March 7, 2014
Student Loan Reform In Obama’s 2015 Budget: A Troubling Prospect For Graduate Students

The White House’s proposed 2015 budget contains a provision that will significantly alter the way the federal government handles student loans. If you have more than $57,500 in federally-backed student loans, you should pay particularly close attention.

Currently, individuals who take out federally-backed student loans must make payments for at least 20 years.  After 20 years, the remaining debt is forgiven.  However, the time frame for debt forgiveness is reduced to 10 years if you work in Public Service (Government or non-profit sector).  Most students know this as the “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” program.

Under current law, some people with federal student loan debt may qualify for a repayment program known as “Pay As You Earn” (PAYE).  This program allows individuals who demonstrate “financial hardship” to make repayments based on a percentage of your income.  The percentage increases as a function of the size of your income relative to your debt burden.  There is currently a 10% ceiling on repayments in this program, as a percentage of your “discretionary income.”

The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposal would expand eligibility for the PAYE program by removing the “financial hardship” requirement.  However, it places a cap on debt forgiveness for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and raises the ceiling for the 20-year debt forgiveness program.  Under the new budget, only people with student loan debt of $57,500 or less will be eligible for 10-year Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.  The ceiling for loan forgiveness outside of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has also been raised to 25 years instead of 20.

The good news for this reform is that it gives more people access to the PAYE program, which will reduce their debt burdens considerably.  It will also save the federal government money.

The bad news is that everybody who already made the decision to attend college or graduate school in reliance on the availability of the 10-year Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is now getting screwed. I know many colleagues from Law School who planned their academic and professional careers in reliance on this program.  There are also people who probably would not have gone deep into debt pursuing graduate-level degrees if they didn’t think they could get their loans forgiven in 10 years.  This change affects tens of thousands of graduate students, including law students and med school students whose debt burdens not uncommonly reach over $200k, and in same cases, closer to 300k-400k.  

There’s a simple fix for this problem that retains the reforms without hurting the people who already went into debt in reliance on the 10-year Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.  The Obama administration simply needs to add an amendment to their proposed budget grandfathering in students who obtained federally-backed student loans in reliance on the 10-year program.  It is unconscionable to make a benefit available to the public, have people plan their lives and careers around it, and then take it away after they’ve made irrevocable life decisions in reliance on that benefit.  

It is also worth noting that the U.S. is fairly unique among 1st-world countries in forcing its students to go so deeply into debt to attain high-level degrees.  PhD programs in Sweden, for example, are tuition-free for Swedish citizens.  In England, doctors are currently up in arms over paying much less than half what it costs to attend med school in the U.S. (in England, the “average graduate debt for medical students is £20,000.”).  When you compare the cost of education in the U.S. to other countries, it’s pretty clear that the U.S. leaves much to be desired.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration should amend the proposed reforms to make sure that students who went to school thinking they could rely on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program don’t get left out in the cold.  A grandfather amendment should be added so that students who already went into debt intending to take advantage of this law may do so.

August 25, 2013
So if you’re thinking about law school, this screen shot is an example of why law review/law journal membership and moot court participation matters in the legal job market.
This is a screen grab from a job posting for a federal clerkship.  Note that Moot court participation and Law journal experience are “preferred,” which we all know is employer-speak for “required.”
So work your butt off, get on a law journal, and participate in moot court programs.  It will pay off in the long run by giving you access to more jobs when you graduate.

So if you’re thinking about law school, this screen shot is an example of why law review/law journal membership and moot court participation matters in the legal job market.

This is a screen grab from a job posting for a federal clerkship.  Note that Moot court participation and Law journal experience are “preferred,” which we all know is employer-speak for “required.”

So work your butt off, get on a law journal, and participate in moot court programs.  It will pay off in the long run by giving you access to more jobs when you graduate.

1:32pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxtFNhix
  
Filed under: law school 
June 8, 2012

Benjamin Jealous, NAACP President, speaking at Albany Law School, April 11, 2012.  Presented by the Albany Law School Black Law Student’s Association.


If you are interested in racial profiling, I highly recommend you watch Mr. Jealous’s speech.  Mr. Jealous’s remarks are followed by a panel consisting of Albany Law School Professors, as well as the Assistant Chief of Police from the City of Albany Police Department.  The video is 2+ hours, but Mr. Jealous’s speech is only takes up the first hour or so. 

April 28, 2012
illegalities:

dixiepuddle:

lawschoolmemes:

Yeah, you’ve probably never heard of it.

LOLLLL

Hey Law Students! Follow illegalities!

