Thursday, March 23, 2006

New SCOTUS case on search and seizure

Just in time for my classes on search and seizure cases. Yay! The case deals with consent searches of homes, which usually are allowed under the 4th Amendment, even without a warrant. The special quirk in the "new" case, Georgia v. Randolph (here is the opinion), is that the consent was given by a woman whose husband objected to the search. The Court now held that both spouses have to consent to such a search in order for the consent exception to be used by the police.

There is an interesting exchange between Souter (who wrote the majority opinion) and CJ Roberts (who dissented, for the first time) over whether this means that the police cannot intervene in cases of domestic violence. More interesting for constitutional theory freaks is another exchange between Stevens and Scalia. Stevens points to the fact that, from the framers' point of view, only husbands could consent, which shows, according to him, that originalism is flawed. Scalia obviously has to reply to that and everybody is having fun.

If you don't want to read the whole decision, here and here are some news stories.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Nerd's delight

It's Spring Break here in Pembroke (and the weather is indeed spring-like), and people tend to think that this means profs are on vacation. Not quite. Still, it's nice not to go to classes for a week and take care of those things that one usually has to squeeze into one's schedule. Today I did the data analysis for a paper on the conditions under which the Attitudinal Model is more useful than a fact-pattern model to predict Supreme Court behavior. Also, I'm working on a new advising website for the UNCP political science department, have a couple of recommendation letters to write, classes to prep, etc.

And I have some time to try new computer programs. I find it annoying that Microsoft Word and Excel, two programs I use extensively, are so slow loading on my two-year old laptop (not to talk about my three-year old office computer). So I've been testing Gnumeric Spreadsheet and AbiWord. Both are free open-source programs, and they are comparatively small (AbiWord -- including a number of plugins -- takes less than 50 MB on my computer, and Gnumeric is about 67 MB).

Gnumeric looks like a complete Excel clone. It seems to do everything that Excel does, and using it for a number of bar charts this afternoon was a breeze. One can load Excel spreadsheets, comma-separated files, and other formats. Excel spreadsheets maintain the original formatting, including background colors, etc., which is essential if I want to use my Excel gradebooks. The only drawback may come with really large data sets (256 variables, 65,536 cases -- quite a class size), but it seems to be possible to tweak the program so that it deals with such an amount of data. (In that case, however, I'd prefer to use a real stats program. One can load basically anything into R.)

AbiWord *is* fast, and it is able to load and save Word documents (and has a bunch of plugins to open WordPerfect and other formats). For me, the main attraction is that one can use LaTeX code to write mathematical formulas, which is much less bothersome (in my opinion) than clicking your way through the Microsoft equation editor. This is useful for collaborations with authors who do not know how to use LaTeX. The downside for such purposes, however, is that the revisions tool is less developed than the MS Word change tracking tool. In addition, Endnote does not have a plugin for AbiWord. In contrast to MS Word, one has to save the document as an rtf file and then scan it "manually" with Endnote to create footnotes, references, or a bibliography. But my main purpose right now is to have a fast WYSIWYG word processor, and AbiWord seems to do the job.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New blog on political science journals

It's called the political science journal monitor and is basically a forum for frustrated political scientists to bitch about the journals that rejected their submissions. Since all journals have to reject most submissions, there are lots of flames on the blog. It's kind of fun, but so far I haven't found much helpful information. Most (maybe all, but y'all know about the fallacy of induction) posts to the blog are anonymous -- many people, it seems, still want to submit to the journals they hate -- so it is hard to learn something about a journal's reputation among different types of political scientists. One of the more bizarre side-effects of the anonymity is the fact that the quanti-quali-activist debate is fought with a bitterness and contempt for the other side that is stunning. Road rage for nerds, I guess.

The fake anti-abortion campaign: Mississippi is next, it seems

The Mississippi state House is currently considering a law banning all abortions except if the life of the mother is in danger. This is similar to a bill passed by the South Dakota legislature on which I commented a couple of days ago. As with the South Dakota law, my guess is that the legislators do not seriously expect the Supreme Court to uphold the law. It's great electoral politics though: As long as lower courts reject the bill, the lawmakers' pro-life supporters will be energized. Until the Supreme Court decides, this should be good for two elections or so.

The fact that Mississippi now jumped on the anti-Roe bandwaggon ads an interesting twist to the issue. If more states decide to bring legislative challenges to Roe v. Wade, the more likely it is that different federal appeals courts will make different decisions. Now, according to Supreme Court rules, one of the factors that justices consider when they decide whether or not to hear a case is lower court conflict. If the US Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit (which contains Mississippi) upholds the Mississippi law, and the appeals court for the 8th circuit overturns the SD law, then it is pretty likely that the Supreme Court will hear the case. Still, my bet is that the appeals courts will all overturn state anti-abortion laws that don't provide exceptions for cases of rape or health threats. The precedent is simply too clear, and it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will uphold the laws. (Of course, some appeals court judges may want the Supreme Court to make a clear statement against the laws and uphold them just to force the Court's hand. We'll see.)

Another twist: At The Moderate Voice, Justin Gardner notes that the Mississippi House committee reporting the bill included an amendment that requires the state to provide free education and health care to every child born in the state. This looks like a poison pill, so the law may not actually pass.