Inside Being A Public Policy Major

By Brooke LePage ’19

Contributing Writer

Brooke LePage ’19 poses in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington.

Public policy and law is one of the more popular majors on Trinity’s campus. But, what exactly is it and how is it different from political science?

Before coming to Trinity and becoming a public policy major, I asked myself all of these questions. I would soon learn that public policy and law is an interdisciplinary version of political science. This means that rather than only taking public policy courses, students take approved courses in various departments to complete their requirements in order to be successful in fields relating to policy, law, or non-profit organizations and advocacy.

The major starts off with core classes such as “Introduction to American Public Policy,” “Fundamentals of American Law,” “Research & Evaluation,” and “Law, Argument & Public Policy.” Beyond these core classes found in the Public Policy Department, students are given general requirements such as ethics, quantitative, or legal history, which allows them to take courses in departments such as political science; women, gender, and sexuality; and economics.

The benefit of the public policy and law major, much like that of liberal arts schools in general, is that students are learning a variety of skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking in various disciplines. The result: students graduate with a large toolkit of skills and abilities.

Another key component of the major is the internship requirement. This can be fulfilled through Trinity’s Legislative Internship Program, or through any other relevant internship in Hartford. This requirement puts students in good standing to get summer internships or jobs after graduation.

I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., on the Washington Semester Program through American University. This study-away experience included an internship component. In addition to taking classes, exploring the city, meeting and hearing from supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I spent my semester interning in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs (OLCA) at the U.S. Department of Education. During my internship, my work was focused on higher education policy.

Public policy and law majors pick a concentration within the major in order to tailor their studies and show preference and expertise in an area of policy. These concentrations range from law and society to education policy or urban policy. Ultimately, the concentration component acts as a built-in minor for the program.

Public policy and law students can be found burning the midnight oil reading and writing case briefs, policy memos, or preparing for an oral argument. They are a dedicated group of students who enjoy the library, the cookies Professor Fulco often brings to class, Mock Trial, and avoiding their science requirement for the college like the plague.

Ever since I attended the public policy and law open house before choosing to attend Trinity, the program has felt like a family. The students bond by taking the core classes together and working on projects such as the public policy blog, The Policy Voice, to showcase the program. The public policy professors are witty, insightful, experts in their fields, and care about their students.

I am grateful that I was able to find a program that allows me to take classes in various disciplines in order to learn many skills that are valuable in the policy, law, and non-profit job markets. I am also grateful for my fellow public policy majors and professors for becoming my family away from home.

This post originally appeared on the Trinity College Admissions Blog, where Brooke is also a contributor. 

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Shaun Casey, Former Religion Advisor to John Kerry, Visits Trinity

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-In-Chief

Shaun Casey is the Director of the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, a professor of the practice at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, and the former head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. Casey is also the author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon.

Shaun Casey, former head of the State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, speaks while Secretary of State John Kerry looks on.

 

This year, Shaun Casey is the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for Religion in Public Life Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Casey has spoken to classes throughout the week and spoke during a lecture on Tuesday to Trinity students and faculty on the development and treatment of religion and diplomacy under former President Barrack Obama and current President Donald J. Trump. Specifically, Casey shared reflections of how religion was addressed under John Kerry’s State Department, where he was the head of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.

In addressing his own history, Casey described his advising of Kerry on religion following his loss in the 2004 Presidential campaign. Casey maintained his relationship with Kerry and, in 2013, was invited to launch the Office, which was made possible through executive orders passed under the Bush administration and expanded under the Obama administration. At this time, Casey was given National Security permission from the White House to engage religious officials worldwide in diplomatic endeavors and was subsequently tasked with advising the 70,000 staff members of the State Department on religious questions worldwide.

Casey described these first days as “some of the most daunting” of his life. Casey characterized the disarray of his beginnings by describing his office: at first, he said, he “had a desk, telephone, a nonfunctional computer, and a wastebasket.” His first action was to hire a chief of staff and begin to recognize what issues existed in the State Department’s understandings on religion.

Thereafter, he recognized that foreign agents had outstanding ability with respect to being able to “understand regional politics, business, economics, and history,” but fundamentally lacked a working knowledge on religion. Casey attributed this to a deficit of “energy and reward” for understanding religion in a diplomatic context.