LTMC: .1% of the world gets this joke.  I am ashamed to say that I am not only part of that .1%, but was wracked verily with hearty guffaws.  

illegalities:

dixiepuddle:

lawschoolmemes:

Yeah, you’ve probably never heard of it.

LOLLLL

Hey Law Students! Follow illegalities!

LTMC: .1% of the world gets this joke.  I am ashamed to say that I am not only part of that .1%, but was wracked verily with hearty guffaws.  

April 12, 2012
This photo was taken at a talk given by the President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, at my law school.  Mr. Jealous spoke about Trayvon Martin and racial profiling.  I’m in the crowd clapping (I’ll leave you to speculate where I am).  The event was hosted by my friends in the Black Law Student’s Association (BLSA).
I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mr.  Jealous before the event, and he’s incredibly intelligent, yet down to earth.  He’s very good at using what I’d call “bridge-building” anecdotes to bring whites into the conversation.  For example: when talking about racial profiling, he referred to the D.C. Sniper incident that occurred awhile back, and talked about how the police had a profile of who they thought the sniper was, which included the phrase “probably white male.”  As we know now, the shooter was Black.  But because they fixated on the race of the shooter rather than his behavior, they ignored every black man in D.C., and began pulling over every white male in D.C. on the basis of the color of their skin.  The eight or so behavioral characteristics on the police profile became irrelevant as soon as race came into the picture.  Fixating on race essentially made law enforcement officials blind, deaf and dumb to objective behavior which may have led them to the perpetrator faster.
Mr. Jealous also talked about how some of his biggest successes with criminal justice reform occurred recently in the State of Texas under Rick Perry, where the NAACP was able to partner with a cadre of tea party republican state legislators to close the first prison in Texas history.  He remarked that quite often, the greatest resistance he faced in reforming our criminal justice system came from moderate Democrats who were afraid of looking soft on crime.  Again, another good example of Mr. Jealous using “Bridge-building” anecdotes to bring people into the conversation about racial justice by framing the issue in ways that his adversaries will be sympathetic to.
All in all, it was a fantastic event that I was happy to be a part of.  It was especially cool to sit down and have lunch with the President of a civil rights advocacy organization with roots as deep as the NAACP.  Mr. Jealous’s speech was followed by a panel of three professors and the city’s Assistant Chief of Police, all of whom I think acquitted themselves admirably.  There’s a couple of national and local news articles on the event that have remarks from the panelists, if you’re interested.
All in all, it was a very good day (and night, even).  I’m proud of my friends in BLSA for putting on this event, and quite pleased that we were able to get the law school community to come together around an issue that, all too often, is shoved to the wayside as an impolite conversation (i.e. racial profiling and racism more broadly).  Here’s to hoping that something good comes of it.  And also that one day, my Black friends won’t have to tell their children to behave differently around others because of the assumptions other people make about them, explicitly and subconsciously, based on the color of their skin.

This photo was taken at a talk given by the President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, at my law school.  Mr. Jealous spoke about Trayvon Martin and racial profiling.  I’m in the crowd clapping (I’ll leave you to speculate where I am).  The event was hosted by my friends in the Black Law Student’s Association (BLSA).

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mr.  Jealous before the event, and he’s incredibly intelligent, yet down to earth.  He’s very good at using what I’d call “bridge-building” anecdotes to bring whites into the conversation.  For example: when talking about racial profiling, he referred to the D.C. Sniper incident that occurred awhile back, and talked about how the police had a profile of who they thought the sniper was, which included the phrase “probably white male.”  As we know now, the shooter was Black.  But because they fixated on the race of the shooter rather than his behavior, they ignored every black man in D.C., and began pulling over every white male in D.C. on the basis of the color of their skin.  The eight or so behavioral characteristics on the police profile became irrelevant as soon as race came into the picture.  Fixating on race essentially made law enforcement officials blind, deaf and dumb to objective behavior which may have led them to the perpetrator faster.

Mr. Jealous also talked about how some of his biggest successes with criminal justice reform occurred recently in the State of Texas under Rick Perry, where the NAACP was able to partner with a cadre of tea party republican state legislators to close the first prison in Texas history.  He remarked that quite often, the greatest resistance he faced in reforming our criminal justice system came from moderate Democrats who were afraid of looking soft on crime.  Again, another good example of Mr. Jealous using “Bridge-building” anecdotes to bring people into the conversation about racial justice by framing the issue in ways that his adversaries will be sympathetic to.

