Category Archives: CUNY

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8th Annual Equality Conversation at CUNY School of Law: Beyond Digital Divides

The Annual Equality Conversations at CUNY School of Law typically pair a CUNY Distinguished Professor with a Professor of Law for an interdisciplinary discussion of a topic relevant to the “Liberty, Equality, and Due Process” (LEDP)  with an audience of all 1L students in the required LEDP course, faculty members, and guests.

The topic for this year’s conversation is Technology and Education

cathy-n-davidsondsc_0003It features Distinguished Professor Cathy Davidson, Director of CUNY Futures Initiative (pictured left)

and Professor of Law Natalie Gomez-Velez, Director of CUNY Law’s Center for Latino/Latino Rights and Equality (pictured right).

If you are not a member of the law school community and are interested in attending, please contact Professor Ruthann Robson.

Past conversations have been published and include:

A Discussion of Poverty, Class, and Economic Justice Between Frances Fox Piven and Stephen Loffredo, 11 N.Y. City L. Rev. 1 (2007).
A Conversation on Health and Law, with Janet Calvo & Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg, 12 N.Y. City L. Rev. 63 (2008).
Translating Equality: Language, Law And Poetry, A conversation with Kimiko Hahn and Jenny Rivera, 13 N.Y. City L. Rev. 233 (2010).
Work, Work, and More Work: Whose Economic Rights A Conversation Between Stanley Aronowitz and Shirley Lung, 16 CUNY Law Review 391 (2013).

August Anxieties: The New Teaching Year Approaches; Is That Article Finished Yet?

For academics in the Northern Hemisphere, August is a fulcrum.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e2-d1df-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.wIt’s depressing: Our summer scholarship project(s) may still be incomplete, the deadlines seeming to be rebukes rather than reasonable timetables.  Or if we have finished, the end product is somehow not quite as spectacular as we had envisioned in June.

But it is also exciting!  New classes and new students and new notebooks (or at least new laptop files).  Yet this also brings its own distress, not only because of unfinished scholarship but because of the demands of teaching, not to mention committee, governance, and other administrative work that faculty members do.

One way to address the annual August anxieties is to reject the idea of a stark separation between “summer” and the “academic year,” and look for synergies between scholarship and teaching that enliven both.  I’ve tried to do this in an essay, Enhancing Reciprocal Synergies Between Teaching and Scholarship, published in the Journal of Legal Education last year and available on CUNY Academic Works, as well as available – – – for now – – – on the once-open source ssrn.  The article discusses the types of synergies that exist between teaching and scholarship for the legal academic  – – – the professional, methodological, theoretical and doctrinal – – – which are easily adaptable to other academics.  As is the overall suggestion that we should try to “pay attention” to the synergies between teaching and scholarship rather than viewing them as discrete, or even conflicting.

The article closes with a discussion of three “habits” of paying attention aimed at enhancing the reciprocal synergies between teaching and scholarship:  letting the subconscious work, commemorating one’s thoughts & ideas, and engaging in “daily practice” – or not.

[image: “The Harvest Queen,” via]

Unsexing Birth Certificates

The controversial “bathroom statute” in North Carolina, HB2, regulates the proper use of sex-segregated facilities as consistent with one’s “biological sex,” defined as the “physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

birth certificateThat the legal grounding of sex-determination should be one’s birth certificate is both predictable and shockingly naïve.  It also begs the questions of why birth certificates and other government documents designate M(ale) or F(emale).  Haven’t we moved beyond that?  Shouldn’t we?

In Identity Crisis: The Limitations of Expanding Government Recognition of Gender Identity and the Possibility of Genderless Identity Documents, a forthcoming article in Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, author Anna James (AJ) Neuman Wipfler explores the many issues surrounding sex designations on identity documents, in global and local contexts, highlighting the particularities of birth certificates.  It’s such a sophisticated, nuanced, and informative article that I have difficulty believing its own birth was as a student paper for a Sexuality and Law course  – – – full disclosure! – – – that I regularly teach at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.  {NOTE: It’s being offered again this Fall at the Law School and nonlaw students are eligible to enroll!}

Wipfler ultimately argues that the elimination of sex designations should be the goal, but recognizes that several types of “identity crises” merit attention before wholesale abandonment of sex designations.

