Is the Military Transgender Ban Viable as a Policy?

Is the Military Transgender Ban Viable as a Policy?

On July 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced to the world that the United States military would no longer allow transgender people to serve as military personnel. Over the span of three tweets, he argued that transgender individuals create costs and cause disruption, impacting the US military’s effectiveness and readiness. Since the announcement, there has been a lively discourse between the LGBTQ+ community and its allies and those who support the ban. The question remains; is a ban on all transgender military personnel feasible?

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The Policy Analysts Have Assumed the World…

The Policy Analysts Have Assumed the World…

Public policy analysis is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a field, cobbled together as it is from pieces of civics, law, and economics. The ideal analyst reads Foreign Policy in the morning, creates econometric models in the afternoon, and dispassionately holds forth on the pros and cons of changes to the earned income tax credit after dinner. The field, as it is taught, purports to create generalists who are just as comfortable in the sterile steel and glass buildings of international financial institutions as they are in a humble Works Progress Administration concrete box.

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The Debate Over Mail-In Voting Continues

The Debate Over Mail-In Voting Continues

As of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, three states—Oregon, Washington, and Colorado—had adopted statewide vote-by-mail policies. In this system, the state or jurisdiction mails ballots and informational pamphlets to voters weeks before the election, voters mark their ballots at their leisure, and then return them either through the postal service or else in ballot boxes scattered around the state. This all-mail system of voting is not entirely new to states. Indeed, 22 states have policies in place allowing for certain elections, such a municipal and special elections, to be conducted entirely by mail. What is relatively newer, however, is the use of a 100% vote-by-mail process for Presidential, midterm, and primary elections. By implementing legislation increasing the number of elections that are conducted entirely by mail, states like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado slowly transitioned towards all of their elections being conducted as through vote-by-mail.

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Voter Restriction Laws: Necessary, Unconstitutional, or Both?

Voter Restriction Laws: Necessary, Unconstitutional, or Both?

Growing up in public school in my, red, white, and blue hometown, I was instilled with a belief in the grand ideals of American democracy like freedom, equality, and self-determination. The right to vote was perceived as the embodiment of those basic ideals. Likewise, I thought, that by 2017, the right to vote was truly a universal and unlimited Constitutional right – the one thing uniting all Americans. However, as I gained education and life experience, I realized my rosy, idealistic view of democracy was a bit naïve.

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Divining a “Trump mandate”

Divining a “Trump mandate”

As a new presidential administration begins its tenure, much doubt and rancor permeates our politics.  A general principle of democratic governance is that electoral victory translates into a mandate to govern.  A mandate refers to the bestowal of legitimacy and authority, as well as to the message and preferences expressed by the public.  During the interim, from election night to inauguration, Trump and his surrogates have claimed a mandate to govern.  This mandate, according to them, comes from a “landslide” victory.  Understandably, this claim omits clear caveats such as Trumps loss of the popular vote and a vote share just over 46%.  Furthermore, according to a recent Fox News poll, Trump remains underwater in favorability (55% unfavorable to 42% favorable), with the outgoing President Obama viewed positively by 6 in 10 voters.  Despite all this, President Trump will now govern a nation divided.

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Local Legislators Get to Work in the Trump-era

Local Legislators Get to Work in the Trump-era

The air of change was evident during the Pre-General Assembly Town Hall at McIntosh Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, on the evening of January 5th. After the death of State Senator John Miller last year, former State Delegate Monty Mason was able to successfully take over his seat, making way for newcomer Mike Mullin to take Mason’s former position. Both men emphasized how Miller influenced them and how they would honor his legacy by continuing to fight for policy areas Miller supported; issues like election reform and public education. Continuing on this path places Mason and Mullin in opposition to the Republican majority in the Virginia General Assembly, but also with the new administration in Washington D.C.

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A Secular State: Why the Trinity Case Matters.

A Secular State: Why the Trinity Case Matters.

One of the most interesting cases awaiting the Supreme Court on this year’s docket is Trinity Lutheran V Pauly. Trinity Church is contesting an amendment to the Constitution of Missouri that prohibits state aid directly or indirectly benefiting religious organizations. Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia was denied government assistance to purchase rubberized material for their preschool playground. This case will test if state governments have the authority to prohibit such funds from being distributed to religious organizations. Ultimately, though, the state’s decision to forbid financial support from being provided to religious organizations was the right one. The U.S. Constitution calls for a clear separation between church and state. That separation is essential to maintaining a fair, impartial, and secular government.

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A Guide to the Electoral College

A Guide to the Electoral College

In the days following the election, it has been hard to avoid news articles discussing the Electoral College. Some articles have been informative explaining how the system works. Others have insisted if you just sign a petition Hillary Clinton can become the next President of the United States. Is there some loophole that could make Clinton the next president? And how exactly does the Electoral College work? This blog post will discuss the Electoral College process, how Americans feel about it, and if Clinton could become the next POTUS.

