Civil rights

  • July 29, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Michael Waterstone, J. Howard Ziemann Fellow and Professor of Law, Loyola Law School Los Angeles 

    This week is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, government programs and services, and privately owned places of accommodation.  It was and remains an ambitious law, requiring employers and business owners to make reasonable accommodations, at their own expense, to be more accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.  And although there is still a long way to go, the ADA should be celebrated for its role in moving people with disabilities into the mainstream of society.

    Both the ADA and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (passed in 2008) passed with remarkable bipartisan support.  Disability has never entered the culture wars, and in many ways disability rights have transcended traditional political commitments.  But while legislative political elites in both parties have been very comfortable taking pro-disability rights positions, the public at large is less aware of and sometimes hostile to the ideals and goals of the disability rights movements.  Everyone likes and identifies with a feel good story about athletes who “overcome” disability.  But how many business owners have welcomed the idea of making physical or programmatic changes to accommodate difference?

    Although the ADA has a constitutional basis, it is primarily celebrated as a legislative success.  Lawyers and advocates who bring disability law cases are reluctant to engage constitutional law as a source of relief for people with disabilities.  And they have good reasons to be wary.  The ADA offers ample protections, moving deep into the private sphere in a way constitutional law could not.  And the doctrinal resting place of disability constitutional law is a bad one – under Cleburne, government classifications on the basis of disability are only entitled to rational basis scrutiny. Lawyers in the disability rights movement know how to count to five and have reasoned that the Supreme Court is an inhospitable place for equality claims generally.

    At this important milestone in the disability rights movement, I want to suggest that the next 25 years should include more of an engagement with disability constitutional law.  I take this position for several reasons.  First, there is a lot that is unclear, and potentially up for grabs, about equality law.  Cases like Windsor and Obergefell do not fit neatly into conventional tiered Equal Protection Clause analysis, instead looking at some mix of the nature of the interest protected and the legislative classification.  Simply accepting that Cleburne closed the constitutional canon on all disability claims does not sufficiently engage these evolving notions of equality.

  • July 17, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Paul Guequierre

    The LGBT rights movement has made extraordinary progress in just the past few years, let alone the past 11 years since Massachusetts became the first state to usher in marriage equality. Now, of course, marriage equality is the law of the land from sea to shining sea. Many people have put the rainbow flags away, thinking the fight for full equality is over. The reality is though, the fight is far from over.

    At the 2015 ACS National Convention, Janson Wu, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the 2012 David Carliner Public Interest Award recipient, sat down and gave us his take on the progress the LGBT rights movement has made, where we’ve been, where we’re going and where we need to take the fight.

    “Now you can see what seemed an impossible victory in 2003 and now seeming almost inevitable in 2015 and I think that’s kind of the theme of our work going forward: what are those kind of impossible dreams we can think of right now that we can make inevitable in five, ten, fifteen years,” Wu said.

    In the interview, Wu also noted the role litigation plays in the LGBT rights movement, not only as a legal remedy to discrimination, but also as a tool to educate Americans.

    “Litigation is actually a great vehicle for education because what we know is that the public can understand and really sympathize with stories of harm. When you have litigation, you generally have a plaintiff who is harmed, so we always try to, when appropriate, use our plaintiffs as a way of educating.”

    After marriage equality, what are the issues the LGBT community faces? Where are the legal efforts in the movement taking place and where will they head in the future? View the full interview with Janson Wu below. 

     

  • July 7, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Paul Butler discusses how “white supremacy is embedded in our very sense of normalcy” in the United States.

    At Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost writes that Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissenting opinion in Glossip v. Gross that suggests the death penalty is unconstitutional is a “genuine surprise.”

    Phyllis Goldfarb also considers Glossip v. Gross at the George Washington Law Review’s On the Docket blo, writing that “the rancor reached extravagant levels” in the lethal injection case.

    ACS Board member Linda Greenhouse argues at The New York Times that after this Supreme Court term, “it’s not the voters, but the Republican presidential candidates, who should be afraid.”

    At NPR, Nina Totenberg looks back at the historic Supreme Court term, calling it both “surprisingly liberal” and extremely contentious. 

  • June 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of Columbia Law School's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, and Executive Vice President for University Life at Columbia University.

    By striking down state laws that shut same-sex couples out of marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to a long and painful chapter in our country’s history and, at the same time, created an opening for a new wave of civil rights, safety, and justice advocacy.

    For so many years, with heightened intensity in the past two decades, states have denied same-sex couples access to marriage and the rights, recognition, and responsibilities that go along with it.  The terrible consequences are familiar: longtime partners kept from each other at hospitals, children and parents torn apart, humiliation and cost to people like the man at the heart of today’s decision, James Obergefell, whose marriage Ohio treated as nonexistent after Obergefell’s spouse, John Arthur, died in 2013.

    Familiar now, too, is the dramatic shift in the marriage equality landscape.  With increasing momentum, voters, legislatures, and courts around the country have reversed course on “defense of marriage” acts and rejected second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian couples.

    Without Supreme Court action, the nation was destined to maintain a discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws for years to come. The Court’s decision, in other words, reinforced the American tradition that courts, legislatures, and the general public each have a role in securing justice.

  • June 23, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    As Stephen Bright provided closing remarks at the 2015 ACS National Convention, he extoled the virtue of representing unpopular clients ‒ particularly criminal defendants, who are usually poor and often people of color.  He listed the names of inmates who have been wrongfully convicted and recently released from prison, all unwitting members of a far-too-large society of American exonerees:  Willie Manning in Mississippi, Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama, Alfred Brown in Texas, and Glenn Ford in Louisiana.  But Bright also delighted the crowd by introducing a special guest: exoneree and recent law school graduate Jarrett Adams.

    Adams served almost 10 years of a 28-year prison sentence for a crime that he did not commit.  After being exonerated with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, he obtained a degree in criminal justice and then attended law school at Loyola University Chicago.  He has worked at the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago and at the public interest law firm Loevy & Loevy, and soon he will begin a dual fellowship with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ‒ the very court that overturned his conviction and set him free.

    At the convention, Adams sat down with ACS to explain why it’s so important for law students to develop professional networks.  He said, “There are only so many big firms, and if you don’t . . . get a 4.0 or know someone . . . you don’t have the opportunity to summer with them and to get into the door.  ACS offers you the opportunity to network with the big law firms at events like this.”  He added, “You never know when you’re going to be in a networking event and meet someone that’s going to help you become someone.”

    Arguably, Adams – who hopes to practice civil rights law and continue leading the nonprofit organization he co-founded, Life After Justice – is already “someone.”  But, as he would probably agree, there is always room for growth and advancement.

    Adams’ entire interview can be viewed below.