31 October 2007

Torture and the Appointment Process

Students of American Constitutional Law learn that the U.S. President has the power to appoint the government's chief law enforcement officer, the Attorney General. Students also know that while the President has the power to appoint, he must also receive the consent of the United States Senate. This nomination process has been playing itself out in Washington D.C. over the past few weeks with President Bush's nominee for Attorney General, former federal judge Michael Mukasey (link to Spiegel article in German), appearing several times before a committee of Senators who are responsible for determining whether the nominee is "qualified." If you have been following this process, which is somewhat unlikely because the German media has not been following it, the central question concerning whether Judge Mukasey should be approved as the new AG is whether he believes something called waterboarding is torture. Seems odd that the process should boil down to this one question, and even odder that Judge Mukasey refuses to give his position on it. So what is waterboarding, you might ask? There was a great piece posted yesterday on the Foreign Policy Magazine blog quoting a person who is very familiar with how the waterboarding technique works. Follow the link below and judge for yourself whether this technique is torture and then ask yourself, why won't Judge Mukasey simply tell the Senators that this technique is indeed torture.

30 October 2007

The Joke's on Him

Did you hear the joke about the American lawyer who sued a dry cleaner for $54 million because the dry cleaner lost a pair of pants he brought in for $10.50 worth of alterations? Okay, as you probably know it was not a joke. An actual lawyer filed a real lawsuit in Washington D.C. earlier this year over missing pants. And yes the amount claimed in damages was $54 million. The lawsuit was rightfully dismissed, but the damage had been done. This case, and many others, keep the stereotype that many Germans have of Americans as being litigation happy alive and well. According to this stereotype, Americans will sue over just about anything (being served coffee that is "too hot," getting sick from smoking cigarettes or eating fast food, etc.). As I will point out in later posts, while the stereotype of Americans may be fair, it's not limited just to Americans. But back to the dry cleaner lawsuit. You may remember that the lawyer who filed the suit was also an administrative law judge. Well not for much longer, according to the Washington Post.

26 October 2007

More on el-Masri

Earlier this week I mentioned the case of Khaled el-Masri and how the U.S. Supreme Court has basically told him that he has no remedy for being wrongly abducted and held by U.S. authorities. Spiegel Online has a nice summary of the Court's decision in both German and English. It's worth read in whatever language you choose. The title of the piece Security Trumps Liberty says it all.

25 October 2007

Access to Justice

There is an access to justice problem in Canada, according the country's top judge. The issue, which is not unique to Canada, is the cost of going to court to seek redress for a wrong. According to a recent Toronto Star report, the cost of a routine three-day civil trial in Ontario is about $60,000, more than the median Canadian family income. The Star reports:

In a speech to the Canadian Bar Association yesterday, the country's top judge declared access to justice "a basic right" for Canadians, like education or health care. Although [Chief Justice Beverely] McLachlin has spoken out about the problem in the past, she sharpened her remarks yesterday and went further than she has before, citing what she described as an "increasingly urgent situation." The justice system risks losing the confidence of the public when "wealthy corporations," or the poor, who qualify for legal aid, have the means to use the court system, she said, noting that for "middle-class" Canadians, resolving a legal problem of any significance often requires taking out a second mortgage or draining their life savings.

Others have argued that the problem is "money grubbing" lawyers who are charging excessive fees and lack principles.

24 October 2007

More to Come

And yet another semester begins.

Since I last wrote, the branches of the U.S. government have been struggling with how much power the government should have to intercept electronic communication of suspected terrorists. Yet, with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent refusal to hear the case of Khaled el-Masri (a case of particular interest to Germans because el-Masri is a German) and the President's refusal to turn over documents to Congress related to his powerful surveillance program, it appears that the struggle is far from over. But this is really a constitutional law question, and that was last semester. So what's new in the news concerning classes being held this semester? A lot! Over the course of this semester, I will be posting items related to our discussions in class as a way of illustrating that the theory we discuss in class is related to everyday current events taking place in common law countries. Check back regularly.