Snow Day Reading: Riot Days

In “Riot Days”, her short memoir of the events leading to her incarceration and subsequent release 18 months later,  Maria Alyokhina gives us a glimpse of the Russian justice and penal systems. But it is a glimpse, and nothing more.

Alyokhina is a member of the band Pussy Riot, perhaps still best known for their “punk prayer”  protest in 2012, at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. After eluding authorities for a while, Alyokhina and two fellow Pussy Rioters were arrested.  Most of “Riot Days” is about what ensued: detention, trial, conviction, and imprisonment in prisons in Berezniki near the Ural Mountains, and in Nizhny Novgorod.

Upon arrest, the author and her bandmates were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, with prosecutors seeking a 3 year prison term for each of the accused. In the chapter titled “Russian Trial”, Alyokhina describes a trial which is by turns tedious and absurd: a long line of accusers claiming shock and moral injury, confused witnesses, an accuser who wasn’t present at the church and only “saw the video”, a vomiting dog.  Not to mention a sometimes distracted judge:

“The secretary stops recording the proceedings. The judge bows her head and starts doodling.

‘Your Honour, please stop doodling!’ the lawyer shouts.

‘Don’t look at my desk!’ the judge shouts back.”

After she was convicted and sentenced to 2 years in prison, Alyokhina would continue to fight the system from within.  Often her protests would fall flat, and she spent months in solitary confinement. Yet a surprising number of times, and in part due to her celebrity, her efforts bore fruit. Notably, on occasions when she was able to tell the authorities what specific law they were violating, she managed to get the guards to rein in their abuses such as stealing from the salaries owed to the prisoners.  

Included in “Riot Days” are some evocative vignettes, as Alyokhina navigates the Russian justice and penal systems.  The guards who get upset when the prisoner who gives manicures to everyone in prison, guards and prisoners alike, is about to be released (“Who will do our nails?”) Having nothing to read in prison other than a box full of romance novels.  Igor, the chief of criminal investigations, who boasts about dieting and riding 10 miles on his bicycle. The author making sushi rolls for her fellow prisoners, none of whom has tasted sushi before.  

With widespread disenfranchisement of those who have been convicted in this country, one of the author’s stories involving voting was quite striking.  Alyokhina was a detained prisoner accused of political crimes, and on hunger strike, when this happened:

“In the middle of all this, the clatter of an iron key in the lock of the iron door, and someone roars “You want to vote?”

Despite being weakened by her hunger strike, the author jumped out of her cell. In an elegantly decorated room adorned with a large portrait of Putin, she got to vote in the Russian presidential elections.

“Riot Days” is fragmented, a bit messy, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you are looking for a more comprehensive account of events surrounding the Pussy Riot case, there are other sources you can turn to.  Still, the book does an excellent job capturing the mood of those turbulent events. Despite the hardships she suffered, the author manages to ring a note of optimism: even if the system is stacked against you, knowing your rights and fighting for them can take you a long way.  As Alyokhina tells herself, in the midst of one of her many battles with prison authorities, “I have to understand the law.”

Riot Days, by Maria Alyokhina (Call No. ML420.A57 A3 2017)

Extra, Extra Read All About It: The Justinian Now Available Online

Brooklyn Law School recently digitized and made accessible its collection of Brooklyn Law School’s student run newspaper, The Justinian.  The digitized collection is available on Brooklyn Law School’s digital repository, BrooklynWorks .  The BLS student-run periodical program began in 1918 as The Barrister. It was published monthly until 1922. Almost a decade later, in 1931, the periodical’s title changed to The Justinian. Publication continued until 1998. The Justinian was not produced from May 1945 to September 1954. After 1998, it was referred to as Brooklyn Law School News, which ran from 2002 to 2006.

The Brooklyn Law School Library Archives provides digitized versions of this printed collection from April 1932 to October 2006. The content has complete OCR text recognition for all 238 issues. The periodicals were published monthly. For most April issues, there is a special for April Fool’s Day. For 88 years, these news-sources have been accurate portrayals of political, social, economic, and local topics that have interested Brooklyn Law School students and engaged them in active involvement and debate.

Amelia D. Lewis: Woman Behind In re Gault

The US Congress, by Public Law 100-9, designated the month of March 1987, as “Women’s History Month”. This law requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the American people to observe this month with appropriate activities. President Reagan then issued Presidential Proclamation 5619 proclaiming March 1987 as “Women’s History Month”. Since then, Presidential Proclamations have declared March as Women’s History Month.

