Constitution Day: Law School Hosts Panel on ‘the Landscape Ahead,’ Sept. 17

ConstitutionDaymobileOn Constitution Day, Monday, Sept. 17, the University of Baltimore School of Law will host a panel discussion with Professors Garrett Epps, Michael Higginbotham, and Kimberly Wehle, and moderated by Dean Ronald Weich. The topic, “Trump * Mueller * Kavanaugh: The Constitutional Landscape Ahead,” will consider what may result from the policies and actions of the current administration. The discussion will take place in the Moot Court Room in the John and Frances Angelos Law Center (home of the UB School of Law), 1401 N. Charles St., beginning at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public; an R.S.V.P. is requested. (Attendance details are listed below.)

Constitution Day is an annual national celebration designed to renew the nation’s familiarity with the tenets of its founding document. On Sept. 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and prepared for ratification by the states.

To attend this event, fill out the R.S.V.P. here.

The event is co-sponsored by the University of Baltimore School of Law chapters of the American Constitution Society and The Federalist Society, and the Student Bar Association.

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Prof. Closius Successfully Appeals Painkiller Case Against NFL

phillip-closiusPhillip J. Closius, professor in the University of Baltimore School of Law and a sports law specialist, successfully argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the revival of a case involving a group of former professional football players and their claim that the NFL violated the law in giving them painkillers without informing them of the side effects.

According to the Daily Record, which published an article about the case on Sept. 7, the lead plaintiff in the case is Richard Dent, a member of the defensive team for the 1985 Super Bowl champions Chicago Bears.

“Dent, the most valuable player of that Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, alleges that during his 14-year career, doctors and trainers gave him ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of injections and pills containing powerful painkillers to keep him in the game,” the newspaper said. “Dent claims in the lawsuit that he was never told the drugs would cause him to have an enlarged heart, permanent nerve damage in his foot and an addiction to painkillers.”

Dent is joined in the lawsuit by a number of other retired NFL players.

The 9th Circuit unanimously overturned U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s dismissal of the original claim; Judge Alsup had earlier ruled that the complaint was preempted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act, which points to players’ collective bargaining agreements for the resolution of disputes.

But Prof. Closius argued before the appeals court that the federal law does not apply, because the procurement of illegal painkillers was not addressed in any agreement. The appeal was affirmed on Sept. 6, just days before the league’s 2018 season got underway.

“The NFL has defended a lot of cases by arguing various preemptions and immunities,” Closius told the Daily Record. “This is the first appellate decision that has gone the other way.”

Read about the case in the Daily Record. (Subscription required.)

Learn more about Prof. Closius.

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Daily Record Looks at How UB, Maryland Law Schools Are Advancing Gender Issues

Angelos Law Center -- photo by April Thiess

Maryland’s two public law schools, including the University of Baltimore School of Law, are spotlighted in a Daily Record article on how gender issues are being advanced during contentious times.

At UB, the school’s Center on Applied Feminism “examines legal issues through the lens of feminist theory.”

Interviewing Margaret Johnson, professor of law and co-director of the center, the newspaper says that “Through scholarship, education, mentorship and advocacy, the center examines how feminist theory can benefit legal practitioners in representing clients, shape legal doctrine and play a role in policy development, as well as how practice develops new feminist theory.”

The center, which has been in existence for more than a decade, has hosted a number of globally prominent leaders to discuss issues of importance to feminism, including Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, the article notes.

UB students “are active in clinical work, working directly on domestic violence cases, as well as legislative advocacy,” the Daily Record says. “In this year’s legislative session, students successfully advocated for a bill that requires menstrual hygiene products and another that requires reproductive health care policies in all Maryland correctional facilities. Previously, students successfully advocated for a bill that provides housing rights for persons subjected to domestic violence.”

“This is a time when gender issues have been at the forefront of our national conversation,” Prof. Johnson notes. “The center is a place that gives a voice and space to discuss and consider these issues and how they will impact students as legal professionals.”

Read the article. (Subscription required.)

Learn more about the University of Baltimore’s Center on Applied Feminism.

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Prof. Wehle: Many Are ‘Traumatized’ by Supreme Court Vetting Process

Professor Kimberly Brown

Speaking on NPR, Kimberly Wehle, professor in the University of Baltimore School of Law and a former U.S. Department of Justice colleague of U.S. Supreme Court nominee  Brett Kavanaugh, says the complicated process for the Senate’s vetting of a nominee—complete with an avalanche of redacted papers, witness testimony and a hearing format that seems to encourage theatricality at the expense of insight—is simply not workable. In fact, she says, it’s “traumatizing.”

The process of vetting, nominating and confirming a Supreme Court justice, Prof. Wehle says,  is “a structural problem that compromises people’s buy-in to the ultimate confirmation.” This is a problem for Judge Kavanaugh—a nominee with a long track record of work in front of and behind the scenes in American politics and justice—and for the Supreme Court itself.

