SBA Debate: Meet the Candidates

Written by Naeem Crawford-Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief

On Tuesday, March 29 at 6:00 pm in Vanderbilt Hall 220, The Commentator will host the first annual debate for the offices of Student Bar Association (SBA) president and vice president. Food and drinks will be provided.

SBA Treasurer Alexandra Serre ’17 will debate SBA Social Chair Evan Shepherd ’17 for the post of president of the Student Bar Association. And Class Representative George Harris ’18 will debate SBA Social Chair Samantha Coxe ’17 for the position of vice president of the Student Bar Association.

Debate questions will be determined by the Editorial Board of The Commentator and NYU Law students are invited to submit questions as well. Expected topics of discussion may include, among others, candidates’ plans to represent student voices in discussions concerning:

  • Tuition relief for Law School students;
  • Faculty and student diversity;
  • Campus climate and inclusion;
  • Student organization funding and administration;
  • Student journals and publications;
  • Academic course offerings and advising; and
  • The future of Coases and student-alumni communication.

Campaigning officially began today at 9:00 am. Elections will be held online from Wednesday, March 30 to Thursday, March 31.

Who is Merrick Garland? #SCOTUS

Written by Naeem Crawford-Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief

Today, President Barack Obama nominated fellow Chicagoan Merrick Garland, the chief judge for the Washington, D.C. appeals court (appointed by President Bill Clinton), for the post of associate justice of the Supreme Court. If confirmed by the United States Senate to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, Mr. Garland would become the 113th justice to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Mr. Garland is a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and once clerked for Justice William Brennan. While not a household name to most Americans, Mr. Garland is described by the New York Times as a, “well-known moderate,” with deep experience as a legal practitioner in both the public and private sectors. He rose to prominence during the mid-1990s when he supervised the Justice Department’s prosecution of the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Bombing. He also had a lead role in the investigation of the Unabomber.

According to the Washington Post, seven sitting Republican senators voted to confirm Mr. Garland to his current post on the D.C. Court of Appeals. They include: Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Pat Roberts (Kan.).

However, speaking from the Senate floor shortly after Mr. Obama’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to block any nominee from Mr. Obama, including Mr. Garland, on the basis of “principle, not a person.”

Invoking what he termed, the “Biden Rule,” Mr. McConnell said the costs to confirm any nominee during an election year would be “too great” to the institution [of the U.S. Senate] and to the American people. The so-called Biden Rule is named after then-Senate Judiciary Chairman (and now U.S. Vice President) Joseph Biden, who argued for delaying Supreme Court nominees from then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992, an election year.

Mr. Biden, for his part, has said that his 1992 Senate speech was mischaracterized, and that he later announced he would support a nominee from the president, so long as the president consulted with the Senate and chose a moderate.

To help interested parties follow the nomination process, the White House has released a new Twitter handle: @SCOTUSnom. It had more than 21,000 followers within an hour of Mr. Obama’s announcement.

Announcing the First Annual SBA Election Debate

Written by Naeem Crawford-Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief

Next week, The Commentator will host the first annual debate for the offices of Student Bar Association president and vice president. All candidates who have unofficially confirmed their intention to run have been invited to participate.

Final details, including the date, location, and candidates, will be announced on Friday, March 25, when campaigning officially begins. Elections will be held online from Wednesday, March 30 to Thursday, March 31.

Expected topics of discussion at the debate include the candidates’ plans to represent student voices in discussions concerning tuition levels, faculty and student diversity, campus climate and inclusion, student organization funding and administration, student journals and publications, academic course offerings and advising, the future of Coases and student-alumni communication, among other topics.

If you would like to submit a question to be asked during the debate, or to RSVP, please click here.


Interview: Kenji Yoshino on Scalia’s Legacy, State of SCOTUS

Written by Sarah Higgins, Staff Writer, and Naeem Crawford-Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief

The sudden death of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia has sent shockwaves throughout the legal and political landscapes of the United States. While only time will tell how history will remember Justice Scalia, Sarah Higgins and Naeem Crawford-Muhammad of The Commentator sat down with Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law, to get his perspective on the life and legacy of Justice Scalia, and the current state of the Supreme Court.

Sarah Higgins (SH): Have you ever personally interacted with Justice Scalia, and if so, in what capacity?

