Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights

Will the Lower Court Consensus on Same-Sex Marriage Influence the Supreme Court?

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses how the lower courts’ consistent rulings in favor of same-sex marriage might influence a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dorf observes that every single judge to rule on the question has relied on the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor for the conclusion that SSM bans are unconstitutional. He concludes that while the lower courts’ decisions have no binding effect on the Supreme Court, they might serve as a legal barometer of what is legally plausible and as conduits of public opinion.

A Decade of Change: The Tenth Anniversary of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman reflects on the progress of same-sex marriage in the United States over the past decade. She notes that on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Grossman describes how the movement gained momentum and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor contributed substantially to that rapid change. She observes that as of now, 19 states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage, and that number is only going to increase.

How the Biggest Supreme Court Victory for Affirmative Action a Decade Ago Contributed to the Defeat for Affirmative Action Last Month in the Schuette Case

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram David Amar discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action upholding the Michigan state constitutional ban on race-based affirmative action. Amar explains how the Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger—widely regarded as a victory for proponents of affirmative action programs—paradoxically contributed to the outcome in Schuette. Amar concludes that while diversity is a worthwhile rationale for race-based admissions programs, minority students would be better served if that rationale supplemented, rather than a replaced, the original remedial purpose of such programs.

Using the State to Bully Dissidents

Justia columnist and Chapman law professor Ronald Rotunda explains why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is implicated by the forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for his donation to a committee that supported California Proposition 8, the California initiative that banned gay marriages in that state. He critiques the state law requiring disclosure on the grounds that it facilitates harassment of donors who wish simply to exercise their constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court Again Fractures Over Race

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. He provides a brief history of Supreme Court jurisprudence on race and contrasts that history with yesterday’s fractured opinions, which consist of a plurality opinion, three concurrences, and a dissent (with Justice Kagan recused). Dorf explains that while the decision has relatively low doctrinal stakes, the case exposes three important fault lines running through the Roberts Court.

Undue Burden: New York City Police Officer Denied Opportunity to Take Sergeant’s Exam Because She Was Due to Give Birth the Same Day

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a charge of discrimination filed against the City of New York for an allegedly unlawful testing accommodation policy. Grossman describes the facts alleged in the charge: an NYPD police officer was denied the opportunity to reschedule a sergeant’s exam despite that she was scheduled to give birth on the same day as the exam. Grossman then discusses the applicable laws, and she argues that the discriminatory policy is a manifestation of the erroneous mindset that pregnancy is a condition not worthy of even minor accommodation.

Hair Makes the Man: Federal Appellate Court Says Short-Hair Requirement for Male Athletes Is Sex Discrimination

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman tells the story of a boy in Indiana who sued for, and won, the right from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for male athletes to wear their hair long during the athletic season, or at least for the right for boys not to be forced to cut their hair while female athletes are allowed to wear theirs long. Grossman discusses the ruling and why, although it corrects some of the missteps made by other federal courts in grooming-code cases, it does not go far enough to eliminate the gross stereotyping implicit in many sex-specific appearance codes.

The Red State Scare: Federal Court in Texas Invalidates Ban on Marriages by Same-Sex Couples

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman notes that first Utah, then Oklahoma, then Kentucky, and now Texas have seen at least some aspects of their anti-same-sex marriage rules invalidated by federal courts. Red states are unlikely to shift as quickly as blue states, Grossman notes, but change on this issue is inevitable, and only in one direction. She also notes the irony of Justice Scalia's words being used against him.

Kentucky to Become a “Second Paradise” for Same-Sex Married Couples

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the status of same-sex marriage in Kentucky. There, a federal court’s ruling in Bourke v. Beshear concluded that whether or not a state has the power to refuse to authorize same-sex marriages on its own turf, it does not have the constitutional power to refuse to recognize those that are validly celebrated elsewhere. Grossman notes that Bourke joins a growing number of cases in which recognition issues are at the forefront, a trend that was ignited by the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in United States v. Windsor, which found fault in the federal government’s decision to single out same-sex marriages for non-recognition.

On Brain Death and Civil Rights

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses the tragic situation of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl who was pronounced brain dead after surgery, and whose family sought to keep her on a ventilator despite that diagnosis. Kemp focuses on the federal civil rights lawsuit recently filed by the family. He argues that it is unlikely to succeed on the merits and that the family would be better advised to seek alternative means of answers and justice for their loss.

