Articles Posted in Civil Rights

Sex Discrimination Claims Under Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause: The Eleventh Circuit Bridges the Gap

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Guest columnist and Justia editor David Kemp comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which held that the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution protects transgender government employees from discrimination on the basis of their transgender identity, as part of its protection from discrimination based on gender. Kemp notes that the Fourteenth Amendment was implicated because the plaintiff’s employer—which fired her when she explained to her boss that she planned to transition from male to female—was a government agency. As Kemp explains, the resulting decision was a precedent both for the illegality of a firing based on gender non-conformity, and for the proposition that a firing like the plaintiff's violates the federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Kemp also discusses the Supreme Court precedent of Price Waterhouse, which established that an employer cannot legally force an employee to conform to stereotypes associated with his or her gender, and the question of what level of scrutiny courts will apply to discrimination claims arising out of transgender status.

Is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Indefensible? A Federal Court Says Yes, in Golinski v. OPM

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, holding that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. (As readers may know, DOMA defines a marriage as a union between a man and a woman, for purposes of federal law and federal benefits.) The court also held that statutory classifications based on sexual orientation should trigger heightened scrutiny from reviewing courts, and that an anti-same-sex marriage law cannot survive such scrutiny. Grossman provides background on DOMA, and describes the current impact of, and court challenges to, DOMA’s anti-same-sex marriage section. She also describes federal legislative and executive challenges to DOMA, and recaps California’s complicated history regarding same-sex marriage. In addition, she focuses on the interesting question of what level of heightened scrutiny (intermediate, strict, or other) courts will apply when reviewing cases alleging sexual-orientation discrimination. Grossman predicts that whether by repeal, administrative undercut, or judicial invalidation, DOMA is on its way out.

A Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Strikes Down a Law Banning Registered Sex Offenders From Accessing Facebook and Other Social-Networking Sites Was It The Right Call?

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Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent Louisiana federal district court decision striking down an extremely broad and vague law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing a large variety of websites. Hilden argues that the judge’s decision, which followed a bench trial, was plainly correct under First Amendment case law. Accordingly, she contends that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is likely using the law, which he signed, and the decision, which he has vowed to appeal, for political purposes. Hilden also raises the questions whether any law restricting Internet access for ex-offenders could pass muster; if so, what it might look like; and whether individual websites’ policing themselves—or creating separate sections for adults and children—might be part of the solution.

Chipping Away at the NDAA

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Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner discusses two recent steps toward limiting the scope of the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the controversial, recently-passed federal statute regarding the military detention and trial of terrorist suspects. The first step was an Obama Administration policy directive that effectively negates an NDAA section that purports to require that non-citizens suspected of strong links to terrorism be held in military, not civilian, custody. The second step was the commencement of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Due Process Guarantee Act, which was introduced after the NDAA was enacted into law. As Mariner explains, the Due Process Guarantee Act would protect both citizens and lawful permanent residents arrested in the U.S. against being detained indefinitely under a military rationale. Moreover, the Act would set a baseline prohibition on indefinite military detention in such cases, allowing such detention to be used only when Congress explicitly provides for it. Mariner sees these steps as constituting progress, but contends that amending the NDAA itself would have been a better remedy—especially as a presidential directive can always be reversed by a future president.

The Supreme Court Agrees to Hear an Affirmative Action Case Will the Justices Honestly Confront the Issues?

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Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision to review a case involving race-based affirmative action in higher education.  As Dorf explains, the Court has not resolved an affirmative-action case since 2003, and thus this new case will be especially closely watched.  Dorf discusses the affirmative action precedents that the Court has already handed down, including the famous Bakke case, and the University of Michigan cases, Gratz and Grutter—the impact of which, Dorf explains, has been modest.  The new case that the Court will review, Dorf explains, involves the University of Texas's admissions system—which offers admission to all Texas students who rank in the top ten percent of their high school class, and also adds consideration of race as one of a number of factors in admissions decisions.  Dorf describes the issues the Texas case raises, and predicts that the Court's opinions—on both sides—will necessarily lack candor, as both liberals and conservatives pay lip service to an ideal of colorblindness, but do not actually hew to that ideal.

