Equality and Liberty

  • May 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, Special Counsel for Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., which filed a brief in support of marriage equality, together with the NAACP. Follow him on Twitter @jpscasteras.

    It was a familiar scene at the U.S. Supreme Court: states argued that allowing certain couples to marry would impose long-term harms upon children, families and social institutions. They contended that it is not the judiciary’s place to scrutinize restrictions upon the freedom to marry.  And they fell back upon the claim that the definition of marriage is a longstanding tradition.

    No, I’m not talking about last week’s argument on same-sex marriage; I’m referring to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which ultimately struck down bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional. Switch a few names and adjectives and you could have approximated swathes of the oral argument from 48 years ago, listening to Virginia defend a central vestige of segregation.  Indeed, Virginia now acknowledges that it had supported interracial marriage bans and school segregation with “the same arguments offered by marriage equality opponents today” and powerfully concedes that it was on the “wrong side” of those issues.

    The resemblance should come as no surprise.  Civil rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and NAACP have long advanced briefs and analyses about the logical and legal parallels between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage.  Recently, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal released new studies comparing our nation’s ability to progress on these two issues.  Courts around the country have recognized the enduring relevance of Loving’s holding that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness” and that “all the State’s citizens” possess a fundamental right to marry.

    Likewise, last week, the justices repeatedly focused on Loving, referencing it ten times in the transcript and another half-dozen times indirectly.  Justice Kagan explored how “Loving was exactly what this case is” and Justice Breyer explained that the states’ reliance upon tradition today is “the same way we talk[ed] about racial segregation.”  The Solicitor General put it eloquently: allowing states to discriminate against same-sex couples “will approximate the nation as a house divided that we had with de jure racial segregation,” and he did not “know why we would want to repeat that history.”

  • May 7, 2015
    BookTalk
    Allegiance
    A Novel
    By: 
    Kermit Roosevelt

    by Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School

    In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that segregated railroad cars by race.  The Equal Protection Clause, the majority explained, prohibited discrimination that aimed to stigmatize or oppress a group, but racial segregation did not.  It was, instead, a reasonable, good faith response to the way things were.  In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court changed its mind.  Segregation was inherently stigmatizing, it said, and anything to the contrary in Plessy was overruled.

    This pattern ‒ initial acceptance of a certain kind of discrimination followed, years later, by its rejection ‒ has repeated itself with each major civil rights movement in our constitutional history.  Plessy yields to Brown; Bowers to Lawrence; Bradwell v. Illinois (which upheld Illinois’ exclusion of women from the practice of law) to modern sex equality cases like United States v. Virginia.

    But how does this constitutional progress occur?  It is not, I’ve suggested, the work of heroic philosopher judges, discerning the true meaning of the concept of equality.  Nor does it rely on diligent historians, uncovering the understandings of the people who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment.  It happens because social movements change the minds of the American people about what is or is not oppressive, stigmatizing, or invidious.  It is the judicial recognition of a change that occurs, first and primarily, outside the courts.

    That change is the expansion of what Attorney General Francis Biddle called “the compass of sympathy” ‒ the scope of our ability to look at others and see our shared humanity.  Social movements changed the outcome of constitutional cases by convincing Americans that those who had seemed different were not so unlike them after all; that the aspirations and desires of blacks, or women, or gays, were fundamentally the same as those of the rest of society, and that what these groups sought was not special rights or unique privilege but equality and inclusion.

  • May 6, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Julie Nice, Herbst Foundation Professor of Law and Dean’s Circle Scholar, University of San Francisco School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium on the consolidated marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court.

    Whatever Justice Kennedy decides on the question of whether states can ban same-sex marriage, the name Obergefell will mark this landmark moment in constitutional history.  That’s fitting because the remarkable story of undying love between James Obergefell and his late husband, John Arthur, is truly what the battle for marriage equality is about.              

    The Obergefell story is about two men determined to marry before one of them succumbed to the ruthless disease that was taking his life.  It’s a story about a medical plane transporting two men to a wedding on a tarmac in a state that would recognize their same-sex marriage.  It’s a story about the pain of the indignity suffered when their home state refused to recognize their love and their marriage on that ultimate of legal documents, the death certificate.  It’s a story about seeking “that same ennoblement” bestowed on heterosexual couples.

    It’s also a story all-too-familiar within my own family.  My sister Suzanne Nice and her partner, Maureen Martin, devoted themselves to the life they built together and sustained for over thirty years.  Through the beauty of their quiet harmony, they provided an inspiring model of loving commitment to all of us in their circle of family and friends.  Maureen died early in 2014, just months before Illinois began recognizing same-sex marriage.

