Just and Unjust Law distinction for MLK

According to MLK, how can we tell the difference between just and unjust laws?  Understanding this questions is the most important part of this module, and I will ask it again during our second exam.

For MLK the difference between just and unjust laws is clear. In his words : “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality”. In short, an unjust law is that which denigrates people. Moreover, it is a law that serves to create inequalities between people. On the other hand, a just law is that which is created to protect and encourage the well being of all people no matter their gender, age, preferences or color.   

In your view, is this an important distinction (between just and unjust laws), do you think it makes a difference in the way someone (as an individual, or our society as a whole) lives their lives? Can it affect our politics?

Of course I agree. The distinction of just and unjust laws is essential to have a healthy society. Indeed, recognizing the difference between both allows people to realize that sometimes what is legal is not necessarily to the best interest of all. Furthermore, it is important because it makes people ask themselves questions about the Legal and Justice Systems. In a nutshell, learning about this distinction generates criticism of the system people have inherited. Later, allowing them to acknowledge its flaws and transform their government into something better. This is how it affects politics. An educated population has the ability to analyze their institutions, claim changes and pressure those in power to change what is not working for all.

Based on our discussion of Question 1, give an example each, of an unjust and just law, in the US today. Explain what makes it unjust or just (using MLK’s definition of those two types of laws).

According to Global Citizen, rapists can have parental rights in seven states : Most states have laws that prevent rapists from claiming parental rights, but seven states do not: Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In some cases, this has resulting in sexual assault victims having to coparent with their perpetrator, meaning the rapist has visitation rights and stays in contact with the child and mother. It is not necessary to say why this is an unjust law. It is completely insane that the law allows a man, who has raped a woman, to share parenting rights over the consequences of his felony. . . How can even a sexual perpetrator have the right to be alone with a child that is the product of his damage? It causes indignation.

On the other hand, a just law is the Freedom of Information Act. This law gives everyone the right to see and use records from any government establishment. According to hibernian digest : “The law lets citizens know happenings in government. Federal agencies must disclose any information requested under this act with exemptions to personal privacy, law enforcement, and classified information ”. In my opinion, this is a just law because it is a tool for citizens to regulate the government’s transparency. In fact, it is a law that allows Americans to get the necessary information to analyze their government’s actions. Then, decide if what is being done is equal to the best interest of all. Thus, this law protects and promotes a fair society.




Commonality or Technicality ?

  1. What did the Supreme Court decide in the Wal-Mart case? And more importantly, how did it justify its decision?

The Supreme Court ruled in Wal-Mart’s favor. The Court justified their ruling based on the principle of commonality. In other words, commonality refers to the relationship of common facts and legal issues among class members. This feature is required when a group of people is looking to be certified for class-action lawsuit. Moreover, a class-action lawsuit is a type of lawsuit where cases are combined to represent a “collective body that could speak its members’ grievances more powerfully than any one of them could individually”. However, these same law tools were the ones that did not allow these women to win the case. This case was very big, the plaintiffs were representing 1.5 million women, which made it difficult to fill in the requirements for the principle of commonality. The question was: could somebody represent so many people?. In addition, the plaintiffs were seeking for both “injunctive relief” (a court ordered mandate that forces institutions to resolve a systemic issue) and for a payback. 

Initially, when the case was filed, it was misplaced under a class that it did not belong to. Thus, the Supreme Court was able to argue that this misclassification compromised the women’s class status. Then, they would have to look even broader back and judge their principle of commonality. Later, when they did so they ruled again in Wal-mart’s favor. For the Court, a commonality requirement is that there be “questions of law or fact” common to the class” and that “to claim commonality a class must not only share a common problem, but also a common solution to that problem”. Hence, Because the 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees were not all denied the same promotion, the same pay raise, or insulted, belittled, or obstructed by the same manager in the same store, their cases could not legitimately be litigated all at once. In short, the case was denied based on several technicalities.

The U.S. Court System

In what ways is the court system better suited to protect the individual, than are the elected branches of government (such as Congress and the President; or the Mayor of NYC and the NYC City Assembly)? Give an example to illustrate your argument.

