"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by the government and found that the Administration failed to demonstrate that DADT significantly furthers the government's interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, the second prong of the constitutional analysis.

Furthermore, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated that DADT actually frustrates military readiness and unit cohesion: Qualified servicemembers are discharged under DADT during wartime troop shortages (the same shortage that pressures the military to ramp up "moral waivers" to admit far less qualified convicted felons); servicemembers with critically needed skills and training are discharged; DADT hurts recruiting efforts; and DADT diminishes the otherwise merit-based nature of the military.

Judge Phillips also cited damning evidence that the military doesn't believe its own propaganda about DADT:

Defendants routinely delayed the discharge of servicemembers suspected of violating the Act's provisions until after they had completed their overseas deployments. . This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that the Act furthers the Government's purpose of military readiness, as it shows Defendants continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct. If the warrior's suspected violation of the Act created a threat to military readiness, to unit cohesion, or to any of the other important Government objectives, it follows that Defendants would not deploy him or her to combat before resolving the investigation.

Judge Phillips is right: DADT makes no sense and it violates the Constitution. The House of Representatives has already voted to consign this discriminatory policy to the ash heap of history. It's time for the Senate to do the same and send a bill to the President's desk.


Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.

A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.

Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."

If only it had.


Focus on the Family’s New Target: Anti-Bullying Policies

Maintaining that “activist groups that want to promote homosexuality in kids” seek to violate the “innocence and purity of children,” Focus on the Family has launched the “True Tolerance” campaign to prevent “homosexuals” from capturing “the hearts and minds of our children at their earliest ages.” The Orwellian-named True Tolerance project believes that efforts by school districts to improve safety among their students through enacting anti-bullying policies are actually trying to send a “message about homosexuality — that it's normal and should be embraced.”

According to Focus on the Family, anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws are only meant to produce “special protections” for LGBT students and “reverse discrimination.” The far-right group says that schools should instead “unite around the teachings of our Founding Fathers— in particular, the principle that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with unalienable rights.” However, Focus on the Family believes that the sexual orientation and gender identity of students should determine just how “equal” they are.

Research from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) shows that the vast majority of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment in schools, and that 44.1% of LGBT students “reported being physically harassed and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.” Educators are solidly in favor of strategies to thwart bullying, and 85% of secondary school teachers “agree that they have an obligation to ensure a safe learning environment for LGBT students.”

The push to stop schools from implementing policies to prevent harassment and bullying is a dangerous new low in the Religious Right’s long and vicious fight against equality for the LGBT community. Currently, only twelve states and the District of Columbia have policies meant to protect students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. With increased attention on the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act, Focus on the Family intends to gear up its fight to block school districts from protecting some of their most vulnerable students from maltreatment and violence.


When Will it Stop Being Cool to Be an Anti-Gay Republican?

Last night, Ken Mehlman, the man who orchestrated George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign--including, we can presume, its electorally popular anti-gay positions--came out as gay himself. Mehlman says he’s now working with American Foundation for Equal Rights to advocate for marriage equality.

The National Organization for Marriage immediately attacked Mehlman for “abdicating core Republican values.” But mainstream Republicans, whose bread and butter in recent years has relied on stoking anti-gay resentments, have been for the most part supportive of Mehlman personally and silent on his new advocacy work.

That’s not surprising. Earlier this week, People For’s president, Michael B. Keegan, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on how anti-gay politics are increasingly confined to the Republican party’s extreme-right fringe…and the fringe is beginning to see the writing on the wall:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Pam Spaulding points to a piece in the Frum Forum outlining the Far Right’s panic that gay-hating is rapidly becoming passé among mainstream political conservatives:

These swift changes in the GOP from gay bashing a la Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech towards tolerance and even support of gay equality is both astonishing and alarming to elements of the far right. Several prominent social conservatives have decried these changes. WorldNetDaily Editor David Kupelian recently wrote “Much of conservatism has now morphed into libertarianism…even high profile conservative warriors seem to be abandoning the gay issue” and went on to list recent examples of gay rights making progress within the GOP such as Glenn Beck’s announcement that gay marriage presents no threat to America, Ann Coulter addressing the gay conservative group GOProud, and CPAC’s refusal to ban GOProud. Social conservative Robert Knight bemoaned the fact that Republicans are increasingly supportive of gay equality in his column “Smarter than God”; and the American Family Association’s radio host Bryan Fischer also blasted Republicans for failing to sufficiently support the anti-gay cause.

This past week the Washington Blade even published an article titled “Conservatives take the lead in marriage fight” arguing that libertarian-leaning conservatives are advancing gay rights, perhaps more so than Democrats. Who would have thought in 1992 we would one day see Republicans lauded by the gay press?