Ohio’s March Toward Marriage Equality

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a recent ruling by a federal judge in Ohio striking down that state’s laws banning recognition of same-sex marriages validly performed in other states. Kemp describes the facts and legal reasoning of that case and explains how the ruling affects residents of Ohio and its potential implications outside that state. He predicts that although the scope of the ruling is quite narrow—affecting only death certificates for Ohio residents with same-sex surviving spouses—it strongly suggests an imminent change in that state and elsewhere in the country.

How the Supreme Court Unwittingly Legitimized Richie Incognito’s Unlawful Conduct

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the legal and other aspects of the incidents by which Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito bullied and racially harassed his teammate Jonathan Martin, to the point that Martin left the team. Dorf also notes that, interestingly, several U.S. Supreme Court cases are relevant to the controversy regarding Incognito’s behavior.

Hawaii Comes Full Circle on Same-Sex Marriage

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman chronicles Hawaii’s role in the same-sex marriage controversy—including its being the site of the beginning of the modern battle over same-sex marriage, although back then, Hawaii did not itself legalize same-sex marriage. But as Grossman notes, 20 years later, Hawaii now finally has legalized same-sex marriage, thus closing the circle. She also explains why Hawaii’s action should never have had the impact it did, given the proper interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

ENDA and the Rainbow Workforce

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Employment Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013, which would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the measure is not predicted to survive the House, Grossman contends that its passage in the Senate is noteworthy and encouraging.

Same-Sex Weddings at the Jersey Shore

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the recent developments in New Jersey culminating in today’s first same-sex marriages performed in that state. She describes the relatively complex journey to marriage equality in that state and explains how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last term in United States v. Windsor led to the New Jersey Supreme Court refusing to delay enforcement of a lower court’s ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriage.

When Can Administrative Claims Preclude Constitutional Claims?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on the first day of its 2013-2014 Term. That case, Madigan v. Levin, raises the question whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) precludes age discrimination claims brought directly under the Equal Protection Clause. Kemp notes that the particular facts of the case and the tone of arguments at the Supreme Court suggest that the Court may not decide the case on the merits. However, he argues that the case does present important questions on the power of Congress to abrogate individuals’ right to sue for constitutional violations, and its duty to do so only when the statutory remedies are both adequate and broadly accessible.

Is Virginia the Next Major Same-Sex Marriage Battlefield?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp describes two recent lawsuits filed in Virginia challenging that state’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. Kemp describes the two cases, explains why Virginia is a favorable venue for such legal challenges, and notes the prevalence of other similar cases around the country. Kemp concludes that the existence of so many cases challenging discriminatory laws must be seen as a step in the right direction for same-sex marriage advocates.

Playing “Too Womany” and the Problem of Masculinity in Sport

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake comment on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which transformed athletics for women and girls. Yet, they note, serious problems remain. Grossman and Brake note issues such as the cost of prizing masculinity in sports and the collateral damage of masculinity, including rape, gang-rape, and male-on-male hazing and assault. They also discuss the daunting task of changing sport culture, suggesting that community sports programs, especially in the younger years, should encourage more co-ed play, so that kids learn young to respect all athletes, both male and female, at a young age.

A South Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Challenge, and Predictions as to the Outcome of Future Litigation in This Area

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a recent case filed in federal court in South Carolina challenging the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriages. Kemp describes the facts and arguments of that case, Bradacs v. Haley, and compares it to another recent case filed in Ohio challenging that state’s own laws precluding recognition of same-sex marriages. Kemp notes one particular parallel between arguments in the two cases and predicts, based on this parallel, that we will see similar challenges in several other states with comparably structured domestic relations laws.

The New Mexico Supreme Court Applies Anti-Discrimination Law to Wedding Photographer Refusing to Photograph Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision to uphold the application of the state’s anti-discrimination law to a wedding photography business that had refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The decision, as Colb explains, means that, in New Mexico, most businesses may not refuse service to gay and lesbian couples on the basis of either the First Amendment freedom of expression or the First Amendment freedom of religion, even if the business at issue involves an expressive component, and even though the people who own or operate the business might harbor religious objections to same-sex relationships. Colb focuses, among other points, on a concurring opinion that she contends shows a laudable sensitivity to the feelings of people who experience themselves as aggrieved by anti-discrimination laws.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more