The BP Debacle and the U.S. Supreme Court

The infamous BP fire and spill.

The infamous BP fire and spill. Image source: USA TODAY

You might remember that oil spill caused by British Petroleum or BP four years ago. Now, the issue has finally been opened up once again.

BP asked Justice Antonin Scalia to have the company avoid making payments to other companies who have been affected by the said spill. This was after the New Orleans-based Court of Appeals lifted an injunction, preventing payments from being made.

BP’s lawyers asserted that if payments would not be blocked, awards worth hundreds of millions of dollars will be put to waste. I’m not quite sure what they meant by that, but I won’t really pretend to.

The Supreme Court responded that it won’t stop the claims payment, saying that those affected by the oil spill did not need to prove it.

So basically, courts are torn over this issue, but the final decision rested on the Supreme Court—as always. They say that BP paid over $12B to those affected by the spill, way more than the estimated $7.8B. I guess they didn’t really see that coming.

Apparently, BP would be at a disadvantage in this case, but let’s consider first some facts about the spill:

  • 200 million gallons of crude oil were pumped unto the Gulf of Mexico, making it the biggest oil spill in history
  • The oil rig explosion killed about 11 people and injured 17 more
  • 125 miles of the Louisiana coast have been polluted by the spill
  • About 8,000 animals were killed as a result of the catastrophic oil spill
  • The Gulf was still polluted with oil two years later

Perhaps the compensation for those who have been affected is a good measure? In that case, the Supreme Court shouldn’t allow the payments to stop. That’s simply my take on the issue. How about you? What do you think?


Sixty Years after Brown v Board, Are Our Schools Any Less Segregated?

Sixty years ago saw the historic official end to racial segregation in US public schools with the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Change began to rock the nation, first in ripples and then in waves, and racism, at least systemically, is something we’re glad to be rid of.

Or so high school history teaches us.

Sixty years after the historic ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, how much has really changed? Are our schools really less segregated than they were when it was decided?

According to the Pew Research Center, the answer is: not really.

2010 saw almost 16% of white students attending schools where at least 50% of the total student population came from ethnic minorities. On the other side, most ethnic minority students attended schools where the student population’s majority came from ethnic minorities, 60% of Asian students and over 75% of Hispanic and black students, specifically. When it comes to public schools, the minorities are growing in number, with Hispanic, black, and Asian students rising in public school attendance by 8.9%. Meanwhile, white students are becoming less prevalent in public schools, going from 68% of the general public school population in 1990 to 51% in 2012.

It’s not just a question of percentages. 2006 , the most recent year with data on public school racial integration, shows that students of various races don’t mix as well as they presumably would. Only 38% of white students had attended a school where the majority weren’t white. A little under that same percentage of black and Hispanic students had not attended schools where at least 75% of the student population shared their race or ethnicity.

Latinos have seen the growth in segregation in the western part of the United States, with 29% of students attending schools with majority minority populations in 1991, and 45% of students doing the same in 2011. The Northeast has seen a much less significant decrease, with 47% in 1991 and 44% in 2011.

Segregation in the South has increased in the decades following Brown, with up to 34% of black students in the South in 2011 attending majority minority schools.

The most segregated schools in the nation, for black students? The Northeast, with 51% of black students in 2011 attending highly segregated schools, a percentage actually higher than two decades prior.

Yet Another History-Making Judicial Confirmation

The US courts have been on a roll this month.

Earlier in the month we had seen Mary Yu, Theodore Chuang, and Manish Shah put their own mark on judicial history by setting some rather impressive firsts of their own. You would think that would be the end of it in terms of judicial diversity and representation for now, but it appears that May had more up its sleeve than most people would give it credit for.

Landing her confirmation with an impressively unanimous 96-0 vote, Diane Humetewa stands to be the first Native American woman to serve as a federal judge, and, perhaps regrettably, the only currently active Native American judge in the federal courts.

A former appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe, Humetewa has spent much of her career dedicated to helping Native peoples and their needs. According to the Associated Press, as a federal court judge in Arizona, she stands to deal with a case load likely to be about 20% higher than the national average for federal court judges.

The statement from Justice at Stake probably sums up everything I need to say much better than I could be able to articulate.