After identifying the deficiencies, Casey sought to gain trust and thereafter built relationships with the Assistant Secretaries of the six different world regions, working with them to identify how religion could be co-opted into their various strategies. Eventually, said Casey, the concreate benefits that could be attained by adding religion to their “strategic initiatives helped them get over their initial reticence.”

Casey cited three reasons why religion is a fundamental component of diplomacy, viz: “religion is a powerful force across the world and is neither always good nor always bad”; “if you make mistakes in misunderstanding religion, it can be extreme costly”; and “religion is diabolically complicated.” Casey cited as an example the 2003 Invasion of Iraq as an incident where fundamental misunderstandings on religion contributed to costly outcomes. Casey also emphasized that the complicated nature and divisions of religion make it an issue that can be best managed on a regional level.

He also cited some of the public policy and regional issues that his Office sought to address, noting the following as critical during his tenure:

  • Israel/Palestine Conflict
  • Myanmar
  • Cyprus and conflicts between the Muslim north and the Greek Orthodox south.
  • Ukraine
  • Iraq

Casey described in detail his work on the Israel-Palestine conflict, describing how the interactions his Office undertook were the first of their kind, noting the surprise as one leader told Casey that he had been “waiting for you for 40 years.” Casey described the process as tense but added that it was critical that he “go to the region and engage Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders in an open discussion of their opinions.” Casey’s office continued to urge all sides to speak candidly about their positions and added that the “leaders were happy that someone understood their community.”

In discussing another key policy development, Casey described his work with refugees. Casey worked closely with the nine organizations that handle refugee resettlement, noting that six of them were religiously affiliated. While touring these organizations, Casey witnessed a “new form of interreligious dialogue,” but was also witness to the difficulties refugees face, noting that one man “feared for his family while walking on the sidewalk as a result of his Muslim identity.” Casey described this experience as rewarding and enlightening.

On the Trump era, Casey stressed the significance of a lack of a “coherent doctrinal strategy” and noted that his office had been discontinued under the present administration. Further, he noted the public policy conundrum formed by President Trump’s declaration that “we are not going to tell [Saudi Arabia] how to run your country.” Casey also touched upon Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, remarking that it effectively leaves the “two-state solution hanging by a thread.” Casey noted that the loss of his Office is especially troubling in light of increasing “public and violent incidences of antisemitism.” He also noted the instability of North Korea and its proximity to the major Christian nation of South Korea as well as the instability of the religious regime in Iran.

Further, Casey touched upon the increasing deference to Christian fundamentalism under the Trump administration but added that he nevertheless remains hopeful that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives may reappear in the future.

Casey’s reflection indeed leaves us with much to consider. How do we understand the significance of religious affairs in diplomacy? In what ways does the disappearance of this office reduce America’s bargaining power? How does religion shape fundamental relationships between countries and regions?

As Casey reminds us, “religion is a driver of change, religious actors transact that change, and religious leaders are at the frontline of continuing that change.” In this way, religion is indeed an indispensable component of the diplomatic process.

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Meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Brooke LePage ’19

Contributing Writer

My name is Brooke LePage and I am a rising Public Policy & Law major at Trinity College. This fall, I am partaking in a Washington Semester Program through American University.

Through this program, I am taking an American Politics I Seminar, an elective course called Political Communication, and interning three days a week at the United States Department of Education in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. There are four interns in my office and each of us has an area of education policy we specialize in. Inspired by the Public Policy and Law Title IX course I took at Trinity last fall, my focus area is higher education policy.

Both of my classes are not lectures. Rather, they are a mix of lecture, seminar-style discussions, and guest speakers. On October 17th, my American Politics I Seminar had the pleasure of going to the United States Supreme Court where Justice Ginsburg was our class guest speaker. How my professor—along with the professor of the Justice & Law Seminar—was able to organize this incredible opportunity for us, I will never know.

Justice Ginsburg spoke to us in the East Conference room of the Supreme Court. Everything in that room, from the divine ceiling to the windows overlooking a terrace garden, was magnificent. My class of 20 students from colleges across the country, along with the 20 students from the Justice & Law Seminar, sat perched in our seats waiting for Justice Ginsburg to arrive.

