Taxes and You: How would you shape the federal budget?
Posted on 6/3/2015 12:24:02 PM
As the school year comes to a close, many of you are probably thinking about getting a summer job if you don’t have one already. Summer jobs are a great way to earn extra cash and show colleges or post-high school employers that you are a responsible and dedicated worker. If this is your first job, your first paycheck may not be as much as you were counting on. A large chunk of it will be missing. Where did the money go? Taxes.
Should municipalities be allowed to build high-speed Internet networks?
Posted on 5/27/2015 9:28:42 AM
During the clamor of the Federal Communications Commission vote to reclassify the Internet and wireless networks as a public utility, the agency also voted on a separate measure that will help encourage the growth of local broadband networks. The FCC approved a measure that would preempt state laws that forbid towns like Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., from expanding their locally owned Internet networks. It could pave the way for towns and utility companies to jump into the Internet service provider (ISP) market. Nineteen states have passed laws that prevent municipal governments or city-owned utilities from building their own networks, leaving the creation of high-speed fiber optic networks to private companies. Should cities and towns be able to build their own fiber optic networks? Should building high-speed Internet networks be done only by private companies?
What would your Constitution look like if you participated in the Constitutional Convention?
Posted on 5/20/2015 9:32:49 AM
The year is 1787. Being of sound mind and well regarded in your state and community, you are sent to Philadelphia for a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation have been the governing document for the past decade and have taken your fledgling nation through a war of independence and through the first tumultuous years of the new republic. But there is a problem, the Articles created a weak central government, and states have begun unraveling, threatened with internal strife and hostilities to the point of war between states. A convention to amend the Articles has been called and almost immediately, the Articles are thrown out, and the delegates begin talking about a new constitution that would lay the framework for a new federal government. But what will that government look like?
Should the atmosphere be included in the public trust doctrine?
Posted on 5/13/2015 2:19:57 PM
In December, the Supreme Court declined to review a case that pit five students against the federal government. The students’ suit hinged on the principle of the public trust doctrine, a legal notion that natural resources are preserved for use by the public and should be protected by the government. The students wanted the courts to order federal agencies to act to protect the atmosphere from climate change. The public trust doctrine goes back to Roman times. The concept is based on the idea that the government is trusted by the public to maintain and adequately protect natural resources for the benefit of everyone. This has been interpreted through the centuries as the reasoning for governments to manage waterways for shipping and preserve natural wonders for the benefit of all. The public trust doctrine is considered to be one of the central principles of Western legal traditions. Do you agree with the students that the atmosphere is part of the public trust?
Should mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses be reconsidered?
Posted on 5/6/2015 9:35:53 AM
In 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Smart on Crime, a policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from seeking mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. The policy shift was the first time in nearly two decades that the Department of Justice did not seek lengthy prison sentences for people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes in the federal courts. “For years prior to this administration, federal prosecutors were not only encouraged – but required – to always seek the most severe prison sentence possible for all drug cases, no matter the relative risk they posed to public safety,” Holder said in his speech at the National Press Club in February 2015. “I have made a break from that philosophy.” Is it time to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders?
How should the Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage?
Posted on 4/29/2015 2:51:24 PM
In the last week in April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, which will determine if four states’ same-sex marriage bans are constitutional. During the two-and-a-half hours of arguments, the nine justices wrestled with the two questions that the case presented. First, can a state ban same-sex marriage, or is that a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause? The second question before the court is whether the 14th Amendment allows a state that bans same-sex marriage to refuse to recognize a union if a same-sex couple was legally married in another state.
Obamacare: What does “established by the State” mean?
Posted on 4/22/2015 11:00:24 AM
The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is again being challenged in the Supreme Court, but this time the meaning of the law, not its constitutionality, is before the court. The Affordable Care Act requires most people to have a minimum level of health insurance through their employer, government coverage such as Medicare or Medicaid, or an individual insurance plan. To increase access to affordable health insurance, the law provided for the creation of health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, in states where people can shop for health plans. People can qualify for federal subsidies to help pay for insurance coverage. In the states that chose not to set up an exchange , the federal government did so. The language in the law that referred to exchanges “established by the State” is at the heart of the case. What does “established by the State” mean?
Are controversial bus ads protected speech?
Posted on 4/15/2015 9:28:13 AM
Throughout April, riders on Philadelphia’s public transportation system SEPTA may see an advertisement on buses linking Islam to Nazism. The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) has run ads that feature a Muslim religious leader conversing with Adolf Hitler, making the claim that anti-Semitism is entrenched in Islam and the religion’s holy book, the Quran. The group has run the ads in other cities, such as New York, San Francisco, Detroit and Miami, that have drawn vandalism and a public outcry from individuals and groups who find the ads offensive. So why are the ads on the buses?
Do freedom of religion laws allow for discrimination?
Posted on 4/8/2015 9:25:21 AM
When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law in late March, there was an immediate backlash from civil rights groups and businesses that said the law allowed for discrimination because of someone’s sexuality or gender identity. Pence and the state legislature quickly amended the law, protecting sexual orientation and gender identity from discriminatory actions. How does government rectify the First Amendment right to freely practice religion with civil rights laws that forbid denial of service, employment or housing?
Can police prolong a traffic stop to conduct a dog search?
Posted on 4/1/2015 10:10:25 AM
If you’re in a car that has been pulled over by the police, when does your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure come into play? How long should a traffic stop take before it become a violation of your rights? That is the question being reviewed by the Supreme Court in the case of Rodriquez v. United States.
Should environmental impact be considered in federal nutrition policy?
Posted on 3/25/2015 10:03:12 AM
Every five years, the federal government issues food guidelines meant to encourage Americans to eat healthier. These guidelines are detailed in My Plate, a guide to help us eat a balanced and healthy diet. They form the basis for federal nutrition policy and food assistance programs. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of scientists, is responsible for making recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The government generally adopts the recommendations as policy. The report also featured for the first time recommendations that consumers consider the environmental impact of their diet. The committee recommends that more Americans adopt a sustainable diet, meaning eating habits that promote “health and well-being and provide food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.” Should the federal government consider the environmental impact when adopting nutrition policy?
What role does Congress hold in international affairs?
Posted on 3/18/2015 10:10:58 AM
In a rare but not unprecedented move, 47 senators signed an open letter to the leadership of Iran, stating that Congress or the next president could revoke any agreement that Iran makes with the executive branch regarding the Middle Eastern nation’s nuclear weapon ambitions. The letter was written because many in the Senate’s Republican majority do not like the deal that President Obama is negotiating with Iran.Law professors and senators who did not sign the letter are not only criticizing the signers for overstepping the role and decorum of Congress, but are also saying the letter might be a criminal offense. Did the letter’s signers overstep Congress’ role in foreign affairs? Should Congress have a greater role in nontreaty foreign relations?
Are new drug combinations for lethal injections constitutional?
Posted on 3/11/2015 12:18:18 PM
An execution in Oklahoma in 2014 made it apparent that states were having a hard time finding a reliable solution. The execution of Clayton Lockett lasted 45 minutes. He ultimately died of a heart attack, not from the drugs. Executions in Florida have been conducted without incident, but executions in Ohio and Arkansas resulted in situations similar to that of Lockett. Facing a lethal injection that used midazolam, Richard Glossip and two other Oklahoma inmates filed a petition with the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s method of lethal injection. Are the new lethal injection protocols constitutional?
Selma at 50: How do we become a more representative democracy?
Posted on 3/4/2015 9:25:57 AM
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Selma, Ala., 50 years ago, he was at the forefront of a nonviolent revolution that was drastically changing American society. Piece by piece, the institutions of the Jim Crow South were being dismantled. Laws that were used to segregate African Americans were beginning to be repealed in the courts and in the federal government. As the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery approaches, the nation still faces civil rights issues. What are the civil rights issues of today?
Is a state law banning judges from asking for campaign donations unconstitutional?
Posted on 2/25/2015 9:24:59 AM
Supreme Court justices, like all federal judges, don’t have to campaign and run for office to get or keep their jobs. But in 39 states, some, if not all, judges, must face some type of election to sit on the bench. And when there are elections, there is the need to raise campaign funds. This is where the case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, which was argued before the Supreme Court in late January, comes into play. Florida is one of the states where judges are elected. The state has a law that prevents judges from personally asking for contributions for their campaigns. The state says the ban keeps judges impartial when ruling on cases and protects the right to due process for those seeking justice in court. Lanell Williams-Yulee was running to be a trial judge in Hillsborough County, Fla. She sent out a signed letter to potential donors asking for contributions and made an appeal for money on her website. The state election commission fined and reprimanded Williams-Yulee for breaking the election law. She paid the fine and challenged the law, saying that it violated her First Amendment right to free speech.
Are laws banning an inflatable rat during pickets unconstitutional?
Posted on 2/18/2015 9:22:40 AM
A large inflatable rat used by labor unions to protest companies’ actions has become a bit of a First Amendment lightning rod. In Lawrence, N.J., the International Union Electrical Workers Local 269 inflated Scabby during a picket, which violated a town ordinance. The town prohibited the use of inflatable signs except for temporary signage to indicate a business’s grand opening. When the police told the union that it couldn’t use Scabby, it complied, paid a fine, then sued the town. The union said that its First Amendment right to political speech had been violated. Does a law forbidding all inflatable signs violate the First Amendment?
The Federal Budget: What should be the priorities?
Posted on 2/11/2015 11:59:47 AM
President Obama introduced his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal in late January, outlining his goals for his last two years in office. His $4 trillion request to Congress outlines major increases in federal spending in almost all areas. What do you think should be budget priorities? Join the discussion!
Do states have the right to enact their own immigration laws?
Posted on 2/4/2015 10:29:16 AM
In early January, a federal judge struck down Arizona laws that were used to convict hundreds of undocumented immigrant workers and deport them. The laws – two focused on fake or stolen IDs that immigrants used to get jobs and another gave local and state police the power to deport immigrants in custody – were found to conflict with the federal government’s immigration powers. Should local and state governments have the authority to deport illegal immigrants?
How should public schools handle distribution of religious materials?
