Nahmod Law

Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Laptops in the Socratic Classroom: Part Two

The Adverse Effects of Laptops in the Socratic classroom

I blogged quite some time ago about the adverse effects of student laptop use in the Socratic classroom. The issue arose again recently when a colleague became concerned about this problem and asked the rest of the faculty for their thoughts and experiences.

I. Here is how I responded initially in an email:

“Bravo! It’s getting worse and worse: passive students taking
dictation, no eye contact, and even a half dozen of my con law
students continuing to type while engaged in conversation with me this
past semester. Unbelievable! Virtually impossible to have discussion
and any kind of classroom analysis.

“Please check out my blog post on laptops ( search “laptops”) from
several years ago and feel free to contact me privately about my
experiences with laptop bans.

“Good luck. If you do it, there will be pushback from all quarters.”

There were various responses. One was that laptops are ubiquitous and professors just had to adjust. Another was that banning laptops sends an anti-technology message. Another, especially concerned with internet use during classes, proposed certain rules about such use.

II. Here is how I responded to these arguments in a subsequent email.

“May I make several points of my own, please, which may or may not be responsive?

1. You are not anti-technology just because you are seriously concerned with the adverse effects of laptops in the Socratic classroom. The message we should really be sending is that the education of our students is paramount.

2. If you primarily use the lecture method, then you have no problem with a sea of students taking dictation. If you use the discussion method, then you may.

3. There may be a split on the faculty about educational philosophy. My guess is that if you believe that students should decide whether and to what extent to participate in their education, that’s their decision. A kind of laissez faire approach. If you believe that the discussion method is perhaps the best way for students to learn how to think, and you also believe that professors know better than students about pedagogy and effective learning, then you may decide that limiting laptops makes some sense. A kind of interventionist approach.

4. The misuse of laptops hurts the better students because the classroom discussions are lacking. It hurts the poor students by reinforcing their poor learning habit of passivity. The research that I’ve looked at (admittedly casually) supports these observations.

5. One possible way around these problems is to do what I am told is done at Yale. One student per class meeting is assigned the role of taking dictation and distributing the notes to classmates. The student is chosen either by other students or by the professor from volunteers on a rotating basis.”

III. Academic freedom and bottom-up decision-making

Finally, I believe that a professor’s decision to ban laptops or not is protected by principles of academic freedom. Therefore, a law school as an institution may not either mandate the use of laptops in the classroom or prohibit their use.
This places the responsibility for this kind of educational decision squarely on the professor, which is where it belongs.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @NahmodLaw

Written by snahmod

January 13, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Posted in Teaching

Oyez’s Fourth Amendment Deep Dive

Here is a very nice Oyez Deep Dive into how the Roberts Court is interpreting the Fourth Amendment.

The Deep Dive features both text and video explanations (including a short video by me on section 1983 Fourth Amendment claims), and is geared to lawyers, law students and the public at large.

The Deep Dive can in fact serve as a primer for those unfamiliar with the Fourth Amendment.

Check it out here:

http://projects.oyez.org/shifting-scales/

You’re invited to follow me on Twitter @NahmodLaw.

Written by snahmod

October 22, 2014 at 10:00 am

Know Your Constitution (7): What Is Substantive Due Process/Right of Privacy?

This is another in a series of posts written about the Constitution in everyday language, with a minimum of legal jargon. Previous posts introduced the Constitution, rebutted some commonly held myths about the Constitution,  addressed the Equal Protection Clause, considered free speech and hate speech and discussed procedural due process.

The immediately preceding post and this post deal with the meaning of the Due Process Clauses that appear in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. These have virtually identical language.

The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to the federal government (“No person … shall …be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to state and local governments (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

Distinguishing Between Procedural Due Process and Substantive Due Process

The immediately preceding post deals with procedural due process which focuses on fair and timely procedures.

It is far less complicated and controversial than substantive due process, the subject of this post, which focuses on government regulation of conduct such as abortion, sexual conduct and certain family matters.

One reason that substantive due process is so controversial is that it is not explicitly based in the text of the Constitution, thereby suggesting to some that the Supreme Court has acted improperly and has simply (or not so simply) made it up.

The History of Substantive Due Process: Economic Regulation/Family

The term “substantive due process” is a bit of an oxymoron since “due process” suggests procedure in contrast to substance. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, beginning in the late 19th century and ending in the mid-1930’s, used substantive due process to strike down many state regulations dealing with economic matters such as employment relationships, work conditions and other attempts to regulate business interests.

Interestingly, perhaps the first use of substantive due process by the Supreme Court was in the infamous Dred Scott case in antebellum America. Here, the Court held that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional because it took away the property of slaveholders and thus violated substantive due process.