We were nervous and excited at the same time. We all stood as she entered the room. After telling us to be seated, she began talking about all of the portraits of a few past Chief Justices around the room. Finally, she told us she would take three questions which she later extended to four.

Each student had a question prepared, yet we were all extremely nervous to stand up, introduce ourselves, and ask one of the greatest legal minds a question. Knowing that I was in the front row and had a good chance to be picked and that I would always regret if I did not raise my hand, I shot my arm in the air. I ended up being one of the four people that got to ask Justice Ginsburg a question.

Due to my interests, I knew that I wanted to ask her a question about Title IX. More specifically, I wanted to ask her about due process, or lack thereof, during Title IX investigations on college campuses. Yet, because we could not ask anything too recent, I had to scale my question back. I ended up asking Justice Ginsburg how one applies intermediate scrutiny to a Title IX investigation—a question my professor helped me craft.

Ultimately, I wish I could say that I remember asking my question. The second I stood up, I was full of such adrenaline and awe, that all of my thoughts went out the window. My classmates say I was poised and my question was coherent but I am merely taking their word on that. Through my question and another of the other three students, Justice Ginsburg talked about how gender discrimination and the role of women in law has changed so greatly over time.

I am so grateful that I took part in the Washington Semester Program. I am even more grateful that Trinity’s Public Policy & Law program made me confident enough to sit in the front row, raise my hand, and ask a Supreme Court Justice a legal question.

The podium wherefrom Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke to Brooke and other students.

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Six Public Policy & Law Majors Raise Over $7,000 for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in Honor of Professor Cabot’s Retirement

In October 2015, students of Ned Cabot, an Associate Professor who helped to found Trinity’s Public Policy & Law program, were surprised to learn that he was retiring, effective immediately. Many were anticipating enrollment in Cabot’s PBPL 202: Law, Argument, and Public Policy, one of the major’s foundational courses, or his senior seminar in the Spring semester.

Students thought about how best to show their appreciation for Cabot’s sixteen years of dedicated and inspiring teaching, including Public Policy & Law major and former PBPL 202 teaching assistant Christina Claxton ’16. “Professor Cabot had a profound impact on my education and experience at Trinity,” she said. When I learned of his retirement, I knew I just had to do something to show him my gratitude and to help others express theirs, too.”

With similar feelings about the program’s impactful founding professors and a desire to further help students in the major, graduating Public Policy & Law seniors created the Adrienne Fulco and Edward Cabot Public Policy & Law Fund in 2013. Once it reaches $50,000, it will become an endowed fund and used to support the Public Policy & Law department and its students through senior thesis research grants, guest and alumni lectures, and other resources to supplement the academic portion of the major.

For Claxton and five other seniors from the class of 2016; Ethan Cantor, Claire Hogan, Antonia Lluberes, Julia Mardeusz, and Isabel Monteleone, growing the fund in honor of Professor Cabot’s retirement seemed like a fitting tribute. With the help of Amy Brough, Director of Institutional Support, they launched their first appeal to faculty, staff, alumni, and current students in April with a deadline of May 12, the date of the Public Policy & Law major’s senior dinner, bringing the senior class and Public Policy faculty, including Professor Cabot, together.  Unsure of the reaction they would get and how much money they would be able to raise in little over a month, Antonia Lluberes ’16 said that “…we thought that $2,000 would be a tangible goal to set in the time frame we had. We knew that people were always getting asked to give money to things and that current students didn’t have tons of extra money around to donate.”

Ultimately, the six seniors helped raise over $7,000 for the Fund in his honor from 97 individual donors, most of whom are young alumni and current Trinity students. Towards the end of the senior dinner, the seniors in charge of the campaign surprised Professor Cabot by presenting him with a large check and list of all of the donors from the fundraising campaign. The seniors also enacted an oral argument, a fixture of PBPL 202, for a fake case: Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot, in which it was “found” that Professor Cabot has a constitutional right to retire.