Posted on 1/28/2015 9:37:36 AM
Students in a Florida school district may have picked up more than just textbooks when they returned to school after the holiday break. The World Changers of Florida, an evangelical Christian group, has distributed Bibles and other religious materials to students in Orange County schools three times. The distributions set off a series of lawsuits from an atheist organization that sought to stop the practice. A judge ruled that the school district was not violating the establishment clause, saying that the distribution was passive and that it would be allowed as long as other religions also could distribute materials. After the ruling, the atheist organization, Central Florida Freethought Community, submitted materials that promoted atheism, which the school board and legal review board said could be distributed. Following the lead of the atheist organization, the Satanic Temple has submitted a children’s coloring book promoting Satanism. How should public schools handle distribution of religious materials?
Should the EPA consider compliance costs when drafting regulations?
Posted on 1/21/2015 10:32:01 AM
In November 2014, the Supreme Court decided to review the complaints by the electric utility industry against the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules limiting emissions of pollutants such as mercury. The nation’s highest court will look at whether the agency should first consider how much it would cost coal- and oil-fired power plants to comply with the rules.Should the EPA consider compliance costs when deciding regulations?
Is a license plate a form of political speech?
Posted on 1/14/2015 12:57:08 PM
State-issued license plates with a special image or message that promote a team affiliation, organization or a cause have landed on the Supreme Court docket. The question: Is a license plate a form of political speech?
How much protection does a federal law give to pregnant workers?
Posted on 1/7/2015 9:41:32 AM
In early December, the Supreme Court heard arguments about how much protection a federal anti-discrimination law gives to pregnant employees. The case centers on Peggy Young, a former UPS air delivery driver. When Young became pregnant, her doctor recommended that she lift nothing over 20 pounds. UPS requires that drivers be able to lift over 70 pounds, so Young asked for light-lifting duty. Her supervisor denied her request. Young was forced her to take an unpaid leave of absence. Young thought that her rights had been violated under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. She sued UPS in federal court. Did UPS violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Young’s case?
Do you give to charity?
Posted on 12/17/2014 11:24:22 AM
As the holiday season kicks into overdrive, you might be considering giving to a charity to spread more holiday cheer. ou wouldn’t be alone, either, as charitable giving increases during the holidays. The last few months of the year are considered the giving season by the nonprofit community, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. A 2007 study by the Center on Philanthropy found that 24 percent of annual giving is made during the weeks between the Thanksgiving holiday and New Year’s Day. ith all this giving, how do you choose a charity or nonprofit? And equally important, how do you know your hard-earned money goes to the right place?
Should voters in D.C. or the federal government decide local laws?
Posted on 12/10/2014 11:25:34 AM
On Election Day, Oregon and Alaska joined Colorado and Washington as states that have legalized marijuana, but passage of Initiative 71 in Washington, D.C., faces additional hurdles. The initiative, approved by 61 percent of voters, needs federal review before becoming law. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said she respected “the clear intent of District voters” in their support of Initiative 71. “However, we need to recognize that the initiative cannot be immediately implemented,” she said in a statement. Congress and the president must approve District of Columbia laws, a power granted to the legislative branch in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The article grants the creation of the federal district, “and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature.” Should local voters or the federal government decide local laws in the District of Columbia?
Should the Internet be classified as a public utility?
Posted on 12/3/2014 9:57:24 AM
In mid-November, President Obama came out in favor of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation of the Internet because, he said, it should be considered a public utility like electricity and water services. Should the Internet be considered a public utility?
Do local governments have the right to ban fracking?
Posted on 11/19/2014 9:13:20 AM
Last Election Day, besides deciding who will represent them in Congress, a handful of towns and counties voted to not allow energy companies to operate within their borders. Voters in Denton, Texas, approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” within the town limits. Athens, Ohio, and the California counties of Mendocino and San Benito also approved bans on the practice. While the bans in Ohio and California look likely to go into effect, the voter initiative in Texas is heading to court. Do local governments have the right to ban fracking?
Does a town’s sign ordinance violate the First Amendment?
Posted on 11/12/2014 1:55:35 PM
When Clyde Reed, the pastor of Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Ariz., wanted to announce his worship service in a rented space at an elementary school, he did what other churches do: He put up signs around the community, 17 to be exact. He did not know that he was in violation of the town’s strict sign law, and received an advisory notice from Gilbert. The town had enacted a law that restricted the size and number of signs and how long the signs could be up, based on the type of sign and its content. Is the Gilbert sign ordinance constitutional?
Who should decide a quarantine policy?
Posted on 11/5/2014 10:17:53 AM
As an increasing number of U.S. aid and medical workers return from Ebola-stricken West Africa, questions have arisen on whether they need to be quarantined. Depending on the state, returning workers may face anything from a 21-day isolation period in a hospital to a recommended, but not enforced, at-home quarantine. This may seem like a straightforward medical question, but states and the federal government disagree. Should states or the federal government decide how to handle returning health care workers from Ebola-affected countries?
Should we have voter ID laws?
Posted on 10/29/2014 10:45:03 AM
A voter ID law requires voters to show an approved photo ID or some other identification at the polls. If a voter shows up without a proper ID, a number of things can happen, depending on the state. Proponents of voter ID laws say that the laws deter voter fraud and ensure that elections are fair. Phantom voters or double voting, they argue, could determine the outcome of close elections. Opponents of voting ID laws say that election fraud is a minor issue and that the laws prevent more eligible voters from casting ballots than criminals committing voter fraud. Are voter ID laws necessary or discriminatory?
Who should draw congressional districts?
Posted on 10/24/2014 11:27:29 AM
How should states draw congressional districts? States are allowed to draw their congressional districts, as outlined in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which establishes that every 10 years a national census shall be taken. Based on the outcome of the shifts in populations, each state must redraw their congressional districts, but how this is done was never specified, leaving it up to the states. This has meant that the political party in power has an advantage and might try to redraw the districts in its favor, sometimes resulting in oddly shaped districts. The process of drawing districts to favor one party over another is called gerrymandering, and it’s about as old as this nation.
When does a company’s dress code violate the law?
Posted on 10/15/2014 9:51:00 AM
In 2008, a 17-year-old girl applied for a sales job at Abercrombie Kids in a mall in Tulsa, Okla. She was dressed to impress as the company promotes a “look policy” and calls in-store salespeople “models.” The only thing that stood out during the interview was that the applicant, Samantha Elauf, was wearing a black hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by many followers of Islam. The associate who interviewed Elauf, Heather Cooke, scored her appearance as a six, meaning that she could be hired, but the Abercrombie regional manager, Randall Johnson, downgraded the score because of the headscarf and denied her the job. He said Abercrombie did not allow hats. Later he said he did not know that the head scare was worn for religious reasons. Did Abercrombie & Fitch violate the law when it refused to hire Elauf because of her hijab?
Should whistleblowers be protected if they leak government secrets?
Posted on 10/8/2014 9:40:00 AM
Robert MacLean was an air marshal for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who believed that the agency was putting people’s lives at risk when it cut the number of air marshals aboard flights leaving Las Vegas. After he protested the cuts to his superior and received what he believed was an unsatisfactory answer, MacLean went public with the information. He told the press about the cost-reduction plan, becoming a whistleblower. Do you think MacLean leaked classified information?
Do students have the right to protest at school?
Posted on 10/1/2014 10:20:18 AM
Students in Jefferson County Colo., have had enough. So have many of their teachers. And their grievance might surprise you because it’s not about sports funding, safety, or the quality of the food; it’s what’s being taught in class, history class to be precise. Last month, hundreds of students from at least five high schools in Jefferson County, the second largest school district in the state, staged walkouts over several days. The school board has largely dismissed the protests while many teachers and parents have come out in support of the students, arguing that they are getting a hands-on lesson in civics.
Can schools bar unvaccinated students when illness breaks out?
Posted on 9/24/2014 7:53:44 AM
Since the beginning of September, cases of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, have been cropping up around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 30 percent increase so far in 2014. And whooping cough isn’t the only highly contagious disease on the rise. Measles outbreaks have resulted in a 20-year high in cases. Nearly 600 people in 21 states have fallen ill this year. You might be thinking that whooping cough and measles are diseases from way back. They are, but they are making a comeback as more parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Unvaccinated children pose a potential health hazard because they can bring highly contagious diseases to classrooms, spreading the illness to students who cannot be vaccinated or whose shots fail to provide full protection. Should schools be allowed to bar unvaccinated students when a student is reported to have a vaccine-preventable illness?
What is the most important right in the Bill of Rights?
Posted on 9/14/2014 3:33:09 PM
This month marks the 225th anniversary of Congress’ approving 12 amendments that were sent to the states for ratification as the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Which of the 10 amendments that were eventually ratified is the most important? Join the discussion!
Can police search your cellphone without a warrant?
Posted on 9/4/2014 8:19:31 AM
These days, cellphones basically contain the story of your life: videos, photos, text conversations, your browsing history. If policy suspect your phone holds evidence connect you to a crime, should they be able to search your phone without a warrant? Join the discussion!
Can students ban a word from the school newspaper?
Posted on 8/20/2014 5:02:25 PM
What would you do if your school’s mascot was offensive to you or to people in your community? Student editors at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania confronted that situation when they resolved to ban use of their mascot name, the Redskins, from the school newspaper. School officials said the ban violated contributors' free speech rights. What do you think?
Summer jobs: A window into wages, taxes, and cost of living
Posted on 5/21/2014 10:20:54 AM
Every summer, millions of high school students just like you hit the streets looking for work – in restaurants, malls and offices. This year, it might be a little easier to find a job since the unemployment rate has dropped below 7 percent. This means that fewer people are looking for jobs than there were last year, increasing the chances of you finding one. Do you have a summer job or are you trying to get one? What kind of work would be your optimal summer job?
Should states continue to use lethal injections for executions?
Posted on 5/7/2014 4:25:58 PM
In late April, convicted murderer Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in Oklahoma made headlines as details of his 43-minute ordeal came to light. Reporters who witnessed the execution said Lockett writhed in pain after the lethal injection. He ultimately died of a heart attack. The execution illustrates the problems for states that continue to execute prisoners by lethal injection. The states are having a harder time finding the necessary drugs and qualified medical personnel to carry out the executions. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The “nor cruel and unusual punishments” phrase means that no matter how horrific the crime, the punishment shall not be cruel, inflicting needless pain. Are botched executions “cruel and unusual” punishment? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
Is a school ban on American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo constitutional?
