Thursday, August 29, 2013
Over the past summer, I’ve been working on a fascinating project for the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, which is working with the Twin Cities Public Television station to develop a “Disability Justice Resource Center” website for lawyers and law students working on disability rights issues. The Minnesota Governor’s Council itself already has an extremely robust website, with a wealth of resources for anyone interested in the history and current state of the disability rights movement. Their two-part “Parallels in Time” presentation of the history of social attitudes toward people with disabilities and the rise of the disability rights movement starts from 1500 B.C., and is populated with fascinating pictures and videos. The Minnesota Governor’s Council developed the “Partners in Policymaking ®” advocacy training program for people with disabilities and their family members over 25 years ago; since then it has been exported to over 35 states and a number of other countries. (I participated in it in Indiana while I was teaching at Notre Dame.) Their website has a number of fine (and free) on-line courses on disability advocacy, covering the history of the disability rights movement, independent living issues, education, and employment.
I kept thinking about this “Disability Justice Resource Center” project during yesterday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Much of the coverage of the events highlighted and analyzed how things have (or haven’t) changed for African Americans in the intervening 50 years. The same sort of reflection is merited for people with disabilities, who continue to struggle to overcome both the challenges raised by their disabilities, and the challenges raised by social attitudes toward people with disabilities.
And these challenges are NOT limited to the subtle sorts of ADA challenges and biases alleged in many of the legal cases that tend to get the most media attention. Case in point: the source of the funding for this particular project. In July 2009, three plaintiffs sued the State of Minnesota for its treatment of people with developmental disabilities at a facility in Cambridge, Minnesota. In December 2011, Federal District Court Judge Donovan Frank approved a settlement agreement that awarded the plaintiffs $2.9 million, shut down the treatment program, and required the State to “immediate and permanently discontinue the use of mechanical restraint (including metal law enforcement-type handcuffs and leg hobbles, cable tie cuffs, PlasticCuffs, FlexiCuffs, soft cuffs, posey cuffs, and any other mechanical means to restrain), manual restraint, prone restraint, chemical restraint, seclusion, and the use of painful techniques to induce changes in behavior through punishment of residents with developmental disabilities. Medical restraint, and psychotropic and/or neuroleptic medications shall not be administered to residents for punishment, in lieu of adequate and appropriate habilitation, skills training and behavior supports plans, for the convenience of staff and/or as a form of behavior modification.” After the settlement agreement funds were distributed to class members, Judge Frank ordered a cy pres fund be established for this project -- a public education campaign to break stereotypes about people with developmental disabilities.
A newspaper article about this settlement began as follows:
On Halloween night 1949, Minnesota Gov. Luther Youngdahl stood aside a bonfire outside Anoka State Hospital and, with fanfare, burned 359 straitjackets and hundreds of other restraints he said were sinister relics of a more barbarous time.
“By this action we say that we have liberated ourselves from witchcraft – that in taking off mechanical restraints from the patients, we are taking off intellectual restraint from ourselves,” the governor said.
Apparently, we forgot.
The more time I spend on this project, the more concerned I become that "we" are forgetting some of the most vulnerable among us.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Monday, June 3, 2013
I spent this past Friday and Saturday with an exceptionally congenial group of scholars, at a symposium the Murphy Institute co-sponsored with the Center for Thomas More Studies at the University of Dallas. Under the extremely able guidance of the Center's Director, Dr. Gerard Wegemer, and two of its Fellows, David Oakley and Louis Karlin, we read and discussed portions of More's Utopia, Richard III, Tyrannicide, documents about his trial, and various letters, including the Dialogue on Conscience. Participants included a number of fellow MOJ-ers (Marc DeGirolami, the Michaels Moreland & Scaperlanda, Tom Berg, and Susan Stabile), as well as other legal scholars from here and abroad.
I had always admired More for the courage of his witness, but never read his work. Reading such a wide swath of his work under such informed guidance was a revelation. We were challenged to think about More's actions and his writings as lawyers, not just scholars -- a rich exercise for bringing to life both the stakes and the contemporary relevance of his actions and his words (and his silences). Wegemer, Oakley, and Karlin are all contributors to a valuable new resource for anyone who might want to use More as the subject of any law school class: Thomas More's Trial by Jury: A Procedural and Legal Review with a Collection of Documents. (The volume also includes contributions from two of the other participants in our symposium, Sir Michael Tugendhut, Justice of the Queen's Bench, and Richard Helmholtz.)