Regarding the reception of the campaign among the Trinity community, Ethan Cantor ’16 said that “we got very positive responses from many of the alumni, current students, and faculty members who we contacted for the campaign. We received several emails recounting how influential Professor Cabot was to alumni’s academic and professional careers. It was a touching and heartening experience to see that so many other people feel the same way about Professor Cabot as we do.” Isabel Monteleone ’16 added: “people really admire Professor Cabot and it was great to see that across the broad spectrum of alumni we reached out to…I think it really speaks to Professor Cabot’s influence in the department, as well as how much Public Policy means to alumni.”

Looking towards the future, students who participated in the fundraising effort hope to see the Fund reach endowment status to begin benefiting students as soon as possible. Lluberes thinks that “with a major that is growing like Public Policy & Law is, to have an endowment fund to pay for guest lecturers and to subsidize unpaid internships and thesis research for students will be another asset of the program. The possibilities of what a fund like this could do for students and the program are endless, but I’m happy to know that we are one step closer to reaching that goal.”

Written by Julia Mardeusz ’16

Professor Cabot receiving the check for the recent fundraising campaign for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in honor of his retirement. From left to right: Edward Cabot, Antonia Lluberes '16, Isabel Monteleone '16, Claire Hogan '16, Julia Mardeusz '16, Christina Claxton '16, Ethan Cantor '16.

Professor Cabot receiving the check for the recent fundraising campaign for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in honor of his retirement. From left to right: Edward Cabot, Antonia Lluberes ’16, Isabel Monteleone ’16, Claire Hogan ’16, Julia Mardeusz ’16, Christina Claxton ’16, Ethan Cantor ’16.

 

The entire Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 posing for a picture along with Professors Mark Silk, Adrienne Fulco, Edward Cabot, Abigail Fisher Williamson, and Rachel Moskowitz.

The entire Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 posing for a picture along with Professors Mark Silk, Adrienne Fulco, Edward Cabot, Abigail Fisher Williamson, and Rachel Moskowitz.

The six seniors in charge of the fundraising campaign performing Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot

The six seniors in charge of the fundraising campaign performing Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot

Professor Adrienne Fulco delivering some prepared remarks about Professor Cabot.

Professor Adrienne Fulco delivering some prepared remarks about Professor Cabot.

Professor Cabot speaking about his time at Trinity and sharing advice with the Class of 2016.

Professor Cabot speaking about his time at Trinity and delivering advice to the Class of 2016.

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Obamacare’s Contraception Mandate, Post-Scalia

This article was written by Christina Claxton ’16 and was published by Religion in the News, a publication of The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College.

“Uterus is back on the menu at the Supreme Court,” wrote Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick in her November 6 dispatch on the day’s big judicial news. The Supreme Court had agreed to hear a follow-up to Hobby Lobby, the case that established a religious right for “closely held” for-profit companies. This latest “clash between religious freedom claims and the rights of secular Americans” is, Lithwick wrote, “an emblem of what is sure to be one of the biggest themes of the coming years” at the Court.

The new case, Zubik v. Burwell, challenges the accommodation to the Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which health insurance plans must cover contraceptive services for women free of charge. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014)two for-profit corporations seeking an exemption from the mandate on religious grounds were told by the Court said that they were entitled to the same exemption as religious non-profits. The exemption allows these groups to sign a waiver indicating their religious objection to contraceptive coverage, thereby triggering a process by which their insurance company would provide the coverage instead.

Zubik deals with the religious non-profits themselves. Seven of them are claiming that the very act of signing such a waiver puts an undue burden on their free exercise of religion. What they want is the wholesale exemption from the mandate – i.e. no free contraceptive coverage for their employees – that is provided to houses of worship and other organizations whose sole purpose is religious.

Zubik consolidates cases brought on behalf of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life and an array of religiously affiliated schools and colleges, but most public attention has focused on the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that runs more than two dozen nursing homes in the United States. The nuns are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative non-profit law firm specializing in free exercise cases.

Becket also represents two small Baptist universities in Texas that are challenging the mandate, but it gives pride of place on its website to the Little Sisters, and it’s pretty clear why. Sweet elderly nuns fighting for their rights provide better optics for religious liberty than institutions of higher education looking to deny contraceptives to sex-crazed college students.

