Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights

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.

Falling Dominoes: Same-Sex Spouses Gain More Recognition Rights

Hofstra law professor and Justia columnist Joanna Grossman comments on recent same-sex marriage developments, including Justice Ginsburg’s performing a same-sex wedding ceremony; the ruling in United States v. Windsor; changes in the way in which same-sex couples now will be treated by the IRS and Social Security Administration, as well as by HHS regarding Medicare benefits; and the Obergefell v. Kasich case, which raised the issue of whether a same-sex marriage would be reflected on a death certificate.

Another Front in the Same-Sex Equality Campaign: Jury Service, Peremptory Challenges, and the Smithkline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories Case Pending in the Ninth Circuit

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on Smithkline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, which is being argued next month in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At issue is whether it is constitutionally permissible for a lawyer to eliminate would-be jurors from a case because of their sexual orientation. The issue arose in this antitrust lawsuit involving HIV medications, when an attorney exercised a peremptory strike to remove a possible juror from inclusion in the jury because, he said, the would-be juror was “or appears to be, could be, homosexual.” (Peremptory strikes allow each side of a case to remove a certain number of would-be jurors based on a hunch or intuition.)

The Imminent Demise of Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses the recent grant of a temporary restraining order by a federal judge in Ohio, effectively suspending that state’s ban on recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. Kemp discusses the facts and reasoning behind the decision in that case, Obergefell v. Kasich. He then considers the background of Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). He concludes that although Obergefell does not expressly address DOMA, in practice it signals an imminent shift toward overturning the remaining section of that federal law.

Why California Should Repeal Proposition 8: Part Two in a Two-Part Series on What Should Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California After Hollingsworth v. Perry

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar describes why, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, California still ought to repeal the State’s Proposition 8, for a series of reasons. After chronicling recent Prop. 8-related events, such as the attempts of some—such as the San Diego County Clerk—to enforce Prop. 8 even now, Amar also suggests that it would be valuable to have California voters vote on Prop. 8 once again, given that voters’ views have significantly changed, and now align against the Proposition. Amar also describes the logistics of getting a repeal measure on the ballot.

Revenge: The Supreme Court Narrows Protection Against Workplace Retaliation in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake together comment on the Supreme Court's recent decisions in two cases that involved employment discrimination. In one, the Court narrowed the definition of “supervisor” in harassment cases, which reduces the number of cases in which employers can be held vicariously liable for unlawful harassment. In the other case, the same 5-4 majority took a restrictive view of causation in workplace retaliation cases, which Grossman and Brake note will undermine protection for workers who complain about discrimination. As Justice Ginsburg observed in her strong dissents in both cases, and as Grossman and Brake also contend, the majority opinions are insensitive to the realities of working life, and are wrongly preoccupied with making it easy for employers to win discrimination cases at the summary judgment stage.

How to Read United States v. Windsor to Understand What Gay Couples Won This Week, But Why They Still Have a Long Way to Go

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a little-remarked but important aspect of the recent Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor: the limits of the decision. For instance, she notes that gay people were not granted a constitutional right to be married in any state by the decision. Moreover, Hamilton points out that, despite the decision, there are only 14 jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, where gay people will be able to marry, and where they also will be able to receive the identical federal benefits received by heterosexual couples. And, in the 37 states left to persuade, federal benefits for married couples can be limited to heterosexual couples. Thus, Hamilton notes that we are far from true equality for gay Americans.

DOMA is Dead: The Supreme Court Rules in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, holding that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—passed in 1996 in haste to ward off same-sex marriage in the states—is unconstitutional. Grossman chronicles DOMA's history; discusses challenges to DOMA Section Three; and explains why Windsor was the perfect test case for DOMA. She also covers the standing issue, in addition to the merits questions discussed by the majority opinion and the dissent.

A Restroom of One’s Own: The Maine Supreme Court Considers A Transgender Student’s Exclusion From the Girls’ Bathroom

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a Maine Supreme Court case regarding a child who was born male, but identified as a girl (“Susan Doe”). Susan’s school allowed her to use the girls’, rather than the boys’ bathroom, until a student’s grandfather complained, and Susan was required to use a separate, staff-only restroom that no other students used. Colb discusses the arguments—pro and con—for allowing Susan to use the girls’ bathroom at the school, just as other girls would.

The Inevitable Holding in Shelby v. Holder, and Its Fallout

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case that the Court just resolved. Section 4(a) of the Act establishes a formula to be applied to identify jurisdictions that must obtain preclearance before they change their voting practices. Hamilton considers the majority and the dissent, and contends that coverage of the decision features a drastic overstatement of both the Court’s decision and its likely fallout.

The Power to Harass: The Supreme Court Adopts A Definition of “Supervisor” that Reduces Employer Liability for Harassment

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman critiques the Supreme Court majority opinion in Vance v. Ball State University. There, Grossman explains, the Court majority held that a harasser does not qualify as a supervisor unless he or she has the power to “take tangible employment actions against the victim”—also known informally as having the power to hire and fire. This ruling matters in important ways, Grossman explains, because the employer’s liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for workplace harassment committed by supervisors is much stronger than it is for harassment inflicted by co-workers. Accordingly, the ruling leaves some workers with less protection from harassment than they would have had, if the Court's minority had had its way. Grossman also covers Justice Ginsburg's dissent, which she finds very persuasive.

A Preview of Next Week’s Supreme Court Ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry—The Case From California Involving Proposition 8’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: What to Expect and What to Look For

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar offers thoughts on what we may expect to see in the Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling on Proposition 8. Among other points, Amar cautions that we should not expect a definite resolution of the federal constitutional question of same-sex marriage. He also describes some of the narrower options for which the Court might opt instead, and in some instances, the likelihood of particular options being chosen.

Seneca Falls Redux: New York’s Governor Cuomo Pushes A New Law to Protect Women’s Rights

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman explains the specific provisions of, and the keen need for, the bill that Governor Cuomo of New York has recently proposed, which is entitled the Women's Equality Act (WEA). Pointing to two hypothetical babies, a boy and a girl, Cuomo notes that the girl's life will be marked with risks and forms of discrimination that the boy will never have to suffer. The bill, Cuomo contends, will help level the playing field for girls and women, via changes in the law in ten different areas, each of which Grossman comments upon.

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