What Gives?—A Look at Why Charitable Giving Among Individuals Is Declining

(Source)   By many metrics, the quality of American life has much improved over the last decade. U.S. unemployment has reached roughly its lowest point in 50 years and wage growth for American workers reached a 10-year high in 2019. Additionally, notwithstanding the notable exception of recent market recoil due to escalating fears surrounding COVID-19, the start of 2020 brought with it all-time-highs for the DOW and the S&P 500, both strong indicators of robust stock market health. Moreover, disposable personal income reached its highest point in November of 2019—thus being the likely catalyst of an all-time high for U.S. consumer spending. According to some economic metrics, the average American citizen is generally better off now than ever before—at least financially. Yet, individual charitable contributions are down across the board despite unprecedented economic growth. What gives? According to Giving USA, a nonprofit foundation which seeks to advance public understanding of philanthropy, individual giving declined 1.1% in 2018 and 3.4% when adjusted for inflation. Total charitable giving in 2018 declined 1.7% when adjusted for inflation when compared with 2017. Furthermore, giving by individuals made up 70% of total giving in the U.S. in the year 2017 and made up only 68% [read more]

Strictly Speaking: The Argument for Holding States Strictly Liable in Wrongful Conviction Suits

(Source)   The wrongfully convicted are an oft overlooked demographic of the American population because society views wrongful convictions as rarely occurring. But in fact, the numbers are quite staggering. The number of people exonerated in the last 30 years due to actual innocence? 2,500. The combined number of years unnecessarily spent in prison? 22,315. But the percentage of exonerees who ever receive compensation for wrongful imprisonment? Only 39%. Despite the American legal system resting on the fundamental principle of holding people liable for injuries inflicted onto others, fifteen jurisdictions within the United States lack statutory protections that allow the wrongfully convicted to seek civil remedies for the years lost due to their illegitimate imprisonment caused at the hands of the state. However, even in states that do statutorily provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted, it has become common practice for prosecutors to effectively coerce inmates into waiving their right to sue for damages in exchange for a sooner release date. For instance, in 2016, Jimmy Dennis, a man who spent twenty-five years on death row for a crime he did not commit, was offered an immediate release from prison so long as he pled no contest to third-degree murder. [read more]

Ignoring Policy, History, and Humanity: ICE Continues to Deport Veterans

(Source) In November 2019, a group of non-citizen veterans of the United States Military (military) celebrated Veterans Day in Mexico. Many of these individuals enlisted in the military after President George W. Bush signed an executive order fast-tracking citizenship for individuals willing to serve. However, they never officially became citizens and continue to remain vulnerable to deportation. Now, they remain in exile within the Deported Veterans Support House—a safe haven for non-citizen veterans who have been deported. It is common for non-citizens to join the military with the expectation of receiving naturalization. In fact, since the Revolutionary War, legal permanent residents are eligible to enlist, with roughly 35,000 non-citizens serving active duty. Since October 2001, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has naturalized 129,587 members of the military. If an individual meets all of the requirements of either section 328 (One Year of Military Service During Peacetime) or section 329 (Military Service During Hostilities) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), they are eligible for naturalization. By naturalizing through military service, individuals experience shorter residency requirements, no state-of-residence requirement, and waived application fees. Usually, if a non-citizen service member has received an honorable discharge, they are eligible for citizenship. [read more]

Do Not Access – Is Law Enforcement Access to Commercial DNA Databases a Substantial Privacy Concern?

(Source) The use of forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) as an investigative tool for law enforcement has become, “if not exactly routine, very much normalized.” The normalization is in large part due to law enforcement’s use of FGG to identify and arrest the Golden State Killer. The April 2018 arrest gained national recognition, and subsequently, so did the police’s use of FGG as an investigative tool to narrow in on suspects. Forensic genetic genealogy has immense potential to serve as an investigative tool for law enforcement. The technique helps investigators “reduce the size of the haystack” by identifying the suspect’s family—making it that much more probable to find the needle. In the case of the Golden State Killer, law enforcement used GEDmatch, a public website that produces possible familial matches based on users’ genetic profiles. The site allows users to upload genetic profiles from third parties (such as 23andme and Ancestry.com), which is how law enforcement uploaded a DNA profile of the suspect from the Golden State Killer case. GEDmatch produced a partial match to the DNA profile, uploaded under a fake name, which led law enforcement to a distant relative. By narrowing down the possible suspect pool to one family [read more]