Coveage of the Court’s decision to take the new case by major news organizations was generally balanced. Adam Liptak of the New York Times gave equal weight to arguments from each side and maintaining neutrality in his own language, as did the Wall Street Journal’s Brent Kendall and Louise Radnofsky. The two papers outlined the challenge’s movement through the lower courts and highlight the main controversies present in the debate.

The Times and the Journal both quoted Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocate on behalf of the government in favor of women’s health rights. They quoted lawyers representing one or more of the non-profits in the case – Mark Rienzi of Becket in the Times, and Greg Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom in the Journal.  The quotes juxtaposed the arguments on either side evenhandedly.

However, in an otherwise balanced report, USA Today’s Richard Wolf let his bias show. The Supreme Court, he declared in his lede, “is about to climb back into Americans’ bedrooms.”  The statement gives the impression that Wolf is opposed to government involvement in private affairs, such as those that take place in the bedroom. It also certainly leaves readers with vivid imagery of what this decision could mean for Americans.

Opinion about this issue has been sharply divided ever since Little Sisters and the other religious non-profits began challenging the ACA mandate back at the end of 2013. At first, there was no accommodation of any kind – the accommodation for religious non-profits was part of final additions to the Affordable Care Act, made in the summer of 2013.

Soon after, Little Sisters filed for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court to exempt them from the accommodation. Appeals courts repeatedly denied the request, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor said yes on New Years Eve, the night before the accommodation rules would go into effect on January 1, 2014.  In the days that followed, journalists on each side of the debate hit the ground running with their coverage of the Little Sisters’ claim.

On the left, writers have been largely content to cite the overwhelming success in appeals courts in their analysis of the claim, as well as the stern opposition of the federal government. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches quotedthe government’s declaration that “the Little Sisters have no case”, and that interpreting RFRA to legitimize their claim would be “extraordinary.”

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson likened trying to understand the claim to being “closed into a small room with reflecting walls,” since the Little Sisters have asked for an accommodation to an accommodation. She said, “the suit embodies the irrationally passionate objections to not only Obamacare but also women’s access to contraceptives and, more broadly, reproductive rights.”

On the right, where judicial backing has largely been absent, opinion writers have relied on advocates or their own rhetoric. Ingrid Jacques of the Detroit News announced that the “federal government should leave nuns alone”, shaming the “federal government’s mission to force nuns to violate their faith.”

The National Catholic Register ran an article in September of 2014 whose headline read, “Obama Administration Continues to Target Little Sisters of the Poor.” The article’s author, Adelaide Mena, quoted a variety of Little Sisters supporters, including Adele Keim of Becket. Mena also placed the word “accommodation” in quotations, indicating her distain for the government’s rule.

Since the Court agreed to hear the case, nothing much has changed in journalistic rhetoric.

Opinion writers on the left had nothing good to say. “It doesn’t violate your religious beliefs when the government asks you to declare your religious beliefs so that it can accommodate your religious beliefs,” Jon Green wrote on America Blog. His article features an image of a cross and the iconic Papal headdress superimposed over a picture of a Hobby Lobby store.

In perhaps more sophisticated opposition, Advocate’s Rea Carey makes an argument that echoes the sentiments of those who want to protect the Little Sisters from big government, declaring that “employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.” She goes on to connect the contraception exemption controversy to other civil liberties debates, explaining that allowing religious employers to claim complete exemption to contraception could also lead to similar objections, for example, about PrEP, an anti-HIV drug.

On the other hand, supporters of the challenge frame the issue as a question of “whether the Obama Administration can force employers to violate their religious beliefs.” No satire is present in the supporting coverage – in fact, the language used is often very grave. Ben Johnson of Life Site News explained that the challenge was brought because the accommodation still requires the plaintiffs to violate their conscience and “participate in a process that will give their employees drugs that could take an unborn human being’s life.”

Jonah Hicap of Christianity Today employed more neutral language, but the only quotes he included either favor the Little Sisters or are statements made by the Little Sisters themselves.

At the heart of the case is the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed in 1993 to overturn Unemployment Division v. Smith, a Supreme Court decision that said that neutral laws which apply to everyone cannot be challenged as violating anyone’s religious free exercise. Under RFRA, the federal government must establish that the law in question advances a compelling state interest, and that it achieves that interest by the least restrictive means possible. If it fails to do so, the religious non-profits will win the case.