In theory members of the court are supposed to be neutral. They are suited better to protect the individual because the court system is the one that interprets laws. Also, as opposed to the Congress, President and other Political representatives, members of the court are not allowed in theory to use their political interests when deciding on a case. Indeed, lecture 13.4 states how the members of the Supreme court are influenced but don’t exactly rule according to their political opinions: “. . . none of the justices works completely in an ideological bubble. While their numerous opinions have revealed certain ideological tendencies, they still consider each case as it comes to them, and they don’t always rule in a consistently predictable or expected way”. However, members of the court system do not work completely on their own, which means they can be influenced by other opinions. Still, this is not really common. On the other hand, Political representatives have strong interests and will act in order to benefit themselves. To illustrate : A political representative who needs the votes of the LGTBQ community would rule a case of discrimination favoring the interest of that community in order to get the support of them. Whereas, a member of the court system would make sure to follow the laws and the previous state rulings in order to best defend the interests of the people. 

Do you agree that the Supreme Court, for example, is an anti-democratic part of our government? What could be the reason for this way of choosing judges in federal courts? (HINT: think about our discussion of “Federalist #10”, and which social class plays a leading role in our government system.)

Yes, I agree that it is Anti-democratic. Indeed, democracy is about the participation of all. Still, in this type of election only the ruling class or the people in Political Power are the ones who get to decide on it. In previous lectures like “Federalist #10” it has been proved that the government in the United States had been created to benefit the ruling class, also known as the owning class. Then, it is not surprising that the Court System, which is just one more part of the American Government, appoints members in a non-democratic way. The government system in the United States was not created to be democratic, hence the Court System, a part of the U.S. government is not a democratic institution. In fact, the reason why judges are appointed is to only have people that will represent and defend the interest of the owning class in this institution.

Bill of Rights.

1.Describe how you understand the “Establishment Clause” and the related “Lemon Test”.

The establishment clause origins from the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of religious conscience and practice. On this matter, it protects two related sorts of freedom: it protects people from having a set of religious beliefs imposed by the government, and it protects people from having their own religious beliefs restricted by governmental authorities. The first type of protection is known as the establishment clause. In other words, it is the right that forbids the Congress or the States from creating or promoting a state-sponsored religion. 

Furthermore, the Lemon test is a set of guidelines for judging whether a law or other government action that might promote a religious practice should be allowed or not. These is the criteria:

  • The action or law must not lead to excessive government entanglement with religion; in other words, policing the boundary between government and religion should be relatively straightforward and not require extensive effort by the government.
  • The action or law cannot either inhibit or advance religious practice; it should be neutral in its effects on religion.
  • The action or law must have some secular purpose; there must be some non-religious justification for the law.

In conclusion, for a law or action that might promote a religious practices to be allowed it must not require a large undertake from the government. Also, it can interfere with the religious practices, and it must have a non-religious purpose to exist.

2. Is burning the US flag protected by the First Amendment? Explain by referring to the relevant court case discussed in the reading.

As referred to in the reading in 1984 a member of a pro-communist and antiwar group set fire to a U.S flag. This man, Gregory Lee Johnson, was charged and convicted for “desecration of a venerated object”. Nevertheless, years later in 1989, the Supreme Court decided that burning the flag was a form of symbolic speech. Thereafter, this act could be protected by the First Amendment; thus, this law as applied to flag desecration was found unconstitutional. As a result, it is possible to say that burning the US flag is protected under the First Amendment. However, as it is also mentioned in the reading, this act of symbolic speech is found highly controversial for Americans. Because citizens of the United States tend to revere the flag as a unifying symbol of the country. In a nutshell, the United States flag is a highly respected symbol of the country and any act against it is seemed as a strong act of disrespect. 

3. What does it mean when someone says, “I’m taking the Fifth”?

The Fifth Amendment states provisions dealing with the rights of the accused. In one of the many provisions the Fifth Amendment lists, the most famous is the one that states the right against self-incrimination, or the right to remain silent. Then, when someone says: I’m taking the fifth, they are basically stating that they are choosing to use their right to remain silent. It is well explained in the reading “People have the right not to give evidence in court or to law enforcement officers that might constitute an admission of guilt or responsibility for a crime. Moreover, in a criminal trial, if someone does not testify in his or her own defense, the prosecution cannot use that failure to testify as evidence of guilt or imply that an innocent person would testify.” Thus, a person has the right to not help the persecution; thereafter, allowing people to avoid the chance of being manipulated to admit a guilt they don’t own. In conclusion, this is a provision that looks after providing the accused a fair and transparent prosecution process.

U.S Government Structure

1.Describe the primary differences in the role of citizens in government, among the federal, confederation, and unitary systems.