Student Loans: An Evolving Balancing Act of Public and Private Lenders

(Source)   As the political circuit heats up, politicians have acknowledged the public’s growing concern for the student debt crisis. The issue has taken center stage, especially among millennial voters, as collective student debt in the United States has hit $1.5 trillion—becoming one of the largest consumer debt categories. The rise of student debt parallels the skyrocketing cost of education in the U.S. as student lending practices and educational costs create a perpetuating cycle of increasing fees. It is important to look back at the policy choices behind student lending practices in the U.S. to understand the current system. Arguably, the public lending practices that have allowed the drastic increase in educational costs were essential to mitigate other negative externalities.   The Path to Direct Lending: Ensuring Non-Discriminatory Education at Lower Costs In attempts to develop a nationwide student loan program in 1965, Congress established the Federal Family Education Loan (“FFEL”) program. Non-discriminatorily guaranteeing student loans served as the program’s cornerstone as long as students were eligible for the program. This was Congress’s attempt to “even the playing field” for students of different socioeconomic statuses. Before FFEL, students would have to turn to the private market for student loans, limiting [read more]

An Examination of Compensation Following Wrongful Convictions

(Source) As mass incarceration continues to plague the United States criminal justice system, improved technology and evidence-gathering techniques seek to identify and exonerate the wrongfully convicted. Those accused of a crime may be wrongfully convicted for a variety of reasons such as eyewitness misidentifications, coerced false confessions, faulty forensics science, incompetent public defenders, and suppression of important evidence by prosecuting attorneys. Organizations such as The Innocence Project have been instrumental in helping to uncover cases of previous wrongful convictions. The increase in exonerations such as with the Central Park 5 (recently renamed the Exonerated 5) brings into focus the issue of compensation for errors in convictions that result in an innocent person time in prison for crimes he or she did not commit. In order to properly examine the issue, it is necessary to first evaluate the current system that is in place on the federal and state levels. In 2004, Congress passed the Justice for All Act which guarantees individuals exonerated of federal crimes $50,000 for every year they spent in prison and $100,000 for every year they spent on death row. This Act specifically delineates the federal compensation scheme; however, from state to state, the exonerated individuals do [read more]

Microsoft v. Baker

Without the class action, many consumers would have no practical remedy for damages suffered no matter how good a claim they may have. For instance, when a consumer believes he is sold a faulty Xbox 360 that damages his $30 videogame disc, it makes no sense for him to pay the $400 filing fee to go to federal court—let alone hire a lawyer. As a result, without the class action, many consumers would not bother going to court, and giant companies that mass-produce products would be left with potentially millions in undeserved profits. Once a class action lawsuit is filed, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the court to grant or deny class certification of the potential class. Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Microsoft v. Baker. In January 2016, the Court granted certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The issue in the case is “Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their claims…” Baker v. Microsoft, 797 F.3d 607 (9 th  Cir. 2015). The district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class [read more]

523(a)(8): The Elusive Student Loan Debt Discharge

By Sam Gamer   This past summer, the total student loan debt owed by Americans crested up to $1.2 trillion. For those staring down their own slices of that staggering sum, the options available to pay it off can seem daunting. A lucky few of these former students might be able to find high-paying jobs that enable them to easily handle their debts. For most, however, the path likely includes some combination of sacrifice, payment plans, multiple jobs, and refinancing. And for those who have an appetite for uphill battles, an additional tool might make sense: bankruptcy. The discharge of one’s debts is a hallmark of the consumer bankruptcy system. Whether filing for chapter 7 or chapter 13, the debtor emerges from the process with his debts forgiven. Well, most of them. Contained within section 523 of the federal bankruptcy code is a list of certain debts that, even in a bankruptcy context, a borrower can’t escape from. Student loans are on this forbidden list. Specifically, the law says that, unless the former student can prove that keeping the loans will impose an “undue hardship” on him or her, the loans will not be discharged even after a bankruptcy filing. [read more]

The Converse Shoe Case: Why We Should “Chuck” the Aesthetic Functionality Doctrine

By Max Scharf Converse is currently in the midst of litigation which seems to completely depend on the status of the aesthetic functionality doctrine. When consumers think of Converse, they often think of their Converse All Star sneakers (as seen below), also known as “Chuck Taylors.” In October 2014, Converse filed suit against Wal-Mart (and dozens of other companies) claiming these companies were selling knock-off Chuck Taylors. For the sake of brevity, this post will mainly focus on Converse’s claims against Wal-Mart. Converse is claiming trade dress infringement on the grounds that Wal-Mart’s “Stinson Oxford” shoes are likely to cause consumer confusion.     Converse claims Wal-Mart is unlawfully reproducing its “midsole trademark” which consists of a particular design, including stripes, a toe cap, and a toe bumper. Indeed, in 2013, Converse registered this design with the Patent and Trademark Office.   Background on Trade Dress Protection In Two Pesos, the Supreme Court held that the Lanham Act protects trade dress, which includes the “shape, color or color combinations, texture, [and] graphics” of a product. Trade dress, in the form of a product design, can only be registered and protected, under the Lanham Act, if it acquires secondary meaning. Secondary [read more]
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