A Federal Judge Thwarts Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by Ruling Bizarrely That Lactation Is Not Related to Pregnancy

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a recent case that was brought by a woman who alleged that she was fired because, after giving birth, she asked if she could pump breast milk in a back room at her workplace. The judge held that she did not have a right to do so, under either Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Grossman takes strong issue with the ruling, which reasoned oddly that lactation and pregnancy are somehow unrelated. Grossman notes that the lactation-discrimination conflict is part of a long-running war—involving employers, employees, insurance companies, state governments, and the federal government—about whether women, alone, should bear all the consequences, costs and hardships of reproduction, or whether their employers and/or others must play a part. In addition to the lactation-discrimination case, Grossman also covers prior cases involving contraceptive equity and infertility discrimination, as well as discussing the legal protections that woman can turn to when the reproductive process conflicts with work, and the role the EEOC has played in this area of law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Strikes Down Proposition 8: Three Key Elements of the Decision

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Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on several key aspects of the recent decision, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, holding that Proposition 8—the initiative constitutional amendment purporting to abolish gay marriage in California—violates equal protection. Hamilton focuses, in particular, on (1) the standing issue and the problems the initiative procedure raised; (2) the question whether Prop. 8 had any legitimate purpose, or was simply driven by animus toward gay people; and (3) why the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to take the case.

The Beginning of the End of the Anti-Same-Sex-Marriage Movement

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the situation in Washington State, which is now poised to legalize same-sex marriage. Grossman contends that the Washington State situation is significant not only because Washington State will now become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, but also because—for the first time since the beginning of the same-sex marriage controversy—a state legislature will move from a statutory ban on same-sex marriage, to a statutory authorization of it. Grossman covers Washington State’s path through many different stages of the same-sex marriage controversy; the details of the bill passed by the Washington State senate; and the potential implications of the State of Washington’s experience for the same-sex marriage movement more generally.

Repealing the NDAA

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Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011—a bill that states that a congressional authorization for the use of military force does not allow the indefinite detention of citizens or lawful permanent residents arrested in the U.S., unless Congress explicitly provides for such detention. As Mariner explains, this clear-statement rule would offer citizens and resident non-citizens in the U.S. default protection against indefinite detention without charge, unless Congress plainly authorized such detention. Nevertheless, Mariner notes that she is of two minds about the Act. On one hand, Mariner believes that the Due Process Guarantee Act would effect a welcome change to the detention provisions of the controversial NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) regarding U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. On the other hand, though, Mariner points out that the Due Process Guarantee Act would do nothing to solve the problem of the indefinite detention, by the U.S., of non-resident aliens at Guantanamo—which Mariner contends is, by far, the U.S.’s most urgent and glaring detention problem.

The Indefinite Detention of Citizens and Non-Citizens Under the NDAA

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Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the provisions of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) relating to the detention of citizens and non-citizens. She begins by noting that, last week, the tenth anniversary of the military prison at Guantanamo occurred, and was the subject of comment by the media, but this brief focus on the prison and its prisoners was the exception to the rule. In addition, she points out that the NDAA addresses the very issue that Guantanamo embodies, indefinite detention without charge, and does so in a way that has sparked sharp criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Mariner focuses here, however, on a less-remarked aspect of the NDAA: Although its provision for indefinite detention for American citizens has been highly controversial, far less attention has been paid to its provision for indefinite detention for non-citizens—of which there are 171 being currently held at Guantanamo; all but five indefinitely (of the five, four were convicted and one faces terrorism and other charges). Mariner calls for more attention to the NDAA’s treatment of non-citizens, reminding readers that indefinite detention for Americans remains theoretical, but indefinite detention for those incarcerated at Guantanamo is very real.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court Embraces a Narrow Ministerial Exception to Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

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Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s decision this week in a case that pitted First Amendment religious freedom rights against the rights set forth in federal anti-discrimination law. In the case, a woman who worked for a church as a teacher was fired after taking a medical leave, and sought to invoke her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But because she was a “called” teacher, with some religious responsibilities, the church argued that her firing was within its discretion, under the First Amendment’s religion clauses. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed, but as Hamilton explains, the Court issued a narrow decision that still leaves a host of related questions unanswered. Hamilton covers the “parade of horribles” that was raised, but that the Court declined to address in its decision. She also identifies the decision’s bottom line: Courts cannot constitutionally establish selection criteria for clergy.