Even though substantive due process was typically identified with economic regulation, there was an important component that dealt with liberty in family matters. For example, in the 1920’s the Supreme Court ruled (in Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters) that states violated substantive due process when they prohibited parents from arranging to have their children learn the German language and also when they required all children to attend a public school while prohibiting them from attending religious private schools. These decisions thus address the non-economic, family related liberty component of substantive due process.

The Retreat from Substantive Due Process in Economic Matters

The high-water mark of substantive due process in economic regulation matters may have been reached in the early part of the 20th century in the (in)famous Lochner v. New York case. Here the Court struck down a New York statute that regulated the maximum hours that bakers could work as a violation of the liberty of contract of employers and employees to negotiate hours and working conditions in general without government interference.

But starting in the mid-1930’s, the Court retreated dramatically from intervening judicially in such matters (one aspect of what some have called “the switch in time that saved nine” in response to President Roosevelt‘s court-packing plan). Eventually the Court became incredibly deferential to state (and federal) regulation of economic matters, using in most such cases what lawyers call a “conceivable rational basis” test. In other words, so long as an economic regulation could be considered to have a rational basis, it did not violate substantive due process.

Current Substantive Due Process/Privacy Doctrine

Even though meaningful substantive due process review is now effectively dead in economic regulation matters, it has survived and subsequently thrived as applied to liberty in family and sexual matters.

There were hints of what was to come in Skinner v. Oklahoma, a 1942 equal protection decision that struck down sterilization as criminal punishment. Here, Justice Douglas famously said: “Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the [human] race.” But it was only in Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision invalidating a criminal prohibition against the use of contraceptives by married persons, that the Court expressly recognized a constitutional right of marital privacy, though there remained some question of its source in the text.

Thereafter, the Court expanded this right of privacy beyond marriage to include the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy in certain circumstances, largely on family/personal autonomy grounds. Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which modified Roe, are the leading cases so ruling on the basis of substantive due process. However, the Court in 2007 cut back somewhat on the scope of the right in Gonzalez v. Carhart, at least in cases dealing with statutes prohibiting so-called “partial birth abortions.”

Finally, in Lawrence v. Texas, a blockbuster 2003 decision, the Court held, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that states may not criminalize intimate homosexual conduct. The ground here was expressly personal autonomy: “Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.”

As things now stand, Roe, as modified by Casey and Carhart, is still good law. Lawrence remains good law as well.

The hot issue regarding homosexual conduct that is currently percolating in the circuits is the substantive due process question whether the right to marry someone of your own sex is a fundamental right
 protected by substantive due process.

Written by snahmod

September 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Know Your Constitution (3): Myths About the Supreme Court

I blogged on November 29, 2012, regarding two myths about the Constitution. That post was the second in my series, “Know Your Constitution,” which is intended for a general audience.

This is the third in the series and it addresses three myths about the Supreme Court with a minimum of legal jargon.

The First Myth. The Supreme Court’s primary function is to do justice.

Reality. The Supreme Court’s primary function is to interpret the Constitution and federal statutes. These interpretations become the supreme law of the land. The Court’s function is not necessarily to do justice in individual cases.

Of course, there are times when interpretations of particular constitutional provisions are considered by many to be just. For example, the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits racial and other kinds of discrimination by government, is considered to be a just constitutional provision because it is based on the concept of equality.

Another example is the due process clause and its application in criminal cases. Due process has been interpreted to include concepts of justice and fairness so as to protect the rights of criminal defendants to an unbiased court, to confrontation and cross-examination, to be free from self-incrimination, to an attorney, and so on.

What is most important to remember, though, is that Supreme Court decisions are not necessarily just or moral. A Supreme Court decision can uphold an unjust federal or state law as constitutional. For example, the Court in Plessy v. Ferguson unfortunately upheld separate but equal in the racial setting at the end of the 19th century.

On the other hand, a Supreme Court decision can rule that a wise and just federal or state law is unconstitutional. For example, the Supreme Court struck down the Violence Against Women Act in United States v. Morrison at the beginning of this century. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by snahmod

December 6, 2012 at 11:12 am

Know Your Constitution (2): Myths About the Constitution

My post of November 12, 2012, on the structure of our government, was the first in a series called “Know Your Constitution.” This series is intended to educate citizens about the Constitution and the Supreme Court with a minimum of legal jargon.

This post, the second in the series, addresses two commonly and erroneously held beliefs, or myths, about the Constitution.

The First Myth The Constitution is a sacred document or is at least divinely inspired.

Reality  The Constitution was written by human beings (all men at the time) and is a product of Enlightenment thinking. The Constitution exemplifies the application of reason to self-government. The divine right of kings is emphatically rejected by the Constitution.

Notice that there is no reference whatever in the Constitution to a divine being. Religion is mentioned only in several places. One place is the First Amendment with its Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Another place is the prohibition against religious tests for political office. In other words, religion has its role, but that role is not in government.

