Equality and Liberty

  • April 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Liliana M. Garces, William C. Kidder and Gary Orfield

    Garces is an Assistant Professor of the Higher Education Program and Research Associate of the Center for Study of Higher Education at Penn State College of Education. Kidder is the Assistant Executive Vice Chancellor at UC Riverside. Orfield is the Professor of Education, Law, Political Science and Urban Planning and Co-Director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA.

    Chief Justice Hughes famously said that a dissenting opinion is “an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day, when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting judge believes the court to have been betrayed.” Dred Scott, the Civil Rights Cases, Plessy, KorematsuIn these and other landmark race-related cases, dissenting Justices spoke eloquently to “the intelligence of a future day” in laying bare the errors in the holding and reasoning of the Court’s majority opinions.

    Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in Schuette, joined by Justice Ginsburg, is both brooding and compelling in the way it speaks to an intelligence of a future day, a day when, “as members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.”

    We deeply regret the decision by the Supreme Court upholding Michigan’s ban on race-sensitive admissions as constitutional and overturning the Sixth Circuit’s en banc ruling that the referendum violated the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection. On the heels of recent voting rights and campaign finance decisions—decisions that not only create enormous barriers but further weaken minority political power and increases the power of money—the Schuette ruling exemplifies how legal decisions can ignore the stark realities of our nation and the deep racial inequalities that continue to exist in America. 

  • April 16, 2014
     
    On Tuesday, the New York Police Department 
    announced that it would shut down a special unit that spied on Muslim groups. Known as the “Demographics Unit,” the squad allegedly “mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.” Matt Apuzzo and Joseph Goldstein at The New York Times report on the controversy surrounding the NYPD. 
     
    India’s Supreme Court recently recognized transgender rights. In National Legal Services v. Union of India, the court recognized the pain and struggle felt by the transgender community while stressing the historical importance of the group within India’s diverse culture. Faculty Advisor for the City University of New York School of Law ACS Student Chapter Ruthann Robson writes at Constitutional Law Prof Blog that the court’s decision “not only requires the government to recognize a ‘third gender’… but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and ‘seriously address’ various problems.”
     
    Last week, Utah defended its ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Kitchen v. Herbert. During the hearings, state officials were “surprisingly straightforward in explaining that its marriage law is based directly upon its citizens’ religious values.” At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights Leslie C. Griffin, Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ACS Student Chapter, argues against religious-based law and why, when it comes to the same-sex marriage debate, “Utah has it backwards.”
     
    Juan Haines at The Life of the Law  describes District Attorney of Santa Clara County Jeff Rosen’s visit to a San Quentin jail where he spoke with inmates about “crime, punishment, rehabilitation, and reentry.” 

     

  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel-Washington Office, The Brennan Center for Justice

    The right to vote is at the heart of our American Democracy. Political participation by citizens is the great equalizer – it is the one thing that allows all Americans, no matter how powerful or weak, to make decisions about who will lead and who will help to advance their interests and protect their families. On April 10, Congress took an important step towards ensuring that this crucial right becomes available to even more Americans. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the bi-cameral Democracy Restoration Act (DRA). This important legislation would restore the right to vote in federal elections to the previously incarcerated immediately after their incarceration period is complete. Doing so would enable these individuals to resume the right and responsibility inherent in our role as Americans – asserting our voice through the ballot box.

    The DRA was first introduced in 2009 by former Sen. Russell Feingold. Previously, the bill received strong support, but never quite enough to become a reality. This time, however, is different. There is an enthusiastic and bi-partisan movement underway to reform those parts of our criminal justice system that do not work.  We can see this at the national as well as the state level:  Congress is considering reforming the federal sentencing structure to make sentences fairer in an effort to help eliminate mass incarceration; the Department of Justice has instituted a "Smart on Crime" initiative that would result in better decision-making by prosecutors; and several states, most notably Kentucky, are considering legislation that would restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in its state prisons. Other states have also made significant changes to their laws to open up the franchise to the formerly incarcerated, most notably in Delaware, and Virginia – a state that had previously been cited as having one of the most draconian felon disfranchisement laws on the books. So the moment to finally restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, who have paid their debts for their crimes, is now.

    Unlike other attempts to restore voting rights, the DRA is the most comprehensive effort. Under the legislation, once an individual has completed his or her incarceration period, their right to vote in federal elections will be automatically restored.  Individuals will not be limited because of any ancillary issues related to their incarceration such as outstanding fees and fines or the fact that they have been released from prison but remain on probation. This is a significant feature of the DRA.

  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Nora Gay, President-elect, Vice President of Membership, ACS University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Student Chapter
     
    “But it was a proclamation, it was not a fact.”
     
    The words of President Lyndon Baines Johnson echoed at the beginning of each program of the Civil Rights Summit in the LBJ Auditorium last week in Austin, Texas. A montage of historic photographs followed onscreen to a soundtrack of songs about change or progress mixed with other recordings of LBJ’s iconic words. I had the privilege of attending the panels on Wednesday and Thursday as well as the address by former President Bill Clinton and the keynote address by President Barack Obama.
     
    I have started to realize that when commemorating the anniversary of certain laws or court decisions like the Civil Rights Act, or last year, with Gideon v. Wainwright, it becomes more than simply a celebration; it is an evaluation of how far we have come and how far we must go, and it is a call to action. As President Clinton said in his speech, saying “thank you” to the politicians and activists who made the signing of the Civil Rights Act possible is not enough.
     
    University of Texas’ President Bill Powers introduced the Summit’s panels by talking about UT’s involvement with civil rights. Powers acknowledged that UT has not always been on the right side of history, and in fact the university played a role in stalling “separate but equal” in Sweatt v. Painter in 1950. Today, the university awaits the a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. University of Texas that was vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court last year. “We stand ready to defend diversity.”
  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Nora Gay, President-elect, Vice President of Membership, ACS University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Student Chapter
     
    “But it was a proclamation, it was not a fact.”
     
    The words of President Lyndon Baines Johnson echoed at the beginning of each program of the Civil Rights Summit in the LBJ Auditorium last week in Austin, Texas. A montage of historic photographs followed onscreen to a soundtrack of songs about change or progress mixed with other recordings of LBJ’s iconic words. I had the privilege of attending the panels on Wednesday and Thursday as well as the address by former President Bill Clinton and the keynote address by President Barack Obama.
     
    I have started to realize that when commemorating the anniversary of certain laws or court decisions like the Civil Rights Act, or last year, with Gideon v. Wainwright, it becomes more than simply a celebration; it is an evaluation of how far we have come and how far we must go, and it is a call to action. As President Clinton said in his speech, saying “thank you” to the politicians and activists who made the signing of the Civil Rights Act possible is not enough.
     
    University of Texas’ President Bill Powers introduced the Summit’s panels by talking about UT’s involvement with civil rights. Powers acknowledged that UT has not always been on the right side of history, and in fact the university played a role in stalling “separate but equal” in Sweatt v. Painter in 1950. Today, the university awaits the a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. University of Texas that was vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court last year. “We stand ready to defend diversity.”