Courtside

On March 19, Graham Boyd, a New Haven-based lawyer for the American Civil
Liberties Union, went to court. Not just any court. He represented Lindsay
Earls before the Supreme Court of the United States. When Earls, now a freshman
at Dartmouth, was a sophomore at Tecumseh High School in Oklahoma, she was
required as a member of the after-school choir to give a urine sample to
check for marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and steroids. Earls filed suit against
the school board that had ordered the test, claiming it was an infringement
of her constitutional rights. The aclu took her case, and it slowly percolated
through the judicial system, ending up in the Supreme Court.

At five o’clock that morning, I stood shivering under a dark morning sky;
I could just make out the words "Equal Justice Under The Law"
glaring down at me. The argument was scheduled to begin at 10 am, but public
tickets were given out on a first come, first served basis. I had five hours
to wait.

Boyd, who graduated from Yale College in 1987 and Yale Law School in 1992,
oversees the aclu’s Drug Policy Litigation Project out of its New Haven
office. This case, Board of Education v. Earls, Number 01-332, seemed simple.
Boyd would argue that testing students just because they are involved in
extracurricular activities is a violation of a provision of the Fourth Amendment-the
right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. What made the case
more complicated, however, was that Tecumseh High School’s policy seemed
only a modest expansion of a drug testing policy approved in a 1995 case.
Then, the Supreme Court had ruled that high school athletes in Vernonia,
Oregon, could be required to submit to mandatory drug tests. But in Vernonia
there was evidence of widespread drug use among athletes. At Tecumseh, there
was no such evidence: Only five of 500 students tested in recent years have
shown up positive for drug use. In fact, students involved in an extracurricular
activity like choir seemed even less likely than the general population
to be using drugs-a key point in Boyd’s argument.

A few minutes after ten, a dull buzzing noise filled the court’s main chamber,
and a hush settled over the observers and litigants. The Crier swung his
gavel down on a wooden block. We all stood as he announced, "The honorable,
the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the
United States. Oyez, oyez, oyez." From behind the flowing curtains,
the justices emerged in unison, clad in long black gowns. The simultaneous
low buzz, whoosh of the curtain, and sudden appearance of nine of the most
influential people in the world was overwhelming. I felt like I was watching
a play, everything scripted and performed a thousand times before.

As soon as Linda Meoli, the lawyer representing the Independent School
District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, began her argument, I
realized this performance would not go as planned. Before Meoli could get
out a sentence, Justice O’Connor broke in with an unrelated question. Then
Justice Souter noted that the Tecumseh school district has shown a very
low incidence of drug use, to which Justice Rehnquist caustically replied
on Meoli’s behalf, "The existence of the policy might be expected to
deter drug use, wouldn’t it?" Justice Ginsberg, in a slow and roundabout
response, drew a crucial distinction between the last drug testing case
and this one. Through it all, the argument was easy to follow; the questions
were supremely logical and free of legalese, based on straightforward common
sense.

Boyd took the podium after an intense half-hour of argument dominated by
questions from Meoli’s opponents on the bench. The justices that laid low
during Meoli’s argument sprang to life when Boyd approached the podium.
Scalia brought his chair to its upright position, Kennedy stared intensely,
and Rehnquist’s eyes flashed red. (Only Justice Thomas, his undivided attention
apparently devoted to the ceiling, remained aloof during both arguments.)
At points during Boyd’s argument, intensity grew to anger. Kennedy, presenting
to Boyd a hypothetical scenario, referred to a school that did not test
for drugs as "the druggie school." "No parent," he continued,
"would send a child to that school-except maybe your client."
This personal attack seemed strangely out of line, especially since Earls
had tested negative for drug use.Both sides finished, and I descended from
the highest court in the land in a daze.

Both lawyers had endured a mental firing squad of the sharpest shooters
in the country; just watching took it out of me. From the sea of supporters
for both sides, I watched Lindsay Earls, my age exactly, walk down the front
steps of the Supreme Court, the words "Equal Justice Under the Law"
looming above her. Something clicked. Equal justice means accessible justice.
Lindsey Earls, a regular teenager from a small town in Oklahoma had a problem
with the way her school conducted business, and it turned out to be important
enough for the most influential judicial figures in the world to puzzle
through.