On the one hand, a federal governmental system characterizes itself for having two relatively autonomous levels of government. Under this system both levels are elected by the people and each level has different functions assigned. In the U.S federal system, the federal government is led by the president and the congress. In fact, all of these representatives are elected by voters across the country. Conversely, the subnational part of the government falls under the discretion of all fifty states, which are led by a governor and the state legislature. Similarly, in a confederation the authority is decentralized and the authority is concentrated in states. However, in a unitary system subnational governments dependent on the national government, where the authority is concentrated in a central government.

2.Briefly explain how you understand the system of division of power.

In a governmental system with divisions of power the authority of the government is equally allocated in different institutions. For example, in a Federation like the United States the power or authority is equally distributed between the legislative, judicial and executive institutions. In addition, in a system with a division of power each level of government is somewhat independent from the others. Still, they are constantly interacting with each other. They rely on each other to succeed. In conclusion, the system with a division of power does not mean that it’s a broken or divided government. On the contrary, it’s breaking down in parts the same authority to strengthen each other and work together as a whole powerful system.

How does the federal government shape the actions of state and local governments?

According to Price and Myers, “Many local governments have created more specific guidance on COVID-19 responses and implemented restrictions when the state and federal governments have remained silent, or have explicitly left certain decisions up to local governments.” In other words, municipalities created their own specific guidelines when the federal and state governments did not create legislations to regulate the crisis that the Covid-19 pandemic caused. However, federal funding is essential for the States. Especially in a state like New York where the reduction of consumer spending caused an estimated loss of 22% of sales tax collections over the course of the year [2020] (Price and Myers, 3). Then a way in which the federal government has shaped the actions of NY state has been by the approval of “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act ” which  allocated $150 billion in funding for state governments, and was then apportioned to municipalities. This funding allowed the State of New York to cover necessary expenses caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency as well as funding for Municipal Liquidity (Price and Myers, 4) This is an example of how the decisions of the federal government can strongly affect the action that a State takes towards the well-being of its citizens. Without the federal funding New York could have had a longer and more challenging recovery from the financial hardships that this pandemic has caused.

Source: https://www.loc.gov/law/help/covid-19-responses/local-government-response.pdf

A New Type of War

1. P. Williams writes in her essay, that the war on terror is a new type of a war. What’s new about it, how is it different from traditional wars?

Williams claims that this is a new type of war because: “the fact that the war has been framed as one against “terror” – against unruly if deadly emotionalism – rather than as a war against specific bodies, specific land, specific resources.” (Williams). That is to say, the war has not a target enemy; thereafter, the enemy is everywhere and everyone. Williams is strongly concerned about the broad definition of the target that the U.S. has set. She emphasizes this fact when she states: “A war against terrorism is a war of the mind, so broadly defined that the enemy becomes anybody who makes us afraid. Indeed what is conspicuous about American public discourse right now is how hard it is to talk about facts rather than fear.” (Williams). To rephrase it, she is concerned that back in that time after the attacks of 9/11 people were acting with their emotions and not with their reason. That is how this war was new. It had not named enemy and it was based on fear. Providing the government with excuses to keep the war against “terrorism” going forever. Something that she was right, because as of June 2021 it is still common to keep on listening to this type of speech. 

2. In what ways does the “Roving Wiretaps” of the Patriot Act seem to violate the Bill of Rights? Which amendment(s) does it seem to violate and why?

The Roving Wiretaps violates the Bill of Rights in its Fourth and Fifth Amendment. It violates the Fourth because it allows the government to intrude in a person’s privacy without their knowledge. On the other hand, it violates a person’s right to be a witness against itself, as well as to have a “due process of law”. The biggest critic people give to “extended powers” stated in the Patriot’s Act is that many of these excessive measures void the possibility of an impartial judgement. They allow the government to prosecute civilians without any probable cause. 

3. What about “Sneek and Peek” Warrants?

It violates one of the freedoms stated in The Fourth Amendment. Actually, these extended powers provided to governmental intelligence organizations permit law enforcement officers to do unreasonable searches. It allows the government to intrude in people’s homes without their permission. Hence, jeopardizing people’s rights to be secure in their persons, houses, and against unreasonable searches. The most concerning thing about it is that it gives law enforcement officers the opportunity to root out crime. In other words, to manipulate scenes. In conclusion, it voids a person’s right for fair and transparent prosecution procedure.

Plotters or Patriots?

Based on the arguments presented in Readings 6.1 and 6.2, which social class wrote the Constitution, and which class was excluded and not allowed to participate in this process? In your comment, make sure you clearly specify the difference between the two classes by giving examples from the readings.