But the symposium certainly helped me appreciate that More's writings deserve attention for more than just the lessons of conscience and principle on display in his trial. Some of our criminal law professors at the symposium were struck by how effective Raphael Hytholoday's account of his conversation with Cardinal Morton on how to properly punish thieves (in Book I of Utopia) might be in teaching theories of punishment in a criminal law class.
One of the pieces I personally found most intriguing is from the Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, an essay entitled On Private Property, Riches, and Poverty, in which More attempts to sort through some of Jesus' most challenging charges: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26) and: "whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:33). In the essay More (as is typical for him) teases out the many complex layers of the practical implications of what those charges might mean for us. In our symposium, Steve Smith made the point that More's analysis might be a helpful contribution in many of our contemporary political debates, such as immigration. I agree. It seems to me that More's work might be a helpful supplement to some arguments typically made in terms of subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, or Aquinas' 'order of charity'.
More writes, for example: ". . . though I am obliged to meet in some way the needs of every kind of person, whether friend or foe, Christian or heathen, my obligation is not the same toward every person, nor toward any one person in every situation. A difference in circumstances greatly affects the matter. . . . Those are ours who belong to our charge either by nature, by law, or by some commandment of God. . . . Once God has by such chance sent [some stranger in need] to me, and has matched me with him, I consider myself definitely responsible for him until I can be rightly and decently, without any risk to his life, discharged of that responsibility. . . . [On the other hand] as much as God and nature both bind me to the sustenance of my own father, his need may be so little (though it is something), and a stranger's need so great, their needs may be so unequal, that both nature and God would have me releive that urgent necessity of a stanger -- even if it's an enemy of mine and God's too . . . -- before releiving a little need that is unlikely to do great harm to my father and my mother too."
I highly recommend the resources of the Center for Thomas More Studies -- both on their website and in on their staff -- for anyone interested in studying this great saint.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
As the academic year winds down, many of us academics and scholars are engaged right now intensively in either grading or writing. I just finished grading a group of final papers from my Consumer Law students. I was, as usual, pleased by some of the excellent, elegant writing that I saw, but frustrated by some of the writing that showed signs of the cut-and-paste-from-electronic-sources-and-hope-the-structure-will-be-evident approach that seems to characterize a lot of writing these days. (And not just student writing. This is a frequent complaint I hear from my husband, a judge who increasingly encounters this in court filings.)
I'm also working intensely on some of my own writing, and I find myself this morning at my computer, surrounded by piles of note cards covered with my handwritten scribbles, organized into piles that correspond to the themes I want to address in my paper. The process of scribbling out those note cards while I research something is never efficient. It always takes much more time to get through books when I'm taking these sorts of notes than it would be if I just read the book & tagged important sections with sticky tabs, or even if I typed the 'important quotes' directly onto my computer. I often think there must be a quicker way to do some of this, but I can't bring myself to work any other way when I'm really trying to think something through.
This morning, I read a book review in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I think will ease my mind about this process, and explain why I was so happy to drive my 12-year old daughter to Target to buy her some more note cards that she wanted to use for studying. It was a review of a new book by Philip Hensher, The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting. Robert Bliwise, the reviewer, explains:
Hensher's overarching idea is that we're at a cultural tipping point: This is "a moment when, it seems, handwriting is about to vanish from our lives altogether," he writes. He wonders whether that vanishing act will point to a more profound phenomenon. "Is anything going to be lost apart from the habit of writing with pen on paper? Will some part of our humanity, as we have always understood it, disappear as well?"
I haven't read the book yet, but the review focuses mostly on Hensher's concern that what will disappear is all the signals about the individuality of the hand-writer -- in Catholic terms, perhaps, the aspect of the words that reveals the human person behind the ideas. I wonder, though, if the transition to an all-mechanical world of writing might also carry some cost in terms of the content of the writing itself. Bliwise writes:
Hensher says his creative-writing students increasingly resist the idea of the handwritten journal and the practice of taking notes by hand. Handwriting, he suggests, slows us down, and we can't think deeply without slowing down. The very best students are "the ones who take out a piece of paper and a pen" in the classroom—the ones who "write down the things that they think are interesting as you talk, making sense of it as they go."
