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September|October 2004
Making The Partner By Justin Dillon
Above It All By Amy Sullivan
Peter Ambrose, Bladder Cop By Ben Goldstein
The Beagle Brigade By Will Potter
The Prudent Jurist By William H. Simon
Cases & Controversies

Cases & Controversies


Shiver Me Timbers

WHEN TWO GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS BOARDED THE APL JADE CARGO SHIP off the coast of Miami that they suspected of illegally importing mahogany, they knew they could be punished for their civil disobedience. They did not expect to find themselves and their organization charged with "sailor-mongering" under an 1872 federal statute that prevents the unauthorized boarding of ships "about to arrive at the place of destination." The obscure law originally directed at brothel owners who would solicit arriving sailors with liquor and prostitutes, has been used only twice, first in 1872 and again in 1890.

In May 2002, the U.S. Attorney's office of Miami sought to fine Greenpeace heavily, have its nonprofit status suspended, and subject its members to heavy government surveillance. The office refused to explain why it resorted to enforcing such a musty law, but the law is more expansive than more obvious choices, like trespassing or piracy, which can only be directed at individuals, not organizations. Lawyers for Greenpeace—along with supporters including former Vice President Al Gore—accused the Bush Administration of trying to stifle the group's right to free speech.

A federal trial judge in Florida engaged in a literal interpretation of the law, taking its cue from Greenpeace, which brought a dictionary to court. Since the Greenpeace action took place 3.42 miles from the Miami-Dade port, the judge ruled, the APL Jade could not be said to be "about to arrive," as the 1872 statute specifies. He dismissed the case, but cautioned Greenpeace that the law remained on the books and could be used again to prosecute the organization's future protests on the high seas.

Chief Justice

UNLIKE MANY OTHER COLLEGES, THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS HAS RESISTED PRESSURE to get rid of its politically incorrect Native American mascot. "Chief Illiniwek," who's been around since 1926, dons a feathered ensemble for sports events and typically engages in high kicks and split jumps at Illinois athletic events. (He also sometimes smokes a "peace pipe" with rival mascots.) He has survived 25 years of protests from faculty, staff, and students, who have argued that the Chief is "a mockery not only of Indian customs but also of white people's culture."

Stymied, the anti-Illiniwek forces tried to shame the university by taking their concerns to the school's athletic recruits. Official contact with high school athletes is rigorously policed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Fearing sanctions, the school's chancellor ordered that all contacts with future student-athletes be vetted by the athletic director. That meant the protesters couldn't call the recruits without the director's go-ahead—and he wasn't inclined to give it.

In a free speech suit, some faculty members prompted a federal trial court to overturn the chancellor's directive. Membership in the NCAA, the judge reasoned, does not permit the school to check the First Amendment "at the property line of the campus." The Seventh Circuit Appeals Court agreed.In an aside, it considered the Chief's place in the pantheon of university mascots. The panel's favorite mascot was the University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slug.

Summa Cum Lawsuit

JENNY EVANS HAD BEEN PUSHING TO BE VALEDICTORIAN SINCE SHE STARTED HIGH SCHOOL. She took advanced placement courses at her Somerset County, Md., school and studied hard. When she discovered, one day before her graduation, that another girl had edged her out, she was heartbroken. When she found out that last-minute grade boosts in six of her rival's courses had cost her the honor, she decided to sue.

Evans's suit seeks $400,000 in damages and claims that school officials behaved negligently and unfairly when they upped the other girl's grades on the eve of graduation. The court did not grant an injunction to stop the ceremony, so in June, Evans was named salutatorian and gave the ceremony's welcome address on the value of honesty.

One town resident told The Baltimore Sun that the controversy was the biggest local scuffle since a fight over the "Miss Crustacean" prize at a recent crab derby. But outside coastal Maryland, valedictory suits are old news. Last year, in a widely publicized case, a Burlington County, N.J., student with an autoimmune disorder won a discrimination suit against Moorestown High School, when it tried to crown a second valedictorian. In another case, a Michigan high school senior with his eyes on the prize sued to have his grade for an internship at his mother's law firm changed from an A to an A+. And a Massachusetts student who spent her senior year at Wesleyan University sued when the classes she took there didn't count in the valedictory race. High school seniors have become so litigious that many schools have decided to eliminate the valedictorian prize altogether.

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