This shift toward acceptance—and away from the divisive anti-gay politics exemplified by Bush’s campaign strategy—is clearly taking place. But it’s far from over. Even if mainstream conservatives are starting to shy away from anti-gay politics, the mess that the homophobic politics of the past decades has left is still here, and still harmful. If members of the party that exploited homophobia for years to create our strongly anti-gay status quo remain silent on gay rights, they condone discrimination.

The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy still keeps gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Hundreds of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are committed each year—but all but 18 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate opposed the bill last year that expanded hate crimes laws to prevent these. 30 states have passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage—11 of these were put on the ballot in an effort to draw voters for Bush and his fellow Republicans in 2004.

Asked by the Advocate about his role in crafting the strategy that led to those 11 constitutional amendments, Mehlman said, “I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.”

Mehlman, whatever you think of his past actions, is right—there is a lot of positive work that needs to be done to undo the damaging anti-gay crusades of the past. It’s great that at least some in the Republican Party are beginning to accept gay people, or at least are refraining from being virulently homophobic. But they won’t be off the hook until they start working to actively undo the destructive policies of the past.

And, as Gabriel Arana points out, though Mehlman’s political change of heart was tied up with his own personal struggle, “you don’t have to be gay to do the right thing.”


Douthat’s Two Americas

Writing on the controversy over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero, conservative columnist Ross Douthat asserted that nativism and xenophobia have played a positive role in American history.

Douthat argued that there are “two Americas,” one principled and pluralistic, the other reactionary and culturally rigid. The second, in his opinion, has been just as responsible for our current cultural diversity as the first:

…Both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

…So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

That intolerance for change has played a role in American history is indisputable. But intolerance still isn’t the “right” way to press for integration.

By defending the right of Muslim Americans to build a community center in lower Manhattan, the “first America” is working to protect the rights of mainstream Muslims and the foundational ideals of our country. Meanwhile, some on the right have used the controversy over the Islamic center to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment or score political points, potentially alienating moderate Muslims by lumping them together with radical terrorists. Such behavior may have precedent – but that doesn’t make it acceptable.


Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law that regulated the amount of money special interests could spend to elect their own candidates to public office.

Senator Gillibrand:

Narrow 5-to-4 decisions by a conservative majority have become the hallmark of the Roberts Court. These decisions have often been overreaching in scope and have repeatedly ignored settled law and congressional intent. For example, in the Citizens United case, the Court not only disregarded the extensive record compiled by Congress but abandoned established precedent.

Senator Franken:

[A]bove the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court are four words, and four words only: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ When the Roberts Court chooses between corporate America and working Americans, it goes with corporate America almost every time, even when the citizens of this country, sitting in a duly appointed jury, have decided it the other way. That is not right. It is not equal justice under the law.

Senator Leahy:

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of any administration . . . Courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why . . . the recent decision by five conservative activist Justices in Citizens United to throw out 100 years of legal developments in order to invite massive corporate spending on elections for the first time in 100 years was such a jolt to the system.

Senator Whitehouse:

On the Roberts Court, one pattern is striking, the clear pattern of corporate victories at the Roberts Court. It reaches across many fields—across arbitration, antitrust, employment discrimination, campaign finance, legal pleading standards, and many others. Over and over on this current Supreme Court, the Roberts bloc guiding it has consistently, repeatedly rewritten our law in the favor of corporations versus ordinary Americans.”

Senator Cardin:

Well, this Supreme Court, too many times, by 5-to-4 decisions by the so-called conservative Justices, has been the most activist Court on ruling on the side of corporate America over ordinary Americans.

Senator Dorgan:

What I have seen recently and certainly in the case of Citizens United—and I believe it is the case in Ledbetter v. Goodyear—the Supreme Court too often these days divides into teams. By the way, the team that seems to be winning is the team on the side of the powerful, the team on the side of the big interests, the team on the side of the corporate interests. That ought not be the way the Supreme Court operates.



Proposition 8: Just the Facts

Yesterday afternoon, federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violated the United States Constitution. This is an important milestone.

One reason it is so important is the factual record that was compiled for the case. Judge Walker developed an extremely detailed factual record upon which to base his legal conclusions - a record of the significant harm that marriage inequality causes, of the history of discrimination faced by lesbian and gay people, and of the animus behind Prop 8. In fact, more than 50 pages of the opinion are devoted to his findings of fact.

For instance, there's Fact 55: "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."

Or Fact 56: "The children of same-sex couples benefit when their parents can marry."

Or Fact 66: "Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same-sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage. Domestic partnership reduces but does not eliminate these costs."

Or Fact 74: "Gays and lesbians have been victims of a long history of discrimination."

Or Fact 76: "Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes."

