The New Southern Strategy: GOP plays the race card (again)

—Matthew W. Hughey and Gregory S. Parks

At a recent Tea Party meeting in Hood County, Texas, Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made bold statements reeking of white supremacy and Christian nativism, suggesting that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” in which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were a “divine revelation from God […] yet our president has the gall to tell us that this is not a Christian nation […] The United States of America was formed to honor the word of God.” And just months prior to that event, in speaking to the North Tea Party on behalf of his son Ted (who was then running for Senate), Rafael urged the crowd to send Obama “back to Kenya.”

In the wake of the political dysfunction, gridlock, and rightwing obstruction, these statements certainly gesture toward important questions. Namely, is Rafael Cruz merely a “bad apple” that threatens to spoil the GOP or are his comments indicative of a larger strategic rhetoric that resonates with the lesser angels of our nature?

We suggest the latter.

Since the “Southern Strategy” whereby the GOP turned its back on Civil Rights and began courting white Southerners who believed they were victims of a new reverse racism social order, the Republican Party has employed subtle (and not so subtle, as witnessed above) rhetoric that turns on implicit anti-Black and anti-immigrant messages. It is said no better than former Republican Party strategist Lee Atwater’s 1981 remarks in which he laid bare the GOP racialized strategy:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”  By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you.  Backfires.  So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.  You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.  And subconsciously maybe that is part of it.  I’m not saying that.  But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.  You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Hence, Ronald Reagan’s evocation that “welfare queens” were gaming the system sent a clear yet implicit message: Your taxes are high because Lyndon Johnson’s programs are funneling your money to undeserving and lazy black women.  When a group that supported George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign ran a television advertisement that blamed Michael Dukakis for murders committed by Willie Horton (a black parolee who broke into a white couple’s home), the message baited white fears about young black male violence.  When Jesse Helms, a white senator from North Carolina, faced black challenger Harvey Gantt in 1990, Helms’s camp ran a television advertisement showing the hands of a white person crumbling a rejection letter with the voiceover: “You needed that job, and you were the best-qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?” The ad was broadcast just a few days shy of the election and boosted Helms to victory in what was previously a dead heat.

And in relation to Obama, we have a new Southern Strategy: Cruz’s comments fall lock and step with GOP and Tea Party elements that have attempted to frame Obama as either culturally out of place if not legally unable to hold the presidency. Due in part to the conservative conspiracy theorists, a small cadre of politicians (e.g., Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, or Nathan Deal, the Democrat-turned-Republican Gov. of Georgia), and already established cultural tropes that conflate whiteness and Christianity with Americaness, by the 2008 election season, studies showed that U.S. residents were more likely to associate American symbols with white politicians (e.g., Hillary Clinton) or even white European politicians (e.g., Tony Blair) than with Obama. Even when American citizens viewed an American flag they then showed implicit and explicit prejudice toward African Americans in general and reluctance to vote for Obama when compared to those not exposed to the flag.

Simply put, Barack Obama did not fit most American’s implicit idea of an authentic American, and the GOP has seized upon that opportunity to engage in the latest state of the New Southern Strategy. The playing of the race card, even in implicit fashion, remains an efficacious political strategy for those on the Right.

Matthew W. Hughey is associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. Gregory S. Parks is assistant professor of law at Wake Forest University School of Law.  They are co-authors of The Wrongs of the Right: Language, Race, and the Republican Party in the Age of Obama (forthcoming in 2014 from New York University Press).

Reducing children at risk

—Robert Cherry

Today, more than half of the new mothers under 30 years old are unwed, and even enhancing the government support they receive may not substantially alter the risk their children face. A recent study finds that especially young men are less likely to flourish when raised by single mothers. Paid leave, childcare support, and universal pre-K are all policies that help these women balance work and family. However, unless there is a change in family formation, these expansions may have only modest impacts on these risks.

