Sanford Levinson

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A university professor predicts that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule against bans on same-sex marriage this week.

There has been a remarkable change in public opinion in the past five years, and the court will cause more tension if it votes in opposition, Sanford Levinson, professor of constitutional law and government, said. A 2013 study held by the Pew Research Center showed a majority of Americans endorse gay marriages — among those aged 18 to 29, support is as high as 70 percent. 

“Even four years ago, the court may have found that the safe thing to do was not intervene, but today politics are different,” Levinson said. “The court will get lots of applause, and many politicians will be ecstatic if the court takes this issue out of the 2016 race.”

The question is less about whether the court will affirm marriage equality and more about how, Levinson said. The court could focus on the purpose of marriage or the fourteenth amendment’s anti-discrimination clause. 

“[Illegality of] marriage is one illustration of discrimination against the LGBT community, and that would have more implications for a variety of laws that discriminate,” Levinson said. 

Although statistics show it is increasingly common for youths to support gay marriage, they should be conscious of the effort it took to get here, law student Louis Lobel said. 

“Don’t forget about the many LGBTQ people that suffered to get to this point,” Lobel said, who is vice president of OUTlaw, an LGBTQ student organization in the law school. “[Now,] nobody wants to be on the wrong side of history.” 

Many American corporations showed support for gay rights in March by opposing proposed legislation aiming to allow businesses to deny service to gay people. Levinson said this showed an unprecedented level of support for the LGBT community in American politics.

“These shifts by major businesses are influencing Republican candidates to come out against legislation designed to stop same-sex marriages,” Levinson said.

While the political climate is warming up to marriage equality, there are more issues politicians need to address on a state or national level, said Jordan Wilk, English junior and event coordinator for the QueerStudent Alliance. 

“The community still faces a variety of issues, such as youth homelessness after coming out to their families and murders and everyday violence of queer and trans people of color,” Wilk said. 

Law professor Sanford Levinson discusses the state of law in Scotland following its unsuccessful referendum for independence. The talk was part of a collaborative lecture series between UT and Swansea University in Wales.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

During a discussion on constitutional law Friday at the SAC, UT law professor Sanford Levinson said a constitutional convention could address some of the causes for the gridlock in Congress.

As part of Texas Showcase — a collaborative lecture series between UT, Texas A&M University, University of Houston and Swansea University in Wales — Levinson and Swansea law professor Phillip Bobbitt debated the state of constitutional law in the United States. Kevin Sullivan, Swansea University public relations officer, said the four universities devised the week-long series of events to showcase their partnership and joint research.

According to a Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 12-15, 86 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress’ performance, which Levinson said stems from Congress’ inability to pass legislation on important issues. Levinson said extensive veto points in the House, Senate, presidency and the courts have allowed congressional gridlock to worsen.

“You can block needed changes from happening if you control just one of those,” Levinson said at the discussion. “It’s much easier to play defense and prevent the passage of legislation than playing offense and trying to get something through.”

Levinson said congressional gridlock could deteriorate in the future.

“The American political system is in fairly dire straits,” Levinson said. ”I have hunches that we’re drawing toward a cliff, and it would be far better to address our problems then as we go over the cliff.”

Constitutional restructuring is not common, according to Bobbitt, but when a restructuring does occur, it usually happens in the aftermath of a war, such as World War II, which caused Germany and Japan to enact new constitutions.

“If your geopolitical existence is in great peril, I think it’s time to consider the rebuilding of a constitution,” Bobbitt said. “I don’t think we’re there.”

According to Levinson, a national conversation about changes to the constitution has not entered the mainstream yet. Levinson said many politicians see the possibility of a constitutional convention as futile, which deters investments in this issue.

“Nobody profits from the world of political leaders or prominent pundits to talk about it,” Levinson said.

Levinson said the United States should not wait until it has reached a moment of crisis to address issues, which he said could lead to a crisis.

“Do we have to wait for the train wreck, for the war, for the depression, for however you want to define the crisis in order to respond and to re-patch under extreme conditions what will appear to be an adequate response?” Levinson said.

Electrical engineering freshman Salini participates in the Gun Forum open discussion at the Student Activity Center Monday evening.  

Photo Credit: Austin McKinney | Daily Texan Staff

Students debating on whether concealed weapons would create a safer environment at UT revealed the deep discord over the benefits of concealed handguns on campus.

Law professor Sanford Levinson and Sherri Greenberg, director of the Center for Politics Governance, moderated the “Gun Control, Mental Health, and the Law” forum Monday, where students discussed the impossibility of finding an effective solution to the issues surrounding gun control laws. 

The introduction of a bill in the Texas Legislature to allow concealed handguns on campus has almost made “guns on campus” a loaded term, Danny Zeng, the vice president of College Republicans, said.

“I don’t think we’re really introducing anything new here,” Zeng said. “Guns are, in a way, already on campus. If you’re a licensed CHL holder, you’re allowed to carry your gun on public streets like Dean Keeton and 21st Street.”

