Although sometimes difficult to detect, governmental power abuses can have detrimental impacts. Property tax assessments provide an effective lens to examine this phenomenon because, given the complexity of calculating property tax assessments, it is difficult for citizens to know when local government has exceeded its legitimate taxing authority and crossed into the realm of illegal extraction. Michigan is an ideal case study because it protects property owners by making assessment-related power abuses more visible through a unique state constitutional provision: property tax assessments cannot exceed 50 percent of a property’s market value. Abuses have persisted nevertheless. Between 2011 and 2015, one in four properties in Detroit were subject to property tax foreclosure, and inflated property tax assessments that violate the Michigan Constitution are the unseen thread in this complex tapestry of foreclosure.
Against this backdrop, this Article makes three primary contributions. First, no other article has argued and proven that property tax assessments in Detroit are illegal. Using assessment and sales data from 2009–2015 for the entire City of Detroit, we find that property tax assessments are substantially in excess of the state constitutional limit, and this illegality is most pronounced for lower-valued properties. Second, to remedy inflated assessments, in 2014 and 2015 Detroit’s assessor implemented assessment decreases ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent for select districts, but we find that systemic assessment inequity persisted for lower valued properties despite these reductions. Third, this Article uses the case of illegal property tax assessments in Detroit to develop a new theoretical concept called “stategraft,” which is when state agents transfer property from residents to the state in violation of the state’s own laws and to the detriment of a vulnerable group. Although the concept was developed using the Detroit case, stategraft applies beyond Detroit to many other cases, including the discriminatory fines imposed and enforced by the police and courts in Ferguson, Missouri; broken treaties with Native Americans; and abuses of civil forfeiture laws.
The use of harsh, punitive disciplinary measures has become pervasive in our elementary and secondary schools. Many believe these “zero tolerance” educational policies, in which students are suspended or expelled from school for minor violations, are having disastrous effects on students across the country and are responsible for pushing many students out of school and into the hands of the juvenile justice system. Minority students, especially African Americans, have been disproportionately affected by these zero tolerance policies. With increasing success, advocates, parents, and students have been trying to change the way school officials discipline their students, though legislative and litigation efforts and grassroots community organizing. This Note discusses how advocates can use California’s anti-discrimination statute, California Government Code section 11135, to combat the disproportionate effect zero tolerance polices have on African American students.
Increasingly, clashes between the demands of law and aspirations of religion center on the legal status and treatment of religious institutions. Much of the rising tensions revolving around religious institutions stem from conflicts between the religious objectives of those institutions and their impact on third parties who do not necessarily share those same objectives. Indeed, these persisting tensions have pressed two fundamental questions to the forefront of legal debate: what institutions count as religious institutions and to what extent should these institutions be excused from complying with otherwise valid laws?
In February 2014, the Kansas House of Representatives proposed a bill that would have permitted business owners with religious objections to deny some customers services and accommodations. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, Kansas legislators would have allowed citizens of Topeka to refuse restrooms, restaurants, and water fountains to other citizens.
Across the state of California today, conservative religious student groups are no longer welcome on public school campuses like Hastings College of the Law. And it’s not just the West Coast. Vanderbilt University, Bowdoin College, and a number of other schools have also kicked out conservative religious groups. These schools rely on “all-comers” policies that require student groups to accept any student who wants to join, irrespective of a student’s beliefs or actions. Conservative religious groups with creedal membership or leadership requirements are unable to comply.
In 2006, an Albuquerque photographer declined to photograph a same-sex wedding, citing religious objections. The couple sued her for discrimination and won. Cases like this one present a conflict between gay rights and religious liberty. Religious conservatives feel that it would be sinful for them to personally facilitate same-sex marriages, and they have sought to amend the laws to accommodate their objections. These efforts have met fierce resistance. In Arizona, the only state where a legislature has passed a religious accommodation law, the governor vetoed it in response to enormous national public pressure.
The resistance is largely unnecessary. Gay rights advocates have misconceived the tort of discrimination as a particularized injury to the person, rather than the artifact of social engineering that it really is. Religious conservatives likewise have failed to grasp the purposes of antidiscrimination law, and so have demanded accommodations that would be massively overbroad.
When Vanessa Willock emailed Elane Photography seeking information about photography services for her upcoming commitment ceremony, she was likely expecting a run-of-the-mill response—pricing information, samples of prior work, a discussion of the photographer’s availability for the date in question. She was not expecting Elaine Huguenin, a co-owner of Elane Photography, to refuse the commission outright on the ground that she “[did] not photograph same-sex weddings.” Likewise, when Charlie Craig and David Mullins entered Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado to order a cake for a party celebrating their Massachusetts marriage, they probably were not expecting the owner, Jack Phillips, to refuse their business because his religious convictions prevented him from making cakes for same-sex weddings.
The increasingly apt term “culture wars” refers to a polarizing tendency in which Americans are coming to coalesce around opposing political agendas that themselves murkily reflect divergent conceptions and evaluations of individualism, community, equality, authority, tradition, sexuality, Christianity, and the meaning and mission (if any) of America. At the moment, the controversy over same-sex marriage is the most fiercely contested political and cultural battle, but the intensity of that particular battle is likely due in part to the fact that same-sex marriage is only one salient issue within a larger struggle.
In late November, shortly after the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Linda Greenhouse published a perceptive op-ed arguing that the contraceptive mandate cases “aren’t about the day-in, day-out stuff of jurisprudence under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause,” and they aren’t about the rights of corporations either. Instead, she said, “They are about sex.”
In response to which I want to say yes, they’re about sex. And they’re about religion. But they’re also about money. They’re about sex, God, and money. Since sex and God have both gotten a lot of attention already, I’m going to focus on the money.
A new generation of social science research creates new opportunities to increase fairness and reduce racial inequality in education. This research raises important questions for antidiscrimination law.
Over the past twenty years, research conducted around the world has established that for students subject to pervasive negative intellectual stereotypes, such as African American and Latino students (and many other groups, including, in math and science, girls and women), school contexts that call to mind these stereotypes can produce distraction and anxiety that impede school achievement and contribute to racial disparities. This “stereotype threat” is the default in evaluative, challenging academic environments. Hence, common measures of intellectual ability typically underestimate minority students’ potential. But stereotype threat is not inevitable. Brief exercises can reduce its effects, causing lasting improvements in minority student achievement.
Claudia, a Mexican American with family roots in the United States since the mid-1800s, walked out of a grocery store, happily chatting with her three young children in Spanish as they walked toward her car. Before arriving at her car, she was stopped by government officials and asked for proof of citizenship. Speaking to the officers in accent-free English, she explained that she is in fact a United States citizen, offering her driver’s license as proof. After rejecting her driver’s license, the officers requested another form of identification as proof that she was in the United States legally. Eventually, Claudia gave the officers something that satisfied them, and they allowed her to continue with her children to her car. After the event, Claudia wondered what she might do in the future to avoid being stereotyped as an “undocumented Mexican.”