The rise of single motherhood reflects to a substantial degree the economic marginalization of working class men. Employment rates of young men without a four-year college degree have substantially declined and young women correctly judge that many of them are  just not going to be reliable partners. Moving Working Families Forward recommends a number of policies to better their employment prospects, including vocational high school programs that improve not only technical skills but also the soft skills – teamwork, punctuality, and interpersonal discourse – that are important to employability.

Low marriage rates are also exacerbated by the large financial penalties many working single mothers must pay for getting married. The government now provides them with substantial income support. However, virtually all those benefits are lost if a single mother marries a working partner. With the way the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is structured, she could lose $3,200 or more if she qualifies for state EITC.

There have been a number of proposals for eliminating the federal component of the marriage penalty. One of them is my New Mothers Tax Relief proposal, which would virtually eliminate the federal marriage penalty by extending full EITC benefits to families with incomes of $40,000 and then slowly reduce them. About $2,000 in new benefits would then be extended to lower middle class married couples with pre-school aged children. These families often face financial pressures when they have very young children—pressures that can cause marital tensions and disruptions.

These employment and family formation proposals may be perceived as too incremental by the ideological Left and, despite their very modest costs, may be dismissed as too expensive by the Right. For those in the broad middle, however, they should be seen as vital steps in improving family stability.

Robert Cherry is Brueklundian Professor in the Department of Economics at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and author of many books, including Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work (NYU Press, 2012).

“I can’t call the police—he is the police”: Intimate partner abuse by police officers

—Leigh Goodmark

On May 7, 2013, law enforcement was called to the home that Kendra Diggs shared with her boyfriend, Baltimore City police officer James Walton Smith. After hearing a woman crying for help, the officers kicked in the door and removed Diggs from the home. Smith, who was off-duty at the time, ran upstairs, ignoring officers’ pleas to stay to talk.  While officers stood with a bleeding Diggs on the sidewalk, a shot rang out from a second floor window. Diggs, shot fatally in the head, fell to the ground as officers ran for cover. On Monday, August 5, 2013, Smith killed himself in jail while awaiting trial for Diggs’ murder.

What happened to Kendra Diggs is far from an isolated incident. Research shows that intimate partner abuse is two to four times more prevalent in the families of police officers than in the overall population. During the same week that James Walton Smith killed himself, the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project documented six other claims of intimate partner abuse involving police officers. Some of these cases have made national news in recent years, such as the 2003 murder of Crystal Brame by her husband, Tacoma police chief David Brame; as well as the domestic violence allegations faced by San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in 2012. (Brame committed suicide after killing his wife, while Mirkarimi was reinstated as sheriff after pleading guilty to the false imprisonment of his wife.)

Because of their training, police officers can be particularly dangerous abusers.  As Diane Wetendorf, an expert in officer involved domestic violence, explains, police officers are taught how to intimidate suspects, conduct surveillance, find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and interrogate suspects. Police officers expect compliance with their orders, bolstered by the authority granted to them by the state. Officers learn how to use force without causing serious bodily injury. When used to protect the public, these are all valuable and important skills. When used against an intimate partner, they can be devastating.

The partners of police officers may have few options available to them for addressing their abuse. Most police departments have no specific policy for responding to intimate partner abuse perpetrated by one of their own, despite the efforts of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which promulgated a model policy in July 2003. Officers’ intimate partners fear calling the police, because he is the police. They are well aware, too, of the culture of silence that cloaks officers’ actions. They know that their partners are well versed in courtroom procedures and are known and respected by judges and prosecutors—making the prospect of court proceedings daunting. Their abusers have access to information systems that allow them to track their partners. They know where the shelters are and often have working relationships or are engaged in collaborations with shelter staff and service providers. Officers’ partners also know that pursuant to federal law, a domestic violence conviction means the officer will lose his gun, and therefore his job, making him that much more vindictive and dangerous. In a society in which the primary response to domestic violence is through the criminal legal system, the partners of police officers often have nowhere to turn.

How can we better protect the intimate partners of police officers? Urging local police departments to adopt strong policies for addressing intimate partner abuse by officers would be a good start. But it is also worth questioning the nature of our response to intimate partner abuse more generally. Should the criminal justice system be the primary response to domestic violence in a country where police officers are disproportionately committing such abuse? Providing options beyond the legal system would help many people subjected to abuse, but few would benefit as much as the partners of abusive police officers.

Leigh Goodmark is Professor of Law, Director of Clinical Education, and Co-Director of the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She is the author of A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System (new in paperback from NYU Press).

Constitution Day: 5 books to read now

September 17th is Constitution Day – a federally recognized day to celebrate and teach about the United States Constitution. But what are the proper “texts” for this day of teaching?

To start, we’ve selected a short list of recent NYU Press books we think every citizen should read this year. But, there are certainly others. What’s on your list? Let us know in the comments section!

5 books for Constitution Day

Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Jury duty is constitutional duty—and a core responsibility of citizenship! The first book written for jurors, Why Jury Duty Matters provides readers with an understanding of the constitutional value of jury duty. (Also, be sure to read the author’s excellent piece in The Atlantic on ways to the make the Constitution relevant to our daily lives.)


The Embattled Constitution
Edited by Norman Dorsen, with Catharine DeJulio

The book presents a collection of the James Madison lectures delivered at the NYU School of Law. The result is a fascinating look into the minds of the judges who interpret, apply, and give meaning to our “embattled Constitution.”


America’s Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment by Gerard N. Magliocca

This book sheds light on John Bingham, the father of the Fourteenth Amendment, who helped put a guarantee of fundamental rights and equality to all Americans into the U.S. Constitution.


Government by DissentProtest, Resistance, and Radical Democratic Thought in the Early American Republic by Robert W.T. Martin

Democracy is the rule of the people. But what exactly does it mean for a people to rule? The American political radicals of the 1790s understood, articulated, and defended the crucial necessity of dissent to democracy. This is their story.


Bonds of Citizenship: Law and the Labors of Emancipation by Hoang Gia Phan

In this study of literature and law from the Constitutional founding through the Civil War, Hoang Gia Phan demonstrates how citizenship and civic culture were transformed by antebellum debates over slavery, free labor, and national Union.

De-extinction: Reinventing the wheel?

The April 2013 cover of National Geographic.

—Carrie Friese

De-extinction has recently emerged as a hot topic in the press, with prominent figures like Stuart Brand giving TED talks on reviving extinct species earlier this year, National Geographic’s recent cover story, and academic conferences on the topic being held with greater than usual press coverage. The debates over de-extinction are largely represented as entirely novel and new. However, what is striking is the extent to which these debates parallel and map on to the debates over using assisted reproductive technologies ranging from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and cloning with endangered animals. Indeed, many key actors – such as Robert Lanza from Advanced Cell Technology – have been involved in and acted as spokespersons for both ventures.

The debates on cloning both endangered and extinct animals have focused on the problems of technological hype for conservation, the practical limits of technology where wild animals are concerned, the ontology of ‘wild’ animals made by humans through technological means, and the quality of the lives these animals are made to live. Participants in de-extinction could therefore learn much by looking at the lessons learned by those involved in cloning endangered animals, where many of these debates have already been addressed.

In particular, de-extinction advocates could learn a lot by looking at how scientists involved in cloning endangered animals have responded to the politics of their work. In my book Cloning Wild Life, I note that some scientists responded to concerns about cloning endangered animals by changing their scientific practices. Different kinds of animals and cells were used in order to make cloned endangered animals fit the concerns of a wider range of actors involved in species preservation. This represents an important difference between de-extinction and cloning endangered animals.

Locating the debates over de-extinction between optimistic scientists seeking to intervene in nature and depressed environmentalists seeking to preserve nature relies upon staid and unproductive clichés. Cloning endangered animals shows that it is far more productive to engage with one’s critics and their concerns, and can even result in a better science.

Carrie Friese is Lecturer in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of Cloning Wild Life: Zoos, Captivity and the Future of Endangered Animals (NYU Press, 2013). She is currently writing on de-extinction with Claire Marris.