Kenji Yoshino (KY): I was fortunate enough to be on a panel with Justice Scalia for PBS NewsHour about what it means to be an American. The panel had three left-leaning people, including myself, and three conservatives, including Justice Scalia.

The idea of the panel was to figure out where could we find common ground, and one of the pieces of common ground was the degree of gratitude we all felt in being Americans. But the real pleasure of the event was dinner afterwards. I had heard rumors about Justice Scalia’s charm, his ebullience, and his outgoing nature, and those were all on full display.

SH: Can you describe in more detail how Justice Scalia interacted with you personally?

KY: He was very engaged. It was funny because he said to me, “I heard about you and I expected you to be a lot more liberal/crazy, and you seem perfectly reasonable.” And I said, “well I am a liberal but I was raised by conservative parents. I think the difference between a good conservative and a good liberal is just how broadly you draw your circumference of concern. My parents were immigrants and drew their circumference of concern around the family and would have done anything for the family. Whereas the luxury of the education and the opportunities they gave me allowed me to care more about people to whom I am not related.”

He reacted very positively to that and said, “I knew you had conservative parents because that’s why you turned out so well.” And I said, “well hold on there because you are suggesting that if I have kids that they won’t turn out that well.” He laughed and thought that was very funny.

He is also a great lover of literature, so we talked about a Charles Dickens character, Mrs. Jellyby [from the novel Bleak House], who keeps writing checks to missionaries in different parts of the world, while her own children were being neglected. We agreed that whether you are a conservative or a liberal, caring more for humanity in general than the human beings around you can’t be the right model. Overall, it was a very wonderful, lively dinner.

SH: Now, we are going to shift to talk about the Supreme Court itself. Do you know if the Court is scheduled to issue any more rulings for this current term?

KY: Well, we presume that they will. They have recently heard arguments today [March 1, 2016] on the abortion case [Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt] that will revisit what the undue burden standard means. This, in my view, is the most important reproductive rights case that we have had since 1992 [Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey].

The Court has dodged the question of what is an undue burden is [in terms of abortions] until this current case. I assume that if they felt that they couldn’t function as an eight-member Court, they would have set the case for re-argument. So, the fact that they are hearing it suggests to me that they are quite willing to go it as an eight-member Court for as long as they need to.

The Court could have DIGed [dismissed as improvidently granted] some of these cases, meaning they decided that they shouldn’t have granted certiorari and will dissolve the grant of cert. If you DIG a case, it is as if the Court never granted cert in the first place. This can happen at any time, so we could imagine that in the upcoming affirmative action case [Fisher v. University of Texas], the Court could say that they don’t want to create such a monumental precedent without a full nine-member Court.

SH: What would the Court do in an instance where there was an even 4-4 split amongst the justices?

KY: It is well-settled practice that a 4-4 split is called, “affirmance by an equally divided Court.” Any time there is a tie, the Court generates no precedent, and whatever the Circuit below decided remains the law, but only for that Circuit. In the abortion case, [Hellerstedt], the Fifth Circuit upheld the restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion, so if the Court splits 4-4 in this case, then the Fifth Circuit decision will hold and be binding law, but only in the Fifth Circuit, and won’t create national precedent.

SH: How do you think Justice Scalia’s death has shifted the political and legal landscape of the country?

KY: I think it has been a seismic shift. I was reading an article….that said that Senators are refusing to meet with President Obama with regard to appointing a Justice. This notion that the American people should be allowed to decide who their next Justice is going to be seems to me to be very wrongheaded, given that the American people decided to give President Obama that power when they elected him.

The idea that a president’s power to nominate a candidate would expire simply because it’s his last year in office would make no sense if we applied it to any of the other powers that the executive has. For example, is the president no longer permitted to act as Commander in Chief just because it’s his last year of office?

In fairness to the Senate, what they are saying is that this isn’t a unilateral decision, and that they have the power to give their advice and consent with regard to the nominee, and ultimately they have to confirm. Over the course of our nation’s history there have been twenty-four times in which a president has nominated and the Senate has confirmed a Supreme Court Justice in the last year of the president’s term. So, the current Senate really can’t cite to past practice.

What must be going on here is that the Senate, for completely political reasons, which I resist as a constitutionalist, is saying this would so dramatically alter the balance of the Court that they want to hold out hope that a Republican president will be elected, so they are going to prevent President Obama from creating a fifth liberal vote on the Court.