Posted on 4/30/2014 10:01:15 AM
What would happen if you wore shirt to school that administrators believe would cause trouble? You might be asked to change your shirt or turn it inside out. But what if it’s a shirt with an American flag?
Should college athletes have the right to unionize?
Posted on 4/23/2014 10:13:51 AM
The 2014 pre-season may be one of the most dramatic for college football, not because of the new recruits and the hiring and firing of coaches, but because of the possible actions of the scholarship players on the Northwestern University football team. The players have been granted the right to unionize by a National Labor Relations Board regional director, who ruled that the players are school employees.
Should Northwestern’s scholarship football players have the right to join a union?
Is requiring students to wear a school’s logo unconstitutional?
Posted on 4/16/2014 10:13:11 AM
The First Amendment protects individuals’ right to express their opinions. But did you know that other side of the free speech clause is that the government can’t force you to say something you don’t want to? The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case in which the issue was whether a public school, acting as the government, can require students to wear a school uniform that bears the school logo and motto, “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” The parents of two children in Roy Gomm Elementary School in Reno, Nev., said the uniform requirement was coerced speech and violated the students’ First Amendment rights. Is requiring students to wear a school uniform with the motto forced speech?
Should campaign donations be considered political speech?
Posted on 4/10/2014 7:51:36 AM
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that limits on the total amount that a person can contribute to candidates and parties during a two-year election cycle are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment right to free speech. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the majority opinion said: “There is no right in our democracy more basic, than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” The court ruled that while individuals still have to limit each contribution to $2,600 per candidate, they can now donate that amount to as many candidates as they wish in an election cycle. Previously, the overall limit was $48,600 for contributions to all federal candidates. The separate total cap on contributions to political party committees is $74,600. Do you agree with the majority or the dissenting opinion? Should a campaign donation be considered political speech and protected by the First Amendment?
Should the U.S. Postal Service get in the check-cashing business?
Posted on 4/2/2014 12:22:20 PM
How often do you use snail mail to send a letter or pay a bill? It’s probably a rare occurrence, and that’s one reason the U.S. Postal Service has been struggling financially for years. The agency has posted $26 billion in net losses since 2011 because of a sharp decline in mail volume and a congressional requirement that it make advance payments on future retirees’ expected health care costs. The Postal Service is an independent agency of the federal government that receives no direct tax dollars for its day-to-day operations, but it is subject to congressional control. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, of the Constitution gives Congress the power and the responsibility: “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” The Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service has come up with a new plan to help the struggling Postal Service become profitable: For starters, letting you cash your paycheck at a post office. Should Congress let the Postal Service offer check-cashing and debit-card services?
Should cameras be allowed in the Supreme Court?
Posted on 3/26/2014 4:12:01 PM
In late February, a video of a courtroom was posted to YouTube. The video caused a ripple of an uproar over the next couple of days because it was taken in the Supreme Court chambers during oral arguments. The video clip shows a protester who stood up and denounced the court’s Citizens United decision before security took him away. It is believed to be the first time that video of a Supreme Court proceeding has ever been recorded. The Supreme Court prohibits all electronic devices inside the chambers. Reporters have limited access and can use only pen and paper in the chamber. Sketch artists are allowed to portray the public sessions. In 2010, the court began making audio recordings of all oral arguments heard by the court available free to the public on the court’s website. Should the justices allow cameras?
How should the U.S. balance privacy with national security in NSA spy programs?
Posted on 3/19/2014 10:45:30 AM
Seeking to calm a nervous public about government surveillance programs, President Obama has announced changes in how the National Security Agency collects and tracks phone records of Americans as well as stores their email and Internet information. Up to now, the NSA collected vast amounts of phone records from terror suspects abroad. Information about whom they called, for how long and how often they talked was all swept up in massive databases. The NSA uses this large collection of data, called metadata, with other law enforcement agencies like the FBI to track and capture suspected terrorists or people planning to harm Americans or American institutions. ow can the government balance protecting citizens from terror attacks with privacy and civil liberties concerns?
Should prisoners be allowed to have beards based on religious grounds?
Posted on 3/12/2014 9:54:14 AM
In a handwritten petition, a prisoner in the Arkansas prison system asked the Supreme Court to decide a hairy issue, whether prisoners should be able to wear beards in accordance with their religious beliefs. The court agreed to hear the case, Holt v. Hobbs, in the fall. The petitioner, Gregory Holt, who goes by Abdul Maalik Muhammad, converted to Islam and wished to grow a beard in accordance with his religious belief that “Muslim males are not to shave their beards.” The Arkansas prison system does not allow beards for many reasons. Long beards can be used to hide contraband when prisoners visit their families and lawyers. And if an inmate who has a beard escapes, a quick shave would allow him to drastically change his appearance, giving him more time to evade the authorities. How should the Supreme Court rule in Holt v. Hobbs? Does the no-beard policy violate a prisoner’s First Amendment right to practice his religion freely?
Do students in charter schools have First Amendment rights?
Posted on 3/5/2014 9:44:00 AM
The first day of school is both an exciting and nerve-racking time. So imagine being told to leave school because of your tightly wound dreadlocks. That is what happened to 7-year-old Tiana Parker of Tulsa, Okla. On her first day at Deborah Brown Community Charter School, Tiana was pulled out of class because she wore her hair in dreadlocks, which are forbidden by the school’s policy against “faddish” hair styles. The Supreme Court has ruled in several cases, most notably in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, that schools, acting as a government, cannot limit freedom of expression. School dress codes fall under the First Amendment, and generally students can dress or wear their hair in any fashion as long as it does not distract or disrupt the school environment. But there’s a slight twist to Tiana’s case. See the second-to-last word in Deborah Brown Community Charter School’s name: Charter. Even though public charter schools receive public money like traditional public schools, legally they are considered private organizations. Should students in charter schools have the same First Amendment rights as their public school counterparts?
Should the minimum wage be increased?
Posted on 2/26/2014 10:05:45 AM
If you earn a minimum wage, you might be finding yourself with a little bit more money in your pocket. Thirty states have pending legislation or plans to introduce bills to raise the minimum wage. Some, like Maryland, have proposals to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016. Raising the minimum wage, federally or on the state level, would mean more income for the poorest segment of society. Advocates argue that minimum wage earners spend a larger percent of their earnings, which are subject to income taxes paid to the state and federal government. The Obama administration says higher wages will reduce turnover and increase productivity. Opponents say that a higher minimum wage would mean job cuts and higher prices for consumers because businesses would pass on increased labor costs to customers. They say that because two-thirds of minimum wage earners are under 30 and mostly in part-time, entry-level jobs, they do not need the raise. Should your state increase the minimum wage? Should the federal government raise the minimum wage?
Should reviewers be held accountable for negative reviews on Yelp?
Posted on 2/7/2014 4:22:39 PM
Imagine having the worst dining experience ever. The server messed up your order, the food was cold, and the manager was unapologetic. A dinner this bad might lead to a nasty review on Yelp. But should you be held accountable for any lost business when the owner says the review is inaccurate and defamatory?
Who should pay for the Internet?
Posted on 2/7/2014 4:18:14 PM
In mid-January, a federal appeals court stuck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibited Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast from restricting access to any legal website or online content. The court said the FCC didn’t have the right to enforce the rules. The ruling has spotlighted the issue of “net neutrality,” or a free and open Internet. And it may affect some of your favorite web services like Netflix and Hulu, which could get more expensive. Should the Internet be equally accessible to everyone?
Should the NFL pay taxes?
Posted on 2/3/2014 3:35:45 PM
As the confetti is swept up from the field of MetLife stadium, another year of football comes to a close. But this off-season, the talk might be more on the financials of the National Football League than on trades, because the league does not pay taxes, and Sen. Tom Coburn (O.K.) wants to change that. Should the NFL pay taxes like a corporation, or should it remain a non-profit trade organization?
Should the president use executive orders to bypass Congress?
Posted on 1/29/2014 1:18:51 PM
This week, with a still high unemployment rate and a fragile economy, President Obama asked in his State of the Union address that Congress join him in his “year of action” to address wage inequalities for women, strengthen the job market, streamline government bureaucracy, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and recalibrate the tax code so that it is more equitable. “What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. “Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I.” But relations between the president and Congress have always been tense, and it is unlikely that the lawmakers are going to jump at the president’s call to action. Should the president use executive actions to move his agenda forward if Congress does not act as he wishes?
Are state “buffer zones” around abortion clinics unconstitutional?
Posted on 1/22/2014 7:54:34 AM
Public safety vs. free speech. That is the issue at the heart of McCullen v. Coakley, which may decide if Massachusetts’ mandated 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances of abortion clinics violates anti-abortion protesters’ First Amendment right of free speech. Do the 35-foot buffer zones violate anti-abortion advocates’ free speech rights?
Temple of Satan and Ten Commandments: A violation of the establishment clause?
Posted on 1/15/2014 10:04:19 AM
Over three years ago, Oklahoma legislators passed a bill to put a monument on the Capitol grounds. The monument was not the first to be placed near the Capitol building, but it was unique among the memorials to Oklahomans who fought in wars and great people of the state. The monument was of the Ten Commandments. Flash-forward to December 2013, when a New York-based church applied to have a monument that represented its religion placed on the Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City. Its reasoning was that if the state truly doesn’t favor one religion over another, than monuments should be allowed for all religions, even this particular New York church, the Temple of Satan. Should the Satanists be allowed to put religious monuments on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds?
Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?
Posted on 1/8/2014 1:12:22 PM
Turning 16 is big. In most states, being 16 means the freedom of driving and getting a job without parental approval. But in Takoma Park, Md., it comes with another responsibility – voting. Would expanding voting rights to 16-year-olds increase voter turnout? If you were given the chance, would you vote?
Do you give to charity?
Posted on 12/18/2013 8:04:19 AM
During the holiday season every year, Americans from all walks of life open their wallets and make charitable donations that are expected to top $200 billion. “I think that during this time of year, people have generous hearts and there is a time period of giving,” said Peggy Dyer, chief marketing officer with the American Red Cross. Do you give to charity?
