UT law professor

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Six years after her initial request for public records regarding federally built fences along the Texas-Mexico border, UT law professor Denise Gilman has passed a significant barrier in receiving the documents. On March 14, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell ruled that the government must disclose names and addresses of those affected by the border wall due to possible discrimination. 

In 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which mandated the construction of a 670-mile wall along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Gilman, also co-director of the law school’s Immigration Clinic, said when she requested access to the fence records in 2008, the government only released a “handful of documents” — all heavily redacted. Gilman sued for the withheld information under the Freedom of Information Act in 2009.

Gilman said she still has not received the records, now required by the ruling, from the government.

“It was a very long and tedious process to obtain government documents that are critical to a proper and full understanding of border wall construction in South Texas,” Gilman said. “I was genuinely surprised to see the government put up so much resistance to making information about this massive infrastructure project publicly available, particularly in a time of increased emphasis on government openness.”

Barbara Hines, law professor and co-director of the law school’s Immigration Clinic, said the records should give important insight into the government’s decision-making process regarding the wall’s placement.

“The records will be useful to learn who the affected landowners were — that is, those whose land was taken for the construction of the border wall — and to determine whether low-income residents were treated differently than those more wealthy residents,” Hines said.

Although construction of the fences is already completed, Gilman plans to make the new records publicly available online and to conduct additional analysis on the new information.

“I hope that the decision will increase government transparency and accountability in the future as similar border projects are considered, such as proposals for additional wall construction or enhanced Border Patrol presence along the border,” Gilman said.

In the past couple of years, Ted Cruz, a former UT law professor and U.S. Senator-elect from Texas, has catapulted himself to national prominence on a very simple premise: Find room to the right of the extremely conservative Republican establishment in one of the nation’s most Republican states. By doing so, Cruz has successfully attracted a great deal of adoration, acclaim and funding from the hyper-conservative Tea Party movement. Riding that wave, he upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff primary race last summer and soundly defeated Democratic Senate nominee Paul Sadler in the general election for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s open seat. Cruz will represent Texas in the Senate for at least the next six years, and is one of the most popular Republican names being tossed around by pundits and news commentators as potential presidential candidates in 2016.

But Cruz has never held elected office before now, so we have no way of knowing for sure what kind of legislator he will be. He has some of the most impressive academic credentials in the Senate, with degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School, and has been nationally recognized as an expert debater since his undergraduate years. But in his campaign for the Senate seat this year, he showed a pronounced tendency to build his platform on political expediency rather than good sense.
In the hotly contested primary election, Cruz and Dewhurst did their best to out-conservative each other, which resulted in them taking nearly identical stances on almost every issue. The reason Cruz prevailed is that he successfully painted Dewhurst as being willing to work across the aisle with Democrats — a charge that many voters would consider a point in Dewhurst’s favor, but not Texans, and definitely not in today’s polarized political climate. By portraying Dewhurst as too quick to compromise, Cruz appealed to a Republican base that hates the opposition more than it supports productive, bipartisan legislation. It worked out well for Cruz in the primary last May, but it was cause for concern for anybody hoping to see our nation’s leaders work together anytime soon.

In the November general election Cruz called for the abolishment of the departments of Commerce, Energy and Education, the International Revenue Service and the Transportation Security Administration. The Department of Education provides much of college students’ financial aid. Cruz called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in an interview with the Texas Tribune last fall and proposed to gut it by raising the retirement age and privatizing most of the program’s benefits. He’s also claimed that “Sharia law is an enormous problem” in the United States, called both Medicaid and Medicare unconstitutional, and has promised to repeal “every syllable” of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) even if he has to “throw [his] body in front of a train to stop anything short of its complete and total repeal.”

These positions made for great applause lines at Tea Party rallies, but they’re almost completely implausible. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all five of the government departments he mentioned are here to stay and are widely accepted as being necessary by people not wearing tinfoil hats. And because the U.S. Supreme Court declared Obamacare constitutional, the president won a second term and Democrats held on to the Senate majority, Cruz may want to schedule his railroad tracks outing.

We’re not even going to dignify the “Sharia law” comment with a response.

Anybody who’s heard Cruz speak recognizes his reasoning ability, so it’s hard to believe he wasn’t aware of the irrationality of his campaign rhetoric. The past year showed that he is willing to say whatever he needs to say to energize the conservative base behind him. It paid off, but one can reasonably expect Cruz to moderate his tone now that he’s won. If he hopes to accomplish much of anything as a legislator he will have to ally himself with the Republican establishment he has been criticizing for the past year. They’re eager to have his star power on their side, and he can’t get meaningful legislation passed simply through fiery speeches and refusal to compromise.

