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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on DoD’s recent decision to remove the ban on women in combat. After providing a brief history of women in the military, Grossman characterizes the ban as having been a stubborn form of sex discrimination, and notes that the ban had been honored in the breach, as military women were increasingly participating in combat roles that put them in harm's way, as a number of their deaths have sadly proven. Thus, Grossman calls on the military to recognize the reality that women already occupied what are in effect combat roles, even before the DoD restrictions were lifted, and to ensure military women’s equality by addressing the high level of sexual abuse in the military.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman takes strong issue with a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision holding that a male dentist did not violate a law banning sex discrimination in employment when he fired his very competent dental assistant simply because he was attracted to her. Grossman argues that the Iowa courts should, in this case, have recognized that the dentist perpetrated what is called “sex-plus discrimination,” which joins sex discrimination with another factor, such as an attraction to a particular person of that sex. Thus, Grossman explains, it is not a factor in the dentist's favor, legally, that he had hired other female assistants, and did not harass them. When women are treated worse than men at work because of their gender, Grossman concludes, discrimination law must apply, regardless of how many women are harassed or how selective or attraction-based the harasser may be.