Based on the readings, it is pretty clear that the social class that wrote the constitution was “owning class” On the other hand, Beard  describes “ four groups whose economic status had a definite legal expression: the slaves, the indented servants, the mass of men who could not qualify for voting under the property tests imposed by the state constitutions and laws, and women, disenfranchised and subjected to the discriminations if the common law .These groups were, not represented in the Convention which drafted the constitution…” (Beard, 1). In other words, the majority of Americans were not included in the writing of the constitution. Moreover, as Parenti claims the men who wrote the constitution looked after creating a strong central government. They agreed that government was institute for the defense of the rich against the poor (Parenti, 5). Thus, these other people were not included in the writing of the Constitution because their interests were not the same as the one the owning class had. Their main difference between the people who wrote the constitution and the ones excluded were their financial interests. Indeed, as Parenti reports “ persons of birth and fortune should control the affairs of the nation and check the leveling impulses of the propertyless multitude who composed the majority faction” (Parenti, 7). In conclusion, it is proved that the so-called “founding fathers” only had the intention of protecting their privileges and keeping the government to serve themselves.

Would say that the social class structure of early United States society, was the same as ours today, or different? Explain.

After the lectures about social class that we had, I can say that the social class structure of the early United States is the same as the one we have today. To Illustrate, it was claimed in prior readings that most of America’s total wealth is in the hands of the top 1%. Similar to what happened in Early America where Parenti claims: “ By 1700, three-fourths of the acreage of New York belonged to fewer than a dozen persons” (Parenti, 5). Moreover, the government in Early America was created to safeguard the propertied interests of the owning class; and it continues to work that way. In fact, it is well-known that the richest people in the United States are among the least taxed. On the other hand, the people with the lowest wages continue to be heavily taxed. That is just to prove how the government of the United States continues to follow the interests of the owning class. As well as to prove that the majority of wealth in America remains on a very small group of people. 

Why were the people who wrote the Constitution so afraid of democracy? Hint: think about how to answer this question by discussing it in terms of social classes.

According to Parenti: “The framers of the Constitution could agree with Madison when he wrote (also in Federalist No. 10) that “the most common and durable source of faction has been the various and unequal distribution of property [that is, wealth]. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society” and “the first object of government” is “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property” (Parenti, 7). Therefore, the government had been created to maintain this unequal distribution of wealth. Under this context democracy would be a threat and they thought of it as “the worst of all political evils”. This is not surprising, since democracy in theory would be the opposite of inequality which is what the “founding fathers” intended to perpetuate for their own benefit.

Federalist #10

What concept that we have already discussed does “faction” remind you of?

The concept of faction reminds me of the prior definition of classes. In Federalist Paper #10 its stated :  “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”(Madison, 1). Thereafter, faction is basically this group of society that has any other interest different to the ones of the owning class. Hence, just like in Marx differentiates between the owning class and the employees. In this paper there is a differentiation between “faction” and citizens. 

According to Federalist #10 (written by James Madison), what is the source of wealth (private property)? What factor explains why some people get to possess wealth by owning private property, and others don’t (thus remaining poor)? 

According to Madison, the source of wealth is the faculties of men. This term refers to that which has been inherited, their position in the world also it refers to the capacities that people have and how they reflect on what they get to own and not. Moreover, this is described by Madison as something unavoidable and that those who own want to perpetuate for themselves. To conclude, the Federalist paper #10 is nothing more but the representation of how the owning class has explained their situation while persuading others with wealth that protecting it is and will always be their priority. 

Do you agree with this explanation of wealth and poverty?

I do not agree with it. Again, after all the readings I’ve come to realize wealth has to be more about what you have inherited than what the capacity to get for yourself by your own means. Thus, wealth is nothing else but a reflection of the perpetuation of a system that allows you to keep that what others have earned with their labour to oneself.

What is the core mission (“first object”) of the US government? Does this surprise you, does it sound different from what our society today seems to suggest the core mission of the government is? Explain.

According to Parenti : “government is there to see that those who have a talent for getting rich are not hampered in any way by those who might be made poor in the process” (Parenti, 7) In other words, the core mission of the US government since the Constitution was written has been to protect the wealth of the owning class as well as provide them the tools to become wealthier. Furthermore, It does sound very different to what society suggests about how the government and the taxes are used to fight the financial inequalities that people in this country have. On the opposite, there is not a real intention of the governmental institutions but to protect the interest of the wealthy and as Madison claims “control the effects of the faction”.

