Analysis and Commentary on Civil Rights

Battle of the Sexes: The Department of Defense Lifts the Restriction on Women in Combat

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.

When Good Courts Go Bad: The Iowa Supreme Court Issues an Absurd Decision on Sexual Jealousy and Employment

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.

How a Case About Decriminalization of Marijuana Has Substantial Implications for the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Persons

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on the connection between a case about decriminalizing marijuana, and another case about gay and lesbian rights—and in particular, about sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which are now prohibited in California where those under 18 are involved. Amar and Brownstein describe SOCE methods, and the two cases, with very different judicial results, which confronted the question whether barring SOCE violates the First Amendment, and particularly the right of doctors to communicate with their patients. They then explain the central importance of the marijuana-decriminalization precedent when it comes to the SOCE cases, which may well end up before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Going to the Show: The Supreme Court Will Consider Validity of Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the two upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases relating to same-sex marriage. The first case presents the question whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—one provision of which precludes the federal government from giving effect, for any federal law purpose, to a validly celebrated same-sex marriage—is unconstitutional. The second case raises the issue of the constitutionality—or lack thereof—of a voter referendum in California that eliminated a right of same-sex marriage that the state’s highest court had previously ruled to be constitutionally necessary. Grossman provides detailed background on same-sex marriage developments in the U.S., and then goes on to analyze the issues raised by DOMA and the California referendum, respectively, and to consider the various possible outcomes that the Court might reach in each Supreme Court case. While Grossman notes that the Supreme Court has often tended to rule in ways that bring along straggler states on social justice issues, rather than being ahead of the states as a group, she also notes that this case could be an exception to that pattern.

Equal Access to the Tools of Political Change; The Sixth Circuit’s Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action Case Is Destined For the Supreme Court

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a closely watched affirmative action case that the Supreme Court will very likely resolve. As Amar notes, the case concerns how a state that tries to abolish affirmative-action programs may, in doing so, violate the Constitution. As Amar explains, such programs are never constitutionally required to be initiated, but their abolition may be constitutionally problematic—for instance, if programs that benefit minorities are abolished in a way that leaves all programs that benefit other groups untouched, and that makes reenactment of the programs that minorities prefer especially difficult; or when minorities are subjected to greater political obstacles in the adoption (or re-adoption) of the programs they might support than are other groups.

Is the Supreme Court Ducking the Same-Sex Marriage Question, and If So, Is That Wrong?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on two questions involving same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court may or may not duck: First, there is the question whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—which defines marriage under federal law as opposite-sex marriage, even when state law recognizes same-sex marriage—is constitutionally valid. And, second, there is the question whether California violated the Constitution when it enacted Proposition 8, which prospectively eliminated the possibility of same-sex marriage, and thereby nullified an earlier California Supreme Court ruling that had found a state-constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Dorf considers why the Justices might—or might not—see the cases that raise these questions to be appropriate vehicles for Supreme Court review, and notes what might happen next if the Court does not take up a DOMA case.

An Historic First: Voters Support Same-Sex Marriage at the Polls

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman evaluates the meaning of the votes cast across the nation on the various pro-same-sex marriage referendums. Such referendums passed in Maryland, Maine, and Washington State. Grossman describes the details of the various referendums and other ballot measures relating to same-sex marriage, and notes the split, in each state she discusses, regarding votes for Obama and for Romney, respectively. Grossman explains why such referendums are noteworthy: (1) the common but not necessarily correct idea that this is an issue for the people (not courts) to decide; (2) the fact that the referendums may augur the future of same-sex marriage in America; and (3) the referendums show that young voters tend to be pro-same-sex marriage, and as more and young people reach voting age, there very likely will be even more pro-same-sex marriage voters. Grossman concludes, citing relevant statistics and developments, that among young people, and Americans generally, we are seeing a sea change toward support of gay marriage.

