Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Gays Should be Allowed to Marry: One Republican's View

I'm a Republican that whole heartily supports gay marriage. Given the dearth of elected Republicans that support gay marriage many people will be shocked to find out that I as a Republican support gay marriage. The fact is that a lot of republicans I know and associate with support gay marriage. We consider ourselves to be Rockefeller, Goldwater or Eisenhower  (or more modernly Jon Huntsman) Republicans that want smaller government that doesn't intrude on people's lives.

The biggest reason I want gays to be able to get married is this: I don't care what other people do if it doesn't affect me.  I have yet to hear a good argument for how gay marriage will ever affect another person's marriage. And now that we've been letting gay people marry it is obvious that all the arguments against it were invalid. The sky hasn't fallen in Massachusetts, California or Iowa. Gays got married and people just went about living their lives totally unaffected.

Normally I try and think deeply about issues and reflect on them. But this one is so painfully simple to me. As a conservative I apply my general principles of: A) people should be able to do what they want if it doesn't hurt other people and B) I don't like the government interfering with people's lives. A plus B equals gay marriage is okay with me.  Any questions?

The Supreme Court Decisions on DOMA, the VRA and a Call for Critical Thinking

This week the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Many people were excited about the decision on DOMA and terribly disappointed that the court struck down the VRA. In all of that emotion many people fail to comment on the legal reasoning applied in the cases they are just angry that the court 'gutted the voting rights act' and proud that the court 'stood up for gay rights'.

The reason people feel this way is based on how they view the court: that the Supreme Court is a moral arbiter weighing in on key issues. Ideally I would like to quickly point out how the function of the Supreme Court is to weigh in on specific cases and determine constitutionality of those cases that are brought before it. Historically that has been the purpose of the Supreme Court but people today (mostly liberals but some religious conservatives too) often just want the court to make 'the right' ruling instead of constraining itself with constitutionality.

Antonin Scalia makes a pretty convincing case that Justice Ginsberg is doing just this in her opinion on DOMA. He argues that the Court should not make a ruling because the plaintiff has no standing in the case because she won in a lower court and that without standing the Supreme Court should not rule. He chides Justice Ginsberg for stating that the Court may rule whenever they think it is 'prudent' or as he puts it 'a good idea' even though this means ignoring Article III of the Constitution.

Sadly this idea of ignoring the Constitution to do what we believe to be 'morally right' and expedient is an idea that is popular with the people; so long as those rulings themselves are popular with the people. As a result we have seen cases since the New Deal that redefined what the constitution meant and gave broad almost unlimited powers to congress that were not there before.

In Wickard vs. Filburn the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the government could regulate the amount of wheat grown on an individuals farm even if he was not selling it to anyone under the 'interstate commerce' clause of the constitution. By redefining interstate commerce to mean 'all commerce' the Supreme Court has handed Congress a near blank check to regulate all business any way that it sees fit. 60 years later when a man grew medicinal marijuana on his own property for his own consumption his plants were destroyed and the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales vs. Raich that once again the commerce clause of the constitution gives Congress that authority.

What I sincerely hope people would do with this week in light of the major rulings by the Supreme Court is to read them (or at least their summaries) and engage in some real critical thinking about how our court should function, and what legal principles do we want our court to apply. Do we want our court to constrain themselves to the constitution and apply it the best they can or do we want them to be moral arbiters ruling in favor of 'what they feel best' and having to contort constitutionally to justify themselves.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Affirmative Action: Sexism and Appearances Versus Reality

I recently finished Medical School and was talking with a classmate (I'll call him Bart) about where people would end up and careers they would have. Our conversation touched on the topic of medical graduates who were unable to secure a training residency and what the future held for them. Finally we pivoted to our most distinguished colleagues: members of Alpha Omega Alpha honor society (or AOA).

Most medical schools in the US have a chapter of AOA at their school. It is a very prestigious honor to be a member of AOA as it denotes that you were in the top tier of grades as well as being reputable members of the community. Bart was explaining to me that new members were elected each year and that active members were a part of the selection process. This meant that classmates that were selected in the first two years of medical school to be a member of AOA were a part of the committee to determine who would be allowed to join in the third and fourth years.

Bart was invited to join AOA after his second year of medical school so he was one of the leaders of the selection committee. They made it through one cycle of candidates and it turned out that every single person they admitted to AOA was a women. During the next round of admitting people a woman in the crowd spoke up and asked "should we be thinking about getting more guys in?"
Bart answered "No, we're not doing that. I'm not playing that game. We're going to go with the best people." A couple of the women in the room (also on the selection committee) let out a couple of 'you go Bart'.

As it turned out a clear majority of women from my medical school class earned the AOA honors. This is even more pronounced when women make up only 40% of the student body (they make up roughly 40% of the applicant pool to medical school as well). In earning a greater proportional share of AOA honors the women in my medical school class collectively out performed the men in my class (at the top anyway). The women in my medical school class played by the same rules and kicked our butts.

Why the question to include more men?

This would be an entirely reasonable question if the selection committee was looking at recruiting people from the general public. When looking to fill a management position from the general public and all of the applicants are of a certain ethnicity or gender it is reasonable to ask if there isn't an inherent bias in your process of recruitment. This is why binders full of women is good policy as it ensures that qualified women are considered for employment positions.

But there was no recruitment of applicants to a job for AOA. There was a field from which the committee was obligated to choose from so there can be no possibility of recruitment bias by the AOA committee.

The reason the question was asked is that we have become a society so obsessed with appearances that we are willing to embrace sexism so that there isn't the appearance of sexism. That sounds crazy because it is, but that is the implication of the question 'should we try to include more men?'. The question reflects a fear that the group looked biased (by selecting mostly women) even though it wasn't biased in favor of women but had instead selected a group of high achievers in medical school based on objective information. 

This has become the new normal. We act sexist and racist to avoid the appearance of racism or sexism. We lower the standards in education for one group so that they are not underrepresented by having two separate and fundamentally unequal sets of admissions. Oddly enough men are more likely to to benefit from affirmative action in university admissions now because women have starting out performing men.