Muhammad Yunus, in 22 Ideas to Fix the World

Today, we’re sharing the first chapter of 22 Ideas to Fix the World—featuring an interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. In it, the founder of microfinance discusses his views on poverty, unemployment, and the role of social business.

Read the interview below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

22 Ideas to Fix the World – Chapter 1 by NYU Press

Cory Booker’s primary win: The view from Newark

—Andra Gillespie

Cory Booker’s resounding victory in last week’s Democratic primary to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg was no surprise to most observers. Booker had been the overwhelming favorite in all of the polls leading up to the primary; he had the highest name recognition of all the candidates in the field; and he was able to raise more than twice as much money as his nearest competitor, despite having started the contest behind in fundraising. Indeed, Booker seems to represent the type of “new black politician,” whose race does not seem to hamper his ability to raise money and earn votes outside of the African American community.

In a book also titled The New Black Politician, I examined Cory Booker’s ascent to Newark’s mayoralty and its implications for African American politics. While Booker’s strong performance in a statewide contest was no surprise, his path to Newark’s mayoralty was a little bumpier. He lost his first mayoral bid to an incumbent who did not hesitate to play the race card against Booker in the African American community. While Booker was able to rebound and essentially push Sharpe James out of the 2006 race, questions of Booker’s racial authenticity and perceived instrumentality remained. At various points during Booker’s seven years as mayor of Newark, a vocal minority of mostly black residents has at various points questioned his political appointments, his policies, and even his very residence in Newark. For his part, Booker was publicly chastised early in his first term for telling stories about Newark residents that many Newarkers deemed insensitive to blacks and poor people. Perhaps most discouraging, Booker’s alliances with black members of Newark’s city council have frayed to the point that the black members of the council, all but one of whom were aligned with Booker in some way at one point in their professional lives, now routinely oppose his agenda.

While I never had any doubt that Booker would win this primary (or even that he would win in Newark), I was very curious about the dynamics that would undergird this vote. So, I traveled to Newark this summer to do some investigating. I wondered if Newarkers would support Booker as he sought higher office and if so, what motivated that support? I hypothesized that black Newarkers would support Booker in a senate campaign, but not for the most obvious reasons. I thought that race pride might undergird some of Booker’s support among Newark blacks, but I also expected to find a more complicated story. In particular, I prepared myself to learn that the aspects of Booker’s personality that were perceived as mayoral liabilities would be viewed as senatorial assets.

I first tested my hypotheses by asking questions and listening in on the scuttlebutt in June.  Sure enough, I found evidence to suggest that Booker would have no problem winning the votes of some of his most ardent opponents. I happened to run into a local community activist who actually helped lead a failed recall effort against Booker in 2007 one day in June. I asked her to handicap the race for me, and she made it very clear that she was supporting Booker.  As she explained it, the other opponents were okay, but not good enough, and she was confident that Booker would do a good job as senator.

I had a similar encounter in Newark on Election Night. I attended Booker’s victory party in Championship Plaza, where I ran into another ardent Booker opponent. He was beaming with pride at Booker’s success, bragging about how he’s known him since he was a young tenant organizer. As he continued to bask in the glow of Booker’s victory, he explained his change of heart. They may have fought tooth and nail over local issues, but this organizer had no doubt that he and Booker saw eye to eye on issues of national concern. And it was clear that he perceived some cachet in knowing the man who was poised to be senator.

The anecdotal evidence seemed to be pointing in the direction of Newarkers letting bygones be bygones. Yes, the vocal opposition had their issues with what they perceived to be Booker’s neoliberal, corparatist city policies that often limited their influence.  However, those issues seemed to have been of minimal concern in the senate contest.  The opposition seemed content to root for the “hometown boy,” even if some of them had their doubts about him as mayor.

To supplement my anecdotes, I fielded a short survey among likely voters the day before the election in Newark. I’m still analyzing the data, and the sample size is small (so my margins of error are larger than I’d like them to be). Despite these limitations, the unweighted data pretty clearly shows that Newarkers have a complicated relationship with Booker. In my poll, about 20% of respondents claimed to undecided (and not leaning towards any particular candidate) the day before the election. Booker ended up winning 64% of the vote in Newark, so I assume that most of those undecided voters ended up voting for him. Still, it was surprising to see so many people be so coy the day before an election. Then again, I personally knew people who admitted to agonizing over their primary vote choice.