Hands Off the Merchandise!: Appellate Court Orders Grocery Store to Ban Sexual Harasser from Premises

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a flagrant case of sexual harassment in a grocery store, which eventually led to litigation that came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case, as Grossman explains, arose from the store owner’s fiance’s habit of touching sexually, and otherwise sexually harassing, the store’s employees, who were mostly teenage girls. The girls complained, but nothing was done. Ultimately, the store was found liable for sexual harassment. Grossman explains the steps necessary to win such a case, and discusses the question of the scope of the remedy that was imposed upon the store in this case. She also notes that in such cases, both legal remedies (money damages) and equitable remedies (court orders to do or refrain from doing something) are appropriate.

A Federal Appeals Court Invalidates a Military Commission Conviction: Paying the Price for Circumventing the Civilian Justice System

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, throwing out the conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Dorf chronicles Hamdan’s long legal journey, and the repercussions that it has had for U.S. law. Dorf also explains that while the most recent decision regarding Hamdan is narrow, it nevertheless carries symbolic significance, casting doubt on the Bush Administration’s and the Obama Administration’s respective, and similar, detainee policies.

The End of an Unjust Law: The Second Circuit Strikes Down DOMA and Sets the Stage for Supreme Court Review

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp comments on the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage, for federal purposes, as being between a man and a woman. Kemp discusses why the Second Circuit held that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause required the application of intermediate scrutiny. Kemp also notes that the Second Circuit was the first court facing this issue not to also analyze the issue using a lower level of scrutiny. In addition, he discusses a number of other cases decided by courts across the country, that have confronted the issue of what level of scrutiny is proper for classifications based on sexual orientation—and why such cases may well lead to eventual Supreme Court review.

How Religious Bullies Have Recently Sought to Impose Their Views on Others, in Pakistan and Here in the U.S.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on an incident in Pakistan in which a 14-year young woman was shot by the Taliban because she voiced her view that girls should be educated; and an incident here in the U.S. where the American Family Association—which is characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group—has essentially come out in favor of the bullying of homosexual children on Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which is meant to break up cliques, even if just for one day. Hamilton argues that the first incident shows the need for the international recognition of civil rights, and of the rule of law, and the second incident involves a particularly repellent form of homophobia that has no place in our public schools. Each incident is made all the worse, Hamilton suggests, because children are the victims. Hamilton reminds us, too, that we are fortunate here in the U.S. to have the benefit of the First Amendment's Establishment and Speech Clauses.

Binders for Women, Blinders for Romney

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the second presidential debate, and especially on Mitt Romney’s now-famous comment about “binders full of women,” which has now become an Internet meme. Grossman argues that the comment reveals Romney’s dated and uninformed view of women in the workplace. She also notes that Romney, while avoiding the question about pay inequity that led to the “binders” comment, revealed that he believes that the only workers who need flexible schedules are women, apparently due to the assumptions that all women have children, and that only women perform child care.

Was Justice Scalia Right That Many Contentious Constitutional Issues Are “Easy” to Resolve?

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar takes strong issue with Justice Scalia’s recent remark that certain constitutional questions are “easy”—including questions relating to the constitutionality of the death penalty, laws restricting abortions, and limits on the rights of gays and lesbians to engage in homosexual activity. Amar argues that even if one uses Scalia’s own interpretive method of originalism, the answers to such constitutional questions are far less easy than Scalia claims them to be; and Amar cites a number of interesting examples to prove his case. Amar also contends that a full approach of originalism would go much further than the examples Scalia gives, would destroy important and basic contemporary Court precedents, and thus would seriously disrupt constitutional law as we know it. Finally, Amar contends that the counterarguments that Scalia might make to the objections that could be raised regarding his views would only get him into deeper trouble analytically.

Single-Sex Public Schools and Classes: A Dangerous Lesson in Stereotypes?

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on some troubling aspects of the federal regulations regarding single-sex public schools and public-school classes, and how those regulations have often been distorted in practice. These developments, Grossman notes, have led to a current nationwide ACLU investigation, from which preliminary findings have been made; and to a lawsuit, with more suits possibly to come. Grossman first explains the law and regulations that govern single-sex public schools and public-school classes, some of which derive from George W. Bush Administration regulatory changes that took effect in 2006. Detailing the content of the regulations, Grossman then argues that they not only run afoul of the law, but are also likely damaging the very children whom they are supposed to be helping. She also questions the decision to have schools self-enforce the very rules that are supposed to bind them. In addition, Grossman cites other baleful aspects of the 2006 changes, including their tendency to invite gender stereotyping, along with gender segregation, and the fact that they were based on what is clearly now-discredited science. Grossman argues that the Obama Administration’s Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should now take the opportunity to correct and update the regulations at issue.