Can the government freeze a defendant’s assets before a trial?
Posted on 12/11/2013 1:49:34 PM
We’ve seen it in the movies: An international drug smuggler gets nabbed by the FBI and then the prosecutor announces the suspect’s assets have been frozen. Seems like a logical step in the legal process – freeze all the suspected criminal’s property and money so he can’t flee the country. But is it constitutional?
Is flashing your car’s headlights protected speech?
Posted on 11/20/2013 10:49:25 AM
Suppose you are driving and you see a police car pulled over to the side of the road, radar gun out, waiting to catch a speeder. You pass the officer, and a little down the way, you flash your high beams at the oncoming traffic, warning the drivers of the trap. You would be doing them a favor, but would you also be exercising your First Amendment right to free speech?
Does a prayer before a town meeting violate the establishment clause?
Posted on 11/13/2013 11:36:36 AM
The First Amendment of the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…,” essentially saying that no government, local or federal, can establish a religion, endorse religion, or favor one religion over another. What is known as the establishment clause was adopted in response to European governments adopting state religions that persecuted people of other faiths. The Founding Fathers wanted a country where individuals could practice their faith as they wished without government intrusion. So how does the separation of church and state factor into prayers before government meetings?
How should states determine whether someone is mentally fit to be executed?
Posted on 11/4/2013 1:19:35 PM
What makes a person unfit to be executed? The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on that question later this term when Hall v. Florida comes before the justices. The case centers on Freddie Lee Hall and a previous Supreme Court ruling that forbid anyone deemed “mentally retarded” to be executed based on the clause in the Eighth Amendment that protects against “cruel and unusual punishment.” In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decided in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute individuals who are mentally disabled because they cannot fully grasp the consequences of their actions. The court did not set a national standard on how to define “mentally retarded” and how states should apply the ruling.
This is where Hall v. Florida comes in. In 1978, Hall and another man, Mack Ruffin, committed a double homicide in central Florida. Hall was sentenced to death while Ruffin’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. In response to Atkins, Florida and nine other states adopted what is called a “bright-line cutoff” that determines, based on an IQ score, whether a person is mentally competent to be executed. A score below the cutoff means the defendant is mentally retarded and cannot be executed. In Florida and the other states, a person who scores below 70 on an IQ test is considered mentally disabled. Should states have a “bright-line cutoff” to determine whether someone is mentally competent to be executed? Should there be a more uniform definition for states?
Is “I (heart) Boobies” protected speech?
Posted on 10/30/2013 10:14:41 AM
In August, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case that pitted students against the school administration over a thin band of silicone with the phrase “I ? boobies.” The wristband was promotional material for the Keep A Breast Foundation, which raises awareness of breast cancer and aims to reduce the stigma attached to the life-threatening illness. Two middle school students in Easton, Pa., wore the wristbands to school, even though they had been banned. The school said the wristbands were “distracting and demeaning.” The students were suspended and banned from taking part in extracurricular activities. The American Civil Liberties Union helped the girls file a lawsuit against the school, contending their First Amendment rights had been violated. The 3rd Circuit Court ruled 9 -5 in favor of the students. Do you agree with the court’s ruling that “I ? boobies” is protected political speech?
What is the debt ceiling?
Posted on 10/23/2013 11:38:10 AM
For nearly three weeks in October, the federal government shut down as Congress fought over the budget, the debt limit, and the new health care law. While the dust has settled from the October shutdown, the budget fight has halted only temporarily because the spending resolution that was passed funds the government only until the first few weeks of 2014 and allows the Treasury to keep borrowing money to pay its bills until February. When February rolls around, the debt limit will need to be raised again to keep the Treasury from running out of money to pay its bills. The debt limit is the legal amount that the Treasury can borrow to pay bills, such as Social Security and Medicare payments and military salaries. Think of it as a credit card where you can keep increasing your spending limit. But if the U.S. defaults on its payments, which would be unprecedented, economists warn of disastrous economic consequences for the country. Congress sets the debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, and this is where it gets contentious. How should the government reduce its debt?
How should Arctic offshore drilling be regulated?
Posted on 10/16/2013 3:57:46 PM
Getting oil from the ground to your car isn’t an easy undertaking, especially if a company is planning on extracting it from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. The bitter cold, crushing waves, thick sea ice, devastating icebergs and remoteness are all challenges that oil companies must overcome. The Interior Department, an executive branch agency that oversees the management of U.S. natural resources, is drafting standards that oil and gas companies must comply with to conduct offshore drilling north of Alaska. Currently, regulations make no distinction in dealing with the special challenges that the Arctic presents. Who should be responsible for writing regulations for Arctic drilling?
Should there be a limit on campaign donations from individuals?
Posted on 10/10/2013 10:05:53 AM
The Supreme Court revisited the issue of campaign finance in early October, hearing arguments on a case that asks whether there should be a limit on how much an individual can donate to political campaigns. The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, pits wealthy Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon against the federal agency that monitors and enforces the laws concerning campaign finances. Is a campaign donation a form of free speech? Should there be a limit on how much a person can donate to a campaign?
Why has the federal government shut down and how are you affected?
Posted on 10/4/2013 9:36:55 AM
Unless you’ve been under a rock, you can’t miss the fact that the federal government has ceased to operate at its normal level. As many as 800,000 “nonessential” government workers have been placed on furloughs, or temporary unpaid leave, and several government agencies, like the National Park Service, have closed until Congress and President Obama come to an agreement on a bill to fund the government. How has the government shutdown affected you?
What happens when states enact legislation that contradicts federal laws?
Posted on 10/1/2013 4:57:06 PM
From Colorado to Missouri, Wyoming to Washington, states recently have passed laws that contradict or ignore federal laws.
In these so-called nullification efforts, the states have acted because they say the federal laws are unconstitutional or they disagree with the laws. For example, Colorado and Oregon have legalized marijuana for anyone over the age of 21 while the federal government still criminalizes the possession and distribution of the drug. This led to a standoff between the states and the Department of Justice, until the department announced that it would not prosecute marijuana growers and distributors in Colorado and Washington. The Justice Department emphasized that the states must tightly regulate marijuana and that it has the right to arrest anyone breaking a federal law. Should state laws or federal laws take priority?
Is it unconstitutional for police to occupy a home (and eat your food)?
Posted on 9/25/2013 7:55:36 AM
The Third Amendment could be considered the Rodney Dangerfield of the Bill of Rights – it gets no respect. For more than 200 years, the Third Amendment has been invoked very few times; the Supreme Court often strikes down claims. But that hasn’t stopped a Nevada man from suing his town’s police force, four police officers and other police agencies. He contends they violated his family’s Third Amendment rights when he refused to allow them to use his home during a neighborhood disturbance. In 2011, Anthony Mitchell of Henderson, Nev., refused to allow a SWAT team to enter his home during a police standoff with one of his neighbors. Phillip White Jr. had barricaded himself and a child inside his home and refused to come out. According to the lawsuit, Henderson Police Officer Christopher Worley told Mitchell that police needed to “occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house.” The police called Mitchell to request the use of his home, but when he refused, they went to the house and smashed down his door, pointing guns at Mitchell and cursing at him, the lawsuit said. Were the Mitchells’ Third Amendment rights violated?
What is the importance of the Miranda warning?
Posted on 9/16/2013 3:09:43 PM
You have the right to remain silent… You’re likely familiar with this opening line of the Miranda warning. Law enforcement officers are required to tell criminal suspects their constitutional rights at the time of their arrest and before they are questioned. Since 1966, when the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona established guidelines for how detained suspects are informed of their constitutional rights, giving the Miranda warning has become standard practice for police. The warning includes parts of the Fifth Amendment (protection against self-incrimination) and the Sixth Amendment (a right to counsel). The Miranda warning recently has been in the news in a Kentucky school case and the Boston Marathon bombing case. In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court decided whether the Miranda warning should be given to a student who is questioned by an assistant principal with a school officer in the room.
A student identified as N.C. was questioned in the assistant principal’s office about an empty prescription bottle labeled with his name that was found in a restroom. An armed deputy sheriff who served as the school resource officer was present. The student admitted that he brought the pain medication to school because he’d had his wisdom teeth removed and that he gave two pills to another student. The assistant principal told N.C. that he would be disciplined for violating school rules. The deputy sheriff said he also had violated state drug laws. N.C. entered a conditional guilty plea to illegally dispensing a controlled substance and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. Should N.C. have been read his Miranda rights?
Does the president need Congress’ approval to use force in Syria?
Posted on 9/4/2013 4:00:14 PM
In light of a reported chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own people, the Obama administration is trying to persuade Congress to authorize a military strike on Syria. President Obama has been lobbying congressional leadership to endorse military action against the Assad regime. Sens. Robert Menendez (R., N.J.) and Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) have drafted legislation with support of the president to use military force. The bill says that the United States’ intention for intervention is a response to the use of weapons of mass destruction. The measure also aims to protect the interests of the United States and its allies against the use of such weapons and to hinder Syria’s ability to use the weapons. The vote on the legislation is expected to be close. But does the president need Congress’ approval to authorize use of force in Syria?
‘I Have a Dream’ at 50: What are the civil rights issues today?
Posted on 8/28/2013 9:16:13 AM
Fifty years ago this week, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a crowd of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and delivered one of the most iconic speeches in the history of the country. When Dr. King uttered, “I have a dream,” his words gave tangible goals for the country to strive toward: social and economic equality for all. How has the civil rights movement has affected your life?
Can a stop-and-frisk law be constitutional?
Posted on 8/22/2013 4:41:57 PM
In August, a federal judge declared that parts of a New York City policy known as “stop and frisk” were unconstitutional as implemented by the police.
The stop-and-frisk law allowed police to stop and question an individual if the officers had a reasonable suspicion that the individual was in the process of committing or was about to commit a crime. The individual can be searched if the officers think they are in danger. Since the law’s inception in 2002, more than four million people have been detained. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, 90 percent of those individuals were African American or Latino. Opponents of Stop and Frisk took the city to court and the lawsuit said the policy was a form of racial profiling and a violation of individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Can stop and frisk be implemented without violating an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights?