In addition to tracking the primary vote, I also asked respondents a trait battery, where they had to say whether certain adjectives or phrases described Booker well or not. I tested a wide array of positive and negative descriptions of Booker to gain a comprehensive understanding of how Newarkers perceive him. The unweighted results were illuminating. Newarkers simultaneously hold positive and negative (though mostly positive) views of Booker. While significant majorities reported that they thought “cares only about his political career” describes Booker extremely or pretty well, significant majorities also thought that Booker “is genuinely concerned for the less fortunate,” “provides strong leadership,” and stands up for African Americans, New Jersey and Newark separately.  A significant majority also conceded that Booker would likely win the Democratic primary.

I am still at the beginning of my data analysis. Soon, I will delve into the econometric analysis of the weighted data. At a first glance, though, there seems to be credence to the idea that Newark voters, particularly black ones, are engaging in what my colleague Lorrie Frasure Yokley calls “Jekyll and Hyde politics.” That is, they have different expectations for how black politicians should behave at the local and statewide level. While the utility of being deracialized or neoliberal was hotly contested when Booker was a citywide candidate, Newarkers recognize that those strategies serve him well as a senator, and they are happy to support him.

Andra Gillespie is associate professor of political science at Emory University and author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America (NYU Press, 2012).


Book giveaway! 22 Ideas to Fix the World

This week, we’re putting the spotlight on our book, 22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers, which releases on September 9.

In this unique volume from the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations and the Social Science Research Council, some of the world’s greatest minds—from Nobel Prize winners to long-time activists—explore what the prolonged instability of the so-called Great Recession means for our traditional understanding of how governments can and should function. Through interviews that are sure to spark lively debate, 22 Ideas to Fix the World presents both analysis of past geopolitical events and possible solutions and predictions for the future.

Featuring interviews with:
Zygmunt Bauman, Shimshon Bichler & Jonathan Nitzan, Craig Calhoun, Ha-Joon Chang, Fred Dallmayr, Mike Davis, Bob Deacon, Kemal Dervis, Jiemian Yang, Peter J. Katzenstein, Ivan Krastev, Will Kymlicka, Manuel F. Montes, José Antonio Ocampo, Vladimir Popov, Jospeh Stiglitz, Olzhas Suleimenov, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Immanuel Wallerstein, Paul Watson, Vladimir Yakunin, Muhammad Yunus

To celebrate the forthcoming publication, we’re giving away 2 *free* copies of the book! Enter today on Goodreads for a chance to win.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

22 Ideas to Fix the World by Piotr Dutkiewicz
22 Ideas to Fix the World
Edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa

Giveaway ends September 09, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


For more on the book, you can also read the introduction to 22 Ideas to Fix the World. And stay tuned to the blog—we’ll be offering a free chapter from the book later this week!

Congress must act to protect our most basic right

—F. Michael Higginbotham

The recent Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, invalidating the “pre-clearance” formula of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), requiring states with a history of race discrimination in voting to secure federal approval prior to changing election practices, provides an opportunity for Congress to strengthen protection of minority voting rights. While discriminatory methods today are far from the lynch mobs and grandfather clauses that stopped blacks from voting during Jim Crow, the end result of voter suppression and dilution remains largely the same. Congress should act quickly and decisively on this core American principle in order to ensure minority participation in the democratic process.

Ernest Montgomery knows all too well the value of federal supervision in protecting minority voting rights. Prior to elections in 2008, the City of Calera, in Shelby County, Alabama, redrew jurisdictional boundaries. This process eliminated the City Council’s only majority-black district by adding several white subdivisions adjacent to Calera while refusing to incorporate a black area located nearby. The lone majority-black district was reduced from 70 to 30 percent black, resulting in the election loss of Montgomery, the only black city councilperson. The Justice Department would not approve the redistricting plan and, after extensive negotiations, Calera adopted a more inclusive at-large election system, one that prevented whites from controlling 100 percent of the six positions on the city council and that resulted in Montgomery receiving the most votes of all council candidates.