The NDAA Explained: Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns on the National Defense Authorization Act

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In the second of a two-part series of columns on the highly controversial NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner continues to explain and comment upon on the bill, which is now the law. Mariner explains President Obama’s reasons for signing the bill, despite what he called “serious reservations” about its provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists; and what his signing statement, accompanying the bill, said. Mariner notes that at this point, Obama is responsible for three key steps in America’s entrenchment of indefinite detention without trial: (1) justifying indefinite detention in litigation opposing the release of detainees held at Guantanamo; (2) issuing an executive order on indefinite detention; and (3) signing the NDAA. Mariner chronicles the road that took America to the passage of the NDAA, detailing the contributions of the Bush and Obama Administrations. In addition, she considers the most controversial aspect of the NDAA: its supposed allowance of the indefinite detention even of American citizens. Finally, Mariner notes that any fair reading of the NDAA ought to include a set of basic points, which she explains; and calls for a repeal of the NDAA’s detention provisions, as well as for the closure of Guantanamo.

The NDAA Explained: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns on the National Defense Authorization Act

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Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner explains and comments on the highly controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which has passed the House and Senate and is now awaiting President Obama’s signature. As Mariner notes, the NDAA’s provisions on indefinite detention earlier caused President Obama to threaten to veto the bill, but now President Obama appears poised to sign the bill’s current version—based on his claim that it affords the president substantial discretion on how the law will be implemented. But, Mariner points out, numerous human rights groups, civil libertarians, and Members of Congress still find the bill extremely objectionable in this current version. In this two-part series of columns, Mariner provides background on the recent history that is relevant to the bill; describes what the often-mischaracterized provisions of the bill actually say, and whom they affect; and focuses, especially, on the sections that have caused human rights groups the greatest concern.

The California Supreme Court Rules that Prop. 8’s Proponents Have Standing to Defend the Initiative: What Does That Mean in the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court?

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Justia columnist Vikram David Amar, and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on the latest ruling in the litigation regarding Proposition 8, the California anti-gay-marriage initiative. Amar and Brownstein begin by noting that this ruling holds that the initiative’s proponents have the authority to defend the initiative in California state court, now that elected representatives have declined to do so. They then summarize all the Prop. 8 litigation that has occurred thus far. In addition, they explain what may happen if this case reaches the U.S Supreme Court based on the standing issue it presents (that is, the issue of whether the parties at issue are legally able to bring this case). They cover a reason why the Supreme Court might decline to find federal standing: until now, initiative proponents have not been elected or specifically deputized by the people. Finally, they briefly discuss some other troubling questions regarding the Prop. 8 litigation that the California ruling did not address.

The Penn State Scandal: Why Is No One Talking about Title IX? Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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In the second in a two-part series of columns on the Penn State alleged child sex abuse and failure-to-report scandal, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and U. Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake continue their commentary on a new and interesting legal aspect of the scandal. They argue that in addition to raising issues of criminal liability and civil tort liability, the alleged Penn State child abuse and the failure to report it may also raise issues under Title IX—the 1972 federal statute that prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex in their educational programs and activities. Here, in Part Two of the series, Grossman and Brake discuss particular issues that may arise if a Title IX claim is brought: Does it make a difference if a given boy was abused only once, for liability purposes? Did the alleged Penn State abuse occur under “any education program or activity” as the statute requires? Does Title IX apply to the alleged harassment by Jerry Sandusky of these particular boys, who (obviously) were not Penn State students? In answering these questions, Grossman and Brake explain why, at the very minimum, the alleged sexual assaults that took place in the showers of the Penn State locker room or its sauna would, at least, fall within Title IX’s reach. In addition, they explain the legal issues regarding Penn State’s potential liability for the abuse, and look to the Grand Jury’s report to see if actual notice and deliberate indifference can be proven, as Title IX requires. Finally, Grossman and Brake note that, for several reasons, there are likely to be no statute-of-limitations issues here, despite the passage of time.

The Penn State Scandal: Why Is No One Talking About Title IX? Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

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In the first in a two-part series of columns on the Penn State alleged child sex abuse and failure-to-report scandal, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and U. Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake comment on a new and interesting legal aspect of the scandal. They argue that in addition to raising issues of criminal liability and civil tort liability, the alleged Penn State child abuse and the failure to report it may also raise issues under Title IX—the 1972 federal statute that prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex in their educational programs and activities. Grossman and Brake note that Title IX has been used in the past to address sexual harassment by teachers and coaches, and by third parties, and that such harassment can encompass sexual assault and rape. Title IX, they note, also reaches same-sex harassment. Based on the grand jury presentment, Grossman and Brake detail the allegations at issue. Based on Supreme Court precedent, they explain why the alleged conduct at issue could fit within the parameters of Title IX.

