Equality and Liberty

  • July 31, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Steve Sanders, associate professor, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University Bloomington.  

    The federal court decision last week ordering Ohio to honor a same-sex marriage that had been performed in Maryland was a legal landmark – the first federal decision to hold that, even if a state is hostile toward creating same-sex marriages, it may still be required to recognize such unions from other states.  The opinion relied on a reading of the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision that was probably too simplistic, and it failed to provide a robust and persuasive constitutional explanation for the distinction between recognizing existing marriages and actually creating new ones.  (Later in this post, I’ll suggest a better analysis.)  Still, the decision signals the opening of a new front in marriage equality litigation, a development I have previously suggested is overdue.  

    The case involved two Cincinnati men, James Obergefell and John Arthur.  Arthur is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and the couple wanted his Ohio death certificate to list his status as “married,” with Obergefell as his surviving spouse.   In early July the couple flew to Maryland in a specially equipped medical jet, were married in the plane as it sat on a tarmac, and returned home the same day.

  • July 24, 2013
    BookTalk
    Ghosts of Jim Crow
    Ending Racism in Post-Racial America
    By: 
    F. Michael Higginbotham

    by F. Michael Higginbotham, the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law

    Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America offers a prescription for moving America beyond its destructive race problem once and for all. While tremendous progress has been made, America remains unequal. Black unemployment, poverty, and homelessness are twice that of whites. Wealth accumulation for blacks is one twentieth of what it is for whites. Seventy-five percent of whites graduate from high school compared to less than 60 percent of blacks. While some blame personal choices for the discrepancies, the nation's deeply entrenched history of discrimination cannot be ignored. Emotional racial protests continuing across the country today prove that America is far from becoming "post-racial," to the chagrin of those proclaiming such when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. 

    Ghosts of Jim Crow notes the three distinct eras, the nation’s founding, Reconstruction, and the civil rights movement, during which progress towards racial equality was marred by periods of resistance and retreat. Talk of building a new nation, on the principles of liberty and equality, in the latter 18th century, meant little to the millions of blacks forced into chattel slavery or to the free blacks who were racially profiled, presumed to be slaves, and denied due process rights simply because they were black (Hudginsv. Wright, 1806). The promise of emancipation, following the Civil War, was cut short when the Supreme Court adopted a “separate but equal” theory in Plessy v. Ferguson, at the end of the 1800s.  In the decades following, state and local governments' massive resistance to desegregation initiatives allowed "Jim Crow" segregation to flourish.  This remained true even after such behavior was ruled unconstitutional, in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954. During the late 20th century, just as the civil rights movement was beginning to show results, through race-conscious affirmative action programs, the Supreme Court limited the government’s ability to redress all but the most blatant examples of discrimination. The 2013 State of Florida v. Zimmerman case, where a white neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting and killing the black teenager he allegedly profiled, Trayvon Martin, proves Ghosts continue to haunt black America. President Obama, who rarely comments on race, acknowledged as much in his recent comments.

    Subtle, yet pervasive, racism, through presumptions of black inferiority and embraces of black separation and white isolation continue to perpetuate the racial divide. There are two types of racism that prevent equality currently – structural racism and cultural racism. Structural racism involves policies, laws, and programs that embed inequality within society, and in so doing, reinforce cultural racism, those beliefs and actions that embrace racial hierarchy and isolation. Both structural and cultural racism must be ended in order to create equality. 

    Legislative and judicial responses to continuing racial inequality have been inadequate. The approach of simply eliminating government racial classifications is not sufficient. We must eliminate notions of superiority to stop the cyclical process whereby racist thoughts and actions lead to disparities. 

  • July 18, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Thomas Perez was confirmed by the Senate to be Secretary of Labor this afternoon by a vote of 54 to 46. Perez’s confirmation comes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reached a deal with the body’s Republicans where they agreed to end filibusters on several executive appointments, including Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, in exchange for President Obama dropping two nominees he had appointed to the National Labor Relations Board during a Senate recess at the end of 2011.

    Perez leaves his position as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to take the helm at the Labor Department. At Justice, he notably challenged South Carolina’s 2011 voter ID law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and led an investigation into alleged discriminatory policies and practices by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

    He talked about his experiences fighting for voting rights at an ACS lawyer chapter event earlier in the year, describing Section 5, which was recently all but struck down by the Supreme Court, as the “crown jewel” of civil rights legislation. Without Section 5, Perez noted, efforts in covered jurisdictions to restrict voting would have been much more severe. Of his own role, Perez said that he was just one step in the “marathon relay” that is the struggle for equality and civil rights; a struggle, he added, which is not yet complete.

  • July 11, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The secret court that hears government requests for spying on Americans' communications is a durable check against government overreach because it’s made up of esteemed, independent federal court judges and the lawyers representing the nation’s intelligence apparatus are really good at their jobs. At least that’s the take of a large number of government officials who support  sweeping surveillance programs, which the secret has approved.

    Last year the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) did not deny or reject the 1,789 government FISA applications. Apparently 40 of applications were modified, but since the FISA Court’s actions are secret, we don’t know in what why they were altered. In 2010, Salon reported, “there were 1,511 applications, of which five were withdrawn and 14 modified.”

    This week James Comey, President Obama’s nominee to head the FBI, told a Senate committee that the FISA Court is no “rubber stamp” and that people just don’t understand the highly secretive court, George Zornick reported for The Nation. Comey also maintained that another reason the FISA Court rarely rejects government demands for more information about Americans is that the government’s attorneys work really hard to put together sound applications.

    But just as this defense of the FISA Court as a serious check is being built, more information is seeping out about the secret court’s work. The New York Times reported that the Court does more than secretly grant general warrants for the NSA to sweep up mass amounts of information about Americans. It is also issuing opinions on “broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.”

    Ten of the FISA Court’s 11 independent federal judges, Salon’s Joan Walsh reports are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The judges Roberts appointed are ones named to the bench by Republican presidents. “Over the last 12 years, they approved 20,909 surveillance and property search warrants and rejected only 10 government requests,” she added.

  • July 1, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Senator Terri Bonoff, (DFL – Minnetonka), Minnesota State Senate. Sen. Bonoff is chairperson of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

    I was a proud co-author of the Minnesota Marriage Equality Law that recently passed in our legislative session that ended May 21. As many know, the law will take effect on August 1, 2013. August 1, is my birthday. On my 50th birthday the University Avenue bridge fell, making my birthday bittersweet in the years following. While I am a “holiday” gal, love to celebrate, sharing the day with those who lost so much has made the day also marked by sorrow.

    I am pleased to mark my forthcoming birthday, with something to celebrate - marriage equality. As a Democrat from a western suburban district that leans Republican, I am truly a swing voter in every way. I not only represent swing voters I am fiercely independent myself - my votes on fiscal matters often line up with my colleagues on the other side. Yet on matters of social justice, I am clear where I stand. It is because of this that I believe I was asked to be a co-author. I told my community during the campaign that I would not vote to raise their income taxes, but I would vote to support marriage equality. I did not say, “Don’t vote for the constitutional amendment because it is not necessary - our laws dictate that only one man and one woman can marry.” Instead I said, “I am for marriage equality, and you?” There was no confusion in my community about where I stood -- I put it in newspaper surveys, on my website and spoke of it in debates.