Cruz has already shown signs of embracing the party line. About a week after the election he accepted the position of vice chairman for grass-roots operations and political outreach for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a coalition of Republican senators committed to helping other Republican candidates get elected to the Senate.

Cruz has got his eye on the White House. He’s Canadian by birth, so before he can even run for the office something will need to be done about the clause in the U.S. Constitutional saying that only natural-born U.S. citizens can be elected president. But he will also  have to move a lot more to the middle to appease independents and moderates. Hopefully, he’ll start doing so now in his first term in the Senate.

Labor unions need to change their strategies before they can improve working conditions, said UT law professor Julius Getman on Thursday.

Getman gave a talk in the UT Law School about his book “Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement” and the state of labor unions in the U.S. today. While labor unions are the best way to improve working conditions in today’s economy, they should return to their roots as a social movement to regain the strength they once had, he said.

In 2009, 12.3 percent of American workers belonged to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership has dropped steadily since 1983, when more than 20 percent of workers were unionized.

“Everything I’ve written has in a way been critical of organized labor,” he said. “I think that they blame management for all of their woes, but it’s too easy to say that the reason we’re doing so badly is because management is breaking and violating laws, so it’s not our fault. I’ve done enough field work that I can statistically demonstrate that that’s wrong and that unions bear responsibility.”

Economic disparity is as bad now as it was during the 1920s after the decline of labor unions following World War I, said Elliott Becker, a UT law student and senior events coordinator of the American Constitution Society.

“It’s just as bad now as it was during that Snidely Whiplash, robber-baron sort of period,” he said. “We’ve done enough glosses of work safety so that 8-year-olds aren’t losing limbs in factories now, but people are ultimately in just as bad of conditions.”

Becker said workers today continue to live as tools for the economic machine and deserve the autonomy that labor unions can give them. He said he organized the event to raise progressive students’ interest in labor unions, which he believes is the answer to giving workers access to the resources they need to gain economic independence.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of choice in my life, and I think there are enough resources in the world so that everyone can have choice,” he said. “I’d like to see that happen, and I think labor unions are the way to do it.”

Labor unions are not perfect and should have a greater impact on today’s economy than they do to improve working conditions, said UT law student Andres Pacheco-Fores. He said Getman’s lecture provided historical context and insight into how organized labor can remain relevant.

“I don’t think unions are as relevant as they could be or should be,” he said. “I’m on Professor Getman’s side. “They’ve been screwing up a lot lately. They should be stronger; they should be a movement.”

It’s likely that Republican midterm gains in Congress won’t lead to a federal ban on same-sex marriage, a UT law professor said Wednesday.

However, constitutional law expert Dan Rodriguez said the election results may have effects on other aspects of the gay rights debate.

“There certainly may be some impacts on gay rights in general,” Rodriguez said. “There may be a limiting impact on efforts to repeal the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, which would require congressional action.”

Rodriguez spoke to about 80 people in a crowded courtroom in the Connally Center for Justice on campus Wednesday. He spoke about the history of same-sex marriage laws in the U.S. and the potential implications of a pending ruling on the Proposition 8 case in California. Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, passed in a statewide vote in November 2008 and the state Supreme Court upheld the ban the next year.

In August, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has issued a stay on the ruling until it can hear an appeal.

Rodriguez said if the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case and strikes down the proposition, their decision could affect the legal status of same-sex marriage bans in other states. He said the effects would depend entirely upon the reasons the court uses to strike down the law.

OUTLaw and the law school’s chapter of the American Constitution Society hosted the talk. OUTLaw is a social network for GLBT students and allies in the School of Law, and advocates for discussions on issues that affect the community, said Sam Rettew, a law student and social coordinator for the group.

By hosting the talk, the society hoped to enable students already supportive of same-sex marriage to defend their views, said Patrick Yarborough, a law student and the organization’s event coordinator.

He said Rodriguez’s expertise in state constitutional law qualified him to speak on the same-sex marriage issue.

Rodriguez said both sides of the same-sex marriage debate push for legislation on the state rather than federal level. He said the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which passed in 1996, provides a federal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, but does not prohibit states from allowing same-sex marriage.

He said the Full Faith and Credit Clause in the U.S. Constitution guarantees marriages performed in one state remain valid in every other state, but because of the Defense of Marriage act, individual states who outlaw same-sex marriage don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

“DOMA basically provides a public policy exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause,” Rodriguez said.

Although Rodriguez said support for same-sex marriage is increasing nationwide, especially among younger people, he said only five states and Washington, D.C., perform same-sex marriages. He said Arizona became the only state to turn down a ban on same-sex marriage by a state-wide vote in 2006 but then passed a ban two years later.