You can read more about the article on The Institute for Feminist Studies blog here – – –

Wipfler ultimately contends that “as long as the state records gender identity, it will also police its boundaries,” even as there are “still too many dangers to remove gender markers from all identity documents in the United States all at once.”  Birth certificates are not only a strategic starting point, but their legal importance is demonstrated by laws such as the North Carolina one which would have many of us, especially those who appear gender-non-conforming, carry our official birth certificate whenever we might have to use the toilet.

Trans* Marriage: Still An Issue

How do courts applying state law that requires “one man and one woman” for the validity of marriage look at marriages in which one of the parties has transitioned genders?

chazanThat’s an issue one of our CUNY Law alums, Alana Chazan (pictured), just litigated in California.  While California, of course, now recognizes same-sex marriages so that gender should not have been an issue at all, the marriage at issue occurred in Louisiana, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Superior Court Judge Gould-Saltman, in the Statement of Decision in Miller v. Angel considered the full faith and credit clause implications not only of the Louisiana marriage, but also of the California judgment that the petitioner was male, entered in 1998, years before the 2003 marriage.  In essence, the judge rules, that California judgment was good enough for a driver’s license and it is good enough for a marriage license, arguments that there needed to be a birth certificate notwithstanding.  The judge added that the putative spouse theory had relevance because the parties intended to be married to each other.

Why all the fuss about the validity of the marriage?  There’s an underlying property dispute.

I considered similar issues almost a decade ago in an essay  Reinscribing Normality? The Law and Politics of Transgender Marriage published in the anthology  Transgender Rights edited by Brooklyn College Professor Paisley Currah,  Shannon Minter, and Richard Juang.  (A version also appeared in Hypatia as A Mere Switch or a Fundamental Change? Theorizing Transgender Marriage and is available here).   The article analyzes the cases, their rhetoric, and also the lawyering choices that can pit individual interests against theoretical positions.   And though I don’t generally list my own work on a class syllabus, this is one that I’ve made optional in Sexuality and the Law for many years.

And how nice to get a note with the opinion from one of the former students in the class who used the article to win a case.

Though how odd that such cases are still being litigated.

Your First Amendment Rights to Reveal Corruption

Frank Duveneck, Whistling Boy, circa 1872

Frank Duveneck, Whistling Boy, circa 1872

Imagine this: you’re hired as a director of a program for at-risk youth as part of a CUNY initiative.  When you take a look at the finances, you discover there’s a state legislator  listed on the payroll.  You soon figure out this legislator has never performed any work for the program.  You talk to some administrators, but you are warned by them – – – and then by a university lawyer – – –  that terminating the legislator’s employment could have negative repercussions for both you and the university.  Nevertheless, you do terminate the legislator from the payroll.  She tells people she is going to “get back” at you.
Instead, she’s investigated.  You testify at the grand jury and at her two criminal trials.  She’s convicted.  You’re fired by the same administrator who warned you not to get involved.

Those are the facts, more or less, in Lane v. Franks, decided by the United States Supreme Court.  The Court held that Edward Lane, the employee, did have a First Amendment right not to be retaliated against for his testimony on the criminal trial.  However, the Court held that the administrator – – – Steve Franks, president of the Alabama community college system who fired Lane – – – was not personally liable for damages because Lane’s First Amendment rights were not sufficiently “clearly established” at the time of the termination.

It’s a limited but important victory for the protection of the rights of university and other public employees.

More of my comments about the case and the opinion are on Constitutional Law Professors Blog here and on SCOTUSBlog here.