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The Law & Probability: A Tricky Relationship (part 2)

The Law & Probability: A Tricky Relationship (part 2)

DNA tests are regarded in the criminal justice system as the gold standard for forensic evidence. The same is true of the public as a whole—DNA evidence is heavily associated with groups like Project Innocence, and it’s seen as righting the wrongs of an imperfect justice system. When the validity of DNA evidence was first being introduced to courtrooms, experts testified that false positives are impossible in DNA testing. And while it is true that testing on single-source samples is virtually error-free, it ignores the significant opportunity for human error to mar test results.

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The Law & Probability: A Tricky Relationship.

The Law & Probability: A Tricky Relationship.

Every step of the criminal justice process involves judgments of probabilities. Police, prosecutors, judges, and juries all have to decide how evidence affects the chances (or appearance) of a suspect’s guilt, weighing trustworthiness and magnitude. This evidence is often probabilistic in nature, meaning that every step of the criminal justice process is vulnerable to a host of heuristics, fallacies, and plain errors. Most recently, this has appeared in our national dialogue around how implicit bias affects police treatment of black suspects. Just in October the International Association of Chiefs of Police apologized for “historical mistreatment of communities of color”. But our criminal justice system also has an unfortunate history more broadly of poorly integrating scientific and statistical reasoning into its judgments. These failures span every level of the system: police and attorneys often rely on untrustworthy or unfounded methods while courts and juries put too much trust in or misinterpret the evidence produced by these methods.

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Update: Supreme Court Denies Cert on Apple’s eBooks Appeal

Update: Supreme Court Denies Cert on Apple’s eBooks Appeal

We previously wrote about Apple, Inc.’s appeal to the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Apple, Inc., in which the District Court for the Southern District of New York found Apple violated Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act by conspiring with five of the six major publishers to change their ebook contracts with Amazon. Apple and the five publishers decided that all of the publishers would demand Amazon move them to the “agency model,” such that the publishers, and not Amazon, could now control the price of the books. This was the same model the publishers adopted to sell their ebooks on Apple’s iBookstore. The five publishers did not appeal, but Apple appealed first to the Second Circuit, where it lost, and then to the Supreme Court.  

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What Executive Overreach Says About the Direction of Our Democracy

What Executive Overreach Says About the Direction of Our Democracy

At the beginning of 2016, President Obama announced that his administration will take executive action to reduce gun violence. Presidents, Obama in particular, have endured sharp criticism for employing executive orders this way, often not because the public dislikes the action taken, but because the President is exercising legislative authority traditionally held by only the legislature. For many, the overstep itself is the upsetting part. The truly terrifying thing is what this implies about the direction our system of government is headed.

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Quid Pro Quo: Deepening the Lines Between “Politics as Usual” and “Honest Services Fraud”

Quid Pro Quo: Deepening the Lines Between “Politics as Usual” and “Honest Services Fraud”

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in McDonnell v. United States, the case in which former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell was convicted of fraud and extortion because of his dealings with Virginia businessman Jonnie R. Williams, Sr. The United States accused McDonnell of “intervening with state officials on Williams’ behalf in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods.” After the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld McDonnell’s conviction, the Court seems poised to address the role of the public corruption statutes in the modern political climate.

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With Recent Elections, Gun Show Loophole Likely to Remain in Place

With Recent Elections, Gun Show Loophole Likely to Remain in Place

Advocates of closing Virginia’s “gun show loophole” made little to no headway in last week’s Virginia General Assembly elections, which resulted in the reelection of all incumbents on the ballot and negligible changes in either chamber. The Republican Party maintained its 21-19 majority in the Senate and lost only one seat in the House of Delegates, bringing its majority to 66-34. Consequently, any effort by Governor McAuliffe to close the “gun show loophole” will almost certainly fail, marking a continuation of last year’s session that saw the death of multiple efforts to require background checks for all firearms transfers at gun shows.

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The Clock Strikes Midnight: Agency Rulemaking as Obama Exits Office

The Clock Strikes Midnight: Agency Rulemaking as Obama Exits Office

Obama’s glass slippers are becoming worn and torn as the electoral clock comes to an end.  Bureaucrats are being rushed to pass regulations that solidify President Obama’s agenda for years to come.  The “Cinderella constraint” illustrates the behavior of policymakers at the end of their term: “[A]s the clock runs out of time on the administration’s term in office, would-be-Cinderellas—including the president, cabinet officers, and agency heads—work assiduously to promulgate regulation before they turn back into ordinary citizens at the stroke of midnight.” This increase in agencies’ regulatory activity observed at the end of presidential terms shows that changes in political leadership can quickly affect the agency rulemaking process.

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Decision Time in Virginia: Three Things to Look for in the Governor’s Proposed Budget

Decision Time in Virginia: Three Things to Look for in the Governor’s Proposed Budget

Now that voters in Virginia have cast their ballots in last week’s elections, policymakers are turning their eyes towards the next session, when lawmakers will write a completely new budget for the next two years. And while Republican control over both chambers makes it much more difficult for him to achieve key parts of his agenda, Governor Terry McAuliffe still gets the first chance at starting this conversation. He’s scheduled to present his proposal – the first in his term – just a few short weeks from now, on December 17th.

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