Post from March, 2015

Was OU Expulsion of SAE Frat members Constitutional?

Monday, 30. March 2015 16:49

Recently there was an incident at the University of Oklahoma where members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were caught on video singing a racist chant while on a bus to a formal fraternity dance. The chant, among other offensive and racist phrases, included the assertion that “There will never be a ****** in SAE.” The phrase used a racially derogatory term for African-Americans and expressed the sentiment that they would exclude African-Americans from membership in their fraternity. David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, announced that approximately 25 members of the school’s SAE chapter will face punishment ranging from expulsion to community service and cultural sensitivity training.

Two students, considered the ring leaders of the chant, have already been expelled. SAE was founded at the University of Alabama in 1856, and many of its founders fought for the Confederacy or were part of plantation-owning families. The national fraternity, in defending their institution, pointed to the fact that approximately 20% of its 15,000 national members self-identify as a minority or non-Caucasian. The chapter acknowledged that the OU chapter members likely learned the song at a national SAE leadership conference four years prior to the incident.

Was the chant by the students protected speech under the First Amendment? Read the following with pro and con opinions in articles on the subject:

Yes, it did violate their free speech rights:
No, it is not constitutional for OU to expel students for racist speech

First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise; see Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University (4th Cir. 1993).

– Eugene Vokokh, UCLA Professor of Law

OU Broke the law to avoid bad press

Civil Libertarians Say Expelling Oklahoma Frat Students May Be Illegal

Strong Free Speech Defense for OU Students Expelled for Racist Chant

No, it did not violate their free speech rights:

only was SAE student expulsion legal, it was right

According to these rules, the students could be sanctioned with expulsion. In SAE’s video, abusive language was being directed toward a particular group of students (i.e. African-Americans who wanted to pledge their fraternity). That chant was more than just a casually recited song meant to invoke a sense of brotherhood amongst those in the chapter. And the meaning and significance behind the words in the chant did more than just offend a few students.

As Boren mentioned, the attack on black people that SAE alluded to could make students feel unsafe in a learning environment. After numerous unarmed black teenagers’ experienced deadly force at the hands of white law enforcement, students may feel intimidated by verbal attacks from white students.

– Willie Burnley, Jr. and Alex Samuels, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondents

OU President Decision to Expel supported by Student Government at OU

Mr. Boren, in an interview Monday as he considered what action to take, said he was examining the relevance of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by agencies that receive federal funds and, federal officials have said, forbids creation of a “racially hostile environment” in schools.

In a break with most legal experts, Daria Roithmayr, a law professor at the University of Southern California who has written about the interplay of law and racism, said that a plausible argument could be made that the students’ action caused a “material disruption” in the university’s educational mission and was not protected by the First Amendment.

OU Expulsion of SAE Students Leads to Free Speech Debate

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FEMA and Federalism

Monday, 23. March 2015 14:18

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the federal agency responsible for coordinating with states on disaster relief and disaster preparedness, recently declared that they would only approve state disaster preparedness funds for those states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change:

This may put several Republican governors who maintain the earth isn’t warming due to human activities, or prefer to do nothing about it, into a political bind. Their position may block their states’ access to hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA funds. Over the past five years, the agency has awarded an average $1 billion a year in grants to states and territories for taking steps to mitigate the effects of disasters.

“If a state has a climate denier governor that doesn’t want to accept a plan, that would risk mitigation work not getting done because of politics,” said Becky Hammer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program. “The governor would be increasing the risk to citizens in that state” because of his climate beliefs.

The policy doesn’t affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood or other disaster. Specifically, beginning in March 2016, states seeking preparedness money will have to assess how climate change threatens their communities. Governors will have to sign off on hazard mitigation plans. While some states, including New York, have already started incorporating climate risks in their plans, most haven’t because FEMA’s old 2008 guidelines didn’t require it.

Several Republican governors have voiced opposition to the global warming theory and opposed mitigation policy aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Among those who could face a difficult decision are Republican Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas and Pat McCrory of North Carolina—all of whom have denied man-made climate change or refused to take action. The states they lead face immediate threats from climate change.

This federal policy change aligns FEMA with environmentalists who have pressured the agency to include global warming in its hazard mitigation guidelines. FEMA declared to the Natural Resources Defense Council it would revise the guidelines in 2014, it issued draft rules in October of 2014, and officially released the new procedures this past week.

On March 8, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting said Scott instituted an unwritten ban on the use of “climate change” or “global warming” by Florida officials. Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma took a snowball to the U.S. Senate floor as evidence the climate isn’t warming, highlighting GOP leaders’ climate views.

“The challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future,” FEMA wrote in its new procedures.

FEMA’s disaster preparedness program has been granting money to states since the 1980s for projects as diverse as raising buildings out of floodplains and building safe rooms. States are required to update their plans every five years to be eligible for the agency’s mitigation funding. Since 2010, FEMA has doled out more than $4.6 billion to states and territories as part of this program.

Republican-led regions constitute eight of the top 10 recipients of this category of FEMA money between 2010 and 2014. Louisiana was No. 1, having received almost $1.1 billion from FEMA for hazard mitigation. New Jersey was third with nearly $379 million, and Texas fourth with almost $343 million.

This is just one example among a plethora where the federal government uses grants to the states to try and pressure them to fall in line with national polices. The most famous example was in the 1980’s when the Reagan administration decided to withhold 5% of highway funds in order to pressure states to move to the 21 years old age for drinking alcohol. This policy was upheld by the Supreme Court as “non-coercive” in the case of South Dakota v. Dole in 1987.

A number of commentators have voiced criticism of FEMA’s policy, given the controversial nature of global warming.

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