law-schoolLet’s start our week off with a fight, shall we?

Well, more like a debate. But when attorneys get chatting about whether law school should be three years long, or two (or some hybrid), things can get a little heated.

This fire was rekindled this month when President Barack Obama mentioned that he believed two years of law school may be adequate. I guess he was practicing for a controversial dialogue about Syria.

That led law school professor Bruce Ackerman to rise up to defend the status quo.

Well, whattayaknow, someone didn’t agree with that.

Well, quite a few, probably. But here is one lawyer–commentator who left no stone unturned in his dissection of Ackerman’s argument.

What do you think?

Is two years enough for a law degree?

And even if you think we should stick with three years, is the handwriting on the wall? Are we headed to a two-year J.D.?

Guantanamo Bay, January 2002. AFP PHOTO / US NAVY / Shane T. McCOY ORG XMIT: GTB06

On Monday, we got the unsurprising news that President Obama will run for re-election.

But how could we be sure?

I suppose we could look for evidence at his actual announcement and associated video.

Or we could read the obvious news as the White House announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and other 9/11 defendants, will be tried in military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. This is quite the reversal over the President’s commitment to try him in civil court—and to close Guantanamo.

That abrupt change in position signals the opening of the presidential-selection season better than most anything else.

More on the story below.

It was reported last night that a recall drive has been launched against one of our U.S. Senators from Arizona.

Sen. Jon Kyl

No, not John McCain, who has been much in the news lately. (I know you were guessing him.) This barb is directed at our other Jo(h)n—Jon Kyl.

As the story says, some are angry at a number of his positions:

“Kyl’s recent opposition of providing health care to the 9/11 first responders and emergency workers was the final straw, said Leonard Clark, chairman of ‘Kyl Refuses Health Care to 911 Emergency Responders!’”

Props to the protestor for an overly detailed organization name (and for the use of an exclamation mark, which always rankles).

Here in Arizona, citizen–agitators are pretty run-of-the-mill. In fact, the tradition of spirited advocacy reaches all the way back to Territorial days. We heard that discussed at the commemoration of the Arizona Constitution’s Centennial on December 2, which we wrote about here. (And a longer article will be in the February issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.)

As the Republic news story suggests, the recall has a tough row to hoe and is likely Quixotic. But Kyl-protestors may take heart in the fact that the senator suffered a more stinging and pertinent defeat this week.

You may recall he drew a bright line in the sand on the START Treaty, which President Barack Obama wanted ratified before the end of the year. Give recent history, the Republicans likely bet that a diffident Obama would not cross the line. And they put Kyl out there front and center to wage the battle.

But Obama didn’t blink, showing that he can roast some chestnuts when he thinks it’s necessary. That left the GOP’s chosen warrior standing alone on the battlefield.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, at right (PHOTO: Drew Angerer/The New York Times)

But the real winner in all this may not be Obama, and it almost certainly will not be those seeking Kyl’s recall (and we already know it won’t be Kyl himself).

But it may just be the junior senator from New York. Often derided and marginalized, she came into her own with strategic—and successful—moves on health coverage for 9/11 responders and on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Read more about Kirsten E. Gillibrand here. She has shown quite a bit of savvy and spirited advocacy herself, and we’re likely to see even more in the coming year.

This morning we got some news that may still be developing, but it appears that President Barack Obama has indicated that the United States will endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The news came to us from the Indian Law Resource Center. Their press release is below, and more news is available online.

Walter R. Echo-Hawk at ASU Law School, Sept. 27, 2010

In recent months, the U.N. Declaration has been discussed at least twice here in Arizona, at two events I attended at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The programs were hosted by the school’s Indian Legal Program, and they featured Robert Yazzie and Walter Echo-Hawk. You can read about them here and here.

An unaffiliated blog post this morning also talks about the President’s promised endorsement. The post is cautious in assessing what the endorsement will mean. President Obama made the announcement during the White House Tribal Leaders Conference.

The blog indicated the following:

Here is the press release from the Indian Law Resource Center:

December 15, 2010

Op-Ed: Declaration sets new agenda for US-Indian relations

Robert T. Coulter
Executive Director, Indian Law Resource Center

Today, the United States government at last officially endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and joined the international community in recognizing that American Indians and other indigenous peoples have a permanent right to exist as peoples, nations, cultures, and societies.

The United States is the last of the four countries that voted against the UN Declaration to reverse its position.  This endorsement reflects the worldwide acceptance of indigenous peoples and our governments as a permanent part of the world community and the countries where we live.  The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the most significant development in international human rights law in decades.  International human rights law now recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as peoples, including rights of self-determination, property, and culture.

For me, the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration marks the culmination of over three decades of hard work by indigenous peoples and other members of the international human rights community.  In 1976, when the Six Nations and I began the work of drafting and proposing a declaration to be adopted by the United Nations, we did not know that our idea would one day be universally accepted and supported first by indigenous peoples and eventually by the countries of the world.  We knew of the terrible inadequacy of legal regimes and the gross violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights in most countries. We turned to international law primarily because of the need to overcome and improve national laws and practices and because of the desire to regain a place for indigenous peoples in the international community.