Summer jobs: A window into wages, taxes, and cost of living
Posted on 6/18/2013 10:01:21 AM
Every summer, millions of high school students just like you hit the streets looking for work – in restaurants, malls and offices. You might be saving for a car or for college, helping the family, or just want some extra spending money, If you are seeking experience for future career opportunities, there are also internships that can help you. When the first paycheck arrives, you might be in for a shock – it’s less than you expected! Don’t worry – your boss didn’t pay you the wrong amount. That gap between what you thought you would get paid and what you actually get paid is money that goes to the government. It’s your income tax, which is basically your contribution to keep the government running and its public services – such as roads, parks, public health and the military – available.
Should schools suspend suspensions?
Posted on 6/7/2013 11:23:23 AM
School districts across the country have begun to question what was once considered a routine form of punishment for students: suspensions. Last year, California handed out 700,000 suspensions, and Philadelphia issued 46,552 suspensions for a range of offenses, three times higher than the rest of the state of Pennsylvania. But school suspensions may be a thing of the past. Should schools do away with suspensions? Are suspensions an effective punishment?
Are Google’s glasses a threat to your privacy?
Posted on 5/23/2013 4:17:00 PM
When Google announced its new product, the Google Glass, tech lovers drooled over its functions, including the camera that can record almost everything that the wearer sees and post it to the Internet for the world to see. The company talked about how the tiny camera could document your day, recording the free fall before the parachute opens or the walk down the aisle at a wedding, but it seemed to be silent when privacy concerns were raised. Do you think Google Glass could infringe on your right to privacy?
Should corporations be allowed to patent genes?
Posted on 5/15/2013 3:51:00 PM
In mid-May, the Supreme Court ruled on a case that pitted a 75-year-old Indiana farmer against the agriculture giant Monsanto. The case centered on whether the farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, had violated Monsanto’s patent on a genetically modified soybean. While the ruling may seem to affect only farmers, its interpretation could affect prices of products ranging from computer software to farm goods. Do you agree with the court’s ruling that the farmer violated Monsanto’s patent?
Should Internet communication firms be required to install a wiretapping capacity?
Posted on 5/9/2013 9:50:16 AM
For the past year, the FBI has been asking Facebook, Skype, Google, and other Internet-based communications companies to go along with its proposal to require wiretapping capacity in their services to make court-ordered surveillance of users easier. Driven by concerns that terrorists and other criminals are increasingly using the Internet to communicate, the FBI general counsel drafted a proposal that would require social network websites that offer instant messaging, voice-over-Internet-phones, email or other forms of communication to change their coding to ensure that their services can be readily tapped by the FBI. This would allow the law enforcement agency to track communications of suspects in real time. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the bureau’s surveillance capabilities are diminishing because, as technology advances, more people are using social networks and email to communicate. The FBI’s tools have become outdated, he said, making much more difficult to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities. Tech insiders argue that the proposal would not only be a hurdle for innovators to develop the next Facebook or Google, but it also might make the country more susceptible to cyber-terrorism. Should Internet communication firms like Facebook and Google be required to install wiretap capability?
Should noncitizens be allowed to serve on juries?
Posted on 5/3/2013 2:27:48 PM
“A Jury of One’s Own Peers” Those words were first penned by the Founding Fathers as they drafted the Constitution and later the Bill of Rights, right? Wrong, the idea of a trial by a jury composed of fellow citizens dates back to medieval England, with the adoption of the Magna Carta in 1297, when English law formally laid out the concept that defendants in court should be judged by their fellow citizens, not judges. This tradition of fellow citizens determining a person’s guilt or innocence made its way into the Sixth Amendment, which states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” The federal government and almost every state have similar requirements as to who can serve on a jury: U.S. citizens over the age of 18. But California might just change that. The state Assembly recently passed a bill that would allow noncitizens to serve on juries. The noncitizens have to be in good legal standing, meaning that they came to this country legally, and are over the age of 18. Should noncitizens who are legal residents be allowed to serve on juries?
When should a student be given the Miranda warning?
Posted on 4/26/2013 11:38:12 AM
You have the right to remain silent… You’re likely familiar with this opening line of the Miranda warning. Law enforcement officers are required to tell criminal suspects their constitutional rights at the time of their arrest and before they are questioned. But should the Miranda warning be given to a student who is questioned by an assistant principal with a school officer in the room? A student identified as N.C. was questioned in the assistant principal’s office about an empty prescription bottle labeled with his name that was found in a school restroom. An armed deputy sheriff who served as the school resource officer was present. The student admitted that he gave two pills to another student. N.C. entered a conditional guilty plea to illegally dispensing a controlled substance and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that N.C.’s incriminating statement must be suppressed because he was clearly in custody at the time. Do you agree with the ruling? Join the discussion!
How should cities deal with abandoned properties?
Posted on 4/18/2013 9:28:34 AM
Abandoned properties are bad for towns and cities. Instead of bringing in revenue through property taxes, they become a financial burden to municipal governments, which must maintain the properties. These properties often become magnets for crime, with threats of arson and attracting transients. They also depress the value of the houses and properties around them, meaning even less money for cities. So what is a city to do?
What should the government do to prevent prescription-drug abuse?
Posted on 4/11/2013 2:53:22 PM
Called the “silent epidemic” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies, the abuse of prescription drugs affects almost every town, county and school in the country. To fight the epidemic, federal, state, and local governments are developing methods to get the drugs out of the hands of the abusers. Nationally, legislation called the Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills Act that would make it difficult for painkillers and other oral medications to be abused if passed. The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to refuse any new pharmaceuticals that do not have a tamper-resistant formula. States are also implementing prescription-drug trafficking programs. How should the federal government respond to prescription-drug abuse?
When does use of a drug-sniffing dog violate the Fourth Amendment?
Posted on 4/5/2013 2:00:00 PM
Here are the stories of Franky and Aldo, two drug-sniffing dogs whose skills put them at the heart of two U.S. Supreme Court cases about the Fourth Amendment’s protection again unreasonable search and seizure. These cases asked whether a dog's sniff outside a home is considered a search and thus requires probable cause and a warrant and whether a trained dog's reliability should be a factor in allowing a search. Join the discussion!
Do domestic drones violate the right to privacy?
Posted on 3/29/2013 11:31:10 AM
Unmanned drones have become a stealthy asset in the war on terror, collecting data on the movements of enemies and making strikes on targets. They are small, nimble and nearly silent, and they could keep tabs on law-abiding citizens from skies near you. Should unmanned drones be used in the United States? For what purposes should governments use drones?
Should government regulate sugary drinks?
Posted on 3/22/2013 9:50:57 AM
In March, a New York state judge struck down a New York City ban on the sale of big, sugary drinks. The law, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, was necessary to help curb the growing waistlines of New Yorkers and improve their health. The ban targeted sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda, fruit drinks, smoothies and coffee that come in containers larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and movie theaters. Supermarkets and convenience stores were exempt. Obesity is quickly becoming a major health problem in the nation, with over 35 percent of Americans considered obese. For children and teenagers, the rate is lower, 16.9 percent, but that is also rising. Is a ban on sugary drinks the answer?
Is solitary confinement constitutional?
Posted on 3/15/2013 1:18:45 PM
Imagine spending 23 hours a day in a 10-foot-by-7-foot room. The fluorescent lights are constantly on, and contact with the outside world is limited to a few guards. For estimated 80,000 inmates in the U.S. prison system, this is their life; some have spent 10 to 30 years living in these conditions. It’s called solitary confinement. Solitary confinement, a punishment doled out to the most violent criminals, has come under scrutiny recently. Congress conducted hearings in 2012 to review the practice. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” So is solitary confinement “cruel and unusual” punishment or a necessary tool for prisons?
Should schools focus more on foreign languages?
Posted on 3/8/2013 3:26:35 PM
With increasing awareness of our interconnected world, there is a call for more Americans to become fluent in a language other than English. But because of tight budgets, foreign-language requirements are going by the wayside in schools. Only 10 percent of native-born Americans can speak a language other than English, according to an analysis of 2010 census figures. When immigrants were included, the percentage increased to 20.1 percent. Should there be a greater emphasis on foreign languages in high schools?
What does sequestration mean for you?
Posted on 3/1/2013 2:23:07 PM
As of March 1, the federal government will be required by law to enact deep, across-the-board cuts in services and functions because Congress and President Obama have yet to agree on how to address the country’s growing deficit. The automatic budget cuts will force a reduction in federal spending. The process is called sequestration. Find out how it might affect you!
Is the Voting Rights Act of 1965 still relevant?
Posted on 2/20/2013 3:45:23 PM
1965 was a watershed year for the civil rights movement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, requiring many Southern states to remove legal barriers that kept minorities from voting. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain states, counties and districts with a history of racial discrimination to submit plans for redistricting or changes in voting laws and election procedures to the Justice Department. They must prove that the changes will not adversely affect minorities. In the decades since, Section 5 has come under criticism. Officials in Shelby County, Ala., decided to fight Section 5, declaring that the provision is unconstitutional. What do you think?
Is taking a suspect’s DNA at the time of arrest unconstitutional?
Posted on 2/14/2013 1:06:00 PM
When individuals are arrested and charged with a crime, they are fingerprinted. Police may try to connect the suspect to the crime through fingerprints, and the fingerprints also are added to a database. But what if the police take more than a suspect’s fingerprints? What if they also collect the suspect’s DNA?
What should the Supreme Court decide on same-sex marriage?
Posted on 2/8/2013 9:51:11 AM
In December, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider two cases that may decide the future of same-sex marriage. U.S. v. Windsor challenges the constitutionality of 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that says when marriage is mentioned in federal law, it is referring to marriage between a man and a woman. Among other things, that means married same-sex couples are not eligible for federal benefits regarding taxation, Social Security, health and welfare that are automatically granted to opposite-sex married couples. The question before the court is whether the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Join the discussion!
How should the U.S. overhaul its immigration system?