All in all, it was a fantastic event that I was happy to be a part of.  It was especially cool to sit down and have lunch with the President of a civil rights advocacy organization with roots as deep as the NAACP.  Mr. Jealous’s speech was followed by a panel of three professors and the city’s Assistant Chief of Police, all of whom I think acquitted themselves admirably.  There’s a couple of national and local news articles on the event that have remarks from the panelists, if you’re interested.

All in all, it was a very good day (and night, even).  I’m proud of my friends in BLSA for putting on this event, and quite pleased that we were able to get the law school community to come together around an issue that, all too often, is shoved to the wayside as an impolite conversation (i.e. racial profiling and racism more broadly).  Here’s to hoping that something good comes of it.  And also that one day, my Black friends won’t have to tell their children to behave differently around others because of the assumptions other people make about them, explicitly and subconsciously, based on the color of their skin.

April 8, 2012
Adventures In Legal Academia: Is Marriage A Contract Or A Legal Status?

The following is a short essay I submitted in response to a question (noted in the title of this post) that was assigned by a professor vis-a-vis law school.  I thought I’d post it here for anyone that has too much free time on their hands and wants to ponder minute distinctions in how the law views the marital relationship.  Have at it.


A Futile Distinction: Marriage as Contractual Relationship vs.Marriage as Legal Status 

            In August of 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California released a 138 page opinion declaring California’s Proposition Eight unconstitutional.[1]  In that opinion, the plaintiffs challenged an amendment to the California constitution passed by California’s voters in a 2008 referendum.  The amendment added Article I, Sec. 7.5 of the state’s constitution, which read: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”[2]  The opinion contains various references to the legal “rights and responsibilities” that are granted to couples who choose to marry in California.[3]  The opinion also uses the word “status” in reference to those rights and responsibilities over twenty times.[4]

            Nearly a decade prior, a man from Georgia named Michael Phillips sued his ex-fiancé in state court alleging that his fiancé had improperly withdrawn nearly $2,500 dollars from the couple’s joint checking account.[5]  In response, his ex-fiancé, Tracy Blankenship, counter-sued inter alia for ‘breach of promise to marry,’ a common law contract action.[6]  Among the other claims advanced by Blankenship was ‘unjust enrichment,’ “which applies “when as a matter of fact there is no legal contract, but when the party sought to be charged has been conferred a benefit by the party contending an unjust enrichment which the benefitted party equitably ought to return or compensate for.”[7]  Phillips and Blankenship pursued their claims in front of a jury, and Blankenship prevailed on her claims for ‘breach of promise to marry’ and ‘unjust enrichment,’ resulting in a combined jury award of roughly $24,000, which was upheld on appeal.[8]

            How do we reconcile these two anecdotes?  Is it possible that marriage is both a legal status and a contractual relationship?  In a word, yes.  And in fact, any attempt to confine the legal definition of marriage to one or the other is, at least at our current place in history, doomed to failure.  As of 2004, there were 1,138 statutory provisions in the United States Code “in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges.”[9]  Even in California, Judge Walker’s 2010 decision in the “Prop 8” case was in part the result of a previous decision by the California Supreme Court that held certain statutory language within Cal. Fam. Code § 300 unconstitutional.[10]  The language of that provision provided that “[m]arriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary.”[11]  The In re Marriage cases decision held the phrase “between a man and a woman” to be unconstitutional, but left untouched the language which defined marriage as arising out of a civil contract.[12]

            The existence of common law contract actions for damages arising from a breakdown in marital relations, or agreements made in pursuit thereof, firmly etches the patina of a contractual relationship onto the marital union.  So long as the law purports to treat the marital relationship as a contract, and grants litigants the right to act on it as if it were, marriage will, by definition, remain a legal contractual relationship.  But this does not change the fact that the laws of both the federal and state governments confer status-based rights onto individuals whose relationships meet the statutory definition of a marriage.  So long as there are laws on the books that grant rights and responsibilities based on a person’s marriage “status,” marriage will also, by definition, be a legal status as well.  Can it be both?  Of course it can.  Why not? 

            It is tempting to analyze this bifurcation of marriage definitions by focusing on one aspect of the marital relationship, and then elevating it to a sort of legal primacy.  One could, for example, argue that the marital contract comes ipso facto prior to statutory recognition by federal and state authorities of a couple’s marriage status under the law; and therefore, a contractual union forges the crux of the marital relationship.  But this is nothing more than a “chicken-egg” argument that fails to resolve the original question.  The fact that a state recognizes a marriage only after a binding marital agreement has been entered into doesn’t change the fact that the state is using the marital agreement as one element of a statutory definition, pursuant to which rights and obligations are granted.  That statutory definition is itself ipso facto a legal status.  Chronology does not dissolve the simultaneous existence of contractual duties with status-based rights and obligations in a marriage.

