Supreme Court

  • 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 5, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Burt Neuborne, Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties at NYU School of Law.  His most recent book, “Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment” (The New Press 2015), argues that effective campaign finance regulation is fully consistent with the First Amendment.

    Florida’s ban on personal solicitation of campaign funds by candidates for judicial office recently survived a free speech challenge because, in Chief Justice Roberts’ words, “judges are not politicians.”  I fear, however, that the chief justice’s bright-line distinction between “judges” and “politicians” understates the need for independent judgment by “politicians” and overstates the “political” neutrality of judges.

    Judges, especially elected judges, exercise “political” power. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the Supreme Court is exercising “political” power in the gay marriage cases? The chief justice is surely right, though, in recognizing that continued faith in our politically powerful judiciary turns on public confidence that elected judges are not merely engaged in advancing the narrow interests of powerful constituents or financial supporters.  That’s why the Williams-Yulee decision is correct. But the same may be said about faith in democracy itself. Legislators and executive officials cannot – and should not ‒ behave just like impartial judges. They should have close ties to the people who elected them. Their votes and official actions should generally reflect the self-interested preferences of their supporters.  But, as Edmund Burke taught us in his 1774 Address to the Electors of Bristol, there are important occasions in the life of a democracy when even a “politician” with close ties to her constituents should enjoy the appearance and reality of exercising independent judgment free from pressure by financial supporters. Chief Justice Roberts’ bright-line distinction between judges and “politicians” preserves an elected judge’s capacity for such Burkean independence, but obliterates it for legislators and executive officials.

    Instead of relying on a tyranny of labels, the Williams-Yulee opinion should trigger discussion of how best to free “politicians” as well as elected judges from the appearance and reality of excessive financial thralldom to their large financial supporters. Maybe then we can begin to rebuild faith in our democracy; hold real elections, not auctions; and insist that our “politicians” occasionally think for themselves.

  • May 5, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Bill Lurye, General Counsel, and Matt Stark Blumin, Associate General Counsel, at American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

    On February 9, less than a month into his first term as governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner issued an executive order barring state employee unions from collecting fair share fees, thus unilaterally transforming Illinois into a right-to-work state for state employees.  He justified this extreme act by arguing that, in his opinion – though contrary to Supreme Court precedent dating to 1977 – such fees violate the First Amendment.  Rauner’s anti-union executive order is a blatantly illegal power grab, and unions have filed suit to overturn it.

    As is the case in many states, Illinois’ public sector labor relations statute expressly authorizes collective bargaining agreements allowing unions to collect fair share fees, and over 40,000 state employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that include fair share fee provisions.  Yet, despite strong separation of powers language in the Illinois Constitution that prevents him from legislating, Governor Rauner has declared that he will not turn over any of the contractually owed fair share fees to unions, no matter what the duly enacted state labor law statute says.

    First, some background on fair share fees in Illinois.  Just like a private sector union under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a public sector union under Illinois law is required to represent every employee in a unionized bargaining unit whether or not the employee is a member of the union.  This means that the unions have to do lots of costly work on behalf of nonmembers, like negotiating the CBA fairly on the nonmembers’ behalf and handling any grievances they have.  Fair share fees represent the cost to the union of providing those services to nonmembers, and nothing more.  (Members who pay full union dues additionally fund other work by the union, such as lobbying or political donations, that fair share fees don’t cover.)  As even Justice Scalia has recognized in his concurrence in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, fair share fees “allow the cost of . . . the union’s statutory duties to be fairly distributed; they compensate the union for benefits which ‘necessarily’ – that is, by law – accrue to the nonmembers.”