Transitive moral responsibility?

This was topical when I wrote the draft, and then I got distracted with schoolwork and forgot about it. So the specific examples are a bit dated, but the basic points are still worth discussing—and unfortunately examples of this continue to turn up on a regular basis.

“… issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple would “irreparably and irreversibly violate her conscience.”

That’s the reason Kim Davis’ attorneys gave for why an immediate stay of enforcement was required while they continue to ask anyone they can think of who might side with them, since both mom and dad have told them “no”. Later in that same article, there was this line:

Despite her refusal, her office will begin issuing licenses Friday morning. Couples, however, will be marrying “at their own risk.” It is unclear if the licenses will be legally valid.

Question: why would the legality of marriage certificates issued in compliance with applicable laws be in question just because the county clerk isn’t on the job? So if she were on vacation or hospitalized, no licenses can be issued? If she died (or even just moved away), they would have to call a special session of the state legislature or special election, and no licenses until that happens? Surely her authority implicitly flows through her deputies, (absent evidence of malfeasance)? I mean, she sure thinks so—that’s why she won’t let her deputies do it while she’s there.  If we’re going to start assuming that people do not have authority to perform government actions without affirmative proof that they do, every single time, the whole system will fall apart. Which is what some conservatives want, but I don’t think that’s Kim Davis’ goal. Continue reading

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Are Juries the problem?

Our legal system actively excludes jurors with expertise from cases–we want the experts to be testifying and the jurors to be blank slates, pure reasoning machines without bias that weigh only the facts presented in court. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering whether this is ever a good idea, but I’m particularly convinced that it’s a poor idea for technical matters. People who don’t understand the difference between copyright and trademark shouldn’t be in the jury for a copyright infringement case, and people who apparently don’t understand that public-key cryptography and secret-key cryptography have about as much in common as a gamalan performance does with Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway shouldn’t be deciding a crypto patent case. Continue reading