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Presidential Commission Releases Election Recommendations and Report Based on Research Directed by SLS Professor Nathaniel Persily

SLS Professor Nathaniel Persily

Stanford, Calif., January 22, 2014—The Presidential Commission on Election Administration has issued a report containing a frank assessment of electoral problems in the United States and recommending significant electoral reforms, the White House announced today. Nathaniel Persily, JD ’98, the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at SLS, serves as Senior Research Director of the Commission. The Commission also has two co-chairs: Benjamin Ginsberg, a visiting lecturer at SLS and former national counsel to Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, and Robert Bauer, former general counsel to President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. The report is entitled “The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.”

“Our aim was to transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters,” said Bauer and Ginsberg.

The bipartisan, 10-member Commission was formed last March to help identify best practices in election administration and promote the efficient administration of elections. The Commission was especially determined to ensure that eligible voters can cast their ballots without undue delay and to improve the experience of voters who face other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military and people with disabilities or limited English proficiency. In conducting its work, the Commission held public meetings and hearings and consulted election officials and voting rights experts nationwide.

Some of the report’s key recommendations are as follows:

  • Modernization of the registration process through continued expansion of online voter registration and expanded state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists,
  • Measures to improve access to the polls through expansion of the period for voting before the traditional Election Day, and through the selection of suitable, well-equipped polling place facilities, such as schools,
  • State-of-the-art techniques to assure efficient management of polling places, including tools the Commission is publicizing and recommending for the efficient allocation of polling place resources, and
  • Reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology to address soon-to-be antiquated voting machines and to encourage innovation and the adoption of widely available off-the-shelf technologies.

“The Commission took on a very difficult problem and did not pull punches in its recommendations,” said Persily. “Problems in recent elections, such as long lines at the polling place, affect millions of voters, and impending challenges, such as the specter of widespread breakdown of aging voting machines, require a concerted effort to ensure American democracy meets voters’ expectations.”

Persily is an award-winning teacher and nationally-recognized constitutional law expert who focuses on the law of democracy, addressing issues such as voting rights, political parties, campaign finance and redistricting. He is a highly sought-after nonpartisan voice in voting rights and has served as a special master for congressional redistricting efforts in Connecticut and as a court-appointed nonpartisan expert for legislative districting plans in Georgia, Maryland and New York.

Persily has also published dozens of articles in both scholarly publications and popular media about the legal regulations of political parties, issues surrounding the census and redistricting process, voting rights and campaign finance reform. He is currently editing a volume on Solutions to Political Polarization, which will be published in the Fall.

Before joining SLS’ faculty last July, Persily was the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Columbia Law School, where he also founded and directed the Center for Law and Politics. Persily was recently elected to the prestigious American Law Institute.

Persily and Ginsberg are teaching a class in the Winter quarter about the legal regulation of elections and politics. Ginsberg has represented multiple political campaigns and candidates, as well as elected officials, political parties and individuals participating in the political process. He also has extensive experience in redistricting at the state legislative level.

The report and related online tools are available now. Additional information can be found at the Commission’s website.

About Stanford Law School Stanford Law School (www.law.stanford.edu) is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective, and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.

Stanford's 2013 Annual Report celebrates research highlights from Stanford Law School

The following research highlights originally appeared in Stanford’s 2013 Annual Report and were featured in Stanford Report.

SLS Professor Hank Greely (photo credit: Steve Gladfelter)

Ethics of resurrecting extinct species explored

Scientists predict that within 15 years they will be able to revive some more recently extinct species, such as the dodo or the passenger pigeon, raising the question of whether or not they should. In Science, Hank Greely, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, identifies the ethical landmines of this new concept of de-extinction and recommends that the government leave de-extinction research to private companies and focus on drafting new regulations.

SLS Professor Michael McConnell

Citizens United ruling hardly revolutionary

In his article, “In Defense of Citizens United,” published in the Yale Law JournalMichael McConnell, the Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, wrote a reappraisal of the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling about campaign contributions. McConnell argues the academic outcry against the Citizens United ruling missed the point, which he attributes partly to a confusing ruling that “gives off a lot of vibes of overreaching and not being well focused.” In fact, he says, the ruling is hardly revolutionary when restated in simple terms.

SLS Professor Joan Petersilia

Realignment legislation encourages reentry cooperation

Stanford Law School students researching the implementation of California’s Public Safety Realignment legislation and aspects of the parole process for California “lifer” inmates believe the law led to greater cooperation between local agencies. Realignment, which shifts back to counties the resources and responsibility for supervising their offenders, encourages agencies to collaborate in providing more effective reentry of paroled prisoners. The research, given to Gov. Jerry Brown, was supervised by Joan Petersilia, the Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law.

SLS Professor George Triantis

Disruption and innovation in transactional law practice

After a series of articles that explore techniques for improving the design of business contracts, George Triantis, the James and Patricia Kowal Professor of Law, has turned his attention to the process of contract design and management as it is undertaken inside corporations and their law firms. In “Improving Contract Quality: Modularity, Technology and Innovation in Contract Design,” published in the Stanford Journal of Law, Business and Finance, Triantis analyzes the impact and potential of new contract automation technology in both cutting costs and improving the quality of contracts.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School (www.law.stanford.edu) is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.

At Stanford, inaugural Bright Award lecturer makes a passionate plea to preserve the world's forests

Tasso Azevedo, a forestry manager and climate change consultant in Brazil, was awarded the inaugural Bright Award at Stanford yesterday. In his acceptance speech, he made a stirring argument for preserving the world’s forests and for governments to take a more urgent approach to mitigating climate change.

This news story was originally published December 11, 2013 in Stanford Report.

By Bjorn Carey

In the inaugural Bright Award Lecture, Tasso Azevedo, a consultant and social-environmental entrepreneur in the field of forests, sustainability and climate change in Brazil, detailed the underappreciated value of forests, and made a passionate plea for greater efforts to preserve them for future generations.

“With this award, Ray Bright particularly sought to recognize unsung people who were actively leading efforts to protect or reinvigorate an area and lead it toward a more environmentally sound future,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School.

Azevedo, she said, fits Bright’s vision perfectly as a person who has crossed disciplines and worked with scientists, politicians, businesses and entrepreneurs to accomplish actions that will preserve the environment for future generations.

“I’m very honored to be here to accept this prize. It was quite a surprise,” he said. “You’re not only giving it to me, you’re giving it to thousands of people that I’ve had the privilege to interact with and learn from while trying to fight the challenge of deforestation.”

Azevedo choked up as he thanked his wife and their 4-year-old daughter. “I worked in the forest for many years, and the thing about my daughter is I think I just realized what it means to talk about sustainability for next generations,” he said.

Over the past 18 years, Azevedo’s innovative ideas on promoting sustainable forest management have contributed to a reduction in the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent, along with a 35 percent reduction of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions. His work serves as a formula for similar efforts around the world.

Azevedo founded the Brazilian non-governmental organization Imaflora – the leading environmental certification institution in Brazil – to create alternatives to deforestation. He served as the first chief and director general of the Brazilian Forest Service, and helped establish the Amazon Fund, which is dedicated to conserving forests in the Amazon and around the world.

He has since worked tirelessly as a socio-environmental entrepreneur to develop plans and measures to help Brazil reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 36.1 percent by 2020.

Forests, he said, make up just 10 percent of the planet, but play an essential role in regulating climate. In some parts of the world, evaporation from forests can account for 70 percent of rain.

Tropical forests, which account for 25 percent of all forests, are responsible for capturing 50 percent of atmospheric carbon, and are home to 90 percent of the planet’s species.

“There’s no way a manmade environment can match anything that forests can give us,” he said.

Law School Dean M. Elizabeth Magill presents the Bright Award to Tasso Azevedo. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

The temptation to cut them down, however, is strong. Forests are clear-cut to free up land for new people, to grow food or to produce energy. Forestry products are everywhere around us, he said, in our paper, clothes, automobiles, buildings, food and more.

As he worked to save forests, he became more aware not only of deforestation’s role in climate change – deforestation accounts for 10 percent of global emissions – but also the threat that climate change posed to the very things he was trying to preserve. He established the Amazon Fund, the largest forest conservation fund in the world, as a way to combat deforestation and combat climate simultaneously.

Human activity is responsible for emitting 50 billion tons of carbon emissions per year. That number needs to drop to 10 billion tons by 2050, Azevedo said, which will require a major effort at both the country and individual levels.

Governments focus too much on placing blame or responsibilities on other nations, he said, when they should really engage in reaching global agreements that move the discussion and science forward. Individuals, however, should make their own changes while waiting for governments to act.

Each human is responsible for producing seven tons of carbon per year. Activities such as owning a car or taking a flight to Europe account for one ton each.

“By 2050, we have to get to one ton of carbon per person,” he said. “We have to completely reinvent ourselves. There’s no space for incremental improvements.”

