On payback for victims of child pornography (Paroline v. U.S.)

We hate that we’re covering this case, as the matter is a highly disturbing topic – restitution for the victims of child pornography.  Full disclosure: We work for kids.  They’re our “clients,” if you will, as we are educators.  No teacher treads lightly or indiscriminately through a case involving sexual abuse of children.  We’re guessing no human does, either.  In the SCOTUS (January 22, 2014) was a case involving such abuse, Paroline v. U.S.  Despite its unsettling nature, we see this case as having potential for “teachable moments” to young adults in law classes.

5-cent explanation:  Doyle Paroline was found guilty of accessing two pictures of a victim of child pornography known as “Amy Unknown.”  Amy was eight years old when her uncle took sexually explicit pictures of her.  In 1994, Congress passed a law mandating the victims of child pornography be paid the full amount of their losses from anyone found guilty of possessing their images.  A lower court ordered Paroline pay Amy $3.4 million dollars in restitution, or money for a loss or injury.  The question before the Court is how enforcement of the law should allocate money to the victims. Continue reading

On the 4th Amendment: Police searches & anonymous tips (Navarette v. California)

Navarette v. California

Oral Argument: January 21, 2014

5-Cent Explanation:

The question raised in this case is whether the police can stop a vehicle based upon information provided by an anonymous caller alleging reckless driving that the officers did not personally observe.

10-Cent Explanation:

On August 23, 2008, after receiving what the courts are considering an anonymous 911 call about a “reckless driver” who had run him or her off the road, a police dispatcher provided information to California Highway Patrol including the color, make, model, license plate and direction of flight of the allegedly offending vehicle. Soon after, an officer and a sergeant observed a vehicle matching the description approximately 19 miles from the site of the initial encounter that had prompted the 911 call.

Although the officers had not spoken directly with the 911-caller nor had they observed any erratic or reckless driving after following him for five minutes, Continue reading

On free speech outside of abortion clinics (McCullen v. Coakley)

Pro-life protestor Eleanor McCullen standing outside of a Planned Parenthood in Boston, MA, just past the yellow line demarcating the 35-foot buffer zone.

Pro-life protestor Eleanor McCullen standing outside of a Planned Parenthood in Boston, MA, just past the yellow line demarcating the 35-foot buffer zone. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The question in this case:  Is the state of Massachusetts violating Eleanor McCullen’s 1st Amendment right to free speech by enforcing a law that prevents her and others from protesting inside a 35-foot buffer zone of the entrance, exits, and parking lots of abortion clinics?

5-cent explanation:  Eleanor McCullen (pictured above), a Massachusetts resident and pro-life protestor, is challenging a 2007 law that increased a buffer zone from 24 to 35 feet outside of abortion clinics.  This buffer zone prevents anyone not receiving treatment at the clinics from protesting less than 35 feet outside the clinic and speaking to patients in the parking lot, sidewalks, or near an entrance or exit.  McCullen believes this law is a violation of her free speech and expression rights protected by the 1st Amendment.  Massachusetts’ claim is that the law is legitimized by a precedent in a similar case in 2000 (Hill v. Colorado), and ultimately protects patients from potential harassment. Continue reading

On executive powers, recess appointments, and NLRB v. Noel Canning

On the docket is a case called NLRB v. Noel Canning that asks the SCOTUS to clarify the powers a president has, via the Constitution, to fill vacancies in his administration like cabinet positions, federal judges, or executive office positions.  This particular case deals with the latter.  Key to understanding this constitutional interpretation case is knowing that presidential appointments need to be OK’d with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, unless they’re in recess.  You’re picturing Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell playing tether ball outside the Capitol, aren’t you?  Not that kind of recess, but they are away from the Senate floor…maybe playing kickball instead.  The outcome of this case could have quite a significant impact on the interaction between the legislative and executive branches. Continue reading

Abortion: How and what we teach (Roe, McCullen v. Coakley & Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby)

by Cara Gallagher & Joe Taraborrelli

When teachers plan to teach the topic of abortion in a history or social studies class, what we teach is as important and, in some cases, critical to our livelihoods, as how we teach it.  I knew a teacher who totally avoided the subject in their AP government class.  Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade could pop up on the AP exam, this teacher said that while he was personally interested in the topic, it was the proverbial “third-rail” at his school.  You didn’t touch it for fear of blowback (parental, administrative, and/or interdepartmental).  I asked this teacher what he did when the students brought it up?  This teacher said the topic rarely came up.  I followed up with a question of whether or not that was by design on his part.  He chuckled and ducked out of the conversation.  I still couldn’t help but wonder if he and other teachers engineered their syllabi so that topics on abortion wouldn’t come up?  Or was he right and it just wasn’t a topic of interest to students?  Whatever the answers are, the primary issue is whether the topic of abortion is one that can be ignored in a civic education classroom? Continue reading