Posted on 2/1/2013 4:35:32 PM
President Obama’s inauguration speech marked the end of a nearly 10-year silence on immigration reform. Echoing the president’s remarks, members of Congress from both parties seem eager to make immigration reform a top priority. Politics have prevented much from being accomplished in the past. But the nation’s swiftly changing demographics were clear in the 2012 presidential election. Exit polls indicated that Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Obama over Mitt Romney, who had advocated a policy that amounted to forcing undocumented immigrants to deport themselves. Both political parties took notice. How should the U.S. overhaul its immigration system?
Can a judge force someone to go to church instead of prison?
Posted on 1/25/2013 4:08:17 PM
In December 2011, the pickup truck that 17-year-old Tyler Alred was driving swerved off a rural Oklahoma road and hit a tree. His 16-year-old passenger was ejected from the car and killed. Alred had been drinking and his blood-alcohol level was 0.07. Even though it was under the legal limit of 0.08, he was charged with DUI because he was under age. At Alred’s sentencing for a manslaughter conviction almost a year later, the judge offered a unique punishment: church attendance or jail. The judge’s punishment raises several constitutional questions. Does sentencing someone to attend church instead of going to jail violate the separation of church and state? Join the discussion!
What does the Second Amendment mean?
Posted on 1/11/2013 10:20:45 AM
The school shooting in Newton, Conn., has renewed debate over gun laws in this country. At the heart of the issue is the Second Amendment, one of the most contentious parts of the U.S. Constitution. The shortest of the amendments at 27 words, it addresses the right to carry firearms. How do you interpret the Second Amendment?
Is a law that forbids videotaping a police officer unconstitutional?
Posted on 1/6/2013 5:00:00 AM
Imagine you are on a crowded street. Ahead you see a commotion, and find out that someone is being arrested. You think that the person is being handled roughly so you decide to get out your phone and catch a video of the arrest. And if you were in Illinois, you, too, would be accused of breaking the law. Chris Drew found this out when he recorded a police officer arresting him for selling street art without a license. The unlicensed sales were a minor infraction, but recording the arrest is considered a class-one felony in Illinois, punishable by 15 years in prison. Is this law constitutional? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
What is the fiscal cliff?
Posted on 12/14/2012 11:37:09 AM
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about the “fiscal cliff” in the news lately with dire predictions about the effect on the U.S. economy if President Obama , the Republican majority in the U.S. House and Democratic majority in the Senate can’t resolve their budget differences. So just what is the fiscal cliff? And how can it be avoided?
Do you donate to charities?
Posted on 12/13/2012 10:03:14 AM
As the year ends and the holiday season begins, the coffers of the world’s charities begin to fill. That’s because every year, Americans from all walks of life open their wallets, making donations that are expected to top $200 billion. Americans’ contributions have helped give aid during some of the world’s recent disasters, both at home and abroad. How do you give in this tough economy? Why is it good to give? Do you support any charities? If so, which ones? If you can’t afford to give money, what are other ways you can help? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
How should the federal government deal with state laws that legalize marijuana use?
Posted on 12/10/2012 5:00:00 AM
On Nov. 7, the voters in Washington and Colorado did something no other state has done. They voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use by anyone over 21. But a 1970 federal law called the Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a dangerous and addictive drug, the same as heroin and cocaine. The federal law is enforced by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with the oversight by the Justice Department, which may prosecute individuals who grow, sell or distribute marijuana.
The Obama administration will have to decide whether to sue the states to stop legislation that allows the recreational use of marijuana or to let those states continue without federal intervention. What do you think the federal government should do?
Does the First Amendment protect cheerleaders’ religious-themed banners?
Posted on 11/30/2012 10:19:55 AM
In a small East Texas town, the cheerleaders at a public high school have a tradition of making banners to hold up at the start of home football games. In previous years, the banners’ messages were taunts of the opponent, but this year, the cheer leaders decided to use messages with Christian themes, such as “Thanks be to God, which gives us victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The school district banned the banners after receiving a complaint that the religious messages at official school events violated the constitutional separation of church and state in the First Amendment. Parents and attorneys for the cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the ban, arguing that the messages were protected by the First Amendment’s free speech right. Do you think the banners' messages are protected by the right to free speech?
Does a town’s no-swearing bylaw violate the right to free speech?
Posted on 11/19/2012 5:00:00 AM
When you’re riding on the school bus, attending a concert, or shopping at the mall, you're likely to hear people using curse words. Does it bother you? Does it depend on how loud it is? Or if the cursing is directed at you or your friends? In a Massachusetts town, citizens decided last summer to enforce a 1968 bylaw by imposing a $20 fine for loud, public profanity. The state attorney general, however, said the rule should not be enforced because it violates the right to free speech. What do you think?
Should the federal government require healthy school lunches?
Posted on 11/6/2012 2:48:58 PM
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented its new guidelines for school lunches in August – increasing the amounts of fruits and vegetables and curbing fatty foods like French fries – some complaints were expected. But in several schools across the country, full-blown student boycotts have been started to protest the reduced-calorie lunches. Childhood obesity is one of the leading threats to the health of the nation’s students, and obese children are more likely to carry obesity into adulthood. With the nation’s waistline expanding, health care costs increase. Do you think the government should be involved in school cafeteria menus?
Does the Fourth Amendment protect your Twitter account?
Posted on 11/6/2012 1:33:35 PM
When the Fourth Amendment was drafted as part of the Bill of Rights, the founders were adamant about protecting people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. They had been labeled traitors and revolutionaries during the War of Independence, with their property and their associates’ property confiscated and their houses searched at whim by the British. This fear of government intrusion led to the Fourth Amendment, which was intended to prevent the federal government from invading one’s privacy without due cause. Flash-forward to modern times and the scope of what is your personal property and what is private starts to blur, especially when it comes to social media. Does something posted online but deleted, removed or marked private fall into the realm of an unreasonable search if law enforcement wants to build a case against someone? Join the discussion!
Path to the Presidency: Why is it important to vote?
Posted on 11/5/2012 12:25:44 PM
Every year, many students like you turn 18 and cast their first ballot on Election Day, fulfilling the most basic action in a democratic society. Voting is a fundamental process that keeps our system of government working. Through elections, citizens have the ability to decide on who represents them in government, be it a local official, a state or national representative, or the president. Low voter turnout is often a problem. Some say their vote doesn't count or they don't know enough about the issues. What do you think?
Do tougher teen driving laws help improve safety or are they too strict?
Posted on 10/26/2012 3:01:36 PM
Just got your driver’s license? Were you looking forward to piling your friends in the car for a ride to the mall? Think again. More states are passing laws cracking down on when and how teenagers can drive and who can ride with them. What do you think about these tougher laws?
Path to the Presidency: Should the U.S. keep the Electoral College?
Posted on 10/21/2012 8:00:00 AM
As the November presidential election gets closer, you're probably hearing a lot about the Electoral College. What is the Electoral College and should it be changed? Join the discussion!
Student tracking IDs: An invasion of privacy or security measure?
Posted on 10/15/2012 9:00:00 AM
When you step onto school grounds, the school becomes responsible for your well being and knowing where you are. Over the decades, hall monitors have given way to the constant presence of security cameras as technology has allowed administrators to adopt more security and tracking measures. So how far should a school go to guarantee that students are safe and where they should be?
Path to the Presidency: How have the Internet and social media changed campaigns?
Posted on 10/7/2012 5:00:00 AM
The first presidential debate between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney on Oct. 3 set a record for tweets – 11.1 million – for a U.S. political event, Twitter said. While millions watched the debate on TV, social media allowed people to offer their own commentary in real time. “It has democratized the commentary,” according to an Associated Press story. Social media has played a growing role in campaigns. What do you think about its influence?
Are tattoos a form of protected speech?
Posted on 10/1/2012 8:00:00 AM
Tattoos have become as ubiquitous as dyed hair and trendy clothes, but are they a form of protected speech? That was one of the questions in the case of Coleman v. City of Mesa, which was decided Sept. 7 by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Path to the Presidency: What does the Constitution say about the executive office?
Posted on 9/24/2012 9:43:33 AM
The requirements to become president have not changed since the Constitution was written. Article II, Section I, of the Constitution lists three main eligibility requirements:
• He or she must be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
• He or she must have lived in the United States for the previous 14 years.
• He or she must be over the age of 35.
What do you think about the constitutional requirements to become president? Should they be changed in any way? What do you think are the most important qualities in a president? Join the discussion!
How far do your Fourth Amendment rights go?
Posted on 9/18/2012 3:19:13 PM
In the past year, cases from local courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court have focused on the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure as it relates to cell phone confiscation; GPS tracking by law enforcement; strip-searches of prisoners; and circumstances when warrantless searches are allowed.How far should your Fourth Amendment rights go? Do you think procedures and restrictions placed on law enforcement are necessary? Do you think those procedures go too far, obstructing justice? How would you have ruled in each of these cases? Does suspected destruction of evidence mean police don’t need a warrant? Does GPS tracking equal a search? Join the discussion!
What would you tweet about Constitution?
Posted on 9/7/2012 3:50:32 PM
Today, more of us are expressing our thoughts in 140 characters or fewer on Twitter. How would you sum up the Constitution in a tweet? If you were a Founding Father who had just signed the document, what would you tell your followers on Twitter? If you had to write the next amendment to the Constitution – and limit it to 140 characters – what it would be and what would you say? Join the discussion and write your news tweet or Twittermendment! Or tweet it at us at @Student_Voices!
How would you change the Constitution?
Posted on 9/7/2012 3:43:09 PM
Constitution Day on Sept. 17 marks the 225th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s founding document. The core of this remarkable document has endured with only 27 amendments passed in that time. Why do you think the Constitution has endured? Would you change any of the Constitution’s articles or amendments? Would you take out any? What do you think of the process of amending the Constitution? What do you think the next constitutional amendment should be? What do you think about using social media to change the Constitution? Join the discussion!
How should states deal with a Supreme Court ruling on mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles?
Posted on 9/4/2012 10:27:52 AM
On August 31, an important deadline passed for some 500 Pennsylvanians. The last day of the month was the cutoff for inmates who as juveniles were automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole to challenge their sentences. The state allowed these inmates to challenge their sentences after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that automatic life sentences without a chance for parole for juveniles convicted of murder was unconstitutional, a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which protects individuals from “cruel and unusual” punishment. How should states deal with the Supreme Court ruling? How would you change sentencing guidelines for juveniles? Join the discussion!