Naeem Crawford-Muhammad (NCM): Earlier this week [Associate] Justice Clarence Thomas spoke in oral arguments for Voisine v. United States, which was the first time he has spoken in over a decade. What do you think this signals for his role in the Court?

KY: I want to put an asterisk on this. He did break his silence once in 2012, but only to take a dig at [Justice Thomas’ and my] alma mater, Yale Law School, to say that a degree from Yale isn’t worth the paper that it’s printed on. But you are quite right that this is the first time in a decade that he asked substantive questions.

Justice Thomas has been elliptical as to why he remains silent on the Court. On his early days on the Court, he has said it was because he was self-conscious of his Gullah dialect. His later reasoning has been that oral arguments are for the litigants and that his colleagues interrupted them too much, and he was there to listen to them talk.

I am speculating, but I think that one of the reasons that he may becoming more vocal now, based on the timing of Justice Scalia’s death and his questioning in oral arguments, is that maybe he feels that he needs to be the torchbearer now for the Originalist, conservative voice that Justice Scalia was. Without being overly sentimental about it, there is sense in which he is carrying on his fellow traveler’s and friend’s legacy now that Justice Scalia is unable to speak.

NCM:  [Is there] anyone affiliated with NYU Law that you think could be a possible nominee by President Obama?

KY: Raymond Lohier, an NYU Alum who sits on the Second Circuit, has been discussed by SCOTUS Blog, which I think is one of the most reliable places to look. I think that he would be a possible choice.

Editor’s note: The Commentator also reached out to Professors Rachel Barkow and Scott Hemphill, who clerked for Justice Scalia, but they were unavailable for comment.



SBA: Fall Ball to Be Moved Off-Campus

by Cristina Stiller, News Editor | Photo Credit: NYU Law Magazine

The Student Bar Association (SBA) has confirmed that this year’s Fall Ball will take place off of the New York University School of Law’s campus in October 2016. Although Fall Ball has historically been hosted in Vanderbilt Hall by the Office of Student Affairs, the SBA is in the process of reserving Terminal 5 for the event, according to an emailed statement from Evan Shepherd, SBA Social Chair.


Terminal 5 during a music concert. | Photo Credit:


Located in Hell’s Kitchen, Terminal 5 is a large, music venue, which features five separate rooms and can accommodate up to 3,000 people, according to Gothamist.

Taking Fall Ball off-campus will likely mean significant changes for the event. For one, the off-campus move will mean local students will have to travel to 56th Street and 11th Avenue in Midtown to access the location. Currently, the SBA plans to arrange busing for students from campus to Terminal 5 on the night of the event.

Second-year law student Mark Sanchez ‘17, noted that while moving the event off-campus could potentially make it more enjoyable, losing the convenience of the Law School’s location was a disappointment. “While I would rather the event stay in the Law School and return to being open to all guests, if Fall Ball means having the side stairs blocked off and the building’s fluorescent lights turned on all night, perhaps moving the event to a location that was meant to host events like these is a good call.”

Perhaps the most sweeping change to previous years’ Fall Ball policies will be the likely relaxing of the current guest policy, according to the SBA. Fall Ball’s current guest policy limits the total number of guests admitted to Fall Ball to 200 guests total. Law students are required to enter into a lottery for the opportunity to bring a guest and lottery winners are limited to one non-transferable guest ticket.

While Mr. Shepherd noted that the guest policy will likely become more lenient, he posited that the Law School might impose a limit of up to three guests per student in order to ensure the event remains geared primarily toward to the Law School community.

The current Fall Ball guest policy was the result of several years of controversy surrounding the Law School’s annual party. In 2007, then-Assistant Dean of Students Yvette Bravo-Weber sent a memo to law students outlining changes to that year’s Spring Fling, the Spring-semester counterpart of Fall Ball.

The policy, which required all NYU Law students and their guests to present valid government-issued identification verifying their age in order to be granted admission to that year’s Spring Fling, emerged from several incidents that occurred during Fall Ball in 2006 and Spring Fling that previous semester. According to reporting from The Commentator and Above the Law, incidents back in 2007 included two student hospitalizations, property damage in Greenberg Lounge, several students becoming ill on campus and in campus housing, and the consumption of alcohol by underage guests.

In 2014, after again citing fire code restrictions, NYU Law School amended their Fall Ball policy to further limit guests. This led the Office of Student Affairs to create the current lottery system.