“We’re in an era where a lot of people are traumatized by this process and it would be good for the country to draw some boundaries there,” Prof. Wehle says.

She points to the continuing question of whether Kavanaugh, if he were appointed to the Supreme Court, would affirm President Trump’s assertion that he could “pardon himself,” and thus avoid a criminal case, e.g., some outcome of the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re living in extraordinary times; as much as all of these issues are important, the notion of an imperial presidency is front and center right now,” Prof. Wehle says.

Listen to the NPR interview.

Learn more about Prof. Wehle.

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Prof. Koller Considers Rising Popularity of Flag Football in Essay for Aspen Institute

Professor Dionne KollerIn an essay for The Aspen Institute, Dionne Koller, University of Baltimore School of Law professor, associate dean and director of the school’s Center for Sport and the Law, says that the rise of flag football in Baltimore’s youth sports culture stands at the intersection of several debates concerning sports and young people: gender equality, personal safety, and the overall popularity of competitive athletic behavior.

“While flag football cannot fully solve our Title IX or football concussion problems, the game does provide a useful lens for considering the types of solutions that can increase access to and interest in sports for all children,” Prof. Koller writes, in a piece titled “What Flag Football Can Teach Baltimore About Improving Youth Sports.”

“Aside from flag football’s role as a possible Title IX fix or a safer alternative to the tackle game, there are important lessons to be learned from its growing popularity. First is that flag football is far less expensive than tackle football and many other sports with heavy equipment, coaching, and insurance costs. These costs are barriers for schools and parents and serve to keep kids on the sidelines. The growth of flag football despite its relatively modest cost shows that kids can be active and engaged with a game that anyone with access to a grassy field can play.

“Second is that flag football provides an opportunity for inclusiveness that many other sports do not. Girls and boys can safely play the game together, making scheduling and allocation of fields far easier for schools. Children of varying abilities and body types can also play, increasing the possibilities for getting kids into the game who previously were not active.”

Read the essay.

Learn more about Prof. Koller.

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CFCC Conducts Study on Implementing a Unified Family Court Pilot Initiative in Douglas County, Neb.

The University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) is providing training, technical assistance, and guidance on a court improvement project in Douglas County, Neb., to evaluate the possibility of implementing a Unified Family Court pilot initiative. The study includes a review of court operations, site visits by CFCC to Nebraska, a stakeholders’ survey and forum, and visits to Maryland family courts by Nebraska court officials.


CFCC Director Barbara A. Babb, Senior Fellow Gloria Danziger, and consultant Diane Nunn led the stakeholders’ forum in Omaha on Aug. 13. The site visits to Maryland courts by the Nebraska delegation are coming up, Aug. 27-28. Maryland courts instituted five family divisions in its largest counties in 1998 to improve outcomes for families and children involved in court matters.

“The forum exceeded our expectations,” Babb, a professor in the UB School of Law, said. “Nearly 80 people attended. They represented Douglas County, local and state court officials, and independent organizations providing services to families and children. We were thrilled to have Nebraska Chief Justice Michael Heavican involved. In our experience, judicial leadership is key in achieving transformational change in court systems. Seven breakout sessions also gave participants a voice and us a clear understanding of their interests and concerns.”

The Nebraska delegation visiting Maryland will tour, observe, and meet with judges and administrators in the Baltimore City Family Division, Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, and Anne Arundel County Family Division. They also will meet with Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals, State Court Administrator Pamela Harris, and other court administrators.

CFCC has been a leader in family justice system reform since its founding in 2000. Prof. Babb is a frequent speaker at national and international levels on unified family courts and family law decision-making. Her scholarship focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to family law through the application of therapeutic jurisprudence and an ecological/holistic perspective.

Learn more about unified family courts.

Prof. Babb also serves as editor-in-chief of the Family Court Review, the scholarly journal of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

For more information on the Nebraska project or CFCC’s other work, contact Barbara Babb at or 410.837.5661.

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Prof. Wehle Delivers a Clear Message: The Rule of Law is in Danger

Professor Kimberly Brown

Kimberly Wehle, professor in the University School of Law and a former official in the U.S. Department of Justice, is on a mission. It’s not a mission with an easily articulated goal: Win the argument. Defeat the enemy. Take the territory. Instead, with an organic purposefulness that only happens when a passionate, skilled individual sets her mind to something, Prof. Wehle has become a leading voice in a national, even global, conversation about the growing concern that the tenets of American democracy, articulated in the U.S. Constitution, are becoming frayed.

Her voice is everywhere—CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the major broadcast networks—on an increasingly routine basis. In one day, she had major appearances on both NBC and NPR. Next spring, she’ll publish a book, Debatable: A How-To Guide to the Constitution. What Wehle is saying, just as routinely but also consistently, is that the American government is ceding its role as the guardian of these democratic principles. Between the White House, the Congress, and the judiciary, a strange kind of authoritarianism is worming its way into our system. With 10 years of teaching and scholarship at UB, and prior experience as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, as a law clerk to a federal judge, and as an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, Wehle is delivering a strong message that the country is in trouble.