After a series of seven rulings from federal appeals courts that upheld the validity of the accommodation, opponents won a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in September. With the appeals courts in disagreement, the Supreme Court had effectively no choice but to take the case.

Although oral argument is several weeks away, the central question to be addressed is clear enough: Does the waiver option sufficiently accommodate the free exercise rights of non-profits under RFRA? This question has been thoroughly explored by the appellate judges who have ruled on one or another of the cases.

Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit pointedly rejected the argument that the act of asking not to be required to provide contraceptive care makes an organization “complicit” in providing it. Rather, under the accommodation, “new contracts are created, to which the [religious non-profit] is not a party, between the government and the insurers.” Therefore, in Posner’s view, the accommodation meets the least restrictive means requirement.

By contrast, Judge Roger L. Wollman of the Eighth Circuit found that while the government does have a compelling interest in providing women with free contraceptives, the accommodation does not sufficiently alleviate the burden on religious exercise caused by the contraceptive mandate. Wollman wrote that the government “could provide subsidies, reimbursements, tax credits, or tax deductions to employees, or…the government could pay for the distribution of contraceptives at community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.” There is no evidence to suggest that these alternate options are unattainable, Wollman said, and thus the government has not met the least restrictive means requirement.

At this point, it looks as though the Court will accept the position that, as Wollman conceded, the government has a compelling interest in providing women with free contraceptive coverage. Its decision is thus likely to turn on the question of “least restrictive means,” and how it interprets the claims within the framework of the RFRA conditions.

Prior to the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia February 13, neither side appeared over-confident of the result. Proponents and opponents alike focused their attention on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has provided the swing vote in many recent cases involving the tension between secular rights and religious liberty.

In Hobby Lobby, Kennedy’s concurrence commended the waiver accommodation as a reasonable compromise.  “There are many medical conditions for which pregnancy is contraindicated”, he wrote, explaining that the Court recognizes that “the HHS regulation here at issue furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees.”

He also declared that the arrangement for religious non-profits was indeed a valid means of assuring both religious liberty and women’s access to free contraception: “In these cases the means to reconcile those two priorities are at hand in the existing accommodation the Government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here.”

In other words, Kennedy already appears to have signaled that he sees the accommodation as fulfilling the “least restrictive means” test in reconciling the interest of the government with that of the religious groups. If so, it would mean that, even if Scalia were still on the court, the non-profits would lose their case. If not, the court would almost certainly split 4-4, leaving the various appellate decisions to stand in their respective jurisdictions until justices can take it up again.

Full coverage of important dates, amicus briefs, and the petitions involved can be found at SCOTUSBlogOral argument is scheduled for March 23 with a decision expected in June.

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From Paris, Lessons for Hartford

Each time I hear our presidential candidates argue over how to combat the threats of ISIS-inspired terrorism and immigrant minorities, I am reminded of how Parisians and I lived with these two problems over the last few months. And now that I am living back in Hartford, I see common themes in the French dilemma and ours in this city.

In two weeks, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will work on a strategy to defeat ISIS with 27 of his European and Middle Eastern counterparts. That meeting in Brussels will focus on how to dislodge ISIS from territory it controls. Just as important is the threat of home-grown terrorists who draw inspiration or direct orders from fanatics abroad.

Yet we all know that France’s terrorism problem, and ours, cannot be solved by the military alone. Anyone who lived through the Paris terror attacks and France’s strongly anti-immigrant reaction to them, as my fellow college students and I did, knows that they are rooted in a phenomenon far more difficult to the fight than the plotting of radical foreigners. Six of the nine alleged perpetrators of the Paris attacks, according to French authorities, were French citizens. They lived on the outskirts of Paris, just Metro stops away from us, in areas the French call the banlieue, populated largely by people who, like these terrorists, are descendants of immigrants from France’s former colonies, particularly in North Africa.