The Court will release its ruling on her case this summer.

 


Damn the Man
by Victoria Truscheit

 

"Very very few students . . . who come through social programs at
Dwight Hall go on to jobs and careers that affect the social conditions
in the community of New Haven or any other community, as far as I know,"
George Edwards says as he sits in the Dwight Hall common room. 37 years
ago, Edwards was on campus for the first time in this very room, jolting
Yalies out of their wide-eyed stupor at a Students for a Democratic Society
meeting. He’s been around ever since, but that’s made him no less pissed
off.

Edwards is proud to be a pain in the ass, continually bothering institutions
like Yale and the city government. His criticism of Yale’s community-related
programs is biting. "You look at the last 35 years, and there’s a serious
march to power at Yale to take almost total control of the institutional
power … in the city of New Haven. I don’t think it looks good for the
future of the power of the people in this city."

He recalls his first days in New Haven with pride. "I think what I
had to say then was quite shocking to the persons present because I was
advocating armed struggle as a revolutionary thrust, and that was frightening
-even my presence while I was talking." He has agitated, demonstrated,
and been arrested countless times in the past three decades as a Black Panther
and advocate for social justice. Edwards and his friends used to barge into
New Haven public schools, demanding inclusion of black studies in the curriculum.
They called themselves the Angry Young Black Men.

Today, such tactics seem inappropriate to some. "People say I’m antiquated,
I should shut up, retire, don’t come to this meeting, oh there he goes again,
here he comes again, oh my God he’s got something to say, he’s gonna say
something, he’s gonna upstage everybody." Edwards does not refute those
accusations. He does not seem to mind them. "I think that I would be
absolutely mad if I didn’t activate or give something back. I know that
I would. I probably wouldn’t even be sitting here-I’d probably be dead."
For Edwards, activism is not a hobby, but an identity.

He has not budged from his revolutionary mindset; that is obvious in his
every word. He is convinced that the World Trade Center bombing was an "inside
job." He carries around anti-war propaganda, slapping posters on bulletin
boards and greeting students he knows with a kind word. Speaking to Edwards
sends you back to 1970-to a much older, tenser New Haven.

For nearly as long as Edwards has been an activist, Yale students have
written senior essays, seminar papers, and journalistic accounts of New
Haven-and George Edwards-in the late sixties. But Edwards can’t think of
himself as a historical figure. He is reticent about his role in the famous
trial of Bobby Seale, preferring to talk philosophy. I am sitting face to
face with a living, reluctant historical document. Though he is willing
to help students with their scholarly analysis, he does not distinguish
what he has lived through from what he is living now. Students, decades
removed from Edwards’ Panther years, make a distinction between then and
now. Edwards does not.

Edwards is still doing what he’s always done. His message hasn’t changed
since his days as a Panther: Stop exploiting us! His cynicism has grown
from direct interaction with Yale and the New Haven political machine, and
the short attention span of Yale activists infuriates him. "I’ve seen
infiltrators that get acknowledged as the activist student heroes, and ten
years later, they cut the long hair, take off the ragged jeans and sneakers.
They have two or three degrees from the university, and they’re in the office,
suit and tie, giving orders as an administrator. Case in point: Mike Morand.
He was the leading anti-apartheid student activist. He’s almost Secretary
of the University. You wouldn’t know Mike Morand now from the Mike Morand
of ’84, ’85, ’86. It’s like a chameleon."

Yale student activists recognize and even agree with Edwards’ concerns,
but hardly ever implicate themselves as sellouts. "I would guess there
are some of us who don’t [sell out]. But without a doubt, many of us will
go on to work in banking, consulting, industry, finance, hi-tech, or corporate
law," says Justin Ruben, a Forestry student active in anti-globalization
efforts who has spoken with Edwards about his own work.

Despite their differences, Yalies keep coming back to Edwards, and Edwards
keeps coming back to them. Through the course of our discussion, Edwards
softens his tone. "I’ve had community people, white and black, tell
me, ‘Why are you wasting your time with Yale students?’ … but how can
you denounce Yale students for being involved? People have studies, they
have their own lives, they’re young- you have to put things in perspective."

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