Our work to ensure justice for Indian nations in this country begins in earnest with the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration.  To see the promise of the Declaration become a reality, we must continue to fight for laws, policies and relationships that take into account the permanent presence of Indian nations in this country, and throughout the world.

The Declaration sets an agenda for the United States and Indian nations to design a reasonable approach to a progressive realization of the duties and responsibilities in it.  It serves as a guide for consultations among Indian and Alaska Native nations and U.S. governmental departments and agencies to improve the government-to-government relationship among Indian and Alaska Native nations and the United States.

In our work for Indian rights, we can and should use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a powerful affirmation of our rights.  Only through continued use will its provisions become our reality.  We can use the Declaration to evaluate laws that are now on the books and for laws that may be proposed. Does the law measure up to the standards of the Declaration? Does the law or bill satisfy the requirements of the Declaration? It should. And if it does not, then it should be changed or discarded.

The Declaration can also be used as a guide for procedures and processes in dealing with indigenous peoples. Some of the most important rights in the Declaration are the right to participate in the decision-making process and the right to be consulted on important matters relating to indigenous peoples. The rights proclaimed in the Declaration can also be used to defend against proposals and actions that violate Indian rights. The Declaration can be used in this way by all people: Indian leaders, public officials, educators, and others.

The Declaration can also be used to support and advocate for positive legislation and positive government action relating to Indian peoples. In particular, the Declaration can be used as a basis for making demands that the federal government fulfill its responsibilities to tribes and carry out its obligations to promote and respect the human rights of Indian nations and tribes. Congress needs to hold hearings to examine the United States’ human rights obligations to Indians and to assess whether existing laws and policies adequately respect the rights established in international law.

Continuing to work in this way to ensure justice for Indian peoples is the best way to celebrate and honor the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  This is a very important first step in the process.  We thank all of the advocates, leaders and government officials who have made this vision of freedom and equality a reality.

Tonight, the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona is hosting an event that may be worth attending. And some may be surprised it’s being held at all.

It is the second in a series of Community Civil Rights Forums that U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke is holding. (The first was held on July 6, and we wrote about it the next day.)

Tonight’s event is billed as a forum with Arizona’s gay community. The news peg is the anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

(This forum is scheduled the same day that we learned the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating allegations of misconduct against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. No shrinking violets, these prosecutors.)

Did you think that Obama administration officials would lay low until after the November elections? Burke’s committing to a forum on gay civil rights may be a fly in that political ointment. (Perhaps they predicted that it was going to be a rocky month at the ballots for them—no matter what they did.)

Dennis Burke, United States Attorney for the District of Arizona

Of course, it’s true that Burke’s topic of “hate crimes” seeks to keep tonight’s conversation narrowly focused. But announcing an event with the words “gay” and “civil rights” in the same sentence could be felt like a sharp stick in the eye to certain portions of Arizona’s conservative populace.

And he may not get much love from the other side, either. The gay, lesbian and transgender community supported this administration, and probably still does. But their support has tempered over the past year and a half as they saw the president take what they view as half measures and tentative steps toward their positions.

They had hoped for Obama’s full-throated support, and got quite a bit less.

Will anyone at tonight’s event press the speakers on things like civil unions, or “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? Activists nationally have been vocal in asking about what they see as an unequal timeline on a path toward equal civil rights. Will they be vocal tonight?

Of course, the President won’t be at the Mercado tonight; Dennis Burke will. Continued props to him for fostering an ongoing conversation about civil rights in the United States. But how wide-ranging will that conversation be?

Unfortunately, I have a conflict and cannot attend. If anyone reading this plans to be there, please contact me (at tomorrow—I’d like to hear how it went. And if you take photos, even better!

Here is the complete release.


Forum on hate crimes law to occur on anniversary of Matthew Shepard attack

PHOENIX – United States Attorney Dennis K. Burke will hold a Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community Wednesday October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  It will be at the ASU Mercado in downtown Phoenix.  The public is encouraged to attend.

At the forum, Burke will talk about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.  He will also discuss how victims can report hate crimes and official police misconduct.   

The date of the forum coincides with the anniversary of the fatal attack on gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.  He was brutally beaten and tortured after meeting two men in a Laramie, Wyoming bar late on the night of October 6, 1998 and died days later.  Shepard was targeted because of his sexual orientation.

“We hold community sessions like this to inform people of their rights,” said Burke.  “The Department of Justice has a duty to protect the civil rights of all individuals from hate crimes or law enforcement misconduct.  I feel strongly people should have confidence to report violations to this office.”

The forum will bring together local community leaders, the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss the Department of Justice’s role in civil rights matters.  For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit

WHAT:  Civil Rights Forum focused on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

WHO:  U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke, FBI representatives and local community leaders.

WHEN:  Wednesday, October 6, 2010 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: ASU Mercado, Room C-145, 502 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix.