Equality and Liberty

  • February 14, 2014

    by James Colligan

    Before the movement for marriage equality began to gather steam Virginia, like a slew of other states, banned same sex-marriage either with laws or constitutional amendments or in the case of North Carolina, both.

    For instance in 2006 through a referendum Virginians voted to amend their Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. Actually that amendment was rather sweeping, not only defining marriage as exclusively a union between a man and woman, but also prohibiting civil unions and all other contracts to “which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

    But some of those states’ constitutional amendments and laws, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 opinion in U.S. v. Windsor, are looking increasingly vulnerable.

    The Virginia ban was challenged last year on the grounds of violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment by two couples. Tim Bostic and Tony London have been together for 24 years. Carol Schall and Mary Townley have been together for 30 years. Even though Schall and Townley were legally wed in California, Virginia’s constitutional ban meant it would not recognize those same-sex marriages. The couples’ challenge to the constitutional amendment was considered in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia earlier this month.  

    Judge Arenda Wright Allen on Thursday found Virginia’s ban to subvert the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. In her ruling, Wright Allen wrote, “Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices – choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.”

  • February 4, 2014
     
    The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009 and has been a vital tool in the battle against wage discrimination ever since. Writing for Roll Call on the anniversary of the bill’s passage, Lilly Ledbetter and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Deborah J. Vagins reflect on the legacy of the Ledbetter Act, the importance of the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act and the necessity of executive order.
     
    Last year, the Senate eliminated its 60-vote supermajority requirement for most judicial and executive appointments after Senate Republicans chose to filibuster an egregious number of President Obama’s nominees. In an article for The Blog of Legal Times, Todd Ruger explains why it is likely that the Senate’s power to filibuster nominations will remain applicable to our nation’s highest court.
     
    Writing for the Center for American Progress, Joshua Field examines the current state of the Voting Rights Act, post-Shelby County. In his report, Field addresses the need to combat voting-related discrimination and the role our federal courts must play going forward.
     
    In an article for The National Law Journal, Tony Mauro examines the ACLU’s First Amendment fight against the Supreme Court’s ban on protesting on the Court’s plaza.
  • January 31, 2014
     
    Scores braved polar temperatures earlier this week to gather at the National Press Club for a fascinating American Constitution Society panel event on reproductive health. Entitled “Reproductive Rights and Women's Health: The States, Courts, and Congress” the two part event was headlined by an address from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) regarding his bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which seeks to prohibit state and local governments from erecting barriers that prevent women from exercising their constitutionally protected reproductive rights.
     
    Senator Blumenthal noted that a woman’s right to make health care decisions, including the ability to obtain abortions, without government or public interference is presently facing an unprecedented number of threats and legal challenges. For example there are restrictions currently being enacted by state and local governments have the effect of deterring women from making fundamental reproductive choices. There should be no regulation applied to abortions that is not similarly applied to comparable medical procedures, the Senator noted.
     
    A panel discussion featuring some of the foremost scholars and practitioners in the realm of reproductive rights preceded Senator Blumenthal’s comments and was moderated by Juliet Eilperin, White House Correspondent for the Washington PostRoger Evans, Senior Director of Public Policy Litigation and Law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted that the next major legal battle in this arena will be focused on a rising number of state laws that require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.
     
    Last November, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas (and assorted affiliates) filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to vacate a stay granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which temporarily blocked the permanent injunction that federal district court judge Lee Yeakel placed on Texas’ H.B. 2.  The law requires that, among other anti-choice restrictions, doctors preforming abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. The Supreme Court rejected that application, but Evans stated that it was “inevitable” that the issue of admitting privileges would eventually make it before the Court.
     
  • January 28, 2014
    BookTalk
    Defining the Struggle
    National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915
    By: 
    Susan D. Carle
    by Susan D. Carle, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law
     
    As the nation heads towards the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the time is ripe for revisiting the origins of the social movement that gave this important legislation its birth. We commonly think of the federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s, including both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as a product of a social movement that began just a few decades before. In fact, however, both the ideas for new national civil rights legislation to enforce the U.S. Constitution’s dictates of citizenship equality, and the activism that propelled those ideas into law, have far older origins.
     
    Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915, uncovers the almost forgotten “prehistory” of national organizing to promote racial citizenship equality. The book traces this history’s basis in the activism of lawyers and other civil rights leaders of the late 19th and first years of the 20th century. Through organizations rarely remembered today, such as the National Afro American League, the National Afro American Council, the Niagara Movement and others, early national leaders and activists began to experiment with a panoply of law-related strategies for advancing the equality principles embedded in the nation’s constitutional texts. These activists deeply believed in these fundamental equality principles, but they just as deeply distrusted the bureaucrats charged with enforcing law. Put otherwise, they were not naive “legal liberals” who believed the courts would enforce racial equality principles simply because they were petitioned to do. Early civil rights lawyers understood that the struggle would be a political one, and they were pessimistic about the advances that could be made without gaining more political power. At the same time, they believed that the courts were one forum in which the battle for racial equality should be fought, if only by exposing the nation’s hypocrisy on racial equality to the world. Even recognizing the great odds against them, this early generation of legal activists was willing to take on the challenge of using principles of  constitutional law to challenge the unjust application of law.
     
  • January 27, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini, Directors, Producers, The State of Arizona
     
    Editor's NoteThe State of Arizona debuts tonight, January 27, on the PBS series Independent Lens. Check local listings.
     
    The fact that our documentary, The State of Arizona broadcasts the night before The State of the Union has put each of us in mind of the state of immigration reform and the challenges we’ve continuously faced in adopting it.
     
    Why should the issue be so vexing? After all, everyone agrees the immigration system in place is broken. One of the greatest indicators that the system broke down was the state of Arizona when we first started filming.
     
    We were drawn to Arizona by SB 1070, the state’s controversial law, nicknamed the “Show Me Your Papers” law. It was the most extreme immigration law our country had seen in generations. It had a smorgasbord of provisions, including one that, as past by the legislature, required any state entity to request documents from anyone deemed “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. If a county, city or town employee failed to ask for papers, they risked sanctions or a private right of action embedded in the law. The law codified racial profiling, which was why it drew international headlines.
     
    We landed in Arizona soon after Governor Brewer signed an amended version of the bill, one that cabined SB1070 to legitimate stops by law enforcement. Still a scary proposition given the way Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office was, as a federal district court judge later ruled in Melendres v. Arpaio, engaging in systematic racial profiling of Latino drivers under the color of law.
     
    What we found on the ground was a state of fear.