Racial justice

  • October 7, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Eric Garcia explains in The New Republic how taxpayers are paying millions due to voter ID laws.

    Elias Isquith provides another take on voter ID laws, arguing for Salon that Attorney General Eric Holder understood the stakes of these laws.

    In The Huffington Post, Geoffrey R. Stone asserts that the Supreme Court took a “reckless risk” in declining all seven of the same-sex marriage cases.

    Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Holt v. Hobbs. Nina Totenberg of NPR provides an overview of the case that provides a new test of religious freedom.

    Andrew Cohen writes for Brennan Center for Justice’s blog on a new Supreme Court case that questions whether judicial candidates can solicit money.

    In Slate, Elliot Hannon reports on a ruling from a U.S. District Court that the policing of the Ferguson protests was unconstitutional. 

  • October 6, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak looks at the Supreme Court’s decision to deny petitions in all seven cases challenging bans on same-sex marriage.

    The New York Times also previews the new Supreme Court term and argues that the new session could define the legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts. The article quotes William P. Marshall from the ACS Supreme Court Preview.

    In The McClatchy-Tribune, Michael Doyle provides an overview of the Supreme Court’s term that begins today. ACS President Caroline Fredrickson offers her perspective in the article.

    In The Atlantic, Garrett Epps discusses Heien v. North Carolina and whether the justices will support a “Barney Fife Loophole” to the Fourth Amendment.

    Jenee Desmond-Harris writes for Vox about an upcoming Supreme Court case that might make proving housing discrimination more difficult.

     In the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Michael Li explains why the Arkansas Supreme Court should find the state’s voter ID law unconstitutional. 

  • September 26, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight challenges the assertion that someone like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could not be confirmed to the Supreme Court today.

    In the New Republic, Yishai Schwartz looks at the possible cases the Supreme Court could hear on same-sex marriage and argues the Court should follow the lead of the U.S. Court for the Tenth Circuit.

    The current Supreme Court is primarily concerned with protecting majority rights argues Garrett Epps for The Atlantic.

    Geoffrey R. Stone writes for The Daily Beast on the mixed legacy, particularly on issues of civil liberties, of Eric Holder.

    In Slate, Jamelle Bouie presents a more positive message of Eric Holder’s record, and argues that the partisan environment was his major challenge. 

  • September 19, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law, @atibaellis. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    On September 17, 1787, the framers signed the U.S. Constitution. The document they approved 227 years ago is a work of genius as it provided a democratic republic that has endured economic turmoil, mass insurrection, and disasters of various sorts -- forces that have toppled other democracies.  The U.S. Constitution, the oldest enduring written constitution in the world today, has endured and preserved democracy based upon rule of law.

    Although one might point to the advantages and disadvantages of federalism, the dynamics of enumerated powers, or the political compromises that undergird separation of powers as powerful tactics the Constitution deploys, it is not in any of these mechanisms where the genius of the Constitution lies. Its true genius is its mechanism to allow we the people to reinvent our democracy as our times and ethics demand. It is this power of reinvention that has allowed our constitution to endure and matter to the world. 

    This power of democratic transition is best illustrated in the way our Constitution has been reinvented, over time, from a document that enshrined inequality to one that strives for equality. The Constitution of 1787 reflected and implemented a social theory we would not recognize or sanction today. The Constitution endorsed states’ rights (though this name would not be invented until a century later to protect slavery) and left it to the states to structure the social relations of the nation. Thus, despite a Bill of Rights that protected the rights of citizens, the Constitution allowed the chattel slavery of Africans to endure in the United States when it was being abolished in other parts of the world. The Constitution allowed women to be treated as property. Despite our hymns to constitutional genius, the lived experience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was rooted in inequality.

    To focus merely on the genius of the original document (and as a consequence, elevate those times and those founders) is to fixate on an originalism that suffered subordination and endorsed a hierarchy. And, as our experience with the Civil War illustrates, the country came within a hair’s breath of being dismantled by faction and racism due to an unwillingness to recreate the United States.

    Yet our Constitution endures because it has embedded within it mechanisms by which our evolving notions of equality and justice may receive constitutional protection from the tyranny of caste and status. Though volumes have been written on this topic, it is worth remembering in our celebration of the Constitution that the amendment process and the wisdom of legislators and judges who sought to make manifest the idea of equality helped to preserve the Union at its most imperiled points. One needs only recount the work of Reconstruction, the long march from segregation to Civil Rights, the movement towards women’s equality, and our modern day same-sex marriage cases to see how the long arc of equality has progressed. And all of these changes have been enabled through an American constitutionalism that, in the words of Harper v. Virginia, is not shackled to the political theory of a particular era.

  • September 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    Constitution Day, Wednesday, September 17, is a national day to celebrate the Constitution, but it also should be an occasion for critically appraising it and the government that it created. On September 17, 1787, the drafters of the Constitution signed the document and it was then submitted to the states for ratification. There is much to celebrate about the Constitution.  

    For 227 years, there has been democratic rule. The Constitution is a document that had enough certainty to create a working government and enough flexibility that although written for an agrarian slave society, it still can be used for the technological world of the early 21st century. It is a document that both creates power and provides checks on that authority. It protects basic values like separation of powers and freedom and liberty and due process of law.

    Yet any celebration of the Constitution needs to be tempered by recognition of its failures too. For the first 78 years of its existence, the Constitution explicitly protected the rights of slave owners. For 58 years, it was interpreted to approve Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of Southern life. The results are the enormous racial inequalities that exist today. According to the 2010 census, 27.22 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty level, compared with only 9.7 percent of whites. Thirty-five percent of all African-American children are in families below the poverty line.

    In a book to be published by Viking this month, The Case Against the Supreme Court, I argue that the Supreme Court deserves a good deal of the blame for the failure to deal with racial inequality throughout American history and today. In fact, my thesis is that the Supreme Court has largely failed throughout American history, especially at its most important tasks and at the most important times.

    The Supreme Court exists, above all, to enforce the Constitution against the will of the majority. The Court plays an especially important role in safeguarding the rights minorities of all types who should not have to rely on democratic majorities for protection. The Court also should be crucial in times of crisis in ensuring that the passions of the moment do not cause basic values to be compromised or lost.

    But the Court has had a dismal record of protecting minorities and has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that it had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their life long homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as concentration camps. During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx and Engels and Lenin. In all of these instances, the Court erred badly and failed to enforce the Constitution.