New voter photo ID laws: Preventing fraud or discriminating?
Posted on 8/16/2012 4:02:25 PM
If you’ve turned 18 and are excited about voting for the first time in the November election, you should know that you aren’t going to be able to just walk into the voting booth and cast your ballot. Most states require that voters show ID at the polls; some have what are called “strict” laws, meaning the ID must include a photo and only certain types of photo IDs are accepted. Some of these laws have been challenged in court as unfair to certain voting groups while advocates say they prevent voter fraud.
Summer jobs: A window into wages, taxes, and cost of living
Posted on 5/30/2012 3:24:10 PM
Every summer, millions of high school students just like you hit the streets looking for work – in restaurants, malls and offices. You might be saving for a car or for college, helping the family, or just want some extra spending money, If you are seeking experience for future career opportunities, there are also internships that can help you. When the first paycheck arrives, you might be in for a shock – it’s less than you expected! Don’t worry – your boss didn’t pay you the wrong amount. That gap between what you thought you would get paid and what you actually get paid is money that goes to the government. It’s your income tax, which is basically your contribution to keep the government running and its public services – such as roads, parks, public health and the military – available.
What can be done about deceptive third-party attack ads?
Posted on 5/15/2012 11:18:15 AM
So far in this campaign season, we’ve seen a Democratic National Committee ad take Republican Mitt Romney’s remark “I enjoy firing people” out of context; we’ve seen two outside groups equate the health care debate to pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff; and we’ve seen a group called the Red, White and Blue Fund accuse President Obama of “funding radicals with bad intentions.” And those are only a few of the many inaccurate or misleading third-party attack ads that have been aired.
Facebook and the First Amendment: Should freedom of speech protect 'Likes'?
Posted on 5/2/2012 9:11:00 AM
When people use Facebook, hitting the “like” button practically becomes a reflex. Your friend might post a hi-def Vimeo trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, and you’re so excited you “like” it. Or maybe you laughed hysterically to your brother’s Someecards link, so you “like” it. Liking things is a fast-paced way to communicate with your friends, share your interests or give others an idea of your tastes. But can it get you in trouble? According to a federal judge in Virginia, yes, they can.
Social Media in the Courtroom: Can tweeting disrupt a trial?
Posted on 4/30/2012 11:10:35 AM
Here’s the scene: You’re sitting in a crowd in your county courthouse and the witness on the stand has just divulged a shocking piece of testimony. The crowd gasps, the defendant yells, the judge bangs the gavel, and the reporters take out their smartphones and quickly report the breaking news to Twitter. With all these disruptions in the courtroom, where do you think the journalists’ tweeting would rank?
Should smartphone users have a ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’?
Posted on 4/17/2012 9:34:04 AM
Should employers be able to ask for employee’s Facebook passwords?
Posted on 4/12/2012 12:51:30 PM
As the school year nears an end and many of you are getting ready for the summer job interview process, a new request might throw you for a curveball. More and more employers are asking applicants for their Facebook passwords as a means of vetting potential employees. While it is common for employers to search Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts to see what future employees behavior is like outside of the interview process, some companies believe they have the right to have access to your social media accounts. Do employers have the right to ask for your social media passwords?
Do prison strip searches for minor offenses violate the 4th Amendment?
Posted on 4/5/2012 2:11:45 PM
When Albert Florence’s wife was pulled over for speeding in 2005, little did he know that the incident would lead to events that would spiral into a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Florence was sitting in the passenger seat during the traffic stop in New Jersey. When the police officer noticed a warrant for Florence for not paying a fine, he was detained. The outstanding warrant was an error, and Florence presented the officer with the receipt for the fine. Even though he had evidence of paying the fine, Florence was still taken into custody, forced to endure two strip searches and spend seven days in custody. Florence decided to sue the prison, arguing that his civil rights were violated. Contending that he presented no threat to the prison or its staff, Florence said his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure was violated. Should strip searches be allowed for people accused of minor offenses?
Suppressing Danger or Suppressing a Viewpoint? Secret Service and the First Amendment
Posted on 4/2/2012 3:38:05 PM
Our First Amendment freedoms give you the right to speak your mind, to have your say, to voice opinions that might not be popular – even to disagree with those in power. Because of freedom of speech, you could march right up to your elected officials and tell them off if you wanted to, right? Well…not quite. The Supreme Court is hearing the case of a man who was arrested by the Secret Service for doing just that. Except in this case, the person did a tiny bit more than just speak his mind.
Should police be able to search cell phones without a warrant?
Posted on 3/29/2012 10:49:35 AM
Chances are you have a lot of personal information on your cell phone – names and numbers of friends, personal text messages and photos, both flattering and not. But how would you feel if police could just search your phone without your permission?
Health Care and the Supreme Court: Is it unconstitutional to require individuals to buy health insurance?
Posted on 3/26/2012 2:33:26 PM
During the presidential primary season, you’ve probably heard the term “Obamacare” thrown around a lot. That’s how those who oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the health care law signed by President Obama in 2010 – refer to it. Debate over the law was heated and polarized long before it got the president’s signature. And this week, the Supreme Court began three days of oral arguments to determine whether the law is constitutional.
Should juveniles get life sentences without parole if they’re convicted of murder?
Posted on 3/21/2012 8:37:15 AM
A crime is a crime, no matter how old the person committing it might be. But should the punishment carry more flexibility? The rights of juvenile defendants have been debated extensively over the past 10 years. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence convicted criminals under 18 to death. Five years later, the court followed up by ruling that life in prison without the possibility of parole was also off the books for all crimes committed by juveniles, except murder. Now, the justices will rule on whether juvenile killers also should be protected from life sentences without parole.
Should a R.I. teen receive a lifetime ban for reckless driving?
Posted on 3/16/2012 3:58:49 PM
For Rhode Island teen Lyle Topa, it’s going to be walking, biking, bumming rides or taking the bus if he wants to go anywhere. That is because the 17-year old received a lifetime ban on driving in Rhode Island from Chief Magistrate William Guglietta. Is this the proper punishment for Topa’s crime, or is it too harsh?
Should unhealthy snacks be removed from school vending machines?
Posted on 3/8/2012 9:28:11 AM
Junk food and sugary snacks might be a little harder to find at school as the Obama administration has targeted the vending machines in its attempts to get the nation’s youth healthier. After creating stricter food standards for what schools can serve you in the cafeteria, the administration has begun establishing guidelines for what can and can’t be put in the vending machines in school buildings.
How should the federal government fund public transportation?
Posted on 2/13/2012 9:33:36 AM
For many Americans, taking public transportation to and from work is a part of their daily routine. Buses, trolleys, trains and subways shuttle people from one place to another. While the routes may not be changing, legislation being debated in the House of Representatives could change the way the federal government funds public transportation. Called the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, the legislation would take the existing funding source for public transportation – money raised through taxes on gasoline – and instead fund mass transit with a onetime $40 billion deposit into a public transportation fund. The revenue from the gasoline tax would instead be given to states to finance infrastructure projects like road construction and repairs. How should the federal government pay for public transportation and infrastructure improvements? Should tax money raised through gasoline taxes pay for public transportation or infrastructure?
Does law enforcement need a warrant to track someone with a GPS device?
Posted on 2/6/2012 9:24:25 AM
If police use a GPS device to track someone, is that considered a search? That is the question the Supreme Court answered in late January, when it reviewed United States v. Jones. The court ruled unanimously that GPS tracking could be considered a search, therefore police need to obtain a warrant first. Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? How will this affect police and law enforcement efforts?
Can schools refuse to publish a senior photograph for the yearbook?
Posted on 2/2/2012 10:53:49 AM
The yearbook committee at Durango High School in Durango, Colo., is getting a lesson in the First Amendment. Seniors at the high school are allowed to submit their own senior photographs for the yearbook, and then a committee of five students reviews them. When aspiring model Sydney Spies submitted her photo, the yearbook committee rejected it, deeming it too racy for the yearbook. Spies submitted another photo, but it, too, was rejected, and instead of submitting yet another senior picture, she has decided to fight the decision. Should the school publish the photograph? Is a senior picture a form of expression?
Do corporations have First Amendment rights?
Posted on 1/19/2012 11:28:44 AM
With the Republican primaries under way, and national elections about to start heating up across the country, a new player is getting actively involved in elections: corporations. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on spending by corporations and unions in federal elections was unconstitutional. It said corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals. The so-called super PACS, which are spending millions on ads in the primaries, are a direct result of the court ruling.
Should corporations and unions be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts of money to influence elections?
Should the government regulate radio and TV broadcasts?
Posted on 1/13/2012 1:42:15 PM
The Federal Communications Commission in charge of monitoring the broadcast airwaves – for, among other things, use of vulgar language – decided to step up its regulation, supported by a law signed by President George W. Bush. Television and radio stations could be fined for each instance of language considered vulgar by the FCC, or every time a violent act was portrayed. Broadcasters have been monitored by the government since the 1920s. In 1978, the Supreme Court in the landmark case FCC v. Pacifica Foundation upheld the FCC’s power to punish broadcasters that aired indecent material during prime time, when children were likely to be watching. But back then, broadcast media were people’s lifeline to the world around them – a small number of television networks and a small number of radio stations that the majority of Americans tuned in to for news and entertainment. The regulation was intended to protect children from content that might be suitable only for adults. Today, with hundreds of cable channels and millions of Internet sites, how much does broadcasting really matter?
Can drug-sniffing dogs violate your Fourth Amendment rights?
Posted on 1/5/2012 2:00:00 PM
But can probable cause come from a dog? Lawmakers in Florida are urging the high court to take up the case of Franky the drug-sniffing dog, who during his seven-year career on the Miami-Dade Police Force led to the seizure of 2.5 tons of marijuana, 80 pounds of cocaine and $4.9 million in drug money from the region’s dealers.
Many of those searches and seizures occurred in public spaces, such as the airport. In the instance in question, however, Franky was able to smell marijuana growing inside a house through its closed front door. Police used the dog’s nose as probable cause to obtain a warrant and make a bust.
