New Adventures

Two years ago today, the Supreme Court delivered its opinion in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. Two of the cases consolidated in under the Obergefell banner were from Kentucky: Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear. I had the honor to be part of the legal team representing the married and unmarried couples in those two cases.

Since that incredible victory, new opportunities opened up for me. I was given the great honor to teach at both Bellarmine University (a very high quality private college in Louisville) and the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law (my alma mater). Once I got a taste of the college classroom - as a teacher rather than a student, which is only slightly less fun - I realized that my calling was not really as a litigation attorney. I wanted to teach.

So over the next several months I explored various teaching opportunities as they arose. I applied for many positions and interviewed for a couple of them. 

To my great excitement, I was offered a position as Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at Morehead State University, an excellent regional school here in my beloved home state of Kentucky.

One of our state's finest resources is our regional university system, of which I am not only a fan but also a product. I earned my bachelor's degree from Murray State University, roughly the same size as Morehead (approx. 10,000 students). Murray is in the flat west, while Morehead is in the rugged and hilly east.

I am very much looking forward to starting my next chapter, to meeting all of the great students who will no doubt excel in my classes, and to calling Morehead my home away from home. I plan to keep blogging here as well, hopefully more often than I did while still in regular practice.

Thanks to all of my clients, supporters, mentors, students, and colleagues. Go Eagles!

Introducing "Heightened Scrutiny"

This past weekend I officially launched Heightened Scrutiny, a podcast about the Supreme Court's landmark civil rights cases. The very first episode explores the people and arguments that led to the important (and infamous) decision in Roe v. Wade.

I will be covering a wide array of important cases with this podcast, which I'm writing, recording, and editing all by myself. I hope to reach a very broad audience, helping everyone (not just lawyers or law students) understand more about how the Supreme Court approached its most famous cases and why it ruled the way that it did in each one.

Each episode will feature archival news reports on the major cases, as well as clips from the oral arguments themselves, in which the Supreme Court justices question the attorneys about the biggest social and legal issues of the day.

Hopefully, Heightened Scrutiny will be an entertaining way for listeners to become constitutional law experts (or maybe just fans) without having to go to law school. A cheaper way, if nothing else. I hope you check it out and enjoy it.

The Law in Literature

One of my favorite classes back in my law school days was Law in Literature. The course was fairly simple: the class read a variety of literary works that included legal themes; the students gathered once a week to discuss them; and each student wrote their own short story for the final grade. I did very well in the class, but more importantly, I enjoyed it.

My favorite genres of literature are science fiction and fantasy. I am largely bored by realistic depictions of the world as we know it. Though character-driven writing is something I like, I also want a world in which the author speculates about alternative possibilities. Alternative government types, alternative technologies, alternative relationships between peoples and races, and, of course, alternative legal systems.

Legal issues generally don't come up much in most popular science fiction and fantasy. But sometimes they do. One of the stories we read in my Law and Literature class was "The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov. In that story, a robot realizes that he wants to become human, so he embarks on a slow journey to transform himself from cold steel and machinery to warm flesh and blood. He undergoes extensive surgery and replaces his mechanical parts with organic parts, one at a time, until he is entirely organic and not a machine at all.

One of the themes of the story is mortality, of course (robots never die, but humans assuredly do). But another is humanity itself - that is, what it means to be human, and who qualifies. The robot must eventually hire a lawyer who argues that, with a human heart and mind, he qualifies as human and should be freed of the strict laws that regulate everything robots can do, even though he was "born" a robot.

The Bicentennial Man covers a lot of legal ground in very general terms. Asimov was a scientist by training, not a lawyer, so he didn't focus much on the procedural aspects of the robot's legal journey. The reader assumes that the action in court plays out in ways we are already familiar with. The story takes place on future Earth whose society has origins that are most certainly our own.

One could say that Asimov was concerned with substantive due process rather than procedural due process. That is, the questions of what our rights are and who qualifies for them. Procedural due process, by contrast, turns on a question of fairness. Can rights be infringed? And if so, when and how is the government allowed to infringe them?

Elizabeth Moon tackles this latter aspect of the law in her book The Sheepfarmer's Daughter. The book, the first in a trilogy, is about a woman named Paksenarrion who joins a mercenary army as a teenager and eventually finds her destiny as a powerful paladin. Early in the book, "Paks" is involved in a violent altercation with a fellow recruit but that recruit remembers little of the attack and Paks is named as the instigator by a second soldier. The superior officers must solve the mystery, and to do so they initiate a court martial process with several unique aspects.

First, one of the officers is appointed to investigate Paks, who is in the infirmary with serious injuries. Paks, despite her serious wounds, is locked in chains in a prison cell. But the investigating officer senses something is wrong because Paks is seriously hurt but the others are not. The higher-ups are not inclined to believe Paks' story, but the officer makes a compelling case and a full trial is ordered.

In order to conduct the trial, the officers must issue summons to two "witnesses." One, a man, is the mayor of a city. The other, a woman, is a war hero. The witnesses are respected members of the government and military who are trusted for their experience and reputations. They are not lawyers nor appear to have any legal training.

The witnesses arrive and, in front of the entire assembled unit to which Paks and her attacker belong, physically assess the parties involved. At one point, they strip naked both Paks and the recruit accused of fighting with her to inspect their injuries (the other recruit has only bruises and two broken fingers, while Paks is swollen all over and covered in blood). The female witness, noting the obvious discrepancy of the parties' conditions, demands Paks be released from custody and treated for her wounds until the investigation is concluded. The officers immediately comply with her demands - apparently her status as "witness" gives her such authority - and take Paks away from the assembly and to the infirmary.