The Section 4 “pre-clearance” formula invalidated in the recent Shelby County decision is the same provision relied upon by the Justice Department to protect Councilman Montgomery from discriminatory treatment. Section 4 mandates that 15 states, including Alabama, or portions thereof, with a history of discriminatory voting laws get prior approval by the Department of Justice or a federal court for any changes to their election practices. In striking down Section 4, which had been overwhelmingly reauthorized by Congress for another 25 years in 2006, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, indicated that the formula must be “justified by current needs”.

Certainly much progress has been made since 1965 when the VRA was passed. Thousands of discriminatory proposed voting changes have been prevented since the law’s inception. Black registration rates equal that of whites in some states. Yet today, racially-polarized voting patterns, the practice of reducing minority participation for partisan advantage in many parts of the nation, with blatant racism in others, suggest a continued need for an updated pre-clearance formula.

In 2001, the white mayor and all white city council in Kilmichael, Mississippi cancelled elections shortly after blacks became a majority of registered voters. In 2011, the Justice Department stopped a Texas redistricting proposal determined by a federal court to purposefully discriminate against Latino voters. Last year, the Justice Department prevented a photo identification law in Texas from going into effect. At the time, some 600,000 Texans who had voted in previous elections, many of whom were black and Latino, would have become ineligible to vote without additional identification. In each instance, Section 4 was used to prohibit discrimination. Immediately after the Supreme Court invalidated the”pre-clearance” provision this summer, Texas, and several other states, reinstated the voter identification laws previously prevented under Section 4, and other local jurisdictions promised to revisit prior invalidated practices. Earlier this week, North Carolina restricted its early voting procedure utilized by 70% of blacks who voted in the state in 2012.

While the Shelby decision is problematic in that it weakens protection for minority voter participation, such inadequacy need not be permanent. The Supreme Court left open the possibility that Congress could fix the formula. Congress should update it expeditiously. In so doing, legislators must understand that racism did not end in 1965 and is not limited to the 15 states named in Section 4. Coverage based solely on geography would be outdated, as discriminatory acts occur throughout the country. Covered states should include those previously supervised, like Texas, where gerrymandered districts or choices by local officials to annex surrounding communities or implement at-large elections frequently reduce minority representation, but other states also need to be added. Those not previously supervised, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where voter identification laws and limitations on early voting are the new poll taxes and literacy tests that frequently have a negative impact on minority participation, as they did during Jim Crow, need to be covered as well.

With evidence of such serious and widespread suppression and dilution, an expanded and refocused formula is clearly “justified by current needs”. Circumstances may have changed, but voter suppression, based on race, remains. Recent instances of discrimination, including faulty election machines, purges in voter rolls, and elimination of same-day registration prove that this “Ghost of Jim Crow” remains. Accordingly, coverage based on serious and widespread intentional racial discrimination, where ever it might occur, is sorely needed, still.

F. Michael Higginbotham is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and the author of Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America (NYU Press, 2013).

[This article originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.]

Bradley Manning’s revelations saved lives

Was the Bradley Manning verdict fair? Over at US News & World Report’s Debate Club, NYUP author Marjorie Cohn weighs in. Read her piece below, and then vote for it here!

This is a historic verdict. Judge Denise Lind correctly found Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy because the evidence failed to establish that Manning knew information he provided to WikiLeaks would reach al-Qaida. A conviction of aiding the enemy would have sent a chilling message to the news media that if they publish leaked classified information, their officers could face life in prison. That would deprive the public of crucial information.

The verdict finding Manning guilty of Espionage Act offenses, however, sends an ominous warning that could deter future whistle-blowers from exposing government wrongdoing. It’s important to keep in mind that Manning provided information indicating the U.S. had committed war crimes. Traditionally the Espionage Act has been used only against spies and traitors, not whistle-blowers. Yet President Obama has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more whistle-blowers than all prior administrations combined.

