Observations On The Bizarre Slavery Photo Lawsuit Against Harvard

It would be nice if this grandstanding lawsuit engineered by professional race-baiting lawyer Benjamin Crump was summarily thrown out of court as the junk it is, but unfortunately, too many judges, when woke sentiment beckons, bend over backwards so far that they can lick their heels.

Here is the gist of it:

Tamara Lanier filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts claiming that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, two slaves who were the subjects of a harsh photo session as part of an anthropological inquiry into the differences between blacks and whites. The images of the father and daughter were commissioned by renowned  Harvard professor Louis Agassiz 170 years ago,  and are now stored in  the ancient Peabody  museum on the Harvard campus. (Full disclosure: I love the place, and spent many afternoons as a kid wandering through the exhibits.)  The lawsuit claims the images are the “spoils of theft,” because as slaves Renty and Delia were unable to give consent to being photographed., and that Harvard is illegally profiting from the images by using them for “advertising and commercial purposes.” By keeping the photos, the lawsuit claims, Harvard has perpetuated the hallmarks of slavery that prevented African-Americans from holding, conveying or inheriting personal property.

Observations:

  • I’m sure—aren’t you?— that Mrs. Laneir came up with this wild Hail Mary lawsuit all by herself. Her lawyer, as I already note, is Benjamin Crump, a legal racial shake-down artist who excels at creating public pressure that forces defendants to pay copious settlement money to his clients who often don’t deserve it. He represented the family of Trayvon Martin, and in so doing poisoned the public narrative so thoroughly that the actual facts of Martin’s death are permanently distorted in the nation’s collective memory. he represented the parents of Michael Brown, ensuring them a big pay-off because their angelic son charged a police officers and got himself shot. Ben Crump helped promote “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” the lie that is still poisoning race-relations to this day. He’s a mission lawyer, someone who uses the law to pursue an agenda: he is to race relations what Gloria Allred is to feminism. He profits by stirring up discord, whether there’s really an injustice or not.

That doesn’t mean that some of his crusades won’t have merit. I only means that there is just cause for suspicion if he is involved.

  • “It is unprecedented in terms of legal theory and reclaiming property that was wrongfully taken,” Crump says. I guess that’s one way of putting it. It’s unprecedented because no previous lawyer had the gall to try such a stunt, but with Democrats and progressives beating the hollow reparations drum again, he cleverly chose a good time to take a flyer. “I keep thinking, tongue in cheek a little bit, this has been 169 years a slave, and Harvard still won’t free Papa Renty,” said  Crump. Good one, Ben! Except that Renty is long dead, and a photograph isn’t a human being…

Yet give him some credit:  Crump is explaining why this isn’t a technically frivolous law suit. If a litigant and the litigant’s lawyer are arguing for a new legal principle, knowing that under existing law the claim is dead, then the action isn’t frivolous. Horrible and dangerous Crump’s lawsuit is; frivolous it isn’t.

  • Harvard and other universities set themselves up for this by caving to historical airbrushing demands by the students they have helped indoctrinate, such as when Georgetown University established a policy giving an edge  n admissions to descendants of slaves who were sold to fund the school. I would say they have this coming and let them sleep on the bed of nails their laziness and cowardice has made, but therein lies a real danger. Harvard, which of late has been devising and defending one bad progressive idea after another (like discriminating against Asian Americans as Harvard’s own way of helping African Americans get admitted to the college), might just decide to be woke rather than responsible, and let Mrs. Lanier take the photos, thus setting a precedent with endless potential to cause havoc.

I wouldn’t bet against it.

  • Lanier’s (that is, Crump’s) lawsuit is an extension of the Mao/Soviet Union -style historical airbrushing and re-writing tool of social change that  21st Century progressives have adopted as they march inexorably toward beneficent totalitarianism. If we don’t like the laws our ancestors put in place, let’s just declare that  they weren’t laws at all. If applying legal principles that have been in place and effective for hundreds of years doesn’t assist the social change we desire, than suspend those principles. Make the law a subject to “the ends justifies the means” whenever it’s convenient.

I’m sorry to be blunt, but if you don’t comprehend the existential danger inherent in this approach, you’re an idiot.