 The interests of justice are best served when judges reflect the broader society.  Judges learn from each other as peers. A variety of life experiences on the bench creates a broader understanding of complex matters, enhancing judicial decision making and reducing ‘group think’. Further, when we fail to tap highly qualified candidates from all backgrounds, we are leaving talent on the sidelines.  With the confirmation of Judge Humetewa, the Senate has taken an important step toward broadening the makeup of the federal courts.

Increasing representation of Native Americans on the federal bench is especially important because federal courts have an outsized authority in defining what’s known as federal Indian law. As a result, Native American people and tribal entities appear as parties in federal court proceedings at far higher rates than do non-Native Americans. Given this picture, the current lack of any active federal judges who are Native Americans is absolutely appalling.

Well said. Here’s looking forward to more diversity in the courts and a judicial makeup more representative of the nation’s people.

Nine More Judges Confirmed, US Courts Gain Even More Diversity

In judicial news that should get more coverage than it does, Justice Yu’s appointment to the State Supreme Court may have broken all sorts of ground, but it didn’t give the judicial branch an excuse to rest on its laurels. Far from it. In the past week, the Senate has confirmed nine more judges, a feat in itself for this current Congress, even without taking the increase in judicial diversity into consideration.

Who’s been confirmed? Here are two of the judges whose appointments brought a welcome new first in their respective areas.

Manish Shah’s confirmation on May 2 gave him the honor of becoming the first South Asian Article III judge in Illinois and the Seventh Circuit. While Theodore Chuang’s confirmation came with its own problems—namely the accusations of his part in the progress of the Benghazi investigation—a 53-42 vote got him the position in the end. He goes on to move on from his position as deputy general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security to the first Asian Pacific American in Maryland’s federal judiciary.

Speaking of judicial confirmations, Mary Yu’s appointment seems to be received well, with The Olympian praising her in their editorial, placing her confirmation down as a “yay”. Says the editorial:

Inslee did not pander to those who promote the east versus west divide, but chose a 14-year Superior Court judge who brings a unique perspective to the court, as well as her skills and expertise.

What does Justice Yu herself have to say about her confirmation? Mostly that she couldn’t have dreamed of making history in this way.

Frankly, growing up as a kid in the inner-city of Chicago … I really thought my dream would be just to have a job perhaps being a secretary or even a clerk in a store. 

Here’s hoping that the increase in diversity helps kids dream a little bigger in future.


As an aside, thanks to this blog post, I found out about a website about law as it applies to teens, but they’re laws that even adults should probably know about. The legality of sexting, anyone? How about the laws of cell phone search and seizure?

Mary Yu’s Appointment Makes History Several Times Over

It’s been an interesting past few days for Washington State. Not just content to pronounce the nation’s highest minimum wage increase, it has also decided to appoint a new justice to the Washington State Supreme Court who not only makes for its first openly lesbian justice, not only makes for its first Asian-American justice, not only makes for its first female Hispanic justice, but also makes for the first justice in the state to preside over a same-sex marriage.

Talk about a record breaker.

This historic justice, a weathered veteran of the King County Superior Court, is named Mary Yu, and her background is just as varied as her accomplishments. Born to immigrant parents from Mexico and from China, Judge Yu grew up to earn a graduate degree in theology from Mundelein of Loyola University in Chicago, a Municipal League Foundation “Public Official of the Year” award, the Norm Maleng Award of the Washington State Bar Association, and the 2011 Outstanding Judge of the Year Award, among others.  After her fourteen years of service on the King County Superior Court and her public service career with the Archdiocese of Chicago, Gov. Inslee has said, “That combination of experience has allowed Judge Yu to see the real-life impacts our legal system has on a diverse population.”

In the same statement, Inslee has said, “That combination of experience has allowed Judge Yu to see the real-life impacts our legal system has on a diverse population,” Inslee said. He also said that the personal story of Judge Yu, daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico and from China, “adds a unique perspective that is important as our state’s demographics continue to shift.”

Her appointment by Gov. Jay Inslee means she will go on to replace Justice Jim Johnson, a conservative who once ruled against same-sex marriage and recently retired for health reasons.

As a justice appointed to fill in a spot left behind for a justice who retired with an unexpired term, Judge Yu will have to seek reelection in November in order to keep her seat. Here’s wishing her all the luck.

Sources: Gavel Grab, Seattle Pi, The News Tribune,