Then the witnesses - again, in front of the entire assembled military unit - take testimony. They interrogate the investigating officer. They determine more testimony must be taken - especially that of the other soldier who gave the most lucid account of the incident - and refer the proceedings to the jurisdiction of the local monarch, the so-called "Duke's Court."

Eventually, after more physical evidence is assessed and more testimony is taken, the captain of the military unit reaches a verdict "on the basis of the witnesses' reports, conferences with [supervising officers], and an interview with [the other recruit involved]." The Captain gives the full assembled unit an account of his findings, and then orders a combination of punishments including public flogging and exile. 

The investigation and trial are well-told in the story, and make for an interesting spin on the court martial process we apply in our own military. Elizabeth Moon is nothing if not a very thorough writer, and the sequence was a good way to make interesting what could have been a dull recounting of medieval military training.

If we are to speculate about other societies, in space or in medieval fantasy worlds, we should not just speculate about economies and technology. In our world, how we resolve disputes through our legal system is a critical, foundational part of our society. So, too, would it be in some other civilization, far into the spacefaring future or in some alternate dimension where wizards inhabit tall towers and giant lizards haunt the skies.

As I read science fiction and fantasy stories, I make note whenever obvious legal themes arise, and perhaps someday I'll turn my findings into a longer and more formal piece. After all, what could be more fun than a lawyer turning stories about space ships and dragons into a law review article?

The Home Library Project

I am an obsessive collector of books, stifled only by my own strict budget. My collection always seems to flow over my supply of shelves. 

Over the summer, my wife and I renovated the rear of our house, gutting the old addition that was once (and is now again) my home office. Gone now is the old pine paneling that used to line the uninsulated walls of a former screened-in porch. Now the room is insulated, drywalled, and has fancy LED lighting. 

With a new office space came an opportunity to finally build a sufficient space for my books. I decided to dedicate an entire wall of the room to holding my collection. The roughly 75 square feet of wall space seemed like enough, so I got to planning the shelves.

At first I wanted fancy built-ins, but those being cost-prohibitive and me being a cheapskate, I instead went internet browsing for more ideas. I came upon writer Neil Gaiman's incredible basement library and had an ah-ha! moment. I didn't need fancy shelves, I just needed long shelves and lots of them. 

So I went a cheaper route: metal hangers and hand-built, but simple, long wooden shelves. 

The construction process went something like this (scroll through the gallery):

I hung racks from the studs in the wall, then arms from the racks. On the arms I placed long boards painted white, and on the boards I placed books. Pretty simple, right? The entire project (racks, arms, wood, paint) cost me only about $450. Probably a third of what full built-in shelves would have cost.

And I couldn't be happier. The room now feels like the library I always wanted. And my books are finally inside where they belong, instead of out in the garage where they sat in bins for nearly four months as we renovated and waited for carpet.

Now I'm in the process of cataloging my roughly 500 books, most of which are law-, history-, and sociology-related. I'm also a big science fiction nerd, and I'm an obsessive Isaac Asimov fan. I currently have eight different versions of his Foundation Trilogy, including a leather-bound collection and the Folio Society's incredible illustrated set.

You can check out my full library here. Note that the cataloging work is still in progress, and the collection is always growing larger.

In the Media

Recently I've made some very enjoyable media appearances.

Several months ago I was asked to be on a panel to discuss the history and long-term effects of the so-called Ninth Street Divide here in Louisville. The Ninth Street Divide is a literal dividing line between the white and black parts of town that follows the north-south route of Ninth Street from I-64 in the north to Broadway and beyond in the south. This divide was consciously created by the architects (or maybe demolition experts) of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s.

Haven Harrington and I discuss the Ninth Street Divide for the documentary series KY Place.  Photo courtesy of KY Place .

Haven Harrington and I discuss the Ninth Street Divide for the documentary series KY Place. Photo courtesy of KY Place.

The panel discussion forms the narrative backbone for an excellent short film that is part of a series called KY Place. The other members of the panel were Dana Duncan (JCTCS instructor and former Metro Housing Authority staffer), Haven Harrington (Russell Neighborhood Association president), and Attica Scott (Kentucky state representative-elect and former Metro Councilwoman).

The film, which debuted on June 3, is available here. To learn more about urban renewal and segregation in Louisville, please check out Joshua Poe's excellent essay, "A City Divided."

I also made another appearance on the WFPL show Strange Fruit, hosted by my good friends Jaison Gardner and Professor Kaila Story. I've been on their show several times now and it's always a blast. We talked about the conviction of a Black Lives Matter activist in California for the crime of "lynching," the tragic killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, and a potentially controversial toilet paper ad that wishes single mothers a happy Father's Day.

You can listen here.

One of the things I'm most proud of is my role as vice president for the board of directors of Nerd Louisville, a local non-profit whose goal is to organize local gamers and other nerds for social events and charity work. Nerd Louisville's president, Mike Pfaff, hosts the Nerd Louisville Podcast to promote our organization as well as nerdy people and their work around town. I got to make my first guest appearance on the podcast with my long-time friend Colin Moore, the owner of the Louisville Game Shop on Baxter Avenue. We talked about how we each got into gaming, how Colin started and has successfully maintained his store over the past decade, and the overlap between games and the law.

You can listen here.

Finally, my own podcast, the Parade of Horribles, which I host with my illustrious colleague Dan Canon, is still rolling along. Our most recent episode tackles the death penalty and efforts in our state to finally abolish it. We interviewed Shekinah Lavalle of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and David Barron, the lead appellate attorney in capital cases for the Department of Public Advocacy.

The episode can be heard here.