The Erosion of Free Will and Its Legal Implications

By Noah Danielson The state of our knowledge about “free will” is still very unsettled. Much of the research in this field is the subject of hotly contested debate and answers to many important questions remain up in the air. However, a number of studies have corroded the edges of a previously widely accepted principal: that human decisions are the result of conscious choices. This idea is central to the retributivist theory of justice, by which a willful wrongdoer’s blameworthiness subjects them to punishment. Human Understanding of Our Conscious Choice In a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, researchers found that transcranial stimulation – magnetic stimulation of the nerve cells in the brain – could impact human choices. Researchers asked participants to randomly raise their hand 50 times. Prior to stimulation, a right-handed person would select their right hand 60% of the time. After transcranial stimulation, the same person would select their left hand 80% of the time. Interestingly, participants still reported that they believed their choices had been made freely. The results suggest that the conscious mind may mistakenly believe that conscious intent is the impetus for an action, when in actuality there is an outside [read more]

Autonomous Cars: Who’s to Blame?

By Danny Ho The world may soon enter into a new era of transportation – autonomous cars. What was once a futuristic concept that people only toyed with in their imaginations is increasingly becoming a reality. These are cars that drive themselves through the use of sensory technologies such as radar, global positioning systems (GPS) and cameras. Technically speaking, passengers in such a car could sleep or even read a book while the car navigates itself to the desired location. Aside from passenger luxury and convenience, there are other advantages to a road system dominated by autonomous cars. Most importantly, the use of autonomous cars could actually reduce the occurrence of traffic collisions generally by virtually negating instances of human driving errors such as tailgating, aggressive driving, and lack of attention. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company even estimates that, if the use of autonomous cars become widespread, traffic collisions could be reduced by as much as 90% nationally. In addition, autonomous cars may provide for higher speed limits and thus smoother and shorter travel times because of a decreased need for safety gaps between cars. But despite these advantages, autonomous cars can still get in traffic accidents. In fact, [read more]

Global Warming and the Law: Why Legal Technicalities are Harming Our Environment

By Danny Ho The global warming controversy encompasses the on-going dispute about whether or not human activities, such as carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles, affect the global climate. Studies from scientific journals, such as the Environmental Research Letters, show that the general scientific community attributes global warming to human action. The Obama administration operates under the same belief and has pushed for the Clean Power Plan (CPP) in order to curb carbon dioxide emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the CPP, calling for stricter standards on carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants operating on coal and gas. Over half the states are against the CPP, arguing that the EPA is overstepping its legal authority. The CPP is currently in limbo because the Supreme Court has halted implementation of it until the D.C. Circuit Court decides on its legality. Regardless of the outcome in the D.C. Circuit Court, the decision will likely return to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. The need for the CPP is clear to its supporters. Global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by about a third since the Industrial Revolution, primarily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, carbon [read more]

Gobble, Gobble: A Pardon for Turkeys, But Not for Snowden

By: Francis Cullo   On November 23, the day before Thanksgiving, President Obama will pardon a turkey (or two) for the eighth and final time in his presidency. This lighthearted tradition dates back to the Truman White House, although some trace the practice back to Lincoln’s clemency of a turkey all the way back in 1863. It is a somewhat absurd tradition. For one thing turkeys have not even committed a crime! But so many of our Thanksgiving traditions are absurd. The National Turkey Federation (yes, it’s a real lobbying organization) sponsors the White House ceremony. The Federation pays for the pardoned turkeys to arrive to the White House by motorcade flanked by Secret Service agents. For all the pomp and circumstance of the Thanksgiving ceremony, President Obama is a reluctant pardoner in another way as well. Obama trails every two-term president in number of pardons except for our first president George Washington, favoring instead the use of commutations. Executive clemency powers are serious business, and should not be taken lightly. However, under federal mandatory minimum standards, non-violent first-time offenders are not eligible for parole, and many are serving harsh sentences. That makes executive clemency powers effectively the only safety [read more]

What to Do with the Minimum Wage: Counter Arguments (Part Two)

By Daniel Sperling The previous blog post What to Do with the Minimum Wage: Pro Arguments (Part One), discussed the history behind minimum wage law as well as the proponents of a minimum wage increase and their respective arguments for increasing the minimum wage. This blog post will address the arguments against increasing the minimum wage while analyzing the overall complexity of the debate on minimum wage. Just as there are a host of arguments outlined in favor of increasing the minimum wage, there are also many arguments in opposition to any minimum wage increase. The Congressional Budget Office argued that while a minimum wage increase would benefit some families by raising their household income above the federal poverty threshold, it would also eliminate many jobs. In 2012 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that nearly 800,000 jobs could be lost as a result of a minimum wage increase. The Congressional Budget Office’s report estimated that an increase of the federal minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 would eliminate 500,000 jobs across the labor market, although it would increase the wages of 16.5 million workers. Similarly, the Congressional Budget Office projected that an increase in [read more]

3D Printing: Is the Law Prepared for the Future of Fashion?