The perpetrators of the Paris attacks are among the thousands of young people who are tempted by a radical ideology that tells them that French society is rigged against them, that they will always be outsiders, and that the only way out is violence. And now French society debates whether any of these children and grandchildren of immigrants can be trusted, whether any Muslims can be trusted, and whether they are or will ever become truly French. The president of France, Francois Hollande, has gone as far as proposing a law that could strip some of citizenship.

Sound familiar?

Hartford does not have a terrorism problem, but it does have areas of the city that are wracked by poverty, gang violence, drug dealing and abuse, and unemployment, all of which are a manifestation of the same societal failure that Parisians now grapple with. While there may not be any jihadi terrorist collaborators in Hartford recruiting people for ISIS, there are gangs who appeal to the same sense of frustration and exclusion that the residents of the banlieue feel. We have yet to solve the problem of generations of minority populations who, whether descended from African slaves or from more recent waves of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, have experienced decades of discrimination and have come to live in pockets of our cities that are no less socially and economically isolated than the banlieue I saw in Paris.

And just as the far-right French political leader Marine LePen is now calling for a stop to immigration, we have Donald Trump and other presidential candidates calling not only for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, but pledging to round up and expel millions of mainly Latino undocumented immigrants whom he paints, just as some of the French paint their Muslim immigrants, as never quite truly part of our society, even if some have been working and raising families here for years, in some cases decades.

To be clear, the situations in Paris and Harford do have some differences. With the exception of the San Bernadino attacks, the population in the U.S. has not yet been tempted by the jihadis’ perversion of Islam. And it does not seem likely that Harford is going to breed suicide bombers.

However, we should recognize that jihadi terrorism is just the most extreme manifestation of a large and longstanding problem that both Hartford and Paris now face. Here, many young people have been tempted instead by gangs whose argument is similar in its us vs. them message: society is rigged against you, you ‘ll never get a job, the mainstream won’t accept you, the way to succeed is through violence and breaking the law, and the world belongs to he who grabs it.

Both these ideologies are like diseases that spread violence and chaos through these communities, and must be combatted. Law enforcement is part of the solution. But the rest of us can and must do much more to change the environment that helps these groups to thrive.

First, we must believe that all our fellow citizens deserve a chance to join the mainstream, and that they can succeed.

To reduce the marginalization of Latino and other minority communities in Hartford we need more youth-focused programs and afterschool activities so that children are exposed to positive role models and find safe ways to spend their afternoons. At a time when city and state budgets are tight, Hartford’s university students could play a significant role. I personally saw the effect a college-age mentor can have when I worked with middle schools students at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy on Broad Street. All three of the Hartford area universities should commit to having a majority of their students become engaged with communities in need.

A critical challenge that many people in the community face is getting a first job. Hartford businesses should launch internship and apprenticeship programs that specifically target disadvantaged young people.

The City of Hartford, for its part, should provide appropriate career counseling services similar to the kind my fellow students and I receive at our college. Since high school I have had access to adults who encouraged and believed in me, who could help with creating a resume, interview preparation, and job skills, and I have them to thank for first jobs and internships. Extending the network of those of us who live by networks to Hartford kids will at least give them the message that there is a way in, and a way up and out.

Finally, as Americans we must remind ourselves, as the French have had to do this fall and winter, that our fear and anger towards immigrant and Muslim communities is misdirected. Following the attacks in Paris, Muslims in their communities shouldered much of the blame. I was one of hundreds of college students in Paris, both French and foreign, who decried the labeling of all French Muslims as potential terrorists.

Among my fellow students at Sciences Po, where a noticeable number of students come from Muslim-majority countries, it became obvious that it made no sense to categorize my Muslim peers as potential terrorists. Yet it was impossible to ignore how strongly certain French politicians disagreed with our view. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, argued that France should shut its borders to immigrants and close radical mosques.

Both in France and in the United States, we must not give in to panic and fear of people whom we really don’t know. Instead, the citizens of Harford and its suburbs, the city’s businesses and its colleges, and the state political leadership that works here, must commit to action to combat the social and economic ills that plague both Paris and Hartford. We shouldn’t need more extreme violence to open our eyes and get us involved.

Clara Abramson, who just completed four months of study at Sciences Po in Paris, is a Public Policy and French major at Trinity College in Hartford. The abridged version of this article published in the Hartford Courant can be found here

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