The Future of Same-Sex Marriage May Be up to the Supreme Court

The states have an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to marriage. On occasion, however, a state’s laws regarding marriage may be called into question, requiring a high authority to step in and offer a well-reasoned answer. For example, Virginia outlawed interracial marriages for many years, until someone challenged the law and eventually had it overturned in the landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia.

same-sex marriageAs coincidence would have it, Virginia has recently become the third state to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on their gay marriage law. Joining Utah and Oklahoma, and undoubtedly more in the coming weeks, Virginia’s Attorney General is essentially asking the Supreme Court to answer one highly controversial question: do homosexual couples have a fundamental right to marriage?

The Supreme Court is under no obligation to hear any of the cases. Even if they do decide to weigh in, there is no real deadline facing the Court. Notwithstanding, the situation presents a daunting situation; nine unelected justices may ultimately be responsible for ending the most tumultuous debate in decades.

For proponents of gay rights, that may not be such a great thing.

Earlier this year, same-sex marriage made news when a California ballot initiative attempted to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Reviewed by the Supreme Court, the appeal was shot down on jurisdictional grounds. What that means is that the court never really, officially reached the merits of whether same-sex couples can marry, but rather simply said the people challenging it didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

In another victory for supporters of same-sex marriage came about in 2013, when the same Court held the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, is invalid, because the law offered no legitimate purpose that outweighed the discriminatory, damaging effect DOMA had on same-sex couples. The Court reasoned that “by seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The initial inclination many may have is that the Court will make the same decision with respect to states. What makes this time different?

Unlike DOMA, which is a piece of congressional legislation, these laws are all unique to their respective state. As such, they are written differently, and may have provisions that could potentially satisfy the Court’s requirement for a legitimate purpose. Remember, DOMA was deemed to have no legitimate purpose, and, similar to bans on interracial marriage or same-sex marriage at a federal level, there also may not be any legitimate purpose of any of these states laws. However, and regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs, the devil is in the details with respect to statutory construction. With so many different state laws the Supreme Court will have to choose form, it’s possible they may make a ruling based on the best written – or most poorly written – law that appears before them.

Which leads to the next issue: variety. With the copious amount of appeals reaching the Supreme Court’s door, the justices will have the option of picking one (or potentially several) cases on which to base their ruling. While variety may be a good thing, as it ultimately gives the justices more freedom to pick the best case to support their legal reasoning, it’s also not such a great thing for that exact reason – if the Supreme Court wishes to limit the impact of the decision, they can. If they want the decision to have the broadest impact as possible, they can do that too.

So, for example, the Supreme Court may only decide on Virginia’s case based on the unique challenges Virginia is facing, and decline to hear the other cases. In doing so, they could indirectly have an impact on every same-sex couple, without actually ever having to reach a final decision on the merits.

Finally, justices are not keen on recognizing new rights. They may not necessarily have to with respect to gay marriage if they simply do not find a legitimate purpose in any of the state’s laws. What that does, however, is perpetuate and stretch out the same-sex marriage battle, making each challenge and each appeal it’s own little constitutional rule instead of one, overarching definitive rule. That will result in a patchwork of ideology, legal reasoning, and doctrinal law, and ultimately confuse the issue even further.

It is entirely possible none of this may happen. The court may decline to hear any case until there is more of split between circuits, and they may make another victory or offer a crushing defeat for same-sex marriages. As more states appeal, one thing becomes clear: they’ll have to do something, and whatever that something may be, it seems to have more potential to further promulgate and muddle same-sex rights than it does to clear things up.

Monkey Selfie Costs Photographer a Small Fortune

Monkey selfies are all fun and games until a photographer loses his paycheck for the year. In 2011, David Slater spent over 7,000 pounds (or $11,763) to travel to Indonesia to take pictures of crested black macaques. While on the scene, the monkeys stole his camera and took hundreds of pictures of themselves.

monkey selfie copyright issueOne of those pictures turned out very well, but ended up in the hands of Wikimedia Foundation, the free information websites. Slater demanded Wikimedia take down the monkey selfie, but Wikimedia argued that the photo was in the public domain, not copyrighted.

Wikimedia’s argument is simple. The monkeys created the picture, but the animals have no property rights, so the picture belongs in the public domain. Normally, if a human owns an animal, then the human owns any property created by the animal. However, macaques are wild animals not owned by anyone.

Slater’s claim to the picture is that he invested a significant amount of money, time, and labor into getting the pictures, so he should be the photo’s rightful owner. Unfortunately for him, copyright law regarding photographs is that the person taking the picture is the “author” of the photo. Slater didn’t do anything to make the photo. Aside from having his camera stolen, Slater wasn’t involved in making the picture.

Slater could substantially modify the picture and claim the changes to the photograph make the picture his own work, but the picture’s value is the unimpeded view of the macaque (and the fact that the monkey took the picture herself). Also, even if he did modify the picture, Slater would only own the modified photo and not the original work.

