To my friends at the ACLU, stay out of Hollywood

The Internet is awash in repeated (and retweeted) reports that the ACLU wants an inquiry into gender discrimination in Hollywood. Some readers know I was active in the Indiana affiliate of the ACLU (even served a couple of years as its president). I often support much of what the ACLU works on, but on this instance I have to part ways with them.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of evidence of gender discrimination in Hollywood. And something ought to be done about it. But this is not an issue the ACLU should be pushing.

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded with a core purpose of protecting civil liberties—the rights found in the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution. The ACLU’s purpose is to keep government from overstepping its bounds—even when that overstepping is wildly popular.

Hollywood, for all of its power, is not a governmental actor. It cannot infringe on First Amendment or even Equal Protection rights. Only a government can do that. Like it or not, there’s not a single thing in the Constitution that requires private industry to treat women fairly.

Again, I’m not saying Hollywood should be able to discriminate. I’m only saying that this issue is not something within the ACLU’s purpose. There are plenty of things the government is up to (NSA spying, police abuses, etc.) that needs the ACLU’s limited resources. Spending its time and money on something that involves private industry engaging in bad behavior is unwise.

Baltimore is more complicated than that

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.47.26 AMIt was with distress yesterday that I saw news reports of riots breaking out in parts of Baltimore after a funeral. Mourners buried the body of a man who died in police custody (and whose death has not been fully explained) and then gathered to protest. Some of the protesters turned violent, smashing police cars and looting stores. The police suffered some injuries, at least one of which may be quite serious, and a number of officers were sent to the hospital. I do not know how many non-police officers were injured.

This is a mess. A sad, tragic mess.

There are a few important things to point out. First, not all of the people protesting were violent. Not all of them are necessarily even thugs, as suggested by Baltimore’s mayor. Mob psychology can make even good people do things that are out of character. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but the good people who made stupid choices shouldn’t be thrown in with the group of opportunists who seized the chance.

Second, not all of the police officers are innocents. I know a lot of cops, and I believe they are good men and women. I’m proud to represent them in various matters. There are some officers, though, that have difficulty with the responsibility entrusted to them. They abuse their power and too often go unpunished. When the community sees this lack of punishment, it leads to disrespect for the police.

Many officers, however, believe they should be respected simply because they are the police—no matter how badly they may behave. The bad behavior, of course, leads to more disrespect, which leads to more frustration for the police…and a vicious cycle continues. The police become more militant (out of a perceived need), and the community becomes more estranged.

What we see on the news, lines of police officers in riot gear facing off against apparently angry protesters, is not the full picture. Among those officers are a few who would like to “show the criminals a thing or two.” Among the officers are also many who hope things don’t get out of hand so that no one is endangered. Among the protesters are a few who would like to “teach the police a lesson.” Also among the protesters are many who may be angry that their voice isn’t being heard but who reject violence. There was dramatic footage yesterday taken from a cell phone showing a protester who was stepping in front of the police line, turning and facing his fellow protesters and putting his arms out to encourage them to back away from the police. He was joined by a few other protesters doing the same thing.

What bothers me most about this situation is that the government leaders are most interested—appropriately—in restoring order yet will not have the same level of interest or dedication to solving the underlying problems of distrust between police officers and the communities. There needs to be an honest disclosure of police abuses and appropriate punishments for the guilty—just as there needs to be a fair prosecution and punishment of those who engaged in acts of violence. If government leaders are not willing to take on the uncomfortable duty of holding police responsible when they cross the line, then all the government is doing is making the situation worse. If the community sees a bunch of protesters punished (protesters, not thugs) but the police officers escape punishment, then the distrust and disrespect for the police will deepen. The problem will become harder to solve.

I do not know what the answers are. I don’t know how to get members of the community to begin trusting police officers again. I don’t know how to get police officers to understand that they will be more respected by acting as upright individuals. I do know, however, t
hat if something isn’t done soon, we will find ourselves living in a nation that experiences more violence on both sides of the line.

Your legal rights in family law cases

These are your legal rights. Review them carefully and decide which ones you will invoke.

 

You have the legal right to never again say anything good to your children about their other parent.

 

You have the legal right to ruin every occasion your children see their parents together with some caustic or chilly interaction—and to actually make your children dread any future times their family might be together.
 
You have the legal right to show your children you think their other parent is the only person on the planet so loathsome as to be unworthy of your courtesy.
 
