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  1. "Webs of Significance," Clifford Geertz
  2. Benefits of viewing the right to privacy as a property right
  3. Early lawyering in colonial America
  4. Applying Robert Merton’s "The Normative Structure of Science" to the law
  5. Federal vs. State Power in Antebellum America

Thoughts on Meyer v. Nebraska and its connection to Griswold v. Connecticut

In the 1923 case of Meyer v. Nebraska, which grew out of the anti-German sentiment of World War I, the Supreme Court “upheld the right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children by striking down … a state statute prohibiting the teaching of any modern language other than English in any public or private grammar school.” How does this relate to Griswold v. Connecticut, which created a “right to privacy” (at least in terms of marital relations)?

History

Privacy, autonomy, and birth control in America, 1860-1900

Access to birth control became, controversially, protected by the “right to privacy” in 1965; a hundred years before, “procreation was a matter of public concern.” Yet, contradictorily and confusingly, Victorian women — and their bodies — were protected (and limited) by a powerful social division between private and public spheres.


Salus populi suprema lex: law and public health

It is unquestionable, that the legislature can confer police powers upon public officers, for the protection of the public health. The maxim salus populi suprema lex is the law of all courts and countries. The individual right sinks in the necessity to provide for the public good.


Law

Franz Neumann on the importance of history to freedom

Freedom, argues Franz Neumann, requires several kinds of knowledge (historical, for example), not simply the absence of state (or private) coercion — though that too is a necessary and critical element.


Privacy can keep histories of abuse hidden from public view

Privacy can serve both to protect individuals and to shield abusers from public visibility.


Technology & Science Studies

Victorian domestic specialization and gender roles

As the Victorian version of separate spheres solidified in the mid-nineteenth century, the “idea of wifely sainthood gained ever more credence as housewives found themselves increasingly isolated from the male-operated world.”


Prohibition and the domestic home

The Volstead Act (implementing Prohibition), in keeping with American legal tradition, gave special recognition to the home and the private, domestic sphere.


Griswold v. Connecticut, privacy, and the home

Griswold v. Connecticut is one of the foundational cases of a constitutional “right to privacy” in the United States — though, as many have pointed out, the word “privacy” does not appear in the text of the Constitution itself. The precedent in the majority opinion by Justice Douglas is nonetheless strong and deeply rooted in tradition.



The Supreme Court and James Q. Whitman’s “The Two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity Versus Liberty”

James Q. Whitmore reveals an interesting contrast: whereas American law and rhetoric is strongest when privacy is approached as a protection against state interference, privacy protections in Germany and France are at their peak when the dignity of the individual is at stake. Justice Kennedy, interestingly, emphasizes this more European approach in a number of his Supreme Court decisions.



Thoughts on the Power and the Limits of Presidential Pardons

Was President Trump right when he tweeted that “all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon“? It is true that the power of the President of the United States to issue pardons is indeed one of the president’s most powerful Article II powers — but, it is also, despite the implication of President Trump’s tweet, limited.



Publishing leaked materials: the Pentagon Papers case

Within a month of taking office, President Donald Trump announced his desire to go after “leakers” who have helped embroil his administration in controversy. He also declared many traditional news outlets to be “enem[ies] of the American People!” What does this mean for those who publish such material?




Promoting involuntary sterilization: early hints of problems in the 1930s

A 1930s article published in The Journal of Heredity, “Beginnings of Sterilization in America,” is notable for the way it portrayed sterilization, particularly when it is compared to an earlier account of the same interview with Dr. Sharp that formed the basis of the article and that has been preserved in the archives of California’s Human Betterment Foundation.



Fake news, libel, and press protections against executive power

The press serves an important role in checking executive power in the American system. The first article in this series deals with libel suits against newspapers; the second will cover the publication of leaked materials (the so-called “Pentagon Papers”).



“Baloney Detection” in the era of “fake news”

In attempting to help my students (and extended family) recognize these categories more responsibly — preferably before they share them — I think it’s useful to remember Carl Sagan’s chapter on “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” from 1996.



E. S. Gosney Papers and Records of the Human Betterment Foundation

As part of my dissertation on privacy and technology, I’m looking into sterilization in the early part of the twentieth century. The E. S. Gosney Papers and Records of the Human Betterment Foundation have a number of archival records capturing information about these patients, especially those who were institutionalized.