Sunday, February 25, 2007

Contemporary Issues in American Voting Rights

This Tuesday, ACS welcomes Nina Perales, Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ms. Perales will speak about the current state of voting rights in America, as well as her experience as lead counsel challenging the 2003 Texas redistricting plan in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry.

Please feel free to check out the SCOTUS decision before the talk:
League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry

Tuesday, February 27th
Room III
Lunch Provided!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dr. Gunn: Continuing Viability of History in the Establishment Clause Debate

In his talk, Dr. Gunn responded to the historical arguments made by critics of the separation of church of state. Gunn roughly separated the Establishment Clause scholars into two camps: (1) the separationists, who interpret the Establishment Clause as a “wall” blocking both the federal and state government from advancing or censoring the activities of religious groups; and (2) the accomodationists, who interpret the Establishment Clause to prevent only the federal government from interfering with individual or state-established religions.

According to Dr. Gunn, the seminal case Everson v. Board of Education established the separationist view as the American legal status quo. In the 1970’s, however, the accommodationists began questioning the separationist view and promoting their counter-history of the Establishment Clause.

Today’s accommodationists, represented by Phillip Hamburger and Michael McConnell, have focused on developing a counter-history to support a narrow reading of the Establishment Clause. According to Dr. Gunn, the accommodationist arguments fall into four categories: first, the term “establishment of religion” was a contemporary term of art for a federally-sanctioned Church, such as the Church of England; second, the words and actions of the Framers demonstrate their support for governmentally sponsored religious activity; third, the Clause was motivated by Federalist desires to prevent federal regulation of state sponsored religious activity; and fourth, the metaphor of a “wall between Church and State” is a modern metaphor with no historical basis.

Dr. Gunn responds to the accommodationist arguments on historical, interpretative, and positive grounds. Contrary to the accomodationists’ position, Gunn argues that the phrase “establishment of religion” did not have a clear contemporary meaning; rather, it was a loosely defined term of approbation used to condemn political-religious interactions across the spectrum. Given the ambiguity of the phrase, Gunn argues that modern interpreters have to look beyond the plain meaning of the text. He makes an interpretative argument that the words by themselves should not incapsulate or control meaning, and that the subsequent acts of Congress should not conclusively be viewed as their interpretation of the text. Finally, Dr. Gunn obliquely promotes a positive argument: the Bill of Rights was intended to protect natural rights, and implicitly, government-sponsored religious activity is inconsistent with natural rights.

The primary value of Gunn’s position is his willingness to confront accommodationalist arguments within the positivist framework. While his interpretative arguments are not necessarily more persuasive, Gunn begins to introduce doubt into the accomodationalist position. The accomodationalist position critically assumes that the Establishment Clause embodied a fixed concept and that a narrow methodology arrives at the most accurate results. Gunn attacks these two tenets, arguing that the “establishment of religion” lacked a fixed definition and introducing the viability of other interpretative methodologies. By merely introducing doubt into the accomodationalist framework, Gunn forces the debate outside of the positivist account of history and onto either fundamental or contemporary grounds.

Dr. Gunn briefly touched on the fundamental theory of the Establishment Clause, arguing that the Bill of Rights derives from a respect for natural rights and implying that a government-sponsored Church would violate the foundational natural rights. However, he didn’t flesh out the argument or set forth an affirmative interpretation for the Establishment Clause.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Continuing Vitality of History in Establishment Clause Debates: The Chicago School's Framing of Religious Freedom

Former University of Chicago Law School professors Michael McConnell and Philip Hamburger have written important works challenging the usefulness of "separation of church and state" as a a guiding constitutional norm. This talk, by Dr. Jeremy Gunn, the director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief (who himself is a U of C grad), will challenge the writings of McConnell and Hamburger and question how history might better be used to resolve contemporary issues in the culture wars over religion.

For those of you who'd like some quick background:
Here's a review of a McConnell lecture at the University of Virginia Law School.
And here's a book review of Hamburger's work.

Please join us!
Tuesday, 12:15
Room II
Lunch Provided!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Debate on Corporate Law

On January 17, 2007, our ACS chapter welcomed Professors Kent Greenfield (Boston College Law School) and Gordon Smith (University of Wisconsin Law School), both of whom graduated from the Law School, to debate the progressive premises of Professor Greenfield's new book, "The Failure of Corporate Law."

Greenfield argues for an expanded view of corporate responsibilities and urges that companies should be accountable to a wider range of "stakeholders," not just those who hold shares in the company. This could allow us to avoid many of the negative externalities that corporations generate and that society at large must then shoulder. Professor Smith pushed back on this idea, arguing that imposing these kinds of obligations on corporations would be administratively impossible and would likely result in even greater externalities that we cannot yet predict.

The audience reacted enthusiastically to the debate and several students contributed excellent questions. One compared Greenfield's proposal to similar corporate governance requirements in Germany. Another questioned the equity of making corporations responsible for their negative externalities when society frequently fails to compensate them for their positive externalities. While some people appeared skeptical of Professor Greenfield's approach, many appreciated hearing arguments about corporate law that aren't typically heard at Chicago.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Contribute to the Blog!

You pick the topic, you start the conversation.

The University of Chicago ACS chapter has launched a brand new
blog and as a member, you are invited to be one of our
authors. Our ACS blog is a non-partisan, non-profit forum
that aims to enable issue-based discussion. An author would
post regularly, sharing opinions on issues or news stories,
posting interesting links, or commenting on an existing
threads. This is a great way to express yourself, and to get
involved in shaping ACS on our campus.

If you're interested in participating in this low-commitment
opportunity, please email Karen (courtheoux at
by Monday, February 19. We'll have an organizational meeting
for potential authors in coming weeks.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Event Ideas or Suggestions?

Hi everyone!

Is there a speaker that you'd like us to invite to the UofC? Do you have ideas for ACS events? We'd love to hear from you.

Either leave us a comment or email us at

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tips for Student Writers

  1. Write local. Target hometown or college newspapers.
  2. Start focused. Respond to a particular article or policy issue.
  3. Stay relevant. Make sure your arguments are timely and are (or should be) relevant to the community.

Instructions for student writers

  1. Identify your news source.

· Target hometown or college newspapers

· Consider the following factors: strength of your local connection, capability for electronic submission of editorials, range of circulation, demographics and ideological leanings of the audience. The last two factors might cut either way.

  1. Start reading the paper.

· See what types of editorials are published

· Watch for articles or editorials to respond to.

  1. Write your editorial.

· Respond to a specific, timely article or event.

· Keep your arguments concise.

  1. Submit your editorial.

· Follow the submission guidelines for the newspaper.

· Send your article to the blog, including the date of submission and any related articles. In approximately a week, the blog will post your editorial, regardless of whether it was published.