Copyright law is supposed to promote the creation of new inventions or ideas though, so it makes little sense that labor and expenditure shouldn’t at least be a factor in determining who holds the copyright. The danger is that the distinction between investor and artist would be eroded if Slater held the copyright in this case.

Can Police Lie?

We’ve all seen or heard the rumor: if you ask a police officer if they are a police officer, they have to tell you.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is, police can, and often do, lie. They can lie about being undercover. They can also lie about anything.

can police lieWhy Can Police Lie?

One word: efficiency. After all, a police officer wouldn’t be able to do their job very well if they had to just recite actual facts to suspects.

For example, let’s assume there are two suspects who are arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking. And, let’s also assume they were actually transporting illicit substances, but the police don’t have any concrete evidence. So, they tell one suspect that his cohort just sold him up the river, confessed to everything, maybe even some extra stuff too just to get them to deny some crimes but admit to other crimes, and that person in turn admits to everything. In an instant, an otherwise evidence-less case is looking significantly stronger.

Put simply: the easiest and best way for police to get real, concrete evidence is to manufacture a story and sell it to a suspect.

What Can Police Lie About?

Anything. Well, almost anything. A better way to put it is more like they can lie about nearly anything related to the crime, and some things that are not closely related to the crime to a certain degree, depending on the facts and circumstances of the specific case.

However, that’s a lot to remember. The take away here is the police can lie about practically anything.

Here are some common scenarios where a lie from a police officer tends to dupe those who don’t know better.

1. False Confessions: As mentioned above, it’s pretty common for cops to mince words and put one person against another. They expect emotions to run high, and for the other person to automatically implicate the other, and in doing so, implicate themselves. It sounds ludicrous, but it works surprisingly well.

2. Better Sentence: Cops may also insist that by cooperating a suspect will get a better sentence or may not even wind up being charged at all. Let’s clear up some air about that – the police probably know better than to promise a better sentence, because they have been trained to know that would be illegal (more about that later on).

More importantly, the police have absolutely no power to charge anyone (that’s up the district attorney), and they certainly have no final say in what sentence someone receives (that’s up to the judge). The police simply enforce the law and make arrests when the law is broken, and believe me, they are good at that.

3. Other Suspects: It is not uncommon for law enforcement to insist that a person who is a suspect is not the only suspect, or not a suspect at all, and that this conversation is simply to help them figure out the whereabouts of the “real bad guys.” Again, police enforce the law and arrest people, and someone who is being interrogated or questioned by the police wouldn’t be unless they were at least suspected of one thing or another.

4. “Off the Record”: First of all, this may not technically be a lie because there is no “record.” A record isn’t exactly officially created until the questioning is done under oath. Which, even if a police officer turns off a tape recorder and video camera, is absolutely what they will do after they are arrested and they are called in to testify at the defendant’s preliminary hearing: give statements under oath.

Are There Any Limits?

Fortunately, yes. Unfortunately, they are vague and narrow. Without getting into the legal definitions of how far is too far, the main consideration is whether or not a lie or series of lies was coercive. In other words, if a police officer makes definitive assurances, or anything leaning towards beneficial treatment or situations unrelated to the crime itself, the lie may have gone too far and the confession will be no good.

For instance, a New York Court of Appeals has recently said that where a defendant’s free will is completely overwhelmed, lies stop being lies and become something worse. In one of those cases, a man was being interrogated in connection with the murder of 4-month-old son. He was told “67 times that what had been done to his son was an accident, 14 times that he would not be arrested, and 8 times that he would be going home.” However, most astonishingly, he was told that he needed to explain to the police how the accident happened so doctors could save his son’s life, despite that fact his son was already dead. Ultimately, while many of those assertions on their own did not taint the confession, the totality of all of those statements taken together was coercive that the defendant’s free will was deemed to be entirely destroyed.

Still, If I’m Innocent, I Have Nothing to Worry About. Right?

This perhaps the biggest lie of all. Innocent people wind up confessing to things they did not do all the time. Moreover, even if an innocent person doesn’t confess to a crime, it’s remarkably easy to implicate yourself, even if you are completely without fault. For example, a tall man fits a description of a bank robber, is arrested and questioned, and because he knows he is innocent, he tells the truth and admits to being in the bank, near the time of the robbery. He doesn’t need to admit to committing the crime to have already established more than enough probable cause – with perfectly innocent, legal behavior – to charge him. His situation starts to look worse if he starts answer questions about his financial troubles, all in the name of being innocent and wanting to cooperate.

And one more thing – memory is fickle. It isn’t uncommon for a blue shirt one day to become a yellow shirt another day; if someone if completely innocent buys into a law enforcement lie about “being innocent means nothing to hide” or “off the record, help us out with other suspects,” gives some information, and is later called in for more questioning or to testify and gives different statements, that innocent person is looking a lot like a guilty suspect.