Currently, 60 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases are the result of energy production or consumption. To overcome this, countries must become more responsible both in the ways that they generate energy and in how they use it.

It is a daunting task, Azevedo said, but Brazil’s success reducing the rate of deforestation, which accounted for 60 percent of its emissions, provides a road map for large-scale change.

“If we can face the challenge of deforestation in Brazil, which is our 60 percent, then I think we can all definitely do it on energy,” he said. “But we need commitment.”

The Bright Award, issued by Stanford Law School in collaboration with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, is the only honor of its kind to recognize significant achievement in conservation in different regions of the world and is the top environmental award at Stanford. Next year’s recipient will be chosen from North America.

The award was created by a gift to Stanford Law School in 2007 from Raymond E. Bright Jr., JD ’59, on behalf of his late wife, Marcelle, and himself. Mr. Bright died in 2011. For more details, visit http://brightaward.stanford.edu/.

UN Working Group Rules Favorably on Petition Filed by SLS' Allen Weiner, Condemns Treatment of 16 Vietnamese Social and Political Activists

The Original Petitioners: Vietnamese Social and Political Activists Who Have Been Detained

In a decision announced on November 28, 2013, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in Geneva ruled favorably on a petition filed by Allen Weiner, Director of the Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law at Stanford Law School, that contests the illegal arrest, conviction and ongoing detention of sixteen Vietnamese social and political activists. UNWGAD held that the detention and subsequent criminal conviction of these activists violated international human rights obligations that are binding on Vietnam and called upon the Vietnamese government to “immediate[ly] release” the detainees.

The activists were convicted under various Vietnamese criminal laws that outlaw “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” the “undermining of national unity” and participating in “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The petition, which was filed in July 2012, alleged that the detention of these activists violated Vietnam’s international obligations under, among other things, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In response to Vietnam’s contentions that the detainees were convicted under existing provisions of the Vietnamese criminal code, the Working Group held that “the criminal provisions that gave rise to the charge against the [detained] individuals and their subsequent conviction by the court cannot be regarded as consistent with the relevant provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” UNWGAD further noted that “the holding and expressing of opinions, including those which are not in line with official Government policy, are protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

According to Weiner, Senior Lecturer at Stanford Law School and counsel for the petitioners, the arrest and conviction of these activists was merely part of a broader effort by the Vietnamese government to suppress the expression of any political views that challenge either the Vietnamese government or its policies. Weiner noted that the detainees, many of whom were engaged in online journalism or blogging, were peacefully engaging on a range of social and political issues, including opposing official corruption and calling for multi-party democracy and electoral fairness. Some activists objected to Vietnam’s relations with China, while others opposed the arrest and trial of other Vietnamese citizens on political grounds. Some opposed environmentally harmful bauxite mining projects and land grabs by the state and others argued for labor rights or improved access to education.

“In short, these young activists were engaged in the kind of peaceful political expression that all of us in democratic states take for granted as a fundamental right,” said Weiner. He expressed gratitude that UNWGAD “ruled so clearly that the Vietnamese government is legally required to release these detainees.”

The detainees are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Church in Vietnam, and many were charged as being members of Viet Tan, a Vietnamese pro-democracy party.

UNWGAD was emphatic in rejecting Vietnam’s contention that the activists were not arrested for being journalists and bloggers, but rather for their violation of Vietnamese laws. The Working Group specifically stated that a purported “[v]iolation of national legislation as referred to by the Government [of Vietnam] does not in and of itself justify detention.” In a holding that categorically rejects the Vietnamese Government’s strategy of relying on its vague criminal statutes to suppress political speech, UNWGAD ruled that “the criminal provisions that gave rise to the charge against the sixteen individuals and their subsequent conviction by the court cannot be regarded as consistent with the relevant provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The Working Group reiterated that “the holding and expressing of opinions, including those which are not in line with official Government policy, are protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The Working Group also stated, as Weiner had argued in his petition and subsequent communications to UNWGAD, that the Vietnamese Government had not provided any evidence “of any violent action or actions on the part of any of the detainees.”

Based on these findings, the Working Group called upon Vietnam “to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which include the immediate release of the aforementioned individuals.” The Working Group further called upon the Vietnamese Government to provide adequate reparation to the detainees to compensate them for the violations of their rights. It also reminded Vietnam of its obligations “to bring its laws into conformity with international law, in particular international human rights law.”

