning themselves solely with the criminal legal system, these reforms do not confront the reality that Black men, women, and children will continue to be devastatingly overrepresented in each stitch of the system. As a result, these reforms do not reach deeply enough. They do not address or confront the reality that simply being Black has been and will continue to be criminalized.

This Article asserts that measures beyond these reforms—measures that reach the root of racial criminalization—are necessary for true criminal legal system transformation.

 

Closing the Border

Jonathan P. Riedel

Terrorists. Narcotrafficking. Coronavirus. Refugees. There are many reasons—real or imaginary, compelling or contrived—for governments to want to restrict people’s movement. In March 2019, President Trump hinted that he was considering closing the border with Mexico. He cited the vast numbers of migrants approaching the southern border as a justification for closure, then pivoted to concerns about drug trafficking. Possibly emboldened by a victory in the 2018 “travel ban” case of Trump v. Hawaii, the President asserted a unilateral power to close the border. The general consensus among political leaders and economists was that closing the border would be an economic and political catastrophe, disrupting billions of dollars’ worth of goods while doing little to combat the asylum backlog or illegal narcotics trafficking. He soon backed off, with a one-year warning to Mexico that is fast approaching as of the publication of this Note. But the question remains: Can he do it? This Note considers the question and concludes that while very brief or geographically limited closures are authorized as a matter of statute and constitutional doctrine, any indefinite, long-term, and expansive border closure would be statutorily unauthorized and give rise to meritorious due process claims by some categories of noncitizens. In between these two extremes, the permissibility of a closure would depend on the temporal and geographical scope of it, tracking general separation-of-powers principles.

Adverse Employment Actions in Failure-to-Accommodate Claims: Much Ado About Nothing

Nicole Buonocore Porter

This Article addresses a circuit split in the disability law jurisprudence. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees generally bring two types of claims against their employers—discrimination claims and failure-to-accommodate claims. Succeeding on a discrimination claim requires proving that the employee suffered an adverse employment action. Succeeding on a failure-to-accommodate claim does not. But several courts—including a recent case in the Tenth Circuit—have added this adverse- employment-action requirement into failure-to-accommodate claims. In doing so, these courts have camouflaged important issues about an employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. Although I believe that courts that require an adverse employment action in failure-to-accommodates claim do so in error, the main contribution of this Article is to reveal how courts have obscured and confused broader disability-accommodation issues by imposing that requirement.

2019

Local Law 97: Emissions Trading for Buildings?

Danielle Spiegel-Feld

In April of 2019, the New York City Council passed groundbreaking legislation capping the amount of greenhouse gases that large building owners can emit, or cause to be emitted, before heavy fines are imposed. The new law, known as Local Law 97 of 2019 (“Local Law 97”), holds great promise for reducing building energy use, which accounts for roughly forty percent of emissions across the globe and over two-thirds of emissions in New York City. However, it will also impose substantial costs on the local real estate industry. With an eye towards minimizing these costs, Local Law 97 calls on the City to conduct a study exploring the potential creation of an emissions trading program for regulated buildings. Trading programs have been successfully used for years in industrial sectors to reduce the administrative cost of emissions control, yet how to translate the lessons learned from industrial trading programs to buildings is still very much an open question. In this essay, I highlight some key points of distinction between the emissions trading program that New York City is contemplating and prior programs that policymakers will need to bear in mind as they develop a trading scheme for this novel context. As the federal government retreats from its efforts to tackle climate change, and the burden of doing so falls increasingly upon local leaders’ shoulders, the question of how to tailor emissions trading programs to the local landscape will doubtless be relevant for cities beyond New York. Because emissions trading programs, like other types of market-based environmental policies, are designed to lower the cost of achieving environmental goals, cities that successfully implement emissions trading programs may be able to tackle climate concerns more effectively.