Since 1910, Black farmland owners have lost approximately 14 million acres of land in the U.S. This considerable loss results from heirs’ property legal challenges, such as partition actions, foreclosure sales, and adverse possession issues. Heirs’ property occurs when someone dies without a will, and their land passes to their children, spouse, parents, or other family members. Heirs’ property owners hold the land as tenants-in-common, sharing an undivided, fractional interest in the land. Tenancy-in-common is the “most widespread form of common ownership in the United States” because about half of Americans do not make wills.
Heirs’ property challenges substantially burden Black landowners who have difficulty paying for an attorney to solve their property issues. Consequently, forced partition sales continue to disproportionately impact Black landowners. Heirs’ property owners cannot secure “traditional mortgage financing or business loans” because they do not have a clear title to their land. Without a title or deed, heirs’ property farmland owners have difficulty securing loans or aid from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In many cases, state USDA offices do not approve these owners for loans or disaster relief funding because landowners fail to prove ownership since tenants-in-common landowners cannot produce a deed.
The United States has a long history of mistreating its minority population. Since the founding of this country, from the 3/5 rule to modern voter-dilution practices, the U.S. has subjected minorities, and particularly African Americans, to state-mandated second-class citizenry. Of which, minority populations continue to struggle for fair apportionment and representation within our state and federal governments. After Abraham Lincoln gave his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Congress took over seven years to draft, pass, and ratify the 15th amendment granting African American men the right to vote.
Diarra A. Raymond
Millions of U.S. citizens living in unincorporated territories, like the U.S. Virgin Islands, have an inferior political and legal status. Congress passed legislation organizing the territory’s government under the Revised Organic Act of 1954, extending the Bill of Rights except the Ninth Amendment and other key constitutional amendments.
While Congress extends U.S. citizenship to persons in these territories, they have no right to vote in presidential elections because unincorporated territories are not states. They have a delegate to Congress, but this delegate has no voting rights. This is an inequitable application of constitutional rights. Restorative principles insist the Court and Congress must create equity by dismantling the laws and policies that have denied these political rights to Virgin Islanders since its acquisition by the United States.
In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a beta-agonist drug commonly known as ractopamine. Meat producers use ractopamine to accelerate weight gain and promote leanness in pigs, cattle, and turkeys. Today, over 160 countries either restrict or completely ban the use of ractopamine. However, the United States (U.S.) and 25 other countries still permit its use. Most countries have banned or restricted ractopamine due to animal or human health concerns. Many of these countries took a precautionary approach in reviewing the drug because studies have insufficiently demonstrated the drug’s safety. Yet, the FDA fails to adopt a precautionary approach in approving animal drugs, which is highly problematic and concerning for meat consumers, animal welfare advocates, environmentalists, and others alike. Even more concerning is that ractopamine is not the only non-essential, beta-agonist drug on the market. The FDA recently approved a drug known as Experior, which purports to reduce ammonia in cows. Although this may sound like a good, environmentally conscious idea, its known and unknown risks substantially outweigh any benefits. Overall, the U.S. must proceed with caution when approving drugs that are non-essential, non-therapeutic, and only serve some other—likely economic—purpose.
Most criminal defendants cannot afford their own attorney and instead rely on attorneys provided by the government. Ever since Gideon guaranteed representation to defendants facing possible imprisonment, critics have harshly criticized the quality of that representation, focusing in particular on jurisdictions where public defenders have staggering caseloads that make it effectively impossible to routinely go beyond “meet ‘em, greet ‘em, and plead ‘em,” and where appointed and contract counsel have compensation schemes that demand the rapid resolution of cases. In some jurisdictions, attorneys lack the time—sometimes best measured in minutes per case—to perform even a basic investigation of the facts much less develop a meaningful attorney-client relationship or probe the prosecution’s case for weaknesses. Public defense attorneys with too many cases often also lack support services like investigators or expert witnesses. Although the highly deferential Strickland Test provides a remedy for ineffective counsel in extraordinary cases, it has done little to stop assembly-line justice from flourishing in the years since Gideon, a once-revolutionary decision that is widely considered a broken promise.
“Sustainability momentum—that’s where the magic is going to happen.” – Eddie Perkin
Investors admonish major companies for “hiding” their environmentally related plans to deal with climate change. In fact, worldwide trends indicate that investors have a strong interest in companies’ climate-related plans. And some companies have “bowed to [these] investor demands” already. However, despite this trend, some of the world’s largest and well-known companies still remain silent on how critical climate-related issues affect their business—including Berkshire Hathaway, Facebook, Netflix, PayPal, and even the electric-car maker, Tesla. And, in recent years, fossil-fuel giants—BP, Exxon, and Chevron—have stopped disclosing their climate-related plans. The reason: because disclosures on environmental, social, and governance issues (ESG) are a dollar-and-cents issue, and revealing climate-sensitive information could be bad for certain businesses. In 2016, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) reported that out of 1,500 disclosures by 637 companies across different 72 industries, nearly 30 percent of the disclosures did not include any climate-related information. Most corporations evade climate-related disclosure because companies do not consider the risks of climate change to be material or that the company does not have a duty to report. Further, in the United States, ESG disclosures are an entirely voluntary measure, so companies have no obligation to report it—for now that is. Despite this disclosure dilemma, tackling climate change must ultimately go beyond the corporate dollar-and-cent mentality.
American filmmaker and writer John Waters once said: “I’d be arrested if I still smoked because I’m the one who would be changing the battery in the airplane in the lavatory to take out the smoke detector. I would’ve been those people they warn you against.” Given the current state of federal law, Waters would have not only inconvenienced the passengers and flight crew, but also given many restless nights to his attorney.
The State of Vermont has been working on designing a payment for ecosystem services (PES) system that would hire farmers to improve watershed function as a strategy to moderate and adapt to climate change. This paradigm recognizes that deep topsoil can provide “flood protection, clean water, food security, and climate resilience and mitigation.” The State and other parties would invest in rebuilding the land’s capacity to provide these services, much like it would invest in rehabilitating physical infrastructure.
On October 28, 2012, a full moon was on display over New York harbor. Twenty-four hours later the pull of that same moon, paired with many other events, brought destruction into the greater New York Metropolitan Area. Superstorm Sandy killed 43 New Yorkers, flooded 51 square miles of the city’s landmass, caused over $19 billion of damage, and shut the power off for weeks. The storm was a tragedy, and a sign of things to come.
“Object anyway!” said James Kirkland Batson to his defense attorney when the prosecutor struck the only three black jurors from the venire during jury selection for his trial. When Mr. Batson first inquired about the seemingly discriminatory peremptory challenges to his public defender, his attorney replied, the prosecutor does not need to disclose why he struck the jurors. This did not sit right with Mr. Batson. He encouraged his attorney to object anyway, and his attorney did. This choice was the catalyst that would lead to the monumental Supreme Court decision on peremptory challenges and the Fourteenth Amendment.