The Student Ghetto

Thousands of University of Texas students, myself among them, live in the crowded West Campus neighborhood adjacent to the university. The insatiable demand for housing close to campus has spurred a construction spree of high-rise apartment buildings catered to affluent student residents. Tiny apartments fit two, three, four, or even five students, usually randomly matched by management. To cut costs, many split bedrooms, doubling the number of roommates. The newer student apartments have an expensive look to them, with large, gleaming windows and picturesque balconies. Luxury amenities such as pools, patios, and multi-story garage parking come standard.

Make no mistake; despite its increasingly upscale appearance, West Campus contains not young professionals and urban gentrifiers but rowdy college students. Explore the neighborhood on a given weeknight and you’ll find roving gangs of them looking to have a good time. The streets are filled with noise from loud conversations, party music, and the shouts of drunken students, emanating from the rooftops and balconies of apartments that collect multiple thousands of dollars of rent. Trash, in the form of beer bottles, plastic drinking cups, and even condoms, is everywhere. Austin police officers shuttle between frat houses and cooperative student living homes – the hardest partiers, and hence the biggest offenders – responding to noise complaints and stopping the most outrageous gatherings. Continue reading “The Student Ghetto”

Obergefell v. Hodges: Whose Liberty?

In its sweeping ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court overturned all state laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee had argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry would denigrate marriage as an institution expressly for the purpose of procreation. The majority of the Court responded that it was illogical to suggest that opposite-sex couples would choose not to marry merely because same-sex couples could, and that marriage between same-sex couples could not harm the partners or any other members of society. Thus, this was not a basis to prohibit the marriage of same-sex couples.1

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts recognized the majority’s logic as an application of John Stuart Mill’s so-called “harm principle”: the idea that the only legitimate sphere of government is to prevent an individual from harming others. Roberts claims that the harm principle is nowhere to be found in the Constitution and therefore not a legitimate criterion for constitutionality. The right to enact a social doctrine like the harm principle belongs to Congress and the people, not the judges of the Supreme Court:

But a Justice’s commission does not confer any special moral, philosophical, or social insight sufficient to justify imposing these perceptions on fellow citizens under the pretense of “due process.” There is indeed a process due the people on issues of this sort–the democratic process. Respecting that understanding requires the Court to be guided by law, not any particular school of social thought.2

Justice Roberts is right to rebuke the majority for overturning state marriage laws on the presumption of a constitutional principle that doesn’t exist. The majority opinion claims that the Constitution promises “a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”3 But while the Constitution mentions “liberty” in several passages, it does not enshrine any specific form or interpretation of it; neither the harm principle nor any other notion of liberty is present. Rather, Americans are free to make laws and institutions based upon their perception of liberty, be it Mill’s harm principle or some other understanding of it. By conflating its concept of liberty with the harm principle, the majority overstepped its proper bounds. Continue reading “Obergefell v. Hodges: Whose Liberty?”

A Speech I Gave at Today’s Capital Metro Board Meeting

Good afternoon. My name is Ryan, and I am a UT undergraduate studying computer science, urban studies, and public transportation. I have followed the Connections 2025 system redesign with much interest. I think it’s a forward-thinking plan with good principles; but I am here today to share with you some concerns I have with the draft plan. Continue reading “A Speech I Gave at Today’s Capital Metro Board Meeting”

The Case for Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment

The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution shifted the responsibility of selecting Congressional senators from the state legislatures to the people through direct elections. Proponents of the amendment asserted that this change was more consistent with the American principles of democracy and popular sovereignty, and would curtail corruption in Congress and make it more responsive to the people’s concerns. This significant change to the construction of Congress introduced by the Seventeenth Amendment is inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution as expressed by the framers. The direct representation of the state legislatures in Congress was considered an essential defense against possible encroachments by the national government, and the Senate was envisioned as that branch of Congress distinct from and not susceptible to the pitfalls of the democratically elected House. A balanced American republic that adequately administers the local sphere requires a representation of the states at the federal level and a bicameral Congress with a check on popular sovereignty. Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would achieve this. Continue reading “The Case for Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment”

Proposition One “Mobility Bond” Represents Business as Usual for Austin Transportation

This piece was originally submitted to The Daily Texan as an op-ed, but wasn’t published.

Soon, Austin voters will decide on the $720 million so-called “Mobility Bond” that promises much-needed relief for our city’s traffic woes. Though overshadowed by this year’s unprecedented presidential election, there’s plenty of enthusiasm to go around for this important local issue, too. “Vote Prop One” signs line my daily walk to campus. The Daily Texan endorsed the bond a few days ago.

Everyone agrees that something must be done about Austin’s transportation crisis. But for years, our city has lacked the political will to deploy truly efficient and cost-effective solutions. First came the Red Line commuter rail “starter line” between downtown and Leander. After several years of operation, it’s a drain on Capital Metro’s resources that carries very few riders. It’s no secret why: the line does not serve UT or much of downtown. Service is very limited, with trains running half-hourly at rush hour and hourly off-peak, and no evening or Sunday service. Continue reading “Proposition One “Mobility Bond” Represents Business as Usual for Austin Transportation”