Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights

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.

A Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling Underscores the Limits of Habeas Corpus as a Remedy for State Prisoners

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on Monday’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Metrish v. Lancaster, as well as on the more general significance of unanimous rulings. Lancaster, as Dorf explains, involved the writ of habeas corpus, which the Justices declined to invoke, despite evidence indicating that the convict at issue did not receive due process at the state court level. Dorf also notes that this is only one instance in a larger pattern of the weakening and narrowing of habeas corpus at the High Court.

If the Supreme Court Decides the Proposition 8 Sponsors Lack Standing, What Will Happen to Same-Sex Marriage in California? Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part Two of a two-part series of columns regarding legal issues relating to Proposition 8, Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on various scenarios relating to the Proposition that may or may not come to pass. The scenarios include a number of different ways in which Judge Walker’s injunction might be read.

The Supreme Court Will Review a Michigan Affirmative Action Case Next Term, but May Address the Key Issues in It This Term

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a set of key affirmative action issues that the Supreme Court may address this term and/or the next. The programs at issue include affirmative action in state public higher education, employment, and contracting. As Dorf notes, the Michigan affirmative action case that the Court will address is more complicated than it may at first seem, in part because Court precedents establish limits on how a state or local government may go about eliminating or preventing laws that benefit racial minorities. Dorf also notes that an issue that is important here also crops up in the Prop 8 case currently before the Court: the issue of the import of giving and then taking away rights.

Why The U.S. Supreme Court Should Not Fear That Denying the Proposition 8 Sponsors Federal Standing Will Weaken The Initiative Device (And a Few Other Thoughts on the Oral Argument in Perry v. Hollingsworth)

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the standing issues, as well as some other issues, that were discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Justices in their recent oral argument regarding Proposition 8, the California measure that bans same-sex marriage. In particular, Amar discusses whether the proposition’s sponsors are the ones who should defend it in court, concluding that they are not. He adds, as well, that denying the sponsors standing will not weaken the initiative device. Moreover, Amar notes that state law could authorize sponsors to defend initiatives in the future, but the authorization must be done carefully, clearly, and in a way that is visible to voters. Amar also considers the possibility that the Proposition 8 case will ultimately be dismissed by the Supreme Court as having been improvidently granted.

A Lawyer for All: The 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright

Justia columnist Joanna Grossman and Justia guest columnist Leon Friedman, both Hofstra law professors, comment on the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainright, which established the right to an attorney for those who are facing felony charges, and who would not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer. The column is timely, as the Gideon precedent is now fifty years old. In their column, Grossman and Friedman describe the state of the law before the ruling in Gideon, note the arguments that persuaded the Court to declare a right of appointed counsel for those who could not afford counsel, and explain the meaning of the ruling.

Justice Scalia’s Long Campaign Against “Racial Entitlements” Takes an Unexpected Turn

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on Justice Scalia’s arguments regarding what Scalia calls “racial entitlements,” and the Voting Rights Act. As Dorf notes, these issues came up during the oral argument in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. Moreover, Dorf notes, Scalia had earlier raised these arguments both when he was a law professor, and repeatedly in his opinions on the Court. But, Dorf points out, Scalia’s references in the past appeared in affirmative action cases, whereas this reference appeared in his discussion of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is not an affirmative action provision; rather it deals with election rules in jurisdiction with a history of discriminatory voting rules. Dorf questions whether Scalia’s extension of his own “racial entitlements” logic is valid in this context.

Is Veganism a Religion Under Anti-Discrimination Law? An Ohio Federal District Court Says Perhaps

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a discrimination case in which the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center fired a Customer Service Representative, Sakile S. Chenzira, for refusing to get a seasonal flu vaccine, in contravention of hospital policy. Chenzira refused the vaccine because she is a vegan and the vaccine is produced in chicken eggs. After her firing, Chenzira went to federal district court, arguing that her firing violated her right to be free of religious discrimination. The court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss the case, and decided to hear the evidence. Colb describes in detail what it means to be a vegan, and explains why, for some vegans, the decision whether or not to be vaccinated is a difficult one. She also discusses when, under federal law, a belief system counts as a religion, noting that veganism ought to qualify under that definition. Colb also offers a prediction as to the likely outcome of Ms. Chenzira’s case.

Is Obama’s Policy of Targeted Killings Really Worse than Bush’s Torture Policy?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contrasts Obama’s policy of targeted killings of persons believed to be leaders of al Q’aeda, with George W. Bush’s prior policy of authorization of the use of torture. The issue is timely in the wake of the release of an Obama Administration white paper on the targeted-killing issue. Dorf notes that the Administration is drawing criticism from both the right and the left on that issue. Dorf argues that the Administration is right to seek to craft a policy that complies with both the U.S. Constitution and the international law of war. He also examines the views of controversial conservative law professor John Yoo on which is worse: the Obama Administration’s targeted killing policy, or the Bush Administration’s torture policy. Dorf also looks at such questions from the point of view of not just law, but also morality.

Does BLAG Have Standing in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Case in Front of the Supreme Court?

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar discusses the question whether BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, has standing in the same-sex marriage cases now before the Supreme Court. Amar details the argument made by professor Vicki Jackson, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to brief questions as to whether BLAG has standing, and also whether the case is justiciable. Amar notes the role of the key precedent of INS v. Chadha, which concerned a legislative veto, and other important precedents that may prove significant to the Court.

Congressional Republicans Offer Three Bad Arguments for Upholding the Defense of Marriage Act

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf takes strong issue with the three arguments that Congressional Republicans have put forward in support of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as opposite-sex marriage alone for purposes of federal law. Next month, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case. Dorf characterizes the three arguments put forward in favor of Section 3 by Congressional Republicans as very weak, and indeed, shockingly unpersuasive, analyzing each in turn.

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 the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... 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 the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... 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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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