Law School Faculty Highlights

Prof. Hanlon Calls for U.S. to Invest in ‘New Space Race’

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi law professor Michelle Hanlon spoke before the House Committee on Natural Resources in December to make the case for more consideration and investment in space mining.

Joining a panel of four before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, Hanlon, executive director of the Center for Air and Space Law in the School of Law and co-founder and CEO of For All Moonkind, said that while being able to mine the moon and return its resources to Earth may be 60-80 years away, the United States must act soon to regulate such actions if it doesn’t want to be cut off from future mining endeavors.

“The witnesses before us today are among the most preeminent intellects and entrepreneurs in their field,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, of Arkansas, who chairs the committee. “I understand that mining in space is not an issue we hear about every day in Congress, but the fact is some of our greatest competitors, including China and Russia, have established a new space race.

Michelle Hanlon
Michelle Hanlon

“Sadly, it seems countries like Russia and China have already completed a lap and the U.S. government is seemingly unaware that the race has started.”

One of the problems at play in the coming space race is regulation and, in some cases, the lack thereof, Hanlon said. The Artemis Accords, a series of principles guiding the civil exploration of space, state that the 33 countries that signed the accord will act with “due regard” toward one another in space.

“The concept of due regard suggests that if one entity is already occupying (an area), others must avoid interfering,” she said. “This gives tremendous advantage to those who simply establish a presence first. And so, the race begins.”

The principle of due regard is largely unspecified, which Hanlon said could result in some countries taking liberties with the clause. Without a more specific definition of due regard, countries that reach a desirable area first could argue that no other country is allowed within miles of their landing site, the Ole Miss professor said.

“What’s worse, these rules could by default apply not just to one celestial body but can become the foundation of all extraterrestrial resource management, wherever the source,” she said.

A large focus of Tuesday’s meeting was China, which dominates much of the world’s mineral supply chain and is heavily invested in mining the moon.

“The U.S.’s closest competitor in this new space race is China,” Hanlon said. “China has made no secret of its own space resource utilization plans, and remember, winning requires only getting there first.”

The importance of getting to the moon first is not just to enact the Artemis Accords’ due regard principle, but to ensure the fair distribution of the minerals the celestial body can provide, she said.

“If we want to see the equitable, responsible use of space resources and see them managed in an equitable manner, we need to be led by countries that are part of the Artemis Accords who will support freedom, democracy and equity here on Earth and in space,” Hanlon said. “Humanity’s future lies in space.

“We have a lot of problems here on Earth, but the answers we will find in space, including, ultimately, peace.”

When is a Public Official’s Social Media Private? Prof. Green Offers Analysis

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up two cases Tuesday (Oct. 31) to answer a new question regarding Americans’ First Amendment rights: Can elected officials block their constituents on social media?

The issue at hand is whether the elected officials in Lindke v. Freed and O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier were acting as public servants or merelas themselves in their online presences, said Chris Green, University of Mississippi law professor and Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government.

“There are a bunch of fascinating issues about the boundary of the state,” Green said. “Where does the government official end and people’s private lives begin?” 

In Lindke v. Freed, a city manager in Port Huron, Michigan, blocked a resident and deleted their critical comments from his Facebook page. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that did not violate the resident’s First Amendment rights.

However, in O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two California school board members may have violated First Amendment rights when they blocked two parents after they posted critical comments.

It is the difference of circuit court opinion between the two similar cases that brought this issue to the Supreme Court, Green said.

“Because they took both cases, (the Supreme Court isn’t) likely to reverse both of them, but it is possible they could come up with a third way to solve this,” the Ole Miss law professor said. “It’s the kind of problem you’ve had for centuries, where you have individual people with more than one hat.

“Here, it’s just very, very easy to manufacture a new hat.”

The cases bear resemblance to a lawsuit regarding former U.S. President Donald Trump’s social media account, where the president had blocked several people who criticized him. The Supreme Court tossed that suit, though it had succeeded in lower courts, on the basis that Trump was no longer president.

The primary concern of the upcoming cases is determining whether the city manager and school board members were acting in their public official roles on their social media accounts, Green said.