    When Maureen’s death suddenly appeared imminent, we furiously attempted to obtain a medical exemption from Cook County officials to authorize their marriage ahead of the announced date upon which Illinois would begin recognizing same-sex marriages.  But the bureaucratic requirements were impossible to meet given Maureen’s deteriorating condition, and time ran out far too quickly.  I sat in the funeral home with Suzanne, alongside Maureen’s brother and sister, barely able to endure bearing witness to my sister’s pain as she was forced to acquiesce to a death certificate listing Maureen as single and never married.

    As my mind listened to the Justices sparring with the lawyers about the constitutionality of denying same-sex marriage, my heart was with Suzanne and Maureen, James and John, and the countless other devoted same-sex couples who have suffered a similar denial of dignity.

  • May 6, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Camilla Taylor, Counsel and Marriage Project National Director, Lambda Legal. Ms. Taylor is a member of the Advisory Board the Chicago Lawyer Chapter.

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium on the consolidated marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court.

    As the four legal teams representing same-sex couples from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan left the Supreme Court after oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges, we felt overwhelmed by the significance of the moment.  The Supreme Court is now poised in our combined cases to decide whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the freedom to marry.  Many of us had worked toward this day for well over a decade or longer.

    A victory in Obergefell would be transformative. Our 

    struggle for the freedom to marry has always been about far more than marital protections; at its essence, our struggle is nothing less than a demand for formal recognition of our common humanity and of the legitimacy of all families.  A win for same-sex couples and their children will breathe new life into our country’s promise of liberty and equality.  Children of same-sex couples will be able to grow up free of government-imposed stigma, and with pride in themselves and in their families.  Lesbian and gay youth will be able to hold their heads higher, secure in the knowledge that they may form families worthy of equal respect in the eyes of their government.

    However, while a victory in Obergefell would be historic, it would not be the end, even for our marriage work.  A movement to secure civil rights is never finished by a Supreme Court ruling, no matter how important that ruling may be.

    As we have seen after past marriage court victories, states determined to discriminate do not simply give up.  Instead, for example, they fight to deny the children of same-sex spouses two-parent birth certificates.  Same-sex spouses who were precluded from marrying until recently, or whose marriages were denied recognition as a result of discriminatory state marriage bans, may still have to fight for crucial marital protections subject to a relationship duration requirement (such as social security benefits for a surviving spouse, which accrue only to those who were married for more than nine months under state law).

  • May 4, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of Boston Police Department

    I applaud Marilyn Mosby's swift and decisive move in charging the six Baltimore police officers on Friday, May 1 with crimes ranging from second-degree murder to manslaughter, assault and false imprisonment, and I'm hopeful that she'll get the result that she's seeking, if that’s what the interests of justice determine is warranted.  However, I don't believe that the Baltimore officers will be convicted of any murder or manslaughter charges and that this likely result will lead to more civil unrest.  According to The Washington Post, in order to secure a guilty finding in Maryland for second degree murder in the death of Freddie Gray, (the “depraved heart” murder), the judge or jury must agree that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of three necessary elements for conviction: (1) that the defendant (here the police transport van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson), actually caused Freddie Gray’s death; (2) that Officer Goodson’s conduct itself posed a very high risk to endangering Gray’s life; and (3) that Goodson, aware of the risk he was causing to Gray’s life, acted with extreme disregard of the life endangering consequences of his actions.

    To secure a manslaughter conviction, even for involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must convince a judge or a jury (and these will likely be jury trials), that the officers in Baltimore knew or should have known that their actions were a direct threat to Gray’s life and that what the police did in arresting, subduing and transporting Gray was something they knew was inherently dangerous or that it was done with a reckless disregard for human life.

    Prosecutors will face an uphill and arduous battle in securing convictions against these six police officers, even given the current climate of public skepticism, mistrust, and suspicion (and even disdain) of the police that began in earnest in Ferguson last August.  For what the police engaged in on April 12 in Baltimore, even in its violence, brutality and senselessness, was nothing if not the routine and mundane activities of the police, particularly in communities of color in cities across the United States. What happened to Gray, we may very well learn from defense counsel in the upcoming trials of the officers, was standard operating procedure (with an unintended, accidental and tragic result), perhaps even in compliance with police policy, as well as tactics and strategies that the officers were trained in, and all in a day’s work in the perilous, violent and dangerous world that the police believe that they toil in selflessly, thanklessly and courageously every day.  This is the police narrative, always and already, and one that prosecutors will need to challenge vigorously in order to secure any convictions against the “Baltimore Six.”