Noonish Ethics Round-Up, 2/19/2020: That Other Day That Will Live In Infamy…

Hi!

1. On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, empowering the Army to issue orders emptying parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona of immigrants from Japan, who were precluded from U.S. citizenship by law, and nisei, their children, who were U.S. citizens by birth. After the order, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court including future liberal icon William O. Douglas, the Japanese-Americans  were first warehoused at “assembly centers,” which could be racetrack barns or on fairgrounds, then shipped to ten detendtion camps in Western states and Arkansas. Armed guards and barbed wire, plus morning roll call were part of the degrading and punitive experience.

It is fair to say this treatment was substantially rooted in racism, for there was no mass incarceration of U.S. residents with ties to Germany or Italy. Once the U.S. appeared to be on the way to victory along with its Allies in December 1944, the Executive Order was  rescinded. By then the Army was enlisting Japanese American soldiers to fight in Africa and Europe. President Harry Truman told the all Japanese-America 442nd Regimental Combat Team: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice—and you have won.”

California is now preparing to formally apologize to the families of those interned.State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced a resolution that will formally apologize for California’s “failure to support and defend the civil rights” of Japanese Americans during that period,” and it is expected to pass today.

It’s naked grandstanding and virtue signaling, of course. The federal government apologized for the unconstitutional imprisonment and granted financial redress to survivors with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the Supreme Court overruled its decision  upholding internment in 2018. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Upsetting License Plate

The Utah Division of Motor Vehicles lists standards for vanity plates, based on a statute that “forbids any combination of letters or numbers that ‘may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that would be misleading.’”

Plate letter and number combinations that reference drugs, that are “sexual, vulgar, or derogatory,” that  suggest ideas “dangerous to public welfare” or disrespect “race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, or political affiliation,” are not permitted.

Thus it was that Utah high school English teacher Matt Pacenza, driving home, spied  a vanity plate reading “DEPORTM.” As a concerned citizen, he snapped a photo of the personalized plate and posted it to Twitter. (Note: I’m more concerned about drivers taking photos while operating their motor vehicles than about what their plates say, but I’m weird, or so I’m told). The resulting cocial media comments attracted the attention of some state senators as well as the Utah State Tax Commission, which oversees license plate approval. Now the commission says it is reviewing whether the plate violates department guidelines.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the weekend is…

Is there anything wrong with having that license plate on your car?

Continue reading

Question: Is There Any Justification For A State Censoring Vanity Plates? (And What’s Wrong With “KAIJUU”?)

My answer to the first question? Absolutely not.(  My answer to the second is, “I have no idea.” ) If a driver can put a sign in his rear view mirror or a bumper sticker on her bumper without state sanctions, then a driver should be able to have whatever he or she chooses on a vanity plate.

Utah, for examples, bans vanity plates with profanity, “derogatory language,”  drug references,  sex talk, references to bodily functions, “hate speech,” targeting a particular group, or advocating violence advocates, as well as alcohol references and the number combo “69.” Ethics verdict: None of their business. These are words and numbers, and the state is declaring content and intent impermissible. When I see a car with an obnoxious vanity plate, I’m grateful. This is useful information. Racist or vulgar plates translate into “I am an asshole, and want you to know it!”

Thank you, sir! I appreciate the heads up.

Below are the plates banned by Utah over the past five years. Most of them fly right over my head. If you have to be a cryptographer to figure out why a plate is offensive, then it’s not offensive.

The less our governments interfere with freedom of expression, the safer we are.

Here’s the list (the  pointer marks indicate spaces): Continue reading

Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

Oink

I try to keep my legal ethics seminars up-to-the-minute, so while preparing for yesterday’s session with the Appellate Section of the Indiana Bar, I came across a bunch of entertaining stories in which the ethics were a lot clearer than the law, or vice-versa. All of them could and perhaps should sustain separate posts; indeed, I could probably devote the blog entirely to such cases.

Here are my four favorites from the past week’s legal news, involving a mother-son lawsuit, a brazenly unethical attorney general, a college scoreboard named after a crook, and police officer’s sense of humor: Continue reading

Unethical Vanity Plate of the Year

Maybe it was Mr. Peabody! No, wait, he's not from Alaska...

It was an Alaska plate, and I followed it all the way into Washington, D.C. this morning, gritting my teeth all the while. It read:

HIGHIQ

What kind of person puts a message like this on his or her car? It isn’t witty. It isn’t cute. It is gratuitously boastful, immodest, and lacking in humility. The message is very likely to annoy other drivers, as it did me, for its sheer bad taste and arrogance, and because displaying such a message is stupid in the extreme, it is also deceitful. The driver may indeed have an objectively high I.Q., but if so the message is literally true but misleading—-since anyone who would think this fact belongs on a license plate is an prima facie idiot.

Besides…if he’s so smart, why is he driving a 2003 Camry?