The school board members created personal, public Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, accounts before they were elected that they used for campaign purposes, to address public issues and for official business.

Freed made his Facebook page while in college and used it primarily for personal reasons, though he did post public news and official business after he became city manager, court documents said. When he hit the 5,000 “friend” limit on Facebook, he converted his profile to a page, which cannot be made private.

“If they’re wearing a governmental hat, there are a bunch of rules they need to have about treating everybody equally,” Green said. “They can’t just say, ‘You’re being annoying. I’ll block you on Facebook.’ 

“If you’re acting as a government officer, mere annoyance isn’t enough. You have to behave even-handedly because of the First Amendment.”

Still, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will make a blanket ruling that all social media pages of public officials are inherently places of government business, Green said.

“The Supreme Court isn’t going to adopt a rule that says, ‘When in doubt, you’re acting as the government,’” he said. “But it’s hard to tell what they will do, because it’s such a new issue.”

Prof. Rychlak to Study Mobile-Online Sports Betting for State Committee

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has appointed University of Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak to the state’s first mobile-online sports betting task force.

House Bill 606, which passed by overwhelming vote in March, decreed that 13 experts across the state would be convened for the task force. The committee will study the intricacies and challenges of legalizing mobile-online sports betting in the state. 

Under Hosemann’s direction, David Blount, chair of the Senate Gaming Committee, in August invited Rychlak, distinguished professor of law and Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government, to join.

While the economic benefits of legalizing mobile sports betting could be large, Rychlak cautioned against hasty implementation that could leave people at risk.

“One of the things I spoke to is when and if we go to an online-based betting that those protections that we have in place must remain so that we won’t put kids in jeopardy,” said Rychlak, who is also a faculty athletics representative at Ole Miss and co-author of “Gaming and Gambling Law: Cases, Materials and Problems” (Carolina Academic Press, 2021). 

“You increase the risk exponentially of threats and bribes to athletes.”

Well over half the country – 34 states and Washington, D.C. – have legalized sports betting in some form. However, since the widespread implementation, several instances of players and people in athletics support roles being threatened and harassed for their performances have been reported. 

“When people bet on these things, they take it very personally,” Rychlak said. “They think they have a stake in it.

“I hope we realize when we’re talking about college students and college athletes, that we do everything we can to minimize the risks to students.”

The task force, which first met in September, has a deadline of Dec. 15, to prepare a final report, which will be made available to the public.

“The chairs have made it clear that they expect there to be a bill proposed this legislative session, so the question is what is it going to look like,” Rychlak said. “The end result is to have a piece of legislation that does not overlook important things.

“Having that legislation does not mean it will pass, but they want to have something to take forward that hasn’t overlooked important considerations.” 

Mississippi allows only in-person sports betting and geofenced mobile-betting within casino grounds. Some casino operators fear that legalization of online sports betting could cut into their business models, while others see the expansion as an opportunity to draw in new customers.

Before drastic changes in committee, HB 606 was written to legalize mobile-online sports betting in the state. In 2022, four bills that would have legalized online sports betting in Mississippi died in committee. In 2019, two similar bills failed.

Much of the concern involves moral or religious opposition to gambling, Rychlak said. States that have legalized mobile sports betting have seen increases in reported gambling addiction, particularly in men aged 18-35.

However, those interested in sports betting are frequenting other states or illegal casinos, Rychlak said.

“You have to understand that there are people who have gambling problems and are going to suffer from this,” he said. “I’m also concerned just in general about the college kids sitting around with a phone app that is controlled by a gambling industry that can tell you should parlay your losses.

“Everywhere they’ve done this, calls to anonymous gambling addiction hotlines have essentially doubled, and the high-risk area is young men.”

It is common for states to first study the proper implementation of sports betting before legalizing it.

Before legalizing mobile-online sports betting earlier this year, Vermont passed a similar study bill in 2022. Georgia’s lawmakers considered a similar bill earlier this year, though it failed to pass, and New York introduced a study bill in 2018 before legalizing sports betting in 2022.