Archive | February, 2012

Weekend Links

11 Feb




Home Defense Bill Gets to Full Senate (Again)

9 Feb

The Minnesota Senate is set to consider a modification to the portion of Self-Defense in the Home known as Defense of Dwelling.  Under present Minnesota Law, if:

…the killing was done in the belief that it was necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling, that the person’s judgment as to the gravity of the situation was reasonable under the circumstances, and that the person’s election to defend his or her dwelling was such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended. (roughly from  State v. Hare, 575 N.W.2d 828)

The current rule also provides that Defense of Dwelling is not a claim which can be asserted if the victim is a co-resident.

The proposed rule makes some notable changes. First, the commission of a felony in the home is enough to authorize deadly force regardless of the particular felony. Second, it establishes a presumption that use of deadly force was reasonable if “the person against whom the defensive action is being taken is entering or attempting to enter by force or by stealth, or has entered by force or by stealth and remains within, the dwelling or occupied vehicle of the individual.” Third, it appears to authorize the use of deadly force against a co-resident though does not give a presumption of reasonableness to such action.

What the proposed rule seems to attempt to do is to take the determination of reasonable situations to shoot people from the hands of a jury and instead define those situations in statute.  The concern may stem from the fact that 20/20 hindsight may make what were terrifying circumstances at the time seem like inadequate provocation to kill at trial.

This author is unsure of what conclusions to draw, but will note that the best available pun for this story was the previous “draw” pun, whereas Jake missed several golden opportunities in his recent first amendment article, for example: Abra-cadaver or cadaver? I hardly knew her… I for one expect more.

Minnesota’s Senators Approve Bill to Televise the Supreme Court

9 Feb

As reported today in the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, among other places, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would permit the televising of Supreme Court proceedings. There was a committee hearing on the bill in December, and if you’re really fired up about this stuff, you can watch a video of today’s vote here. If you want to track the bill yourself, you can do so here.

We here at the Void think it’s worth noting that both of Minnesota’s senators, Amy Klobuchar  and Al Franken, sit on the Judiciary Committee and voted in favor of the bill, so voice your approval or disapproval of their actions accordingly.

A similar bill  is pending in the House Judiciary Committee, which contains no representatives from Minnesota.

U of M Punishment for Student’s Facebook Post Goes Before the Supreme Court

9 Feb

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on the case of Tatro v. University of Minnesota. This case has gotten some pretty substantial media coverage, so I won’t rehash all the facts right here, but to oversimplify things, Amanda Tatro was a mortuary science student at the U who posted comments to her Facebook wall in 2009 about “playing” with her cadaver in her anatomy course and wanting “to stab a certain someone in the throat,” among other things. The U responded by placing Tatro on academic probation and various other restrictions and punishments.

This case has gotten a bunch of coverage in the legal blogosphere. Patrick over at Practical Obscurity has some great analysis on the case and actually attended the oral arguments. On a national level, Frank LoMonte wrote an editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Above the Law gave it the snark treatement.

The most thorough treatment of the actual oral argument I’ve seen is over at the Student Press Law Center, where Brett Johnson,  a U of M doctoral student, gave a pretty comprehensive rundown. According to Johnson, at one point during the arguments, Justice Barry Anderson expressed his concern over public universities using speech codes whenever speech could “make someone somewhere feel uncomfortable.”

“University administrators have not exactly covered themselves with glory on the subject of the First Amendment over the course of the last many years,” Anderson said, according to Johnson.

Johnson also must have done some real on-the-ground reporting, because he has quotes from University of Minnesota general counsel Mark Rotenberg stating after the arguments that he is not advocating for blanket restrictions on student speech.

“This is a case about professional training,” Rotenberg said, according to Johnson. “The university is meeting a narrow interest that is context specific.”

Interestingly, Johnson and the Pioneer Press noted that Justices Alan Page and David Stras and Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea recused themselves from the case, and that Judge Gary Schurrer of Washington County is serving on the high court by designation. I’m not sure the exact reasons, but I know that Gildea used to work in the U’s General Counsel office, and Stras was a professor at the U until last year. Page attended law school at the U, but so Did Barry Anderson, and Paul Anderson is still adjunct faculty, so I’m not sure what all went into the recusal decision process.

According to the Minnesota Daily, Tatro is prepared to take this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if she loses in St. Paul.

Stay tuned…

Random Links

9 Feb

Here’s a few quick hitters for those of you out there who care about First Amendmenty things going on here in the land of Ten Thousand Lakes:

  • A bunch of news outlets reported on a group of 35 Minnesota Rabbis who signed on to a letter opposing the ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. MPR reported that the group was made up of members of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, which represents “conservative, reform and reconstructionist clergy from 15 congregations around the state.” According to the American Jewish World News, it looks like the group will be pretty active in opposing the measure.
  • That Rolling Stone piece about Anoka and its bullying issues we mentioned before has been causing some rumblings in the local media.  Lori Sturdevant over at the Strib thinks the piece went to far in attempting to connect the suicides with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. Local media guru Dave Brauer over at MinnPost does not agree with her.
  •  There’s been a few updates on the case of William Melchert-Dinkel, the former nurse from Fairbault who went online and encouraged two depressed people to kill themselves. Melchert-Dinkel was found guilty in Rice County District Court of aiding the suicides of a British man and a Canadian woman last year. His attorney is in the process of appealing the conviction. According to a February 7 AP story, Assistant Rice County Attorney Benjamin Bejar said in his appellate brief that First Amendment protections are not absolute and don’t cover words encouraging another person’s lawless conduct. I didn’t go over to St. Paul to read the briefs for myself, because, heck, this is just a blog that nobody reads, but we here at the Void are watching this one pretty closely and we’ll keep you posted as events unfold.
  • There’s been some rumblings in the press about the saga of Robin Hensel, a Little Falls resident who, according to the Brainerd Dispatch, was barred from keeping protest signs in her yard because they violated a city signage ordinance. Hensel went on to complain that a “Support our Troops” banner on the American National Bank building violates the same policy. This has apparantly caused quite the ruckus in Little Falls. The Strib’s John Tevlin wrote a spirited defense of Hensel, and Eric Black over at MinnPost wrote a spirited defense of Tevlin’s spirited defense of Hensel.

Anoka-Hennepin Debate Subject of Rolling Stone Article

7 Feb

As we linked to on Friday, Rolling Stone published a  non-punch pulling article going after Anoka-Hennepin calling their policies a “war on gay teens.”  It is worth a read regardless of one’s standpoint as it is likely to shape the debate in the coming weeks. The School District responded with a call to stop “vicious debate.”  Interestingly this seems to be what their proposals attempt to accomplish. To which friend of the Void Robert Ingersoll might respond, “ Perhaps justice should remove the bandage from her eyes long enough to distinguish between the vicious and the unfortunate.”

For those who haven’t been following the issue here is a general summary of the issue to date and less seriously.

Disclosure Debate Developments

6 Feb

There seems to be a growing number of disclosure concerns in Minnesota’s legal discourse. The Strib has published two editorials that nicely frame the debate.  David Brooks and Gail Colins had a recent back and forth in a similar vein.  Their conversation gets to the nub of growing concern about the balance between Brandaisian disinfectant sunshine and the disheartening effect of brutal, shaming disclosure. In the wake of Citizen’s United and in the face of ubiquitous access to large swaths of data,  this looks to be one of the great questions of contemporary democracy: how do we balance the desire to have dignified individuals choose public service with the desire to have said public servants not govern corruptly, inefficiently, or incompetently.

This is clearly too nuanced of a debate for my Monday morning brain to handle.