Manning’s revelations actually saved lives. After WikiLeaks published his documentation of Iraqi torture centers established by the United States, the Iraqi government refused Obama’s request to extend immunity to U.S. soldiers who commit criminal and civil offenses there. As a result, Obama had to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

The American public needed to know the information Manning provided. He revealed evidence of war crimes in the “Collateral Murder” video, which depicts a U.S. Apache attack helicopter crew killing 12 unarmed civilians and wounding two children in Baghdad in 2007. The crew then killed people attempting to rescue the wounded. A U.S. tank drove over one of the bodies, cutting it in half. Those actions constitute war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

The Bush administration waged an illegal war in Iraq in which thousands of people were killed. It also established an interrogation program that led to the torture and abuse of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the CIA black sites. Yet it is Bradley Manning, not the Bush officials, who is being prosecuted.

Judge Lind has already reduced any sentence Manning may receive by 112 days because of his mistreatment during the first 11 months of his custody, when he was kept in solitary confinement and humiliated by being forced to stand naked for inspection. Hopefully the judge will take into account how Manning’s revelations benefit our society when she passes sentence. Manning is still facing 136 years in prison for his convictions on 19 of the 21 counts with which he was charged.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyer’s Guild. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (NYU Press, 2011), Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, and Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice.

Bridging the racial divide after the Zimmerman verdict

—F. Michael Higginbotham

The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has provoked outrage and widespread (yet mostly peaceful) protests from racially mixed, but predominantly black, crowds. At the same time, conservative commentators, on local and national media, most of whom are white, have expressed support for the verdict along with the belief that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. The protests and commentary reflect a huge racial divide where 86% of blacks, but only 30% of whites, are dissatisfied with the trial’s outcome.

While some supporters of Zimmerman’s self-defense claim have expressed genuine remorse over the tragic death of an unarmed black teenager, many justify Martin’s death by insisting that he must have done something threatening. Others seem to dismiss the tragic loss of life by accusing blacks of exploiting the case to continue old habits of complaining about contrived racism.

Protesters view the verdict as another in a long line of cases where white perpetrators of violence against blacks go unpunished, reminiscent of the horrendous 1955 murder of black teenager Emmett Till, who was brutally beaten and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Even President Obama, who rarely comments on race, weighed in on the tragedy by explaining that most black males in America, including himself, have experienced racial profiling, followed around department stores while innocently shopping, heard car doors locked in fear as they casually crossed the street, and been subjected to other forms of race-based fear. Obama’s sentiment reflects the basis for the fury of many blacks who believe black males in America are presumed guilty until proven innocent. They feel certain that Martin’s color, rather than his behavior, prompted Zimmerman’s suspicion and actions.

As one who has spent a career studying and teaching law while simultaneously writing texts on race, I view this tragedy as an opening to bridge the racial divide. It is not easy to discuss race across racial lines. Yet, no dialogue on race is possible unless all sides are similarly willing to listen and learn. Blacks need to acknowledge that America today is a far more just society than it was in the days of Emmett Till. We have ended Jim Crow segregation. We have instituted anti-discrimination laws in public accommodations, voting, and housing, and implemented affirmative action programs in education and employment. Even so, whites need to recognize that serious racial inequities still exist. Wealth accumulation for blacks is one twentieth of what it is for whites. Black unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are twice that of whites. Although white Americans use marijuana at the same rate as blacks, African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession. Among those attempting to utilize Florida’s “stand your ground law”, which provides additional protections in claims of self-defense, 59% of defendants have been exonerated when their victims were white, while 73% of defendants have gone free when their victims were black. Nationally, white defendants in “stand your ground states” are over four times more likely to be acquitted when the victim is black than when the victim is white.

These disparities have been persistent, but they need not be permanent. Americans should be grateful to all those who have spoken out in a constructive manner on the controversial issues of race in America. With stark divisions rampant after the Zimmerman verdict, this is an opportunity to rid the country of the Ghosts of Jim Crow once and for all, an opening to bridge the divide that should not be overlooked.