Only 5 percent of CHL carriers fall in the 18- to 25-year-old category, Zeng said, making an influx of guns on campus unlikely. 

Educating students on mental health services available may provide better protection than allowing concealed handguns on campus, undeclared freshman Rishi Singh said. 

“I can understand the logic of wanting a CHL but I can’t understand why a student would need a handgun,” Singh said. “While I’m in a classroom, safety shouldn’t be a main priority, safety should be left up to the University. So it shouldn’t be up to a student to protect themselves or to protect the lives of other people in the classroom.” 

Gun owners’ constitutional rights are not threatened by any proposed gun control law, Levinson said.

“None of [the gun control bills] raise constitutional issues,” Levinson said. “All raise interesting issues of policy on which reasonable people can disagree.”

No legislation will eliminate gun crime, however it is important to focus on legislation that can make a difference, Greenberg, a former member of the Texas Legislature, said. Greenberg also said the biggest debates concern magazine size, and the gun show loophole as big as the “Grand Canyon,” referring to the fact that guns can be purchased at gun shows without a background check.

“If you can even prohibit a few people — who may not be of sound mind — from getting these guns and committing atrocities, then you have helped,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said the issue of doctor/patient confidentiality complicates regulation regarding individuals who have mental health issues. Greenberg said many of the mass shootings on campuses occurred after signals of the shooter’s ill health were noted but not acted upon. 

“From a public policy standpoint, I think that we need to do more in the United States,” Greenberg said. “Get people the health care they need when it comes to mental health.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, five state representatives filed a bill, HB 553, that openly flouts the authority of the federal government, declares any federal regulation of gun availability to be unconstitutional and proposes to prosecute any police officer or state official who attempts to enforce those federal regulations.

The five Republican state representatives — John Otto, Jim Pitts, Jimmie Aycock, Drew Darby and Tony Dale — are attempting to pass legislation asserting that their authority over Texas supersedes that of the federal government. That is expressly prohibited by the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which declares that federal laws, whether acts of Congress or executive orders, are the “supreme law of the land.” According to UT law professor Sanford Levinson, HB 553 is “idiotic ... because states have no authority to invalidate federal law. Simple as that. End of discussion.”

If the Legislature did end up passing this, Levinson says, “[The federal government] would laugh out loud and say it has no consequence, no operative authority whatsoever. And if anybody was stupid enough to disobey a relevant federal law and say ‘well, the Texas Legislature says I don’t have to,’ then that person might very well be prosecuted.”

Never mind that the bill, which the authors have dubbed “The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” disregards portions of that  particular amendment to suit their own purposes. In case the readers need reminding, the text of the bill helpfully includes the Second Amendment in its entirety: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

But it seems the authors of HB 553 neglected to read the first half of that succinct constitutional mandate. The Second Amendment clearly states its intention to facilitate the sort of state-sanctioned, well-regulated militias of soldiers that contributed to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. The modern equivalent to that force is more commonly known as the National Guard, and the government does not infringe on the right of those citizen soldiers to bear arms in the defense of the “security of the free state.”

Instead, the five state representatives who wrote HB 553 interpret the amendment as a sweeping endorsement of the most extreme, far-right philosophy of gun availability: that any private citizen can carry any kind of weapon he or she wants, no matter how dangerous, with no regulation or oversight of any kind. They even say as much:

“Resolved ... that all federal acts, laws, executive orders, agency orders, and rules or regulations of all kinds with the purpose, intent or effect of confiscating any firearm, banning any firearm, limiting the size of a magazine for any firearm, imposing any limit on the ammunition that may be purchased for any firearm, taxing any firearm or ammunition therefore or requiring the registration of any firearm or ammunition therefore, infringes upon Texan’s [sic] right to bear arms in direct violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The representatives’ reasoning is unfounded. After decades of court precedent, Levinson says, “there is really no serious argument that any of the federal laws involving guns are unconstitutional.” “Well-regulated” isn’t a complicated phrase.

Introduced on the same day President Barack Obama announced his plan for national gun control, this bill was and remains a cheap political stunt. So far, similar bills have been filed by Republican representatives in at least one other state legislature, suggesting that it’s more of a national GOP publicity and fundraising move rather than a brave stand for liberty. 

Gov. Rick Perry has a history of signing similar legislation aimed at making a political gesture rather than policy. In 2011 he signed a bill that purported to nullify an uncontroversial national regulation phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs and talked a big game about state nullification of Obamacare. If the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” gets through the Legislature and across Perry’s desk, it wouldn’t be the first time far-right conservatives in the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion made a national laughingstock out of our state.

It’s disappointing that, just one week into the 83rd Legislative Session, we’ve already witnessed elected officials performing radically ideological publicity stunts disguised as fulfilling their prescribed duties.

Stroud is an international relations and global studies sophomore from San Antonio.