“It’s not political,” she says. “It could be Republicans or Democrats doing it—it doesn’t matter. The rule of law is under attack. I never set out to do this, but I feel almost a spiritual determination to speak. The constitutional viability of the country is at stake.”

The School of Law’s Updates blog recently talked with Prof. Wehle about her rising profile in mainstream media, and where she thinks this slowly unfolding crisis is heading. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How did this media work start for you?

I was sitting at home one Sunday, and I read this piece in the New York Times that stated, authoritatively, “The president’s power to pardon is absolute.” That’s inaccurate. I knew that wasn’t right because I’ve done work in that area—and because the law is grey.  It’s rarely black and white. I couldn’t let it go. So I wrote an op-ed that was published in The Baltimore Sun that argued against that point of view. Then I started to write more, on my own. I wrote for The Hill in D.C. I’ve done several pieces for that publication. Then local radio picked up on some of that work—WBAL and WTOP. I was interviewed a couple of times there. Then a producer at CBS heard me and got in touch. Paula Reid, their justice correspondent, interviewed me. I can speak with some authority on constitutional matters, on federal courts and so on. It’s just taken off from there.

It’s fair to say that you are a frequent guest on a lot of major news shows—you’ve been queried by everybody from Wolf Blitzer to NPR’s Rachel Martin, and plenty in between. Do you have an agent? How are you managing all of these invitations?

I’m keeping my own calendar these days. I don’t say yes to everything. Teaching is still number one for me, but I feel like I’m doing an important public service. The rule of law is under attack by this White House, and the Congress is abdicating its oversight role. Many people who speak in the media don’t have particularly deep expertise in constitutional law and constitutional theory. But nowadays that kind of thing is on the front page of every newspaper—activist vs. originalist judges, for example—and few people understand the theoretical complexities that go into that. Still, regular people cast votes on these things, and giving clarity to the truth around them is what motivates me. Sometimes I stop for a minute—it’s stunning to me that I’m in this position, but then I remind myself that it is a tremendous privilege. I didn’t plan for this in my life.

You’ve met some high-profile figures in talking about the Trump White House, the Mueller investigation, and so on—John Dean, David Gergen, Donna Edwards.

Yes. What I’ve noticed is that we’re all talking about the same thing: upholding the rule of law. The public officials involved in these matters, like Rod Rosenstein, who I’ve known for years, are after the same thing. These officials don’t have press secretaries, people lining them up for interviews. They are not in it for money or fame. They’re doing the work. And it’s hard work.

How would you describe what is happening in the government? Is our democracy truly under threat?

I can speak with some authority on this. I’m not concerned with the politics of the day, or Trump’s latest Tweet. I am concerned about accountability. We are moving into a tyrannical state, and that’s not good for anybody. When it comes to the Constitution, there is no “cop on the block.” It’s like a contract to renovate a kitchen. If the contractor walks off the job, he gets to keep the down payment unless the homeowner goes to court to enforce the contract. The Constitution is similar. It contains rules that bind our government. But in order for the rules to mean anything, the Constitution must be enforced—otherwise it’s just a piece of paper. Right now, it seems like a lot of people in the government, elected people, are afraid to do their jobs under the Constitution. Suddenly, the viability of our democracy is at stake. I think we need to press the red button on that viability—it’s in danger right now.

Let’s say the rule of law is bending. Where does that lead us as a nation?

We’re a young country. We don’t know. But historically, what we’re seeing are the ways that a democracy can fall apart. Attacks on critics, violent language, ignoring the rule of law. All of these tactics lead to tyranny. Our job, as lawyers and legal educators, is to provide measured, informed answers when people ask alarming questions like, “Can he do that? Can they get away with that?” Well, he can, they can—if there are no consequences. If you have a child, and you make a rule, “No eating in the living room,” that’s your rule and the children know they have to follow it. But if one day you say, “OK, just this once, you can eat in the living room,” then that rule is just broken. It’s lost its force and validity. The child knows it instantly. That’s what so many of us see happening at the top echelons of the executive branch, as well.

Your way of articulating that rule of law argument—that once you break it, it’s gone —is straightforward and powerful. That has to be a reason why so many TV producers want you on their shows.

I have this voice, and I have to use it. It’s almost a spiritual thing for me. In my teaching, I tie the law to day-to-day life and current events all the time. My students appreciate that. They integrate it and carry it with them.

With so much uncertainty out there in 2018, what are you telling people to do? We can listen and try to understand what you’re saying, but there must be more.

Educate yourself. Every person has to do more, and learn more, about how democracy works. Get to know your Constitution. And you have to vote. Voting is what works.

Several of  Prof. Wehle’s media appearance are available on her website.

Learn more about Prof. Wehle.

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