By Arielle Padover Commonplace three-dimensional (3D) printing may seem far off; however, it seems to be arriving quicker than some might have anticipated, particularly in the fashion industry. According to David Sheffler, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, “3D printing is where PCs were in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.” In fashion specifically, Joris Debo, the creative director of Materialise, notes that while it is “a slow process of adoption,” 3D printing in fashion has changed “quite rapidly” in the past few years. While we probably have quite a while before people can say “I’ll be ready as soon as I print my shoes,” it is extremely important that lawmakers proactively address the legal issues that will inevitably arise due an increase in 3D printing. 3D printing allows people to turn a digital file into a three-dimensional object by successively layering material until the object is formed. 3D printing has been gradually making its way into the mainstream, with companies like UPS and Staples offering 3D printing services. It will likely continue to become an even more familiar process as 3D printers become increasingly more affordable and, therefore, more accessible [read more]

How the Law Sees Kaepernick’s Protest

By Lee Henderson Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner has sparked much conversation about the customs and legal rules expected during the National Anthem. While some take offense to the issues the back-up quarterback is kneeling for, most critics are offended by what they perceive as a disregard for the military members who fought and died for the flag (despite Kaepernick’s denial.) Since the Anthem’s first use in the early 1900’s, standing during it’s playing was a contentious issue. Following Hoover’s declaration that the Star-Spangled Banner be the country’s official national anthem in 1931, a poll revealed that public opinion was split as to proper behavior during the Anthem, half of respondents saying mandated standing was overly authoritarian. Congress weighed in on the issue when it passed 36 U.S.C. § 301, also known as the National Anthem Statute, which said that people should “face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over their heart.” Although this still stands as law, no criminal penalties were ever prescribed in case of violation of the provisions. The Supreme Court also took its turn commenting on the status of these customs as they [read more]

Mass Government Surveillance: The Price of a Secure Nation?

By: Danny Ho Mass government surveillance is a unique issue of concern in our increasingly technological era. Mass surveillance refers to the government’s indiscriminate monitoring of a large group of people through collection of large sets of data such as telephone records, emails, and internet activity. This issue gained public attention in 2013 when Edward Snowden, a former CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) employee and NSA (National Security Agency) contractor, leaked confidential information about the NSA’s global surveillance programs. The Snowden disclosures revealed alarming evidence of government intrusion into the private lives of individuals. Among the revelations was the clandestine government program (code-named PRISM) that allowed the NSA to gain direct access to individual Google and Yahoo accounts with court approval. The 2013 Snowden disclosures forced our government to engage with privacy advocates and the public at large with regards to the implications of its surveillance policies. However, a string of recent global and domestic terrorist attacks – from San Bernardino to Paris – renewed the push for government surveillance programs to respond to fears that terrorists will otherwise avoid government detection. Knowledge of past invasive government surveillance programs and national security fears from recent terrorist attacks have created a complex [read more]

Don’t Pass Go: How Password Sharing Sent Someone to Jail

By: Francis Cullo Over the summer, the Ninth Circuit handed down an opinion in United States v. Nosal that generated several fear-mongering headlines. At first blush, the Ninth Circuit seemed to outlaw a common digital practice—password sharing. But are you really committing a federal crime if you use someone else’s password when you Netflix and chill? The short answer is no. So what produced this flurry of headlines? The Ninth Circuit wrestles with password sharing. In United States v. Nosal the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion finding that an employee acted “without authorization” when he requested and used a former co-worker’s login despite having that co-worker’s permission. David Nosal was charged under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA is an anti-hacking statute. It creates a private right to action, allowing both private individuals and businesses to sue and recover damages when someone “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” In 2004, Nosal was a big-wig in Silicon Valley when he left his employer to start a rival executive recruiting company. Two other employees from his former employer joined him a year later at his new firm. After joining Nosal’s new company these employees [read more]

The Truth About Your Makeup Routine

By Arielle Padover If you’re among the two-thirds of Americans who believe that the government regulates the chemicals that go into your personal care products, think again. According to the Environmental Working Group, American women use an average of twelve personal care products that contain 168 different chemicals every day, while American men use an average of six personal care products that contain 85 different chemicals. These chemicals are currently regulated by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, which has not been substantially updated since it was introduced in 1938, almost 80 years ago. The 1938 legislation gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very limited control over the chemicals that go into personal care products. According to the FDA’s website, the “FDA does not have legal authority to approve cosmetic products and ingredients (other than color additives) before they go on the market” under the existing law. The FDA cannot mandate testing of ingredients or recall products, and cosmetic companies do not have to register with the FDA, submit ingredient lists, or report adverse events. Currently, only 11 toxic ingredients are specifically banned by statute from use in beauty products in the United States, two of which are mercury [read more]
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