The Senate has blocked President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. Adegbile, who was a prominent lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has faced criticism for overseeing an appeals process for a convicted murderer while at the LDF.NPR’s Carrie Johnson comments on why the president’s nominee is facing criticism for “one controversial episode in his long career.”
The D.C. Council passed a bill Tuesday that would decriminalize private possession and smoking of marijuana. As anticipation grows surrounding Mayor Vincent Gray’s signing of the bill, Aaron C. Davis of The Washington Post describes how the law is developing into a civil rights issue.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has cancelled plans for three new charter schools. Al Baker and Javier C. Hernández of The New York Times discuss the mayor’s unyielding support for public education in the face of a growing “charter school empire.”
Ryan Goodman at Just Security reports on the Obama administration’s lethal operation against a U.S. citizen in Pakistan for “production and distribution of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
A study conducted by Rachel West and Michael Reich at the Center for American Progress reveals that “a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage [would] reduce SNAP enrollment.”
At The Root, Jenée Desmond-Harris notes how the 2015 White House budget report highlights civil rights, the reduction of racial disparities and access to higher education.
by Mary Beth Tinker, Petitioner, Tinker v. Des Moines
* Editor’s Note: Ms. Tinker is currently traveling the United States to promote youth voices, free speech and a free press as part of the Tinker Tour. For updates, follow the Tour on Twitter and read its February 2014 newsletter. You can support the Tour at startsomegood. The Tour ends on March 7.
The smiling face of a seventh-grader named Jake is on my laptop screen. Jake is explaining why he wrote “We will never forget you, Newtown... 12/14/12” on the front of his shirt last year after the Newtown Elementary School shooting. On the back of the shirt, he wrote the name of every person who had been killed there. He explains that he did it because “I felt very emotional. That school was close to mine.”
When Jake wore the shirt to school the day after the shooting, the principal asked him to remove it, a possibility that Jake’s parents had prepared him for. He refused, and was sent home. Later, the parents heard that school administrators were worried that students would be upset by the shirt, and that a parent had complained.
Jake went back to school, but the experience inspired a new interest: students’ rights. Now, he’s doing a documentary for National History Day on “rights and responsibilities” that will feature the Supreme Court case, Tinker v Des Moines, in which I was a plaintiff.
Jake is asking why I wore an armband to school when I was in eighth grade back in 1965, knowing—like him—that I would get in trouble. He’d also like to know how the case led to the Supreme Court and a landmark victory for students’ rights on February 24, 1969.
by William Kidder, the Assistant Provost at UC Riverside. Mr. Kidder’s post represents his personal views and not necessarily those of the UC administration. Mr. Kidder has a book review of Mismatch forthcoming in the Texas Law Review and a policy brief on the impact of Michigan’s Proposal forthcoming through the UCLA Civil Rights Project. His article on California’s Proposition 209 was published last spring in the Journal of College and University Law.
In discussing scientific evidence, Justice Breyer articulated a bare minimum standard that judges need to meet in order to protect the public interest and parties to litigation: “Consider the remark made by physicist Wolfgang Pauli. After a colleague asked whether a certain scientific paper was wrong, Pauli replied, ‘That paper isn’t even good enough to be wrong.’ Our objective is to avoid legal decisions that reflect that paper’s so-called science. The law must seek decisions that fall within the boundaries of scientifically sound knowledge.”
Regrettably, in last week’s oral argument in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, there were times where Michigan’s solicitor general John Bursch advanced arguments about higher education that aren’t “even good enough to be wrong” and that, if accepted, would leave the Court in a wilderness outside of the boundaries of sound statistics and social science knowledge.
In response to Justice Sotomayor’s question about the impact of California’s affirmative action ban, Bursch claimed, “The statistics in California across the 17 campuses in the University of California system show that today the underrepresented minority percentage is better on 16 out of those 17 campuses. It’s not at Berkeley; they haven’t gotten there yet; but its better on the rest.” There are only ten UC campuses, not seventeen. Of these campuses nine UC campuses (and eight with undergraduates) permit a comparison of pre- and post-affirmative action periods.
In contextualizing Bursch’s claims, it is also helpful to address African Americans, American Indians and Latinos separately. Most directly responsive to Bursch’s dubious claim are total enrollment figures (though that means combining undergraduate, graduate and professional school students). Compared to a baseline of 1996 (before California’s affirmative action took effect), the percentage of African Americans in 2012 is lower on a majority of UC campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The negative impact of prohibiting affirmative action is greatest at the most selective campuses that disproportionately train future leaders. At UC Berkeley African Americans were 5.1 percent of students in 1996 and only 3.3 percent in 2012, fifteen years after the campus implemented myriad rigorous race-neutral efforts to improve diversity. At UCLA African Americans were 5.8 percent of total enrollment in 1996, and 3.9 percent in 2012.
Many reasonable accounts from high court correspondents suggest the U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to uphold a Michigan constitutional amendment banning the use of race-conscious admissions policies at public universities.
On Tuesday, with hundreds of protestors gathered outside the courtroom, oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action were presented to eight justices of the high court, with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself. The constitutional amendment at issue, passed via state referendum in 2006, faces a challenge from a coalition of affirmative action advocates that claims the amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause by placing an undue burden on minority populations. In part, the Coalition says that legacy students could lobby university officials for preference in the admissions process, while minority students must win a statewide repeal of the amendment before taking similar action.
In general, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices did not appear ready to support the Coalition’s arguments. For example, in response to civil rights attorney Mark Rosenbaum, arguing on behalf of the Coalition, Reuters reports that Chief Justice John Roberts “leaned forward from his center chair on the mahogany bench and said curtly: ‘You could say that the whole point of…the Equal Protection Clause is to take race off the table.’” He went on to ask if it was “unreasonable for the state to say, ‘Look, race is a lightning rod…We want to take race off the table and try to achieve diversity without racial preferences’?”
For his part, Justice Anthony Kennedy was restrained in his questioning, appearing to seek a narrow justification for upholding the Michigan amendment while leaving in place important precedent. After all, rulings in 1969 and 1982 in cases from Akron and Seattle – in which the Court struck down voter measures that removed anti-discrimination laws in education and housing – complicate any path to upholding the amendment. Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch suggested a possible distinction: earlier cases involved anti-discrimination laws, while the amendment at hand only demands equal treatment. “This was a broad-based law that was primarily motivated by the people of Michigan’s decision to move past the day when we are always focused on race,” Bursch explained.
by Deirdre M. Bowen, Associate Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law
The long awaited affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, came down with more of a whimper than the expected wail. While much is being made of the limited nature of the decision, the legal battle over affirmative action is far from over. Indeed, the opinion suggests more of a long-path towards the demise of affirmative action through its shifting language and unclear standards. And in creating more questions than it answers concerning how to prove the validity of an affirmative action program, and thus leaving more lines open for its attack, the opinion takes the focus away from the need to design programs which ensure that all students benefit from diversity.
Indeed, Fisher appears to invite further attack of affirmative action. The Court makes abundantly clear that it takes no position concerning the continued validity of Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in higher education to achieve diversity and the benefits that flow from it. In other words, it remains an open question how long a university’s educational mission that includes creating a racially diverse campus will continue to pass constitutional muster. Instead, the Court in Fisher focuses on how the strict scrutiny standard, which is used in equal protection cases, should be applied in affirmative action cases involving higher education. And, even more narrowly, Justice Kennedy uses the Fisher opinion to clarify how that analysis should work when evaluating a university’s chosen method of implementing its diversity mission.