  • Legal problems? What legal problems? Well, let’s see: 1) Renty’s lack of consent to the photos is irrelevant, because under the laws of the time, he had no right to consent. That may be unfair, and wrong, and cruel, and horrifying, but the way society works is that laws, even bad ones, are valid until they are repealed and replaced. Without that certainty, no law can function, and the rule of law becomes impossible. 2) The theory that Harvard is profiting from slavery because of the value of its photograph of a slave would mean that the owners would be profiting from war crimes because of the value of a photograph like this…

(And no, I don’t think those half-dead Andersonville prisoners were capable of giving meaningful and valid consent to be photographed either.) The lawsuit is designed to open the door to censorship of history and historical records that “offend” anybody. 3) The distant relatives of the subject of a photograph are the real owners of the photograph, not the photographer, and not the individual who commissioned the photograph, even if the original subject  gave legally valid consent to be photographed or received compensation for such a photograph if a court at any time in the future deems that such consent was invalid under current law, or the compensation is similarly deemed inadequate.

Brilliant.

4) If this theory prevails, then wouldn’t Ken Burns, and PBS, and everyone who profited from showing Burns’ “The Civil War” be required to pay damages for “profiting” from the use of slave photos similarly taken without consent? Would that segment of the documentary, which is crucial to Burn;s narrative, have to be excised?

  • Then there’s this little problem: it is virtually impossible to determine with any certainty that “Renty” really is Tamara’s Lanier’s ancestor.

Yet Harvard may capitulate anyway—to signal its virtue, to be able to publicly condemn slavery, to be “woke, ” and mostly to avoid pickets in Harvard Yard. Ben Crump is no fool…a race-hustler, sure, but he’s no fool.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/29/2019: Good Kool-Aid, Bad Kool-Aid

Good morning!

1. No, it’s not yet clear what happened in the Jussie Smollett debacle, just that  whatever it was, it was unethical as hell. Smollett is no less guilty of faking a hate crime than he always was; the evidence is just as overwhelming; and the fools lining up to support him are asking for trouble. For example, the writers for Smollett’s show (it seems likely that it is no longer his show, and the producers would be certifiably mad to let him back on the air) seem to be under the delusion that charges were dropped against the African-American actor because there wasn’t evidence to try him. That is not what happened, whatever happened. But here is “Empire” writer Cameron Johnson  tweeting to a Chicago-based reporter  who has been covering the case since it first broke in January.

No, in fact everything reported about Smollett—that he faked the attack, lied to police and the news media, and that the two men he recruited and paid to carry out the hoax with him have fingered Smollett—appears to be true. Meanwhile, the NAACP is going forward with Smollett’s nomination for an award for his work on Empire. I wouldn’t put it past them to let him win, meaning that they would be applauding a divisive–but woke! And gay! And black!—hate crime hoaxer.

So again, what’s going on here? The former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama had contacted Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx about the case on behalf of a member of Smollett’s family.  Foxx is an openly racialized African-American prosecutor whose past words and conduct suggest that she might adopt the Sharpton-like theory that the fact that a hate crime is a hoax is less important than the fact that it could have been true. Also, prosecuting Smollett could have sent another black man to prison, and Foxx is on the record as wanting to do everything she can to avoid that result as often as possible.

Dismissals after grand jury indictments when there is no new exculpatory evidence usually require a defendant to accept responsibility, stay out of trouble for at least six months, and make restitution. None of this happened. Smollett not only denied responsibility, he again proclaimed his innocence . He was required to forfeit his bond, which would never be required if he was actually innocent based on the evidence. The state’s attorney’s office cited 16 hours of “community service” as a mitigating factor, but again, if he is innocent, why would that matter? Smollett did that work volunteering at the headquarters of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Then Smollett’s lawyer denied that any community service was required as a condition of the dismissal of his charges.

Prosecutors announced preemptively that the record in the case would be sealed, and there is no precedent for immediately sealing a criminal case involving an adult, even if a defendant is found not guilty. Defendants usually have to file a motion to seal their case, and the police are given the opportunity to contest the motion.

The Associated Press is reporting that the city will seek $130,000 from “ Smollett to cover the costs of the investigation into his hoax, which means that police are still certain that he is guilty.

It almost feels like this is a deliberate parody of the Mueller Report fiasco, designed to suggest that the situations of Smollett and President Trump are similar: both guilty, and both “exonerated” falsely.

The Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association has released a statement condemning the whatever -it-was in the strongest terms.