The Reasons Why Herman Cain Has Not Been Able to Talk His Way Out of His Exploding Sexual Harassment Scandal

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Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal from a legal, rather than political, point of view—based on what is known so far, and on Cain’s own comments regarding sexual harassment. Grossman recalls Cain’s negative remarks about the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which strengthened discrimination law, and she explains in detail how discrimination law, and sexual harassment law in particular, have improved the situation of women in the ensuing years. She also takes issue with Cain’s suggestion that speaking to someone cannot be sexual harassment—pointing out that if the words that are spoken connect job benefits with sexual favor, speaking them is the very epitome of sexual harassment. In addition, Grossman notes that harassment by someone who is the head of a company, as Cain has been, triggers different and harsher rules and heightens the risk to the company. Finally, Grossman questions Cain’s claims that he was adept at line-drawing in this difficult legal area, and may only have had a problem with “over-complimenting” women. She notes, too, that the law sees things not from the point of view of the alleged harasser, but of the victim and of a reasonable person in the victim’s place. Worst of all, Grossman, argues, is Cain’s contention that the claims against him were fabricated; fabrications, she points out, are extremely rare in this area of law, making the multiple claims against Cain especially damning.

An Update on the Fisher v. University of Texas Affirmative Action Case, and the Procedural Issue That Might, But That Need Not, Complicate Things For the Supreme Court

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Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on an interesting case about affirmative action, in which U.S. Supreme Court review is being sought. As he explains, the case asks the question whether a rejected applicant who challenges an affirmative-action program as unconstitutional must prove that, without the affirmative-action program, he or she would have been admitted. Focusing on two key prior Supreme Court cases, Amar notes that there is another possible standard to be applied here—one under which the applicant would not need to show that he or she would have been admitted under the program, but would simply need to assert that he or she had applied, and thus that he or she had been harmed by being considered under an unconstitutional set of rules. Carefully parsing the Court’s precedents, Amar considers whether ambiguous prior decisions are best seen as involving substantive or jurisdictional issues.

Military Commissions Resurgent

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Justia columnist and Hunter Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments upon the return of military commissions, which she describes as the latest in a string of victories for congressional Republicans who seek to bring back Bush-era “war on terror” policies—while seeking not only to keep Guantanamo open, but also to increase the number of persons detained there. Mariner argues that the Obama Administration ought to fight hard against such compromises of rights, but notes that it is not clear yet whether the Administration will take that stance. As Mariner explains, the test case here, which may signal the Administration’s future approach, is that of Lebanese citizen and alleged Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq, who has been detained for crimes against U.S. military personnel in Iraq. Mariner contends that the federal courts, not military commissions, are the proper place to try terrorism suspects—with a strong record, under which (1) not a single genuine terrorist escaped conviction, and (2) the federal courts’ sentences generally proved to be longer than the military commissions' sentences.

Reflections on the 9/11 Attacks’ Lasting Impact on America, and American Law

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Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John W. Dean comments on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with a special emphasis on the legacy of the attacks for American law. Dean begins by assessing how foreign media sources—whose perspectives, he explains, may be somewhat more detached than Americans’, yet who often interviewed Americans as sources—see the anniversary of 9/11. In addition, Dean contends that, where American law is concerned, the legacy of 9/11 is a baleful one. In support of his claim, Dean points to a post-9/11 proliferation of laws (some with sunset provisions, some without) that, he contends, go beyond all previous limits of constitutional propriety. Dean focuses in particular on the Patriot Act, and the infamous torture memo. All told, Dean concludes, the fallout of the 9/11 attacks has had a highly negative impact on American law.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois i... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington University. He teaches tax law and tax policy, and he has taught contract law, law and economics, and... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published a... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the Judiciar... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has written hundreds of popular essays, dozens of scholarly articles, and six books on constitutional law... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book,  more

Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in more

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Developmen... more

Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law. Before that, he was University Profe... more

Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Wexler was a Professor of Law at Florida State University, whose... more