• August 24, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Estelle H. Rogers, a recently retired public interest lawyer.

    There is a little known federal program, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), which entirely forgives the indebtedness of a lawyer who elects to work in public service, rather than at a law firm or in-house at a corporation. Among public interest lawyers, however, it is a very well known program. It’s the only way many of these dedicated young lawyers can follow their hearts instead of their wallets when they embark upon a job search. The PSLF program, nevertheless, is under threat, facing severe cuts or elimination.

    Under PSLF, persons making 120 monthly payments on their student loans while employed full time in qualified public service jobs (ranging from government organizations at any level to nonprofits to AmeriCorps) are eligible to have their remaining balance forgiven at the end of the 10 years. (Under the federal income-driven loan repayment program, low-earning graduates would ordinarily take twice that long to pay off student loans.)

    The president proposed drastic cuts to PSLF in his budget message early this year, and the House Budget Committee recommended elimination of the program altogether. When Congress turns to reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this fall, PSLF is likely to be on the chopping block, though it has not been targeted by any of the bills introduced so far.

  • August 24, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In the Washington Monthly, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson examines the expanding ranks of the “contingent workforce,” including the poor treatment of adjunct university professors and the consequences for their students.

    Lydia Wheeler at The Hill reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that the Department of Labor can enforce minimum wage and overtime pay standards for homecare workers.

    In The Seattle Times, Jay Greene writes that the American Civil Liberties Union is soliciting Amazon employees who believe their careers have been unjustly hindered by the company’s family leave policies for potential legal representation.   

    Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade celebrates bipartisan support for a new Illinois law that bans conversion therapy programs for LGBT minors. 

  • August 20, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Michael Vargas, Associate, Rimon, PC. Vargas is programming co-chair of the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter.

    When President Obama nominated then-Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum for a seat on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2009, it was clear that the former counsel to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was going to shake up the Commission. As the first openly LGBT person to sit on the Commission, she did not disappoint. In 2012, the Commission announced its unanimous decision in Macy v. Holder (ATF), holding that discrimination against transgender employees was sex discrimination and actionable under Title VII. On July 16, 2015, the Commission issued an even more revolutionary decision in Complainant v. Foxx (FAA), holding that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is also sex discrimination and, therefore, must also be actionable under Title VII.

    In the EEOC’s decision, an unnamed complainant filed a complaint alleging that his supervisor would say things like “we don’t need to hear about that gay stuff” whenever the claimant would talk about his partner, and that he was subsequently denied a promotion. In dismissing the case, the FAA treated the complainant’s sexual orientation claim as separate from his sex discrimination claim and therefore not appealable to the EEOC.

    The EEOC summarily reversed the FAA, holding that sexual orientation was “inherently a sex-based consideration” and therefore was “necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.” The EEOC rested their decision on three different theories:

    First, the EEOC argued that sexual orientation necessarily involves treating employees differently because of their sex. To illustrate, the Commission gave the example of a male employee who is fired for having a picture of his husband on his desk when female employees with pictures of their husbands on their desks are not. This, the Commission declared, would be a classic case of sex discrimination.

    Second, the Commission found that sexual orientation discrimination was essentially associational discrimination, which is already recognized in the race discrimination context. If a person cannot be discriminated against because of the race of their spouse, then so too should they be protected from discrimination because of the gender of their spouse.

    Finally, the Commission recognized that discrimination against gays and lesbians is tinged with sex stereotypes, or expectations about what men or women should or should not do, which is yet another form of prohibited sex discrimination.

  • August 20, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Matt Apuzzo in The New York Times discusses the Justice Department’s expanded use of statements of interest to push its civil rights agenda.

    At NPR, Cory Turner reports that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California will preside over a hearing today against the Compton Unified School District in which the plaintiff argues that schools are legally obliged to make special accommodations for traumatized students.    

    Terri Lively at Fortune explains that parents outside of the tech industry still struggle to afford the high cost of having a child, quoting ACS president Caroline Fredrickson who notes that many developing countries have surpassed the U.S. in terms of paid maternity leave. 

    In The New York Times, Alec Karakatsanis argues that the Obama administration has, despite recent initiatives, largely worked to keep individuals in prison on the basis of outdated, unjustifiable charges.   

  • August 19, 2015
    Guest Post
    by Elizabeth B. Wydra, chief counsel, Constitutional Accountability Center. Read her ACS Issue Brief, "Birthright Citizenship: A Constitutional Guarantee,"  here.
    *This post originally appeared on the Constitutional Accountability Center's Text & History Blog.
    The arguments against the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship put forth by Donald Trump and other conservatives are, to borrow a descriptor oft-used by Trump himself, losers. Literally. Far from offering a bold new immigration reform plan that would "make America great again," Trump's plan recycles anti-immigrant ideas that were resoundingly defeated 150 years ago. In the process, he foolishly rejects values that are part of what makes America great in the first place.
    Since its ratification in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment has guaranteed that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Just a decade before this language was added to our Constitution, the Supreme Court held in Dred Scott v. Sandford that persons of African descent could not be citizens under the Constitution. Our nation fought a civil war at least in part to repudiate the terrible error of Dred Scott and to secure, in the Constitution, citizenship for all persons born on U.S. soil, regardless of race, color, or parental origin.
    When members of the Reconstruction Congress assembled to draft the birthright citizenship clause, they were writing against a backdrop of prejudice not only against African Americans, but also various immigrant communities, such as the Chinese in the West and Roma communities in the East. Much of the hostility against these 19th-century immigrants was similar to the resentment and distrust leveled at immigrants today: concern that immigrants would take away good jobs from U.S. citizens (while exhibiting a willingness to allow immigrants to take jobs perceived as undesirable); fear of waves of immigrants "invading" or overtaking existing American communities; and distrust of different cultures and languages.
    For example, early in the 1866 debates, an opponent of birthright citizenship--Senator Edgar Cowan, often cited by modern opponents of birthright citizenship--objected to the citizenship provision by asking whether "it will not have the effect of naturalizing the children of the Chinese and Gypsies born in this country." Senator Lyman Trumbull, a key proponent of the citizenship clause, replied that it would, "undoubtedly," and made clear in the face of Cowan's xenophobic remarks that the child of such immigrants "is just as much a citizen as the child of a European."