2. How do we get the news media and the public to stop paying attention to celebrities and actors when they are off script? These people are, as a group, neither especially informed, well-educated, or trained in critical thinking. Yet they have outsized metaphorical bullhorns, and influence fans to adopt unethical practices and irresponsible ideas. Here is “Captain America” star Chris Evans telling an interviewer that if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a supporter of the President of the United States, he will “cut ties” with him, whatever that means. His attitude means, however, that he would have American society divided into warring camps that never speak to each other. In a fawning profile by the New York Times, we get the diminutive actor’s policy wisdom in comments like this, in which he explains why  he will campaign for Bernie Sanders, as he did in 2016:

“If you look back on that election, a lot of his progressive ideas are accepted now. Like free college education. I didn’t go to any college. Forgive the debt, so people can live their lives and not feel they’re under a wet blanket. Let’s let the sun shine. We have a beautiful country. We got a lot of resources. You know, Medicare for all. What’s the big deal? Why not open that up?”

Yes, he’s a moron….and a moron that the Times is encouraging trusting citizens to take seriously.

3.  Scary, if even half-accurate. Over at the Epoch Times, Jeff Carlson (who is an accountant, and apparently a diligent researcher) lays out the whole case for a  “deep State” effort to try to stop Donald Trump from being elected President, and then to overthrow him once he was. It begins,

“Efforts by high-ranking officials in the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice (DOJ), and State Department to portray President Donald Trump as having colluded with Russia were the culmination of years of bias and politicization under the Obama administration.”

Some of his case is the Kool-Aid I was accused of drinking when I reported (accurately) the implications of the irregularities in the FISA warrant process used to plant an informer in the Trump campaign. It is extremely ironic that the same people who threw tantrums here over fact-based suspicions regarding the “resistance” efforts within the government were guzzling the vile Kool-Aid that Donald Trump had conspired with Russia. I was right, they were wrong, and they were insulting while being wrong. If they had any courage and integrity, they would come back here and admit it.

I misjudged them, and their character.

Newsweek’s “Big Lie” cover (From The Ethics Alarms “Stop Making Me Defend President Trump!” File) [Part I]

[And before I begin, let me say: what a despicable, juvenile, vicious, unprofessional cover, even for Newsweek. Why not just run a photo of the President with a moustache, goatee, mean eyebrows and horns scrawled on it by a 5th grade member of the “Resistance”? Do these pathetic President-haters realize how gutter-level their constant assault has become, and how it it harms the nation, society and our institutions? If they do, they are betraying their country; if they don’t, they are too ignorant and badly socialized to regard as serious critics.]

The most persistent Big Lie narrative as part of the “resistance” soft coup effort is that President Trump is a racist. This week’s Newsweek cover is amusingly inept in its efforts to advance that libelous and slanderous narrative, because it demonstrates how weak their case is. The cover is plastered with the allegedly “racist” statements the President has made that prove his bigotry. None of them are racist. Big Lie-style, however, Democrats, complicit journalists and assorted Trump-haters have been citing these quotes so long and repetitively that Newsweek apparently thinks they are res ipsa loquitur—that the speak for themselves. What speaks for itself, or should, is that Newsweek thinks, or wants readers to think, that these quotes constitute evidence of any racial animus at all, and hasn’t a metaphorical leg to stand on.

When I challenge Facebook friends to back up their “Trump is a racist” claims, all they usually can muster are these same quotes. Sad.

Let’s examine and analyze them, shall we? Continue reading

When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Boston Bank Ad

Yes, Dorchester is a community dominated by exactly the people you think it is. The ad says to the public, “If you bank with us, we know you’re white, and if you get robbed, we both know the thief is black.”

Nice.

Social media was on this like a shot, and TD Bank apologized, saying

“We are sorry that an ad that appeared in one of our stores was insensitive to the Dorchester community.The ad, which was removed today, does not reflect our core values around diversity and inclusion.”

This is a lie, and an obvious one. If the bank really had such core values, someone at the bank who saw the ad in production would have said, “Wait, are you out of your mind? We’re insulting Dorchester with this, and the message implies that our customers are likely to be robbed by blacks!”

What made it worse for the bank is that Samsung got burned in Boston just two years ago by trying an almost identical ad, which was also condemned as racist.

Yes, Mattapan has demographics similar to Dorchester.

What Is The Ethical Response To The Racially Unbalanced Admissions To New York City’s Elite High Schools?

The question has been giving me a headache since I first read about the stunning results of the process that gives New York City students access to its elite public schools.  Of the nearly 4,800 students admitted into the specialized schools for 2019, 190 are black, down from  207 black students admitted last year out of just over 5,000 offers. Stuyvesant high school, which is representative, gave 7 offers to black students (out of 895 slots),   33 offers to Hispanic students, 194 offers to white students, and Asian-American students received a whopping  587 offers. Overall, Asian-American students constitute 60% of the student bodies of the eight elite schools.

