The Legal Ramifications Catch Up to James O’Keefe III

Current Events, School

ACORNIn graduate school, I wrote a comprehensive analysis of the legal ramifications facing James O’Keefe III for his undercover “stings” against ACORN and National Public Radio. In both scenarios, O’Keefe’s actions and the heavily edited videos that followed resulted in the firing or resignation of employees at both organizations, and, in the case of ACORN, the dissolution of the organization itself.

My conclusion based on privacy laws was that the individuals that appeared in the ACORN videos certainly had a case against O’Keefe and his partner, Hannah Giles, but only as a violation of their state’s two-party restrictions on recording. Due to the fact that none of the individuals featured were being targeted directly by the videos, it was ACORN itself that was the intended victim, the likelihood of proving “actual malice” in a defamation or false light case was slim.

Today, nearly three years after ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera lost his job due to the misleading video released by O’Keefe, a settlement has been reached. Originally reported by Wonkette, O’Keefe will pay $100,000 in damages as part of the settlement, which was decided solely on the grounds that the surreptitious recording violated California law. It’s important to remember that O’Keefe and Giles were both immune from prosecution, because they handed over their unedited recordings to then-Attorney General Jerry Brown as part of his investigation of ACORN. Had they not received that immunity, both could have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor.

And the Vera part of the story is particularly frustrating. O’Keefe and Giles went into Vera’s office with a sordid tale of trying to bring underage girls across the Mexican border. Vera kept the conversation going in order to obtain as much information as possible before calling the police. The edited version of the  video seemed to imply that Vera, and as a result ACORN, was offering sex trafficking advice.

Frankly, I don’t think $100,000 is much in the grand scheme of things, especially when you take into account the fact that O’Keefe made $65,000 on the ACORN videos.. Vera lost his job and his reputation certainly took a hit. But if I’m reading anything into the settlement it’s that Vera probably couldn’t afford to keep fighting the battle. It’s the primary reason the case was only brought on the specific charge of invasion of privacy based on the California law on recording. Had Vera had the time and resources, he could have gone after O’Keefe for defamation and/or false light. However, going up against someone with significant backing in Conservative circles would have been a costly affair.

I think there is a time and place for undercover reporting, but O’Keefe’s stings are rarely the appropriate time, place or subject matter. His methods are dishonest and his final products rarely tell the full story. Ultimately, though, it’s the media that is more to blame than anyone else. After learning more about the truth behind the ACORN and NPR stings, the media really should know better than to trust anything produced by O’Keefe or his organization, Project Veritas. Thankfully, while O’Keefe has continued to work, none of his operations have popped in the same way that the ACORN or NPR “investigations” did. Has the media learned its lesson? Let’s hope so.

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Gender Socialization from the Womb

Extracurricular, Updates

Ultrasound at 20 weeks, 6 daysI mentioned a few posts ago that I was working on a collaboration with my husband. Well, the secret’s out on most social media, so I might as well post it here. Paul and I are expecting our first child this June! We went in for our anatomy scan and our little peanut is looking perfect and healthy.

Get pregnant and you’ll find yourself getting a lot of the same questions over and over again.

How are you feeling?

Well, the first trimester was rough, but I’m feeling better now. I still have moments of feeling a bit iffy and I still get tired, but overall, it’s gotten much better in the second trimester.

When are you due?

End of June! Yes, I have a specific due date, but very few women end up delivering on their due date, so I’m trying to keep it to myself. Plus, first pregnancies almost always go long, so I’m trying to avoid the “have you popped yet?” questions if I end up going past my date. I’d love to deliver on my due date. I think it’d be a great birthday for this kiddo!

And then there’s my favorite question.

Are you finding out the sex? Is it a boy or a girl? Do you know what you’re having?

Well, yeah, we know what we’re having! A baby! A verified human baby! But no, we won’t be finding out the sex.

Surprisingly, other people have very strong opinions about the decision to wait for the surprise. Mostly, I get the response, “Oh my goodness, I could never not know! I’d go crazy!” Luckily, Paul and I have pretty mellow personalities, so we’ll be happy either way. I’d love to have one of each, so I’ll be thrilled either way.

I’ve also been asked how I’m going to prepare if I don’t know the sex. In that regard, we’re fortunate to be having a summer baby. For the first few months, odds are this little one will be wearing mostly onesies and a diaper. We won’t have to pick up too much clothing before the baby comes and anything more elaborate, we can pick up afterwards.

"Gender Neutral" ClothingBut even with a limited need for clothing, there is a problem with not finding out the sex. Gender neutral clothing. Visit a baby store without knowing the sex of the baby and it’s going to be tough to find a lot of stuff. Sure, there’s yellow… And… Yellow… Maybe green? Oh, and white! But beyond that, the options are limited.

Which is part of the problem. If clothes aren’t pink or blue, they have some other accoutrement that defines them as gender specific. Girl outfits are particularly offensive in this way. If it’s not pink, it has frills or ruffles, sequins or leopard print. And it seems boy outfits have a really unsettling tendency to have slogans like “Ladies’ Man” or silly ties or bowties (yes, because I want my son to be a corporate drone from the start!).

I like ducks as much as the next person, but why is it that ducks seem to be the only “gender neutral” animal out there? Why aren’t there more middle of the road outfits for monkeys or dinosaurs? Girls like dinosaurs as much as boys! I know this for a fact, because dinosaurs are awesome. And I’m a girl.

Since I started my pregnancy, I’ve been participating on the BabyCenter.com message boards. And for the most part, I enjoy the conversations over there. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one dealing with certain symptoms and worrying about certain things. But I am constantly amazed by how many of the moms on the board are planning on starting their children down a very stereotypical gender path right from the start. I think it’s particularly bad with girls, but I’ve seen it with boys as well. Just using words like “princess” to refer to your new baby starts that child down a road that she might not be interested in.