You have the legal right to refuse any adjustment to your parenting time that would allow your children to participate in a special event at their other home.
 
You have the legal right to turn every parenting or scheduling issue into a question of competing legal rights.
 
You have the legal right to spend every available ounce of your energy and every dollar you ever have to argue over your legal rights.
 
You have the legal right to show your children that the adult way to handle hurt and disappointment is to be resentful and argumentative. 
 
You have the legal right to ignore the overwhelming evidence that one of the greatest injuries to children is conflict between their parents.
 
You have the legal right to show your children that they come from one parent too awful to be forgiven and another parent too weak to forgive.
 
You have the legal right to make your children embarrassed and ashamed of their family—and thus embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
 
You have the legal right to place your children at an overwhelming disadvantage to children whose parents are respectful and courteous toward each other.
 
You have the legal right to carry your resentments to your grave.
 
You have the legal right to have all your legal rights.

If you insist on exercising one or more of these legal rights, don’t be surprised if good family law attorneys are not interested in representing you.

My thoughts on the Hobby Lobby decision

It’s been a big day at the Supreme Court of the United States, with the Court handing down a much-anticipated ruling. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court took on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Predictably, forces on both sides of the issue are making a lot out of the ruling.

First, a little background (in case, you know, you’ve been in orbit or something). The ACA requires employers to include women’s contraception in their insurance plans. Religious entities that have employees (like the Catholic Church) are exempted from this requirement. Religiously affiliated entities (like the University of Notre Dame) can “opt out” of the requirement, but the insurance companies must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee—or the institution.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is a large, national chain of hobby stores. The corporation is owned by a handful of family members who contend that the contraception mandate burdens their religious freedoms. The government argued that the corporation is an entity totally distinct from its shareholders. Hobby Lobby argued that the corporation is a person for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and therefore is entitled to protection. The Court came down on the side of Hobby Lobby in a 5-4 decision.

Here are my thoughts. First, too many people are getting their information about the ruling from Twitter. The majority opinion, concurring opinion, and dissenting opinions take 95 pages. You can’t possibly get all of the detailed discussion in 140 character tweets. Second, people are jumping to conclusions. The Court did not say that corporations have more rights than people. The Court did say that some corporations could be exempt from the contraception mandate because they are closely held (meaning the corporation has just a few shareholders).

The Court did not say that the “rights” of the corporation trump the rights of female employees. The Court did say that the government did not show that the contraception mandate was the least restrictive means to accomplish its goal (the Court noted that the government itself could pay for the contraception, which would in turn not burden the religious beliefs of the shareholders).

The Court did not say that corporations are free to discriminate or be exempt from other types of health care requirements. The Court specifically held that this ruling was limited to the four specific contraceptive methods that Hobby Lobby’s shareholders found objectionable. Other contraceptive methods (such as the Pill) are not affected by today’s ruling. (Although, one can see that battle coming soon.)

Now, there’s plenty to critique in the opinion. The intellectual validity of the Court’s use of the Dictionary Act to define “person” as used in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is dubious at best. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the Dictionary Act comes into play when a term’s meaning is not clear from its context in a statute. The RFRA refers to “persons who exercise religious beliefs.” That qualifier would seem to indicate that the drafters did not mean to include corporations. Historically, the courts have distinguished between for-profit, non-profit, and religiously-based non-profit corporations. Today’s decision blurs those lines.

In my view, the Court’s majority opinion has significant flaws in reasoning. We can spend lots of time questioning the motives behind the five-member majority, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. The Court’s ruling today may lead to unintended consequences in the future, but that won’t be the first time. What we can best do for our nation is to have a rational discussion about the ruling, its strengths and weaknesses, and not engage in partisan screeching.

Great entertainment law resource

It’s embarrassing to admit it, but until today I was completely oblivious to a terrific podcast, Entertainment Law Update. (The only way I could be more embarrassed is if I have mentioned it here before—and have no recollection at all of doing so!)

Entertainment law is an amalgam of different areas of the law: copyright, contracts, First Amendment, privacy, defamation, and more. I’m fortunate to teach a survey course on the topic at the University of Notre Dame for the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre. The entertainment law cases are often fascinating: they pull back the curtains on celebrities and the industry itself.

Kudos to Gordon P. Firemark for his time and effort in publishing the podcast. As a recovering podcaster myself, I know it’s a huge time sink and labor of love.