Students take  a single exam that tests their mastery of math and English in order to gains entrance to the academically challenging school. Stuyvesant, which has the highest cutoff score for admission and is thus the most selective of the schools, now has the lowest percentage of black and Hispanic students of any of New York City’s roughly 600 public high schools.

What should the city do about this? Should it do anything?  Continue reading

Lunch time Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/19: Madea, Plan C, And More.

Yum yum!

Winging off to San Diego in a couple of hours, so be on the alert for an Open Forum while I’m in the air. It’s amazing: I’m going to spend two and a half days of air travel and hanging around a hotel and airports to give a 75 minute legal ethics presentation, albeit to a mob of over 600 lawyers.

1.  From the Ethics Alarms double standards files…

Let’s see: this film has gross black stereotypes and a man in drag, but not in a good, transgender way. I assume nobody will disagree that if this film was made by a white man, it would be received with horror and declared racist, and the white filmmaker would be apologizing to everyone and everything in sight.

2. The return of Plan C! As most recently noted here, Plan C is the obscure and outdated Emoluments Clause. In a series of tweets reviving the specious accusation  President Trump is violating the Constitution by owning businesses while he is President, something never anticipated by the Founders and an issue that was barely discussed by the news media during the campaign, Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who long ago declared himself a “resistance” ally,condemned the Embassy of Kuwait’s decision to celebrate its National Liberation Day at the hotel on Feb. 27. He wrote,

 “Kuwait got the message. Turkey got the message. Saudi Arabia got the message. The Philippines got the message. The question is: Which of our allies will stand with the American people, and which will seek to enrich our corrupt President? We will watch. We will remember.”

Oh, eat a bug. Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8) stipulates that no federal officeholders “shall receive gifts or payments from foreign state or rulers without the consent of Congress.” But payments obviously means pay-offs, and payment for services isn’t a gift. Not are Trump organization receipts payments to the President. I note that Shaub is now a fellow at The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which I used to write about more before I got sick of it. It is the political equivalent of Media Matters, posing as an ethics watchdog when it’s agenda and biases are flagrantly partisan. I regard Shaub using his prior position as authority a breach of ethics: he’s posing as an objective analyst, and he’s not. Indeed, resorting to the silly Emoluments Clause to attack Trump is signature significance. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/18/2019: Paranoia, Pettiness, Pirro, Provoked Applicants, Piqued Students, Posturing And Progressives

Good Morning, Pacific Time Zone!

I’m heading to San Diego tomorrow to talk about “Five Looming Ethics Issues for Lawyers  and  Their  Corporate Clients”  to a group of over 600 lawyers. THEY don’t think my analyses of ethics issues violate community standards…okay. I admit it, I’m getting paranoid. Despite a lot of, I humbly believe, useful, timely and well-presented content, the weekend traffic was terrible, and comments were sparse, if excellent. This year, so far, is lagging behind last year, which seriously trailed the year before. What’s going on here? Has Google secretly joined Facebook in its efforts to keep the posts here from reaching an audience? Of could it be that I just suck? Maybe Donald Trump really has killed all belief in ethics…that’s the ticket! Blame the President!

1. Pettiness and vindictiveness vanquished. Good. The Judicial Council of the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals  has affirmed its December decision to reject 83 ethics complaints against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, all filed by bitter partisans who are determined to hurt the newest Justice because the Democrats’ slimy and unethical ambush tactics failed, as they should have. In a 6-1 decision, the judicial council affirmed its earlier finding that the federal law governing misconduct complaints against federal judges does not apply to justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of the complaints filed against Kavanaugh argued he had made false statements under oath during hearings on his nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004 and 2006 and to the U.S. Supreme Court last year—you know, like having an innocent recollection of what “boof” meant in his completely irrelevant high school year book.  Other complaints accused Kavanaugh of making inappropriate partisan statements in his inappropriately partisan hearings, or claimed he treated members of the Senate Judiciary Committee with disrespect, or as I would put it, the disrespect they deserved for attempting to smear his good name and reputation through demagoguery and calls to reject the presumption of innocence.

Let me remind everyone that Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in her confirmation hearings, stated under oath that she had no pre-formed opinions that would affect her objectivity in abortion cases. Nobody filed any ethics complaints. Continue reading