The Republicans’ Shameless War on Voting

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on current and past efforts by the Republican Party to suppress non-white Americans from voting in Southern states. Dean reports that these kinds of efforts have been escalating since 2010, and that they now encompass some Northern states as well. Dean covers specific, highly credible reports of such tactics being used; notes how voting laws can play into that underhanded effort; charges some Republican judges with being unwilling to enforce the amended Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA); and explains why these dirty tactics are a stain on the history of the Republican Party. Dean also notes his own role, in the Nixon Administration, in conveying Nixon’s decision not to veto a VRA extension that gave 18-year-olds the vote, and explains how that decision ultimately led, indirectly, to 18-year-olds getting the vote. Dean also notes that Mitt Romney could never make the same decision to let 18-year-olds vote today, as so many young people are Democrats or Independents. Finally, Dean cites a number of reasons for which we should all be thankful for the VRA.

Does the Diversity Justification for Affirmative Action (Mis)Use Minority Students? Reassessing the Supreme Court’s Decision in Grutter

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar considers whether one common justification for affirmative action in education—to allow white (and other) students to have a more diverse educational experience—is improperly using, instrumentalizing, and commodifying minority students. The challenge to this justification, Amar notes, has lately been the subject of academic commentary. Amar discusses the Supreme Court’s seminal Bakke case, which concerned affirmative action; the later Supreme Court Grutter and Gratz affirmative action decisions; and the upcoming Fisher case on the same topic. In addition, Amar explains three reasons why he isn't as concerned about the instrumentalization/commodification issue in affirmative action as some other law professors are.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Takes Another Bullet: How Can It Survive?

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on recent and past developments regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to ignore valid same-sex marriages for federal purposes, such as the receipt of federal benefits. Grossman covers the beginning of DOMA; describes DOMA’s effect, including the legal havoc it wrought; and notes recent developments that she predicts will ultimately spell the death of DOMA. With four federal courts striking down DOMA’s key provision, Section Three, in just the last six months—in decisions that Grossman describes in detail—and the Department of Justice refusing to defend the law, Grossman suggests that the law cannot stand much longer.

Bringing Title IX to Bear on the Problem of Sexual Violence in Schools: Part Two of a Two-Part Series

In Part Two of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman continues her discussion of the application of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which effected a ban on sex discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funding. Grossman focuses especially on the recent case of Student v. Henderson Independent School District (HISD), in which a school district was sanctioned by a federal agency for failing to respond to a complaint of student-to-student sexual assault; and the legal standards that produced that result. Here, Grossman stresses, among other points, that a police investigation of alleged sexual harassment or assault is no substitute for the required school investigation that is mandated.

Bringing Title IX to Bear on the Problem of Sexual Violence in Schools

In Part One of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the application of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which effected a ban on sex discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funding. Grossman focuses especially on the recent case of Student v. Henderson Independent School District (HISD), in which a school district was sanctioned by a federal agency for failing to respond to a complaint of student-to-student sexual assault; and the legal standards that produced that result.

The Big 4-0: Title IX Puts a Fourth Decade Under Its Belt

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and U. Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake comment on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the federal civil rights statute that bans sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs. Grossman and Brake focus on the area in which Title IX has had its biggest impact, athletics, and explain its impact on college women’s and high school girls’ opportunities in sports. They reveal the secrets of Title IX’s success, including its refusal to take current, status quo levels of girls’ and women’s interest in sports as fixed or natural and thus to cap opportunities at current levels. Grossman and Brake also comment on Title IX’s recent history, criticizing the George W. Bush Administration for undermining the law, and praising the Obama Administration for properly enforcing it. Finally, they describe the stumbling blocks that still remain when it comes to full Title IX enforcement.

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