Along these lines, to characterize the Constitution as deeply influenced by Judaism and/or Christianity, as many like to do, is simply incorrect historically. Traditional Judaism and Christianity had nothing to say about democracy. Also, many of the Framers were deists who believed that a divine being created the universe and nature with its “laws” but then bowed out of human affairs. In contrast, theists believe that a divine being revealed itself and remains concerned with, and involved in, human affairs.

The Second Myth  The Constitution, even if not divinely inspired, comes as close to being as perfect a document for self-government as is humanly possible.

Reality The Constitution is far from a perfect document.

The Framers were only human beings, although we are fortunate that they were very well educated, far-sighted and obsessed with forming a new kind of government that the world had never seen before. But they made mistakes. This is obvious if only because of the number of Constitutional Amendments that have been ratified—twenty-seven–including the Bill of Rights two years after the Constitution.

More seriously, the Constitution was almost fatally flawed from the beginning because of slavery. This word was never used in the Constitution—embarrassment, perhaps?–although there were three indirect references to it. I say “fatally flawed” because, as everyone knows, slavery led to the temporary breakup of the United States. It took an horrific Civil War and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to amend the Constitution and eliminate slavery once and for all. In a very real sense, the Civil War and these three Constitutional amendments finally brought the Constitution into line with the Declaration of Independence.

Next in the Series: Myths about the Supreme Court

Written by snahmod

November 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Know Your Constitution (1): The Structure of Government

Constitutional Education for Citizens

United States citizens, in my view, have an obligation to understand their government, the Constitution that created it and the Supreme Court‘s role in interpreting the Constitution.

However, I’ve thought for a long time that we in the legal profession and the law schools do a mediocre job, at best, in educating the public about the United States Constitution and the Supreme Court.

What I would like to do in this and in occasional succeeding posts is try to explain, with a minimum of legal jargon, the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s role in interpreting it. Of necessity, these posts will be selective. I cannot cover everything.

This first post addresses the basic structure of our government as created by the Constitution, including separation of powers, checks and balances and federalism.

What is Separation of Powers?

The first three articles of the Constitution create and set out the powers of the three branches of government.

First and foremost, Article I deals with Congress, the lawmaking branch, and its two houses, the Senate  and the House of Representatives. All legislation must be passed by both houses in order to become law. Congress may only act pursuant to its enumerated powers.

Second, Article II deals with the President, elected every four years, who enforces the law and thereby exercises executive powers. The President also has primary responsibility for foreign affairs except insofar as Congress is the branch that declares war. All legislation that is passed by both houses must go to the President for his approval.

Third, Article III creates the Supreme Court, the only non-politically accountable branch, in which is vested the judicial power to decide cases and controversies brought before it. Much more about this in later posts. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by snahmod

November 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

All My Posts Through July 7, 2010

Since Nahmodlaw.com began in August 2009, and to this date, July 7, 2010, I have written thirty-four posts (including a video and podcast) on what I consider to be topics of interest and importance going beyond what might be considered “hot” at any particular time.

It occurs to me that it would be useful to readers, especially those who have only recently discovered this blog, to have a list of the thirty-four linked posts by category for ease of reference and use.

(It is also possible to use the “search” function to look for particular cases or topics among every one of my posts, including those subsequent to July 7, 2010).

What follows is a list comprising these thirty-four posts divided into the following four categories:

SECTION 1983;  CONSTITUTIONAL LAW;  FIRST AMENDMENT;  EDUCATION

I. SECTION 1983

Section 1983 Supreme Court Decisions–2009: A Video Presentation

A Section 1983 Podcast: Damages and Procedural Defenses

A Section 1983 Primer (1): History, Purposes and Scope

A Section 1983 Primer (2): The Seminal Decision of Monroe v. Pape

A Section 1983 Primer (3): Constitutional States of Mind

A Section 1983 Primer (4): Causation and the Mt. Healthy Burden-Shift Rule

Iqbal and Section 1983 Supervisory Liability

My Position on Supervisory Liability after Iqbal

Van De Kamp and the Shift in Prosecutorial Immunity

Haywood v. Drown: Close Call for the Supremacy Clause?

Rethinking Section 1983 Malicious Prosecution

Qualified Immunity “Order of Battle” Modified

Preempting Section 1983 Constitutional Claims: Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Comm.

Prosecutorial Immunity Revisited: The Pottawattamie County Case (UPDATED)

Justice Stevens and Section 1983

Certiorari Granted in Connick v. Thompson: A Prosecutorial Failure to Train Local Government Liability Case

Purdue v. Kenny A.: A New Supreme Court Attorney’s Fees Decision

Certiorari Granted in Skinner v. Switzer: Section 1983, Habeas and Heck

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by snahmod

July 7, 2010 at 10:28 am

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