Given the discussion in questions 1-4, are you surprised that Federalist #10 is not in favor of democracy, and supports a Republican (representative) form of government? Why would d the author dislike a (pure) democratic form of government? Hint: think about how this question connects with the social classes…

Given the discussion, I am not surprised that Federalist #10 is not in favor of democracy. It is clear that Madison, just by the fact that he has been able to be writing that paper proves that he belongs to the owning class. Hence, Madison is not in favor of a democracy because it goes against the interests of his class. A pure democratic form of government means that inequalities all citizens get to participate which creates obstacles and is not beneficial for the owning class However, a Republic or a representative type of government offers a scheme where the faction or the employees don’t get to be heard as much. As a result, a republican type of government becomes more suitable in order to protect the interest of the wealthy or in words of Madison it : “opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking” (Madison, 1).

Who owns America

Which statistic on wealth inequality in the US (discussed on p. 29) made the biggest impression on you? Explain why?

The statistic that made the biggest impression on me is the one that states the top 1 percent of the population own between 40 and 50 percent of the nation’s total wealth. It is impressive. I would have never imagined the common American was so poor. Actually, it is definitely shocking when Parenti states “ The real wealth is the very top superrich stratum, a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the population, some 145,000 individuals” (Parenti, 31). That means, in a country with a population of more than 331,000,000 people, that very small group of people controls almost everything. Moreover, it is very shocking that to be in the top 20% you must only have an income of $75,000. That’s not a lot of money to even be considered upper class. That type of salary makes it very hard to afford a house. Specially in a State as expensive as New York. If even the top 20% of the country won’t make enough money to afford quality of life, I can’t imagine what it might be for the bottom 20%. It’s ironic that something like this gets to happen in a so called “First world country”.

What could be some of the implications of living in a society that has such huge wealth inequalities? Do you see this dynamic getting played out in everyday life in our society? How so? Example?

The main consequence of a society with such wealth inequalities is : that it forbids people to obtain a better quality of life. It stops upward social mobility and shrinks technological development. Likewise, it creates recessions and monopolies that make prices for essentials more easy to manipulate. I definitely see this happening in our society today where businesses like Amazon become huge monsters that easily devour the competition, meanwhile businesses have closed their doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unbeatable prices that a giant like amazon can offer. It’s obvious that an already underpaid crowd will prefer to acquire their products from a cheaper retailer. Hilariously condemning others in their same situation to surrender and submit to the same owning class that helps perpetuate their financial status.

M-C-M’ capitalist cycle.

Explain M-C-M’ to show how capitalists maintain and increase their wealth:

In the text “How capitalism works” Jalee explains how the capitalists increase their wealth. He simplifies it into the formula M-C-M’ , but what does this mean? Basically, M represents money, C a commodity and M’ represents money prime which is the result of a resell transaction (exchange the value of a commodity for a price). Thus, Jalee is describing with this formula how capitalist increase their wealth: they use money to acquire commodities and later resell them for a higher amount of money. Still, how do capitalist have been able to continuously increase their wealth? According to Jalee, capitalist use money to hire people in exchange of a wage in order to rent their ability to labour for them and add value to a product (labor power). However, this added value would be kept by the capitalists since they are the owners of the goods; as a result leaving creating surplus value. Once capitalist have accomplished their goal of creating more value, now they must maximize the amount of surplus value that they keep and that is how surplus labor is born. Indeed, Jalee explains “For the system to function the worker must labor for longer than it takes to create a value equal to that of his or her daily requirement of the means of subsistence, known as necessary labor time, that is what is necessary to reproduce his or her labor power” (Jalee, 27). Next, he claims: “During the second four hour period (of a labour shift) the capitalist will again supply means of production by which another value of 40 units will be transferred to the final product. But the worker’s extra four hours will not be paid for…” (Jalee, 27). In other words, in an eight hour shift capitalist will only be giving employees back four hours worth of the value they have produced with their labor. As a consequence, those four hours of extra work are supplementary, they are unpaid labor and that is what is known as surplus labor.

In a nutshell, It is pretty noticeable how capitalist have more than just figured out ways to generate value through others and keep it to themselves ( surplus value). They have also figured out ways to maximize the amount of profits without raising the wages for their employees ( surplus labor). All of it, with the help of the labor power and the continuity of the cycle of M-C-M’, which is what finally allows them to maintain and increase their wealth.