Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights

Hard Labor: New Pregnancy Discrimination Guidance From the EEOC

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s new Enforcement Guidance on pregnancy discrimination. Grossman provides an overview of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, as well as a history of courts’ treatment of pregnancy discrimination claims. She describes how the new Guidance clarifies the Act and serves to help pregnant women begin work, continue working, and return to work throughout the reproductive process.

How to Fix the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf proposes eight different options for fixing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Dorf suggests that open discussion of what was wrong with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. can inform the public and opinion leaders about how to fix RFRA when the opportunity arises.

Hobby Lobby Yields More Rancor as Wheaton College Queues Up to Deny Contraceptive Coverage to Its Female Employees

Cardozo Law professor Marci Hamilton discusses Wheaton College’s request to receive accommodation under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to avoid providing some reproductive coverage for its female employees. Hamilton draws upon her own personal experience and points out that the recent controversies over RFRA in the U.S. Supreme Court have revealed that law’s true nature.

Federal Appellate Court Rules Utah’s Ban on Marriage by Same-Sex Couples Unconstitutional

Hofstra University law professor Joanna Grossman discusses a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upholding a lower court’s invalidation of a Utah ban on same-sex marriage. Grossman points out that while state same-sex marriage bans have been invalidated in sixteen different rulings across the country, this decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has so ruled.

What’s Really Wrong With the Decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell?

Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Cardozo School of Law, offers a strong critique of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Court held that owners of closely held corporations may deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives on the basis of the owners’ own religious beliefs. Hamilton explains why the Court’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is problematic and calls for that legislation to be repealed as soon as possible.

What RFRA Has Wrought: Hobby Lobby, Onionhead, and the Perils of Religious Triumphalism

Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recently filed religious discrimination lawsuit the EEOC brought on behalf of several employees against two companies, United Health Programs of America, Inc. and Cost Containment Group, Inc. In that case, the two defendant companies are allegedly imposing their “Onionhead” practices on their employees and discriminating against those employees who object to those practices. Hamilton argues that the case illustrates what is at stake in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the Court is expected to resolve crucial questions about the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and its relationship to civil rights acts.

Academic Freedom Is Not Immunity From Robust Debate in the Marketplace of Ideas

Cardozo Law School professor Marci Hamilton argues for the importance of academic freedom but distinguishes it from immunity from debate in the marketplace of ideas. She comments on a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request targeting University of Virginia School of Law professor Douglas Laycock for allegedly using university resources for anti-LGBT ends. Hamilton calls the formal FOIA request unnecessary but the intent to question how his public positions on various issues play out in the real world. Hamilton describes a number of positions Laycock has taken publicly that support the view that he is an advocate for extreme religious forces.

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.

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

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... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more