Brooklyn Law School celebrates Women’s History Month by recognizing Amelia Dietrich Lewis, Class of 1924, as “one of the most tenacious lawyers the state of Arizona has ever seen.” She was a graduate of St. Lawrence University School of Law (now Brooklyn Law School). She exhibited her moxie early in her career, even before she was sworn in as an attorney. Although Lewis was scheduled to take the bar exam on June 24, 1924, she learned that the New York Bar prohibited candidates under the age of 21. In Lewis’s case, she was to turn 21 the very next day, on June 25. Facing this technicality, she filed suit against the Bar, arguing she would be 21 on the 24th because her birthday was actually the first day of her 22nd year.” She was successful in her suit and took the exam as planned on the 24th and passed. After practicing law in New York for 33 years, in 1957 following the death of her husband, she moved to Arizona. She took the bar examination in that state with just one other woman, Sandra Day O’Conner. There, she worked as a prosecutor for six years and then maintained a thriving solo practice, concentrating in elder law in Sun City. She was well into her eighties when she retired.

Lewis is best known for her involvement in the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), which brought due process to juvenile courts across the nation. Her client, Gerald Gault, had been sentenced without legal counsel to an Arizona reformatory. He allegedly made an obscene phone call to a neighbor, was arrested by local police, and tried in a proceeding that did not require his accuser’s testimony. He was sentenced to six years in a juvenile “boot camp” for an offense that would have cost an adult only two months. Lewis assumed the role of co-counsel after Gault’s appeals at the lower level were exhausted. She was drawn to the case because she had raised three healthy sons and “wanted to give something back.” Ultimately, the defense of the boy prevailed, with the Court holding that he was entitled to the same constitutional safeguards as adults: a trial by jury, the right to legal counsel, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to remain silent. Justice Fortas in his 8-1 majority opinion wrote: “Neither the 14th Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults only. Under the Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”

Lewis was recognized by the Arizona Republic as one of the legal greats of that state. In 1988, she received the first Amicus Award of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which honored her for pioneering the vital role of women in the legal profession. Upon her death in 1994, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court commented: “She made history for the law in many ways. Her life and career epitomized the practice of law as it should be.”

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection The Constitutional Rights of Children: In re Gault and Juvenile Justice by David S. Tanenhaus (Call No. KF228.G377 T36 2017). This new edition includes expanded coverage of the Roberts Court’s juvenile justice decisions including Miller v. Alabama (in which the Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders) and explains how disregard for children’s constitutional rights led to the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Pennsylvania. Widely celebrated as the most important children’s rights case of the twentieth century, Gault affirmed that children have the same rights as adults and formally incorporated the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections into the administration of the nation’s juvenile courts.

Notice and Comment Stalls Undoing Regulations

Courts have cited the Administrative Procedure Act, Pub. L. 79–404 enacted on June 11, 1946, in blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to end policies from the Obama era. These include actions to undermine the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (New York v. Trump), a delay in a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks (Sierra Club v. Zinke), and postponement of a rule that would give low-income families more access to housing in wealthier neighborhoods (Open Communities Alliance v. Carson). In each instance, Trump policy changes have hit the same stumbling block: Courts say the administration has not followed the proper steps in enacting them, citing a 1940s-era law that’s become a key weapon in the legal battle over the president’s agenda. Under that law, the Administrative Procedure Act, federal agencies are required to provide a reasoned justification for their policy decisions and offer the public an opportunity to weigh in when they are creating new regulations, making notable changes to existing rules, or scrapping them altogether. In other words, rescission of the former policies require that the government provide notice and comment, otherwise there would be a violation of Section 553 of the APA.

Congress passed the Administrative Procedure Act in 1946 amid the rise of communism and fascism in Europe, hoping to place checks on the vast bureaucracy created by the New Deal and “avoid dictatorship and central planning,” as one legal expert explained. Under the law, federal agencies must provide a reasoned analysis for making policy changes to avoid “arbitrary and capricious” rule-making. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies go through a process known as “notice and comment” before issuing, amending or repealing “substantive rules.” As part of that process, the agency must publish proposed actions in the Federal Register and then give the public at least 30 days to submit feedback. When it finalizes its proposal, the agency must respond to issues raised by the public comments and must explain why it settled upon the course of action that it chose. The explanation must show why the agency’s action is reasonable and not “arbitrary” or “capricious.”

Brooklyn Law School students may want to review Informal Rulemaking, a CALI lesson (password required), which examines the procedural steps that an administrative agency must follow in order to create a valid “informal” rule. This lesson is intended for students who have studied these issues in class and wish to further refine their knowledge.

Library Adds Collection on Academic Freedom

The Library was recently the recipient of a gift in honor of Joan Wexler, Dean and President Emerita of Brooklyn Law School.  The funds received from the gift were used to purchase books in an area of particular interest to President Wexler.  She chose the area “academic freedom,” and Library Director Janet Sinder selected the books that have been cataloged and added to our collection, and are now available on the shelves in the cellar’s main collection area for loan.  While Professor Sinder ordered over twenty books on this topic, a few of these new books are briefly described below.

Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge.

This book, written by Joanna Williams, gives the history and analysis of the rise and recent fall of academic freedom, including a discussion of the restrictions that some governments are imposing on academic freedom.

While academic freedom might seem to be a “largely academic proposition disconnected from the pursuit of knowledge,” Ms. Williams enumerates academic freedom in the areas of science, social science, sociology, literature, etc.  She also discusses how the fight for academic freedom has    become a campaign for “academic justice” in recent years.

Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle over Free Speech in the University

This work is a collection of essays edited by James L. Turk.  The many contributors to this book document the areas in which academic freedom is in jeopardy, including in religious institutions, in academic-corporate settings, etc.  Also discussed are the “managed university” and demonstrations on campuses.

A practical area for discussion regarding academic freedom is given an entire chapter entitled “Giving and taking offence: civility, respect, ad academic freedom.”  While this book was published in Canada, the information conveyed has implications for those interested in academic freedom in the U.S.

Freedom to Learn: The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why It Needs to be Reclaimed

The author, Bruce Macfarlane, argues for student choice, or real academic freedom, in the areas of attendance requirements, class participation, assessments, etc., in other words, student-centered learning.  He advocates certain rights for students, such as the right to non-discrimination, the right to reticence in the classroom, the right to choose how to learn, etc.


Why Academic Freedom Matters:  A Response to Current Challenges

This book, edited by Cheryl Hudson and Joanna Williams, is written by several contributors from the British perspective, and gives a history of academic freedom, defines it as it is currently viewed, discusses the university in the 21st century, and explores the current threats to academic freedom.

You Are Being Watched

The Brooklyn Law School Library New Books List for March 1, 2018 is out with 40 print titles and 17 e-book titles. One of the titles is the 151-page volume Being Watched: Legal Challenges to Government Surveillance by Jeffrey L. Vagle, Lecturer in Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The nine chapters (You Are Being Watched; A History of Government Surveillance; Getting through the Courthouse Door; The Doctrine of Article III Standing; Before the Supreme Court; Government Surveillance and the Law; The Legacy of Laird v. Tatum; Technology, National Security, and Surveillance; and The Future of Citizen Challenges to Government Surveillance) tell a riveting history of the Supreme Court decision that set the legal precedent for citizen challenges to government surveillance, particularly the case of Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972). There the Supreme Court considered the question of who could sue the government over a surveillance program, holding in a 5-4 decision that chilling effects arising “merely from the individual’s knowledge” of likely government surveillance did not constitute adequate injury to meet Article III standing requirements. The book also discusses a more recent case where the ACLU challenged the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act over surveillance of American citizens and residents. That Supreme Court case, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA (2013), was one where the Court held that the District Court for the Southern District of New York was correct ruling that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring their case before any federal court.

The book is a fascinating and disturbing story of jurisprudence related to the issue of standing in citizen challenges to government surveillance in the United States. It examines the facts of surveillance cases and the reasoning of the courts who heard them, and considers whether the obstacle of standing to surveillance challenges in U.S. courts can ever be overcome. The author examines the history of military domestic surveillance, tensions between the three branches of government, the powers of the presidency in times of war, and the power of individual citizens in the ongoing quest for the elusive freedom-organization balance. It is essential reading for every American citizen. It explains all the legalities and the methods government uses to surveil citizens.

BLS Professor on Israel Supreme Court

Brooklyn Law School’s Professor Alex Stein gained appointment to the Israeli Supreme Court. Stein, a foremost expert on torts, medical malpractice, evidence, and general legal theory, was appointed along with Israeli District Court Judge Ofer Grosskopf to fill two open Supreme Court positions that were vacated by retiring justices. Stein’s nomination was unanimously approved by the Judicial Appointments Committee. There are 15 justices on the Israeli Supreme Court.

“Professor Stein is one of the world’s brilliant legal minds,” said Nick Allard, President and Dean of Brooklyn Law School. “In the short time he has been with us, he has made an enormous positive impact on the Brooklyn Law School community—as a teacher, a scholar, and a wonderfully energetic and engaged colleague and friend. We could not be prouder of his well-deserved appointment to the Israeli Supreme Court, where we know he will make important and lasting contributions as a jurist—as he has as a law professor and practicing lawyer.”

Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, Stein immigrated with his parents to Israel, where he finished high school, served in the military, and studied law. Following his marriage, he has lived in the United States for the last 14 years and joined the Law School faculty in 2016. While in the United States, he continued his involvement in the Israeli legal academy and practice. Stein has been recognized as one of the most highly cited scholars in the field of Evidence. His books include An Analytical Approach to Evidence: Text, Cases and Problems, (Call Number KF8935 .A83 2016). The book is a problem-based Evidence casebook that presents the Federal Rules of Evidence in context, illuminates the rules, and provides a fully updated and systematic account of the law. Lively discussion and interesting problems (rather than numerous appellate case excerpts) engage students in understanding the principles, policies, and debates that surround evidence law. He received his law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his Ph.D. from the University of London.

Best Law Twitter

Want to keep up-to-date with legal news even though you’re short on time?  Twitter is a great tool to share and receive timely information about the legal industry, legal technology, and law school news.  Many lawyers also use Twitter to refer clients, to build relationships, and to market themselves and their firms.

To get you started, check out the ABA Law Journal’s “Web 100: Best Law Twitter.”  Here you will find the ABA’s suggestions on who to follow on legal Twitter.  Recommended accounts include legal organizations, law schools and law faculty, lawyers practicing in various specialty areas, and even a few accounts devoted exclusively to legal humor.

Also, make sure to follow BLS Library’s Twitter Account.  We’ll keep you up-to-date on legal news and informed on BLS Library’s resources and events.

Happy Tweeting!

Presidents Day

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 declares that Washington’s Birthday falls on the third Monday in February in the United States. It is, of course, named for George Washington, the first president of the United States. The holiday originally started as a day to celebrate the birthday of George Washington whose birthday is February 22. As part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February. Presidents’ Day is now thought of as a holiday saluting all Presidents, not just George Washington. Public Law 90-363 designated the third Monday in February as Washington’s Birthday. Many states choose to call this day Presidents’ Day instead of Washington’s Birthday. Some states also celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday as well. Other Presidents born in February include William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.

Some facts about Presidents’ Day are:

1. Washington’s birthday was how the holiday began, following his death in 1799, and was celebrated each year on February 22. It was then celebrated widely in 1832 on the centennial of his birth and in 1848 when construction first started on the Washington Monument. Other presidents with birthdays in February include Abraham Lincoln on February 12.  The holiday became recognized as a day to honor multiple past presidents. Alabama celebrates Washington’s birthday and Thomas Jefferson’s birthday on Presidents’ Day, even though Jefferson was born in April.

2. It has different names in certain states. In Virginia, which is Washington’s home state, they call it George Washington’s Day. In Alabama, it is called Washington and Jefferson Day. There is no official agreement on the placement of the apostrophe in “Presidents’ Day,” so you might see it written as “Presidents’ Day,” “President’s Day,” or just “Presidents Day.”

3. It was almost changed back to individual birthdays in the 2000s. Because the origins of Presidents’ Day started to become lost, honored more presidents than just Washington, disregarded Lincoln, and morphed into a commercialized cluster of chaos, an attempt to restore Washington’s and Lincoln’s individual birthdays as holidays was made in the 2000s. It failed. However, the federal government still recognizes Presidents’ Day as a celebration of Washington and is listed as such on official calendars.

4. Even though it is a federal holiday, each state is free to call it what they choose and how to celebrate.

5. Brooklyn Law School is closed on Presidents’ Day. The Library is open from 9am to 10pm. See the library e-book For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon where the author argues that the resolution of the controversy in favor of the modest title of “President” established the importance of recognition of the people’s views by the president and led to leadership that demonstrated the presidency’s power by not flaunting it.


Valentine’s Day Quiz

Can you name the U.S. Supreme Court Justice?

1.  It must have brought a Flood of emotions: his clerks wrote him a card on Valentine’s Day, 1985, that read “Respondents are red, petitioners are blue. We’re very lucky to have a Justice like you.”

2.  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”  It’s no mystery that this passage comes from the closing paragraph of the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), authored by this Justice.

3. Rush Limbaugh’s wedding to the “Jacksonville Jaguar” Marta Fitzgerald, was held at this Justice’s home in 1994.  As the officiant, the Justice may have been required to ask a question or two.  Alas, the couple ending up splitting a decade later.

4. Toxic love triangle: Carol Anne Bond was excited when her closest friend announced she was pregnant. Excitement turned to rage when Bond learned that her husband was the child’s father. Bond went to the former BFF’s home at least 24 times in order to spread toxic chemicals on surfaces her nemesis would touch; she was prosecuted under federal law for her actions. In ruling that the Chemical Weapons Convention did not apply, this Justice explained why he was not upholding the mandate in this case: “The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard.”  Bond v. United States (2014).

5. This notorious Justice penned the majority opinion in Sole v. Wyner (2007).  The case involved a rebuffed attempt by Wyner to assemble nude individuals into a peace sign on a Florida beach, on Valentine’s Day, 2003.

Happy Valentine’s Day!