Tweeting at the Governor: Social media and freedom of speech
Posted on 11/30/2011 2:20:02 PM
A high school senior in Fairway, Kan., thought she was joking with a small group of friends when she poked fun at Gov. Sam Brownback on Twitter. Then the governor’s staff saw her post, and 18-year-old Emma Sullivan found herself in the middle of a national discussion about freedom of speech on the Internet.
Should social networks like Facebook better protect our privacy?
Posted on 11/17/2011 7:00:00 AM
When does drug testing violate the Fourth Amendment?
Posted on 10/26/2011 8:51:43 AM
When the economy is bad and unemployment is up, more people apply for financial assistance from the state or federal government. This role the government plays is enshrined right in the preamble of the Constitution: “promote the general welfare,” which refers to the well-being of the people. Congress has the power to do this, for example, by passing laws that require clean air or that provide for safe highways and bridges. Governments provide a safety net for citizens in their time of need with welfare programs such as food stamps. Critics of welfare programs say they promote laziness, do not encourage citizens to find work and, in extreme situations, support bad habits. Florida Gov. Rick Scott hoped to prevent the latter. Over the summer, he approved legislation requiring adults who apply for state welfare assistance to pass a drug screening.
Should school libraries restrict access to the Internet?
Posted on 10/3/2011 7:00:00 AM
Today there’s a new battle over censorship in school libraries – this one doesn’t involve banned books, but rather blocked websites. Last week, as schools across the country marked the inaugural Banned Websites Awareness Day, students and educators wondered what level of Internet access should be allowed in the school environment. As technology has become an increasingly important component to education over the past two decades, schools began to look for ways to keep their students from accessing potentially harmful material online – and to keep them focused on their studies. This led to website filtering, a practice that began about 10 years ago, when Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
Is the death penalty constitutional?
Posted on 9/26/2011 7:00:00 AM
In the same week the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis by lethal injection, two other men convicted of murder were put to death in other parts of the country. Alabama executed Derrick O’Neal Mason, who was convicted of the 1994 shooting of a convenience store clerk, and Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist who killed a black man, James Byrd Jr., by dragging him behind a truck. Davis’ case generated the most attention, nationally and internationally, when his cause drew some prominent supporters. After his conviction, several witnesses who identified Davis as the shooter recanted their testimony, and some jurors said they changed his mind about whether he was guilty. Davis maintained his innocence until the end. His execution reignited the debate over the death penalty in the United States, and whether it violates the Constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Is the death penalty constitutional?
Should in-school advertising be allowed?
Posted on 2/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
The side of your bus features an ad for a popular sneaker. When you arrive at your stop, an electronic billboard greets you with a sale ad for a local car dealer. Inside your building, corporate logos are etched above the entrances to some rooms. Later, at the place you have lunch, a food company is passing out samples of its latest pasta creation. On the way out, you pick up a flier with a bunch of ads on the back. Nothing too unusual here, except that the bus is your school bus, the billboard is planted right outside your school, the logos are above the school gym and library entrances, the lunch place is the cafeteria, and the flier is a field trip permission slip. With school districts facing critical budget shortfalls, many are trying to raise funds by inviting advertisers to promote their products on school property. The idea of exposing children to ads in school has met with reluctance, but increasing numbers of parents and administrators are concluding it is a necessary alternative. “As uncomfortable as it may be for folks, it’s less comfortable to get rid of programs or go through more layoffs,” a Los Angeles school district official said. Should in-school advertising be allowed? Which types of ads are not acceptable? Should school districts restrict where the ads can be placed? Does your school have any advertising? Join the discussion!
When does airport security become a violation of privacy?
Posted on 11/17/2010 12:00:00 AM
If you’re flying anywhere this holiday season, you’re bound to notice that airport security is tighter than ever. You may have to wait in a long line to get to your gate. You’ll
probably be asked to show your ID multiple times. And depending on what
airport you find yourself in, you may be asked to go through a full-body
scanner. Those scanners have been the target of passengers’ ire since they
were first announced last winter. Some travelers, and consumer
advocates, feel that the X-rays from the scanners are potentially
dangerous, especially for frequent fliers. They also feel the scanners
are a violation of passengers’ privacy.
Should schools be allowed to ban religious symbols to protect against gang violence?
Posted on 10/8/2010 12:00:00 AM
It’s not unusual for schools to ban students from wearing gang symbols. If students are unable to outwardly identify with rival groups when they are in school, it lessens the potential for school violence. But what happens when a gang symbol is a religious symbol as well? When a Colorado Springs school district found out that gangs in the Midwest had started adopting Catholic rosary beads and crosses as symbols of their allegiance, it decided to clamp down. One school says students who want to wear rosaries as a symbol of their Catholic faith must do so underneath their clothing. The parent of a 13-year-old student named Cainan spoke up to the school district and in the local press against the restriction. Jordan Sekulow, a human rights attorney at the American Center for Law, said that unless there is evidence that a student is part of whichever gang wears religious symbols, that student has a constitutional right under the First Amendment to wear a cross to school. Should schools be allowed to ban religious symbols to protect against gang violence? Join the discussion!
How far should juvenile sentencing restrictions go?
Posted on 9/30/2010 12:00:00 AM
Until you turn 18, you’re pretty well protected from the more extreme aspects of the justice system. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute juvenile offenders, no matter what their crime. And in May 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles may not be sentenced to life in prison without parole, unless they’re found guilty of homicide. The justices ruled that both violate the Eighth Amendment’s protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Some feel that these sentencing restrictions still don’t go far enough. Others feel they go too far.
Should the government fund embryonic stem cell research?
Posted on 8/25/2010 12:00:00 AM
Though they’re microscopic, stem cells have proven to be an explosive point of debate between medical researchers and right-to-life advocates. Scientists want to use embryonic stem cells (ESC) to study diseases. They believe that working with human cells at their most basic could lead to breakthroughs in treating spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s, and other life-threatening conditions. President Barack Obama issued an executive order allowing federal money to pay for ESC research in 2009. But getting the cells for the research means destroying a human embryo; in other words, it means destroying a form of human life. This has set some of the public against it. A recent ruling by a federal judge has overturned President Obama’s executive order, saying that it violated a 1987 law prohibiting the use of taxpayer money for any research in which a human embryo is destroyed.
Do gay marriage bans violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause?
Posted on 8/5/2010 12:00:00 AM
When the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that same-sex marriage was permitted under the state constitution, voters spoke out. Campaigns were waged, rallies were held, and Proposition 8 – a voter referendum amending the state Constitution, declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” – was passed by 52 percent of voters. Now a federal judge says that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. In early August, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry under the U.S. Constitution. In his ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Walker said the state’s marriage law “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.” The decision is expected to be appealed in what is shaping up to be a lengthy legal battle, possibly culminating at the Supreme Court.
How does the recession affect state and local governments?
Posted on 1/9/2009 12:00:00 AM
The national recession is beginning to hit home, and it's very likely that you or someone you know has been affected by the economic downturn. Large retail stores and small boutique shops are going out of business. Across the state of Pennsylvania, major companies - such as the Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Aluminum - are instituting sweeping layoffs. And whether it's within the walls of the state capitol in Harrisburg, or in your own local municipal halls, governments are being hit just as hard. Locally, drastic cuts have had to be made to city services such as libraries, pools and snow plowing. Cuts were also imposed on the state budget, where legislators have instituted a hiring freeze and eliminated pay raises as a means of dealing with the recession. How should Pennsylvania and its cities deal with the economic downturn? How has the economy affected you and your community?
The Path to the Presidency: Why is it important to vote?
Posted on 10/24/2008 12:00:00 AM
Every year, many students like you turn 18 and cast their first ballot on Election Day, fulfilling the most basic action in a democratic society. Voting is a fundamental process that keeps our system of government working. Through elections, citizens have the ability to decide on who represents them in government, whether a local official, a state or national representative, or the president. On Election Day, voters will not only be able to select their representatives in government for the next term, but they also often have the ability to decide on measures like bond issues that grant the government permission to borrow money for construction projects and other developments. And sometimes voters cast their ballots on social issues such as allowing same-sex marriage. or banning smoking in restaurants and bars. Given the importance of elections in the United States, why would so many people choose not to vote? Why is it important to vote? What would you say to your peers or family members to convince them to vote? Have you already voted in an election? If so, what was your experience like?
The First Amendment: Do you know your speech rights as a student?
Posted on 9/3/2008 12:00:00 AM
In one of the final decisions of the Supreme Court’s 2006-2007 term, the justices considered the controversial Morse v. Frederick case and ruled that principal Deborah Morse was allowed to punish student Joseph Frederick for unfurling a questionable banner, even though it occurred, technically, off the campus of their Juneau, Alaska high school. The ruling has far-reaching implications for your First Amendment rights as a student. Some experts argue that because the message of Frederick’s banner was a cheeky statement that seemingly promoted drug use, rather than political or religious speech, it didn’t deserve protection. Others worry that this case sets a precedent for principals who want to punish students for protected political or religious speech off-grounds that they might find objectionable. Still another viewpoint suggests that the ruling could have implications for student speech online. How does the Supreme Court’s ruling in Morse v. Frederick affect students’ speech rights at school and away from school? How does the Frederick case correspond to and differ from past First Amendment cases involving schools and students? How would you have decided the case?
The Free Press and You: How does the First Amendment apply to student media?
Posted on 3/11/2008 12:00:00 AM
The freedom of the press provision of the First Amendment protects the right of newspapers, magazines and other publications to print factual articles on whatever they see fit, controversial or conventional, without interference from the government. The framers found the concept so important that they placed it alongside freedom of speech, religion and assembly. However, in the case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court supported a restriction on this right, ruling that school administrations had the right to censor student publications that raise legitimate pedagogical concerns. In other words, as acting publishers of the student press, districts and school officials can edit legally the student press if there are concerns over appropriateness of the content. What is the role of a free press in a school environment? Has newspaper censorship ever happened at your school? Should student journalists be completely free to publish without censorship or do administrators sometimes have legitimate reasons to pull stories? If so, when do you think it’s okay for them to do so? If you were a student who had your work censored, how would you react? What other outlets to you have for your voice? Join the discussion on free press and let us know what you think!