           Thus we see the problem with attempts to isolate the definition of marriage: to define marriage only as a contractual relationship leaves unaccounted for the thousands of rights and responsibilities that are granted to married couples under federal and state law. To define marriage only as a status leaves unexplained the actions which lie in civil proceedings for injuries sustained in marital relations; many of which are based on a breach of contractual obligations.[13]  The only consistent logical position is that marriage occupies both realms.  There is no practical or philosophical exigency that requires us to resolve the matter in either direction.

            The fact that courts continue to adjudicate both civil disputes, and the statutory rights & obligations granted to married couples, demonstrates that there is no inconsistency in these positions.  Any peradventure in this realm is purely academic.  At our present place in history, the law treats marriage as both a legal status and a contractual relationship.  In order for it to cease to be one or the other, the law must stop treating it as such.[14]  Until that time comes, the only way to explain the full scope of the marital relationship is to tolerate the fact that it occupies both realms: it is a contract that can be relied and acted upon in court; and a status that legally entitles and binds the parties.  



[1] See Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921 (2010).

[2] Id. at 927.

[3] See, e.g.id at 929, 961, 994.

[4] See generally id.

[5] Phillips v. Blankenship, 554 S.E.2d 231, 232 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001).

[6] Id. at 232.

[7] Id. at 233.

[8] Id. at 232.

[9] Memorandum from Dayna K. Shah, Associate General Counsel, Gov’t Accountability Office, to the Honorable Bill Frist, former Majority Leader, United States Senate (Jan. 23, 2004), available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04353r.pdf (emphasis added); see, e.g.Perry, 704 F. Supp. 2d at 962.

[10] See In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d 384 (Cal. 2008).

[11] Cal. Fam. Code § 300 (West 2008).

[12] In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d at 453.

[13] See, e.g.Blankenship, 554 S.E.2d at 232 (discussing Breach of Promise to Marry and Unjust Enrichment Claims); Schultz v. Duitz, 69 S.W.2d 27, 29–30 (Ky. Ct. App. 1934) (discussing the disposition of property given “in consideration of [a failed] marriage contract[.]”).  But see infra note 14 (discussing the state trend of abolishing civil actions predicated on breach of promise to marry).

[14] There has indeed been some movement in this area.  Many states have abolished civil actions for breach of promise arising from marital relationships, enacting so-called “anti-heart balm statutes” (hereinafter AHB statutes). See, e.g.Wis. Stat. Ann. § 768.01 (West  2009); Minn. Stat. Ann. § 553.01 (West 2010); N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 80-a (McKinney 2009); see also 11 C.J.S. Breach of Marriage Promise § 2 (2012).  However, even if all fifty states were to adopt AHB statutes, this would not resolve the fact that the law still views marriage as a contract for a variety of other purposes.  See, e.g.52 Am. Jur. 2d Marriage § 25 (2012) (discussing incapacity to contract as a basis for annulment).  Resolving the definition of marriage neatly into one of “status” or “contractual relationship” would require nothing short of a revolution in the law of both the federal and state legal regimes.  Until such a revolution comes, marriage will retain its dualistic legal status.

10:42pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxJLAp9t
  
Filed under: marriage law school 
March 6, 2012
Just my Law Review being cited by the Supreme Court.
No big deal.
(Annotation is clearly in original).

Just my Law Review being cited by the Supreme Court.

No big deal.

(Annotation is clearly in original).

February 15, 2012
Justice Brennan Still Dominates Law School Textbooks

How could he not (From April, 2011):

I’ve noted before how often current law students comment about coming across Justice Brennan’s opinions in their casebooks.

Most recently, a law student in Boston noted on Twitter, “why did Justice Brennan have to write so much… more to read lol #lawschool #civpro

Now, a political science professor has now come forward with evidence that Brennan is in fact one of the most frequently cited justices in constitutional law casebooks.

Steven B. Lichtman, a Shippensburg University professor, analyzed the eighteen leading constitutional law case books and discovered that Brennan was the justice with the third most excerpted opinions. (He finished behind top ranked John Paul Stevens and the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who came in second.)

Rounding out the top ten were Antonin Scalia, Byron White, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry Blackmun, Anthony Kennedy, and, in a three way tie for ninth place, William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and Potter Stewart.