If all op-ed authors had to hand write their opinions before they could be published, if T.V. and radio pundits had to hand write their thoughts before reading them on air, if all bloggers had to hand write their posts before posting, might that positively influence what is commonly seen as the 'cheapening' of public discourse? ( ..... I write, on-line, mechanically, without having put pen or pencil to paper myself yet today...)
Monday, April 29, 2013
Like Hildegard of Bingen, St. Catherine of Siena (whose feast day we celebrate today) always attracts the attention of feminists. Christopher Check, in a nice little article about her genius in Crisis, explains why:
It is not so difficult to understand why feminists wish to claim the patronage of Saint Catherine. After all, a version of her life might go something like this: At seven years of age a girl determines never to marry. When at age 12, she is pressured by her parents to submit to an arranged marriage, she defiantly cuts off her hair and neglects her appearance. Later, the young woman develops quite a following in her town. Men and women alike seek her counsel. Soon she is bringing influence to bear in political circles unknown to women. She arbitrates family feuds. She brokers peace within and between the city-states of Tuscany. Bankers, generals, princes, dukes, kings, and queens, as well as scholars and abbots seek her counsel. Her admonitions inspire the pope to restore the papacy to Rome. She writes one of the greatest works of medieval literature. She accomplishes all of this in 33 years. When, six centuries later, she is at last declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church she is only the second woman at the time to receive the honor. A real glass-ceiling breaker, Catherine made it big in a man’s world.
It's a very interesting article, though I do wish Check hadn't so essentialized all of us Catholic "feminists."
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Two feminist legal theorists for whom I have great respect have recently written pieces on achieving equality between the genders that emphasize the need to take on the 'hook up-culture.' This kind of convergence is all the more remarkable because these two women come from very different perspectives.
Erika Bachiochi bravely jumped into the fray as what looks to me like the only pro-life voice of 10 people contributing to a "Roe at 40" series of blog essays by Notre Dame's Center for the Study of Social Movements. Among the arguments she makes in her essay 10 Years Later: Let's Get Honest about Abortion, Roe, and Women's Equality is the following:
By equating equality with abortion access, we have capitulated to the misogynist view that equality requires women to become more like men, i.e., not pregnant. This is not to say in a biologically determinist fashion that because women’s bodies have the capacity to gestate fetal life, women are assumed by nature to be designed only, or even primarily, to be wives and mothers. It is to say that a culture that relies on abortion to achieve equality between the sexes takes male—wombless—physiology as the norm, and in so doing perpetuates the cultural devaluation of motherhood, and of parenting generally, and the social conditions that are often inhospitable to childrearing. Abortion leaves every societal and familial injustice just as it is, and expects nothing more or different of men.
In her response to another contributor's criticism of her essay, Erika lauds :
the effort to call men and women to a renewed sense of integrity and dignity with regard to their sexual lives. I, for one, think women ought to be at the forefront of such a movement, since we are the ones who deal disproportionately with the consequences of all-too-casual sexual encounters and failed contraception. It’s astonishing to me with so much heartbreak and so much unintended pregnancy—still, 50 years after the Pill—that mainstream feminists wouldn’t take a hard look at the way in which the sexual ethic on college campuses and post-college social scenes tends toward male prerogatives for low commitment sex.
Katharine Baker is one of the 'mainstream feminists' who has recently taken careful look at this issue, and arrived at much the same conclusion as Erika (though she does not share Erika's pro-life commitment.) She recently posted an essay entitled Sex and Equality, soon too be published in Boston University L. Rev as part of a symposium on Hanna Rosin's book, The End of Men. Baker's essay is sharp and punchy, and I think very effectively
challenges Rosin’s suggestion that contemporary sexual norms on college campuses serve women’s interests well. Unpacking the same data that Rosin uses to defend hook-up culture on women’s behalf, the essay argues that hook-up norms facilitate rape and may help explain the high rate of sexual assault on college campuses. Hook-up norms also perpetuate the sexual double standard, disproportionately hurt lower income women who cannot compete in hook-up status games, and valorize boorish, selfish male sexual behavior. In doing so, hook-up norms likely hurt young women’s ability to secure what they say they eventually want, which is sexual relationships rooted in equality.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
In celebration of World Down Syndrome Day (celebrated annually on March 21 or 3.21 -- in recognition of the fact that people with Down Syndrome have 3, instead of the typical 2, of the the 21st chromosome), I invite you to:
2. watch this video about "the friendliest restaurant in America", and
3. try to get your own hug from someone with Down Syndrome today!