Weiner described this as a significant decision: “The use by governments of their legal systems to stifle dissent and suppress challenges to illegal governmental restrictions and human rights abuses is a growing trend around the world.” UNWGAD’s decision “reflects a clear statement that countries may not rely on repressive domestic laws as an excuse to evade their human rights obligations under international law.”

Although the decision of UNWGAD is not itself legally binding, Weiner explained that “it represents an authoritative interpretation of international legal obligations that Vietnam has accepted and that are already binding on them.” He added that “under the circumstances, the Vietnamese government can no longer claim that it has any plausible legal basis for continuing to incarcerate these activists.” Weiner urged Vietnam to comply with its international human rights obligations.

The petitioners are as follows: Mr. DANG Xuan Dieu, Mr. HO Duc Hoa, Mr. NGUYEN Van Oai, Mr. CHU Manh Son, Mr. DAU Van Duong, Mr. TRAN Huu Duc, Mr. LE Van Son, Mr. NONG Hung Anh, Mr. NGUYEN Van Duyet, Mr. NGUYEN Xuan Anh, Mr. HO Van Oanh, Mr. THAI Van Dung, Mr. TRAN Minh Nhat, Ms. TA Phong Tan, Mr. TRAN Vu Anh Binh and Mr. NGUYEN Dinh Cuong.

“I have been honored by the opportunity to serve these brave young activists who are seeking merely to build better lives for the citizens of Vietnam. I commend the Working Group for issuing so clear a statement about the illegal nature of Hanoi’s activities and look forward to the immediate release of these detainees and others who have been imprisoned in violation of their international human rights,” said Weiner.

The decision of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is available here.

About Allen S. Weiner

Allen S. Weiner is senior lecturer in law, director of the Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law, and co-director of the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation at Stanford University. He is an international legal scholar with expertise in such wide-ranging fields as international and national security law, the law of war, international conflict resolution, and international criminal law (including transitional justice). His scholarship focuses on international law and the response to the contemporary security threats of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He also explores the relationship between international law and the invocation of domestic “war powers” in connection with the U.S. response to terrorism. In the realm of international conflict resolution, his highly multidisciplinary work analyzes the barriers to resolving violent political conflicts. Weiner’s scholarship is deeply informed by experience; he practiced international law in the U.S. Department of State for more than a decade advising government policymakers, negotiating international agreements, and representing the United States in litigation before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice, and the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal. Before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 2003, Weiner served as legal counselor to the U.S. Embassy in The Hague and attorney adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State. He was a law clerk to Judge John Steadman of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School (www.law.stanford.edu) is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.

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EDITORIAL CONTACTS

For comment:
Allen Weiner
Director, Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law
Stanford Law School
Phone: 650 724-5892
Email: aweiner@stanford.edu

For Stanford Law School:
Anjali Abraham
Associate Director of Media Relations
Stanford Law School
DESK: 650 723.2232
EMAIL: aabraham@law.stanford.edu

U.S. Supreme Court calls on SLS’ Barton Thompson to help settle longstanding water law dispute

SLS Professor Barton H. "Buzz" Thompson, Jr.

Stanford, Calif., November 20, 2013 – The United States Supreme Court has appointed SLS Professor Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, Jr. as a special master in a years-long battle between Montana and Wyoming over their respective water rights. Thompson is the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law at SLS and the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Montana and Wyoming each argue that the other has violated the Yellowstone River Compact of 1950, an agreement that governs water use in a basin that includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Their legal battle has already lasted more than six years.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now relying on Thompson to help it resolve the case. While the Court typically hears cases on appeal, it has original jurisdiction in all cases involving disputes between states. This means that feuding states can take their case directly to the Court without first having to go to a trial court. When these cases arise, the Court usually appoints a special master to conduct what amounts to a trial and then make recommendations to the Court.

Before joining the SLS faculty in 1986, Thompson was a partner at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles and a lecturer at the UCLA School of Law. He served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, J.D. ’52 (B.A. ’48, M.A. ’48) and to Judge Joseph T. Sneed of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Thompson is Chairman of the Board of the Resources Legacy Fund and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a California trustee for The Nature Conservancy and a board member of the American Farmland Trust and the Sonoran Institute. He previously served as a member of the Science Advisory Board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thompson is also a senior fellow (by courtesy) at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Thompson’s current role is not his first experience serving as a special master, nor his first time helping settle water challenges between Montana and Wyoming. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed Thompson as a special master in Montana v. Wyoming (137 Original).

About Stanford Law School Stanford Law School (www.law.stanford.edu) is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective, and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.