I wrote Lichtman asking for what he thought might explain Brennan’s high ranking and he suggested it was a combination of Brennan’s status as the most consistent and coherent liberal voice on the Court and his role as “a counterpart to the Rehnquist/Scalia conservative axis.”

Lichtman said the last factor was particularly important since he found “textbooks sought to present a point-counterpoint accounting of caselaw.”

“If you’re going to do that, Brennan is the most likely candidate to excerpt, since he was on the Court when the liberal foundation was established under Warren, and still on the Court when that foundation was undone under Rehnquist,” Lichtman explained in an e-mail.

Lichtman published his findings in the latest newsletter of the Law & Courts section of the American Political Science Association, which you can read here: Law & Courts newsletter.

January 20, 2012
Law School Applications For Fall 2012 Drop By More Than Fifteen Percent

Ugh, thank god.  My future employment prospects thank you, Class of 2015.

10:30pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxF605CA
  
Filed under: law school 
December 19, 2011
McSweeney's: Look, We Can Either Study For Our Law School Finals, Or We Can Bring About The Violent Dissolution Of The American Legal System.

It’s been a long semester. At this point we’ve read hundreds of pages of judicial opinions and sat through countless hours of lectures on legal theory and case law, and now we’re down to the wire. Exams are less than a week away, and the way I look at it, we’ve only got two options: we can either buckle down and hit the books harder than we ever have in our entire lives, or else can can attempt to bring about the violent downfall of the institution of rule of law in the United States of America.

And between you, me, and this three-hundred page Crim. Law outline I got from a 2L, that second one just sounds more viable.

Sure we can study. We can go over our notes and take a couple practice tests and pray we get good enough grades to land a sweet summer firm job. But let’s be realistic. How hard is it going to be to understand the complex web of choice-of-law analysis implicated by Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins? Now how hard is it going to be to instigate a bloody nihilistic revolution the primary result of which will be the complete collapse of the federal and state judiciaries and the instantaneous and complete invalidation of four centuries of American law and jurisprudence?

You’re shaking your head.

Let me ask you this: Have you even tried to wrap your mind around the English common law system of easements and servitudes? It’s perverse. It’s the kind of perverse that makes you want close your copy of the Restatement, put the caps back onto your rainbow highlighters, and then proceed to organize a paramilitary overthrow of one of the most democratic and legally equitable societies ever established in the history of humankind.

Seriously—just think about how stressed out you are right now. Now think about how unstressed you’ll be when you’re roasting marshmallows over a bonfire whose flames are fed by the nullified volumes of the United States Supreme Court Reporter.

Now, I figure if we can seize control of the broadcast media first, we can more readily disseminate instructions to comrades and partisan fighters near—hold on. Why are you looking at me like that?

Sure I may be “starting to really freak you out”—but is what I’m saying even half as freaky as the explanation of Coasian theory in our Property casebook? Where’s your sense of adventure and militant, vaguely anarchist anti-patriotism?

You know, H.L. Mencken once said, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” Note that he did not say, “Every normal man must go ahead and follow through with law school and not dismantle the American polity through armed revolt simply because if he fails his Torts final he’ll probably never be able to get a six-figure associateship and have any hope of paying off his Grad PLUS loans.”

And what would the founding father’s have done, huh? What would James Madison do if he was staring down a four-hour, closed book Constitutional Law final? I mean besides, you know, not writing the Constitution. I like to think he would have just broken down and started destroying stuff rather than confront the reality of his own intellectual inadequacy and poor post-graduate educational decisions.

So who’s with me? Who among you will tear off the manacles of history and cloak yourself in the mantle of noble insurrection against the tyranny of law and the final examination thereof?

Fine. I’ll leave.

But know this—when the streets of Washington are thick with the perfume of cordite and the strains of the Internationale; when the Smithsonian’s tablet of Hammurabi’s Code has been ground into a fine dust whose motes will be contemptuously scattered across the plains, forests, and mountains that separate the Atlantic and Pacific; when the citizens of the new America gaze upon the cracked-egg dome of the defunct capitol building and contemplate the metaphorical spoiled yolk of the sort-of-hard-to-understand laws its legislature previously produced—when these inevitabilities come to pass, you shall be held accountable for your cowardice and collusion with the law school–industrial complex. Know that when the revolution comes, you—all of you!—will be the first against the wall.

Also, please give me back my outlines and rainbow highlighters.

LTMC: this is perfect in so many ways.

10:53pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnxDVtN9k
  
Filed under: law school 
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