One of the more interesting debates is whether or not to pierce a babies ears. I personally feel that earrings are a responsibility and ears should be pierced when a girl is old enough to ask for them and take care of them herself. But I appear to be in the minority, at least on my message board. Justifications range from the fact that she’s too young to remember the pain at 3 months to the probability that the holes can heal easily when she’s too young to play with them and even that earrings on babies look adorable. I tend to disagree, but my primary reason for not getting my baby’s ears pierced is that I don’t want to force a certain gender path on her. My little girl might be into dolls and tea parties and frilly dresses. Or she might be a total tomboy who wants nothing to do with “girl stuff” and just wants to play in the mud. Or, most likely, she’ll be like me and tread the middle of the road. I played with dolls, but I also played with mud. I wanted to get my ears pierced, but I’ve never been too good at wearing jewelry. Whoever she ends up being (if she’s a she at all!), I want her to come to that conclusion on her own.

I’m excited to welcome our new addition to the world and I’m excited to discover who he or she will be.

And for the record, we’re painting the nursery blue. Not because we think it’s a boy, but rather because the sky is blue and I want clouds, stars and sun decals on the wall.

Is it Finally Time for the Equal Rights Amendment?

Work

official-blogger-2My latest post is up at InPowerWomen.com, but I’m pretty excited about how it turned out, so I’m going to add it here in its entirety. I’ve been posting over there about women, politics and media and was asked to contribute something for Women’s History Month. I hate to be the downer on the site, but considering how often Women’s History Month articles and events are very much about the successes of women, I thought it’d be beneficial to take a look at a time where things didn’t go so well.

Would love to hear your feedback, either here or on the InPower Women site.

The first Women’s History Week was observed in March of 1982. Just a few months later, one of the biggest disappointments of the women’s movement occurred as the Equal Rights Amendment expired when the ratification deadline came and went at the end of June. This Women’s History Month, after an election year where women’s issues were in the forefront and after the Violence Against Women Act finally passed after a long and hard fought battle, it seems appropriate to ask, do we still need an Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution?

FROM AN IDEA, TO A MOVEMENT

The ERA was originated by the National Woman’s Party in 1923 to complement the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. The ERA was introduced in Congress officially in 1923 as the following:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

The amendment was re-introduced and failed in every Congress until a reworded version finally passed both chambers in 1972. The final text reads:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It was then turned over to states for ratification with a seven year deadline. After passage in Congress, the ERA needed to be ratified in 38 states. It only passed in 35. The deadline was extended until June 30, 1982, but ultimately failed to be ratified.

THE QUEST FOR EQUALITY

The ERA was supposed to fill the gap left by the so-called Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Though the 14th protected “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” it was adopted following the Civil War with racial discrimination in mind. And while numerous cases came before the Supreme Court seeking equal protection for women, women routinely lost up through the 1960s.

Women were told they had no constitutional right to practice law (Bradwell v. Illinois in 1873), vote (Minor v. Happersett in 1874), act as a bartender without her husband or father owning the establishment (Goesaert v. Cleary in 1948) or face a jury of her peers (Hoyt v. Florida in 1961), among others. Most of these decisions were rationalized that women were the “fairer or weaker sex” that needed protecting, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in 1979.

In 1971, things started to turn around. In Reed v. Reed, the court held unanimously that an Idaho law giving preferential treatment to men over women in estate administration appointments was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Other cases began to follow suit.

IS THE ERA STILL NECESSARY?

Whenever discussions about the need for the Equal Rights Amendment come up, my mind immediately goes to this clip from “The West Wing” of Republican Ainsley Hayes discussing her opposition. And Ainsley makes some good points about being protected by the 14th Amendment. There are also plenty of laws on the books like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which banned discrimination on the basis of sex. Most recently, the ban against women in combat roles, which the ERA would have ended, has been lifted by the military. There’s still more work to be done, but given all the steps in the right direction, do we still need an Equal Rights Amendment?

In my opinion, sort of. In our current climate, I find it’s more imperative than ever to make it clear that women are entitled to the same protection as men under the United States Constitution, for two very specific reasons. First, we hear about new laws on a regular basis seeking to place limits on the right to privacy granted to women under the Equal Protection Clause in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade. That right to privacy is being chiseled away in states that now require an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds in order to obtain a legally protected abortion. If this right can be taken away, should women be worried about all their other rights as well?

But more importantly, we need to make clear that the Constitution applies to us all because there are justices on the current Supreme Court who believe in interpreting the Constitution based on the original intent of the framers. And the original intent of the 14th Amendment was not to protect women. In an interview in 2011, Justice Antonin Scalia said this about equal protection in the Constitution:

“You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that.”

Scalia suggests that legislation is sufficient to outlaw sexual discrimination. But with justices like him on the court, what are the chances a law like that would be upheld as constitutional? I don’t like those odds.

So, why do I say sort of? Well, because women aren’t the only group out there in need of constitutional protection. The current session of the Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. Does the Constitution grant equal protection on the basis of sexual orientation? It certainly wasn’t what the original drafters of the 14th Amendment had in mind. And yet, the same 14th Amendment that may not cover women or homosexuals, does cover corporations, according to numerous cases decided by the court. So, where exactly is the line drawn?

Instead of fighting for an Equal Right Amendment just for women, let’s close all the loopholes. Let’s establish once and for all that if you’re a human being born or naturalized in this country, you’re a citizen. And that citizenship comes with all the rights and privileges outlined in the Constitution.

What about you? Do you think there’s still a need for the Equal Rights Amendment?