What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Always tell the truth, even if the cops don’t. Ultimately, the specific “right thing to do” depends on many, many more factors than lying cops. However, at the end of the day, being honest is never a quality that makes a person look bad.

But in addition to telling the truth, it’s important for people to know their rights. It’s not against the law or being uncooperative to politely tell a police officer that their questions feel accusatory, irrelevant, or are just uncomfortable. From there, it’s usually best practice for a person being questioned to ask if they are a suspect and under arrest. Depending on the answer to those questions, we shouldn’t be afraid to tell law enforcement that if they are going to ask anymore questions, or make anymore statements (truthful or not) they will have to do so to a lawyer.

Can Crowdfunding Help My Startup Business?

If you’re starting a business, a primary roadblock is probably the issue of raising money. In the old days, fundraising was a tiresome process that involved soliciting potential pools of investors, making cold-calls, and doing whatever it took to attract attention – even if it meant selling mattresses.

crowdfuning for startupsWith crowdfunding, you can now start your own business simply by asking your Facebook friends and other Internet users to make small donations to your business. To encourage donations, you can offer awards or promise a share in the value that the business creates.

The 2012 JOBS Act, which stands for Jump Start of Business Startups, has made crowdfunding more advantageous than ever. The JOBS Act exempts crowdfunding from the strict registration requirements of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1933 of the Securities Exchange Commission.

Now, a potentially limitless number of individuals lacking accreditation can invest their money in your startup!

It is helpful to consider what the Act does:

  1. It imposes limits on how much a crowdfunder can invest and on the amount a startup owner may raise in a year to one-million dollars. This represents a compromise to having no regulation at all.
  2. It imposed disclosure requirements, but otherwise the details were left to the Commission’s administrative rule-making process.  The Commission reserves the right to shape policy in how the rules are applied to crowdfunders.

How Does the Act’s Loosening of Requirements for Crowdfunding Benefit Startups?

The Act now allows the Commission to permit relatively inexperienced investors with modest savings to help support highly risky startups. If you were once a startup that would normally receive large investments, you can now establish yourself with the help of many crowdfunders.

This benefits the market as crowdfunders have greater options to choose from when it comes to supporting small-scale business innovation by startup owners lacking traditional support of high-profile venture capital firms.

Critics of the changes in the law point out that there is a limitation of the amount that crowdfunders can contribute in a twelve-month calendar year. They also point out that the full-disclosure requirement of crowdfunders indicate a distrust of crowdfunding among regulators as a legitimate way for a start-up to raise funds.

Athough the Act may not be perfect, it does allow crowdfunders and startups to work together in a constantly growing and changing marketplace.

Why the Satanists’ Plan to Use Hobby Lobby Exemptions Won’t Work

Many religions believe in some version of “what goes around comes around.” So it seems appropriate that Satanists can demand the same religious liberty exemptions that the Supreme Court recently gave Hobby Lobby.

satanists anti-abortion using hobby lobby exepmtionsThe Satanic Temple has a simple argument. If the Supreme Court believes religious beliefs trump scientific fact, then religious beliefs which are based on scientific fact should also pass muster. Since the Satanic Temple believes that individual liberty is important, informed consent laws violate the Satanist’s religious beliefs because those laws require women to listen to false information before they can obtain an abortion. Of course, the Satanists believes all women who support abortion should be exempt from informed consent laws, so the Temple has drafted a letter that women can present to their doctors when the woman wants an abortion.

The Satanists’ Plan Won’t Work

I appreciate the effort that the Satanic Temple has put into this plan, but the anti-abortion campaign suffers from a number of flaws. First, it’s not that religious beliefs trump scientific fact. Judges do not question the sincerity of the parties’ beliefs, no matter how absurd those beliefs sound. The rule is necessary, even if it seems stupid. Imagine if there was a divorced couple fighting over whether their young child should be baptized. Courts want the attorneys to argue about the rights of the parents and child, not whether baptism will increase ones chances of going to heaven or whether heaven even exists. The last thing we want is judges deciding which beliefs are valid and which beliefs are full of it.

Second, judges won’t exempt women from laws based on religious beliefs the women don’t hold. If a woman seriously wants an exemption based on Satanic beliefs, the woman must hold those beliefs. It would be extremely ironic if Hobby Lobby’s legacy is a mass conversion to Satanism. However, a pregnant woman seeking an abortion might have enough things to worry about without trying to convert to a new religion.

Third, Hobby Lobby extends the right to exercise religion to closely held corporations. Unless a pregnant woman who wants an abortion works for a corporation whose owners belong to the Satanic Temple, the decision won’t exempt individuals. Indeed, there was another Supreme Court in 1990 which held that states didn’t have to accommodate every religious belief. The irony coming from Hobby Lobby is as thick as San Francisco’s fog cover. The Bills of Rights are supposed to be individual rights, but the Supreme Court has twisted the First Amendment such that fictional people have more religious liberty than real individuals. No wonder people are turning to Satanists for help.