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Legal Roundtable examines gun control, the Justice Department report, Affirmative Action

Flickr | steakpinball

After every school shooting, the push to reform gun laws becomes the object of much debate. Ultimately, not much changes. Will the shooting that took place last week at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon have any different legal response? Monday’s “Legal Roundtable” discussed the subject with “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh, among other pressing legal matters of the day.

Several legal experts joined the monthly segment:

  • Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and director of the Career Center at Washington University;
  • Bill Freivogel, professor in the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University -  Carbondale;
  • Jared Boyd, chief of staff and counsel, City of St. Louis Treasurer's Office, President of the Mound City Bar Association

Here were some the subjects the roundtable discussed. See something missing? Email talk@stlpublicradio.org and we’ll share it with our panelists for next time. You can also listen to the full audio from the conversation here: 

Does the St. Louis County Police Department have a lot of work to do with the 109 recommendations made in the Department of Justice report released earlier this month?

“It does and it doesn’t,” said Smith. “The county police department has had external reviews for a long time. And I remember when I was on the [St. Louis City] police board, they had already gone through the CALEA certification, which is a big deal in the policing community. The city of St. Louis was just starting that process, and they are now CALEA-certified. The Department of Justice said that the county police were very open to bringing it to outsiders. They were not doing a good job on minority recruitment, use of force and community engagement. What the police chief said in response was, ‘I’d love to do a lot of these things, but I need more money for it.’ It seemed to me that while any time you have an outsider come in and they’re going to make recommendations and it will be interesting to see over the next few years how they’re going to follow-up, but I didn’t see any big, smoking guns in this report.”

How does the fourteenth amendment, the protection of civil rights, come up in the Department of Justice Report section on the state of Missouri Juvenile Justice System?

“As someone who has not practiced in that court I was surprised by the report in the sense that you have kids that are going through an inherently adversarial process and they get no zealous advocacy,” said Boyd. “You have a system that is chronically underfunded when we talk about the public defender system, the report talked about the public defender who had 400 cases per one person and out of the 277 cases they looked at, only three went to trial. None of those cases had some of the hallmarks of zealous advocacy like mental health experts or expert witnesses. So you have these kids who are not getting the protections that are clear for indigent counsel and right to counsel.”

What are your thoughts about the release of 6000 inmates from federal prisons?

“This is the right side and the left side saying, ‘This just doesn’t make sense,’” Smith said. “And these people are getting released. These are non-violent offenders who have already served ten years. This is not some get-out-of-jail free card like everyone thinks.”

Why is the Supreme Court readdressing the Affirmative Action case from the University of Texas again?

“A lot of people are fearful that this is the time the SCOTUS finally calls an end to Affirmative Action,” said Freivogel. “We’ll see. There’s been reporting that says the last time this case, the Fischer case, was up against the Supreme Court there were five votes on her behalf. She claimed she was discriminated against in admissions, but Justice Sotomayor was circulating a very strong dissent. Justice Briar approached Justice Kennedy and said ‘This is a bad deal,’ and Justice Kennedy ended up saying ‘OK, we can still have Affirmative Action, it has to pass this highest level of constitutional scrutiny, it has to be a compelling state interest, but it has to be really narrowly tailored to meet that state interest, so narrowly tailored so that there is no other way for University Texas to have diversity but to do this.’ It went back down, University of Texas won again, came back up and this is why people are worried: Why would the Supreme Court take this if they didn’t want to take the next step?”

The Oregon shooting has reignited the debate about guns. Is the second amendment to blame for the lack of any movement on gun control?

“I don’t see it as the second amendment’s fault,” said Freivogel. “Even as interpreted by the Roberts court still allows for all kinds of gun regulation. You can have concealed carry, you can ban assault rifles, you can ban big rounds of ammunition, but what’s changed in addition to how SCOTUS interprets the second amendment, what’s changed is the politics in the state. All the states are moving against concealed carry. There’s no will in the congress to pass any kind of gun control.”

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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