Paterson’s Proposed Soda Tax: Not the Cure for Obesity

Danielle Erickson, Government Law Review Member

          We live in an age where 60.5% of American adults are currently overweight, 23.9% are obese, and 3% are extremely obese.[1] Beyond that, one in every six school-age children is not just overweight, but obese![2]  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contend that the prevalence for obesity in school-age children has tripled since the 1970s.[3]  This is especially troubling when taking into account that early obesity leads to earlier onsets of obesity associated health problems such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, pregnancy complications, arthritis, certain cancers, and depression.[4]  It has been estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 deaths a year can be attributed to poor eating habits and obesity.[5]  This number is just shy of smoking related deaths and far surpasses the number of deaths caused by alcohol, car accidents, guns, or sexual disease.[6]  All in all obesity costs Americans an average of 117 billion dollars in obesity related medical problems as well as lost wages from illness and premature death.[7]

          In December 2008, New York Governor David Paterson proposed an 18% tax on soda and other sugary drinks containing less than seventy percent juice as part of what is now loving referred to as an “obesity tax”. [8]  Patterson declared childhood obesity a public health epidemic and compared it to smoking; citing statistics as staggering as one in four New Yorker’s under the age of eighteen is obese with the rate being closer to one in three in high poverty areas. [9]   The soda tax was aimed at reducing the consumption of soft drinks, which have been found to be one of the key factors in childhood obesity.[10]   Governor Paterson cites Harvard research which indicates that, “for each additional 12-ounce soft drink consumed per day increases the risk of a child becoming obese by 60 percent”, with the correlation for adults being equivalent.[11]  The Governor estimated that the tax would raise 404 million dollars, which would be used to fund public health programs but perhaps more importantly would reduce soda consumption by 5%.[12]

           However, by February 2009 Governor Paterson realized that his proposal for an 18% tax on soda would not pass in the legislature.[13]  As a result Paterson proposed a revised soda tax in January 2010, in which he seeks to gain approval for a penny per ounce tax on sugary drinks.[14]  The added tax would be less apparent to consumers as it would be figured into the retail price of the soda instead of added on at checkout, still it is estimated that it could reduce soda consumption by 10 to 15%, but would raise an estimated one billion dollars in revenue solely allocated to the heath care and education budget.[15]

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The Right to a Public Trial: Should Jury Selection in Criminal Cases Be Open to the Public?

Amanda Cluff, Government Law Review Member

I. Background

In criminal procedure, the pretrial jury selection process has rapidly altered within the last two decades.  No longer can a criminal trial be considered private and confidential, but rather the law has changed in favor of what is known as “open courtroom” proceedings.[1]  This process invites the public and press to observe a trial fully, without any inhibitions, including the questioning of prospective jurors.[2]  As the result of a recent Supreme Court decision, states must now grant an accused defendant the right to a public jury selection once requested, particularly the voir dire questioning that a prospective juror must go through.[3]  However, arguments have recently arisen over how jury selection will be affected by this change, and whether or not a public voir dire will irrevocably damage the process of finding a fair and impartial jury.


II. The Right to a Public Trial in Criminal Cases

In recent years, although the right to a public trial has been upheld, no one knew exactly how far that right could extend.  The Sixth Amendment observes that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. . . . ”[4]  In addition, the Supreme Court has recently held that “[t]rial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials.”[5]  In fact, they have even gone as far to assert that there is a “presumption of openness” at a trial that “may be overcome only by an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to preserve that interest.”[6]  It is clear that this kind of burden is very difficult to obtain, and therefore, most cases are deemed public and open before they even commence. What is less clear is in what circumstances the jury selection in a public criminal trial can become a private matter.

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Albany Government Law Review Releases Issue On Immigration Law Reform

Dan Feintuck, Managing Editor For Technology and Development

The Albany Government Law Review is proud to announce the release of Volume 3, Issue 1, titled Immigration Policy in the United States: What’s Next?  The issue includes a thorough analytical discussion of United States immigration policy.  The law review’s most sizable issue to date comprises 502 pages of scholarship from practitioners, law professors, an Immigration Judge, and individuals working for policy think tanks.

With its fifth publication, the Albany Government Law Review continues its dedication to tackling timely and important topics.  “The Albany Government Law Review aims to be at the forefront of scholarship on hot-button issues that the United States faces today,” said Editor-in-Chief Benjamin L. Loefke. “The United States has historically accepted large numbers of immigrants and has had to continually evolve its immigration policy.  The recent congressional debate on immigration reform makes this a key time to examine the sticker questions of immigration law, especially as it relates to the economy,” added Mr. Loefke.

Professor Patricia Salkin, Associate Dean; Raymond and Ella Smith Distinguished Professor of Law; and Director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, and Dr. Paul Finkelman, the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law & Public Policy, are the faculty advisors for the Albany Government Law Review.  Professors Finkelman and Salkin stated: “We are very proud of the high caliber of scholarship that the Albany Law Government Law Review has already produced, and we are confident that this issue will continue the tradition of high quality work and timeliness of challenging subject matter that we have come to expect from the Albany Government Law Review.”

Check out our subscription page of the Albany Government Law Review website to subscribe to our bi-annual publication. The latest issue of the Albany Government Law Review is now available for purchase! For more information on how obtain a copy, visit our website:

A Right or Not a Right: Criminal Defendants, Open Voir Dire, and Presley v. Georgia

Lisa Alexander, Albany Government Law Review Member


The Right to Voir Dire  

          According to a recent Supreme Court decision, that which we call a trial, by any other name would, and does, include voir dire.

          Presley v. Georgia, decided on January 19, 2010, held that criminal defendants have the right to “insist that the voir dire of the jurors be public” under their Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.[1]  The press has enjoyed the right to demand a public voir dire for over two decades, when the Court in Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court concluded that the press’ right to observe voir dire proceedings fell under the First Amendment.[2]  The right to public pre-trial proceedings was again extended in Waller v. Georgia, which held that the right to a public trial encompassed motion to suppress hearings.[3]  Until Presley, the Court had never afforded the right to demand that a voir dire proceeding be public to criminal defendants.  This, according to the Presley Court, was simply unfair.

          In finding that criminal defendants are entitled to a public voir dire, the Court argued that “there is no legitimate reason, at least in the context of juror selection proceedings, to give one who asserts a First Amendment privilege greater rights to insist on public proceedings than the accused has.”[4]  Looking at the Bill of Rights, this appears to be a logical conclusion, given that each provision relating to criminal proceedings provides protections for defendants.[5]  The crux of Presley’s argument, the Sixth Amendment, states that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial (emphasis added) . . . . ”[6]  It would make little sense if a person, with no connection to the criminal proceeding, could claim a right to a public voir dire, while the defendant on trial, for whose protection the Sixth Amendment was created, could not.

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