Civil rights

  • January 20, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Valerie SchneiderAssistant Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law.

    On Wednesday, January 21, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., one of the most important civil rights cases of the 2014-2015 Supreme Court term.  Via this case, the Justices will decide whether disparate impact claims – that is, claims where members of a protected class are disproportionately affected, but where intent to discrimination cannot be proven – are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act.

    Much has been written on the text, legislative history and case law that supports the validity of disparate impact analysis under the Fair Housing Act.  Indeed, as pointed out by many, in the Fair Housing Act’s over 45 year history, every circuit that has examined the issue has either assumed or decided that such claims are cognizable under the FHA.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development also weighed in last year, issuing a rule that clarifies the burden-shifting structure of such claims.  What is less examined, however, is why disparate impact analysis matters, not just as a litigation strategy, but as a behavior-modifier and as a moral imperative.

    Housing segregation was not just sanctioned, but explicitly enforced by public and private actors in our country for over 200 years. During that time, minorities were systematically denied not just access to housing, but access to all of the benefits that flow from housing opportunities:  educational opportunities, economic centers, healthy food, clean air, government services and many other critical threads in the fabric of American life. 

    After over 200 years of enforced segregation, housing discrimination has been prohibited for only 45 years.  Housing discrimination has been outlawed for less than one quarter of this country’s history. To say that prohibiting acts of intentional discrimination alone can reverse the ill-effects of our country’s long relationship with housing segregation is a fallacy.

  • January 12, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law

    *This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear seven cases in which federal courts of appeals had found bans on same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional. One month later, a divided court of appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, upheld the bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, & Kentucky. All four groups of plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, and the Court is likely to decide whether to take up those cases at its conference on January 9, 2015. There are a number of legal issues in the case, but the keys to the ruling below are the two reasons Judge Sutton gave to support the ban, which this essay argues are indefensible under whatever degree of scrutiny the Court applies.

    The majority opinion of Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton upholding bans in four states on same-sex marriage has an aura of reasonableness to it, but when it comes to offering real reasons to justify the bans, it cannot withstand analysis. According to Sutton, there are two reasons why the bans are constitutional: (1) they encourage procreation in marriage by opposite-sex couples, and (2) they uphold traditional marriage, while allowing for future change.

    There are three undisputed facts that demonstrate conclusively that those reasons cannot sustain the bans: (1) most of the benefits of marriage for opposite-sex couples are unrelated to encouraging procreation; (2) the laws also preclude civil unions or any other arrangement that confers any of the benefits of marriage on same-sex couples; and (3) the Ohio ban was applied to deny the surviving member of a marriage performed out of state the right to include on the death certificate of his husband the indisputable fact that he was "married."

  • December 15, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Mark Bittman wonders whether inequality and injustice in the United States is bad enough yet to lead to change.

    On MSNBC's "Weekends with Alex WittEkow Yankah from Cardozo School of Law discusses if the nationwide protests in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have formed into a movement.

    Steven Mazie considers whether Supreme Court justices are too privileged to understand the concerns of average Americans at Big Think.

    NPR’s All Things Considered” looks at a family’s fight to introduce a new law on how investigations occur when police shoot civilians.

    Michael Li writes for the blog of the Brennan Center for Justice on the major questions raised by the racial gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court.

    In The Washington Post, Terry Lenzer asserts that the Justice Department has retreated from civil rights protection.

  • December 5, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times argues that the death of Eric Garner was not simply the result of a chokehold, but also due to bad policy and poor training.

    The laws that protect pregnant workers are very unclear, asserts Rebecca Leber in The New Republic.

    At Salon, Luke Brinker discusses a new study by the Labor Department that reveals that millions of workers are illegally paid less than minimum wage.

    Carrie Johnson and Melissa Block of NPR look at the recent Justice Department finding that the Cleveland police department has systematically used excessive force.

    Alex S. Vitale examines in The Nation what strategies for police reform will actually have the most impact.

    At FiveThirtyEight, Oliver Roeder considers whether the Supreme Court “is becoming too cloistered.”

  • December 2, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Mark Landler reports on President Obama’s announcement of new standards for police gear and body cameras for police officers. ACS hosted a panel on police militarization in November that featured discussion of more significant reforms to police policy that legislators could undertake.

    Noah Feldman writes in Bloomberg View about the Elonis case and asserts that “Anthony Elonis doesn’t deserve sympathy or admiration – but he does deserve for the government to prove that he meant to threaten others before he goes to jail.”

    In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman argues that the Supreme Court should be the biggest issue of the 2016 campaign.

    Caitlin Borgmann writes in the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court should take up a case about laws regulating abortion clinics in order to send a message to state legislatures that pass “disingenuous laws designed to shut down clinics.”

    Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz report in The New York Times that New York City will expand public health services throughout its criminal justice system.