F. Michael Higginbotham is the author of Race Law: Cases, Commentary, and Questions and Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America (NYU Press, 2013). Race Law is a textbook used in law schools worldwide, and Ghosts of Jim Crow offers solutions to America’s race problem.

Learning disability and the DSM-5

—Ruth Colker

Raised in a Spanish-speaking household, Peter learned to speak English at age two while recuperating from a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite an amazing work ethic and informal assistance from others, he struggled in school with painfully slow reading and writing. After reading a paper that he wrote for one of my law school classes, I discretely asked him if he had ever been tested for a learning disability. His paper had great content but some awkward phrases. Four weeks later, after I helped him find inexpensive diagnostic services, he learned at the age of 25 that there was a name for his academic struggles: dyslexia (the most common type of learning disability). As a low-income student with a visible disability, Peter had no idea he should be evaluated for dyslexia.

This diagnosis served as a pivotal moment for Peter; his self-confidence improved as he realized he was not struggling due to low cognitive aptitude. He graduated from law school with some accommodations, received extra time on the bar exam, and became a successful lawyer.

Disappointingly, the American Psychiatric Association has barely recognized the existence of “dyslexia” in its recently published fifth edition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM-5”). And its fleeting recognition of dyslexia is likely to be confusing.  Despite comments from leading practitioners in the field to make “dyslexia” its own category, the APA stubbornly maintains the amorphous category of “Specific Learning Disorder” and then breaks that category down into impairments in reading, written expression or mathematics. Under “impairment in reading,” there is a brief notation that “Dyslexia is an alternate term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities.” Although the long-awaited Fifth Edition was supposed to reflect the most recent state of knowledge about disability, it adds confusion by failing to recognize dyslexia as its own category.

According to the United States Department of Education, 2,476,000 children between the ages of 3 and 21 were classified as having a learning disability in 2008-2009.  Additionally, millions of adults are classified as having a learning disability and receive accommodations in college, on professional testing and at the workplace in order to be productive members of society.  The most common form of learning disability is dyslexia yet the DSM-5 does not even provide an independent definition of dyslexia.

The proposed DSM-5 reflects a misconception of dyslexia. The amorphous category of “Specific Learning Disorder” presumes that individuals with a learning disability will be low-achieving and need continual testing to demonstrate the existence of this impairment based on the stereotype that they might outgrow it.

It also presumes that adults with learning disabilities will have been typically diagnosed during their primary or secondary education, ignoring the large number of young people in our society who do not have access to the clinical services necessary for such a diagnosis.

One of the most alarming aspects of the DSM-5 is that it buys into what is called the “Response to Intervention” (“RTI”) process for diagnosing a learning disability. RTI is a creature of No Child Left Behind –  it requires that school districts provide low-achieving students with intervention to help them attain grade-level success.  RTI has nothing to do with disability; it is a mechanism to help students, especially poor students, attain grade-level expectations. The DSM-5 requires an RTI process for at least six months before a student can be classified as learning disabled and receive special education and related services. In a January 2011 letter, the United States Department of Education has criticized the way the RTI process often delays a referral for special education classification of students with learning disabilities. By requiring RTI, the proposed DSM-5 could worsen an already-existing problem.

In recent years, we have made enormous progress in providing appropriate assistance to millions of Americans with learning disabilities while maintaining high expectations for their achievement at school and at work. At the same time, science has opened up our ability to understand dyslexia by imaging how the brain works when a person is reading. The DSM-5 ignores legal and scientific developments, downplays the category of “dyslexia,” and turns back the clock with disastrous consequences for children and adults with learning disabilities, like Peter, who are tremendously bright but need modest accommodations in order to become productive, tax-paying members of society.

Ruth Colker is Distinguished University Professor and Heck-Faust Memorial Chair in Constitutional Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University. Professor Colker is the author of Disabled Education (New York University Press, 2013).