This factual record is very important, because when Prop 8 supporters appeal the decision, the appellate court will have to accept these facts. Appellate federal courts are generally limited to deciding issues of law, not of fact. Well-supported facts like these will make it much harder for an appellate court to reverse the decision.

More broadly, this case shows us that when the forces of the Right face an independent judge, the arguments that serve them so well on Fox News wither before genuine scrutiny. It also shows the beauty of the American constitutional system, where our independent judiciary protects Equal Justice Under the Law.


A Win for Fact Over Prejudice

California federal judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion yesterday in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger—in which he struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage—was a strong defense of the values embodied in the Constitution. But it was also something more. In his 136-page opinion, Judge Walker carefully dismantled dozens of the myths that opponents of marriage equality have attempted to use as legitimate legal arguments against allowing gay people to marry. And unlike the defenders of marriage discrimination, Walker didn’t make up evidence out of whole cloth—in his analysis, he relies on expert testimony, statistics, and the lessons of history. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes:

It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn't much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would "effect some twenty-three harmful consequences" and then putting on almost no case.

The stunning thing is that the feeble arguments that Prop 8 defenders were able to muster against marriage equality were in fact the best they could come up with. Kyle at Right Wing Watch writes that there was some in-fighting among the Right Wing over who would get to defend Proposition 8 in court. The fervently anti-gay Liberty Council tried to wrest the defense away from the equally anti-gay but slightly more street-smart Alliance Defense Fund, because the ADF wanted to base its case partially on factual evidence rather than purely on vitriol. The ADF won out, but they were left with a small problem: there was no factual evidence to be found.


Kyl's Hypocrisy on the Kagan Nomination

Senator Jon Kyl just finished speaking against Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court, but he seemed a bit confused. According to Kyl, he will vote against her because she believes that the role of the court is to solve society's problems. Kyl said that's the role of the legislature, not the courts.

Yet when our elected representatives HAVE acted to solve society's problems - to protect our elections from being bought by corporations, to protect people from defective medical devices, to protect workers from unfair discrimination by powerful corporations, to protect our environment from polluting corporations - the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to dismantle these protections.

How does Senator Kyl square his support for the arch-conservatives on the Court with his claim that the elected branches should be allowed to solve society's problems?


Cardin Supports Kagan - and the American People

In support of Elena Kagan's nomination, Sen. Ben Cardin just did an excellent job of listing a few of the examples of how the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to rule against ordinary Americans and in favor of the powerful corporations who victimize them. In addition to the Citizens United and the Ledbetter cases, he mentioned the Gross case, where a 5-4 majority overruled precedent to limit the ability of victims of age discrimination to have their day in court.

Through their elected representatives in Congress, the American people have frequently acted to protect people from abuses of power - abuses that get people fired from their jobs, that poison the air we breathe and water we drink, and that take our elections away from us. Yet the Roberts Court is dedicated to twisting the law in order to strike down these efforts. Corporations win, people lose.

Take a look at our Foundation's Corporate Court report to read what Sen. Cardin is talking about.

Elena Kagan recognizes the role of the Court is protecting Americans from the abuse of power.


Leahy Calls the Robert Court on its Pro-Business Excess

Sen. Leahy just opened up the Senate debate on Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court with words that we all should pay attention to: "Law matters in people's lives." He referred to the Supreme Court’s attack against victims of discrimination in the Ledbetter case. Of course, he also mentioned Citizens United. Thanks to the activists on the Roberts Court, a corporation like BP can now spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat candidates who want to improve regulations on offshore drilling. The Roberts Court is anything but the modest and restrained Court that then-Judge Roberts discussed at his own confirmation hearings.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The Roberts Court has been bending the law regularly to favor powerful corporations. At last, they are being called on it.


The Supreme Court's Conservative Ideology

Some conservatives are still trying to argue that the Supreme Court is in danger of being overrun by “liberal activists.” But an article in Sunday’s New York Times, entitled “Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative In Decades,” presented data from political scientists that pretty conclusively showed a conservative, not a liberal, ideology entrenched in the highest court.

One piece of data really stood out to me:

Four of the six most conservative justices of the 44 who have sat on the court since 1937 are serving now: Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia and, most conservative of all, Clarence Thomas. (The other two were Chief Justices Burger and Rehnquist.) Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the swing justice on the current court, is in the top 10.

That’s right: the current “swing” justice is considered one of the ten most conservative judges of the past 70 years. Centrist justices are in some ways even more important than the Court’s ideologues or even chief justices. As the Times article notes, the court’s most extreme shift to the right occurred when Justice O’Connor was replaced with the much more conservative Justice Alito:

By the end of her almost quarter-century on the court, Justice O’Connor was without question the justice who controlled the result in ideologically divided cases. “

On virtually all conceptual and empirical definitions, O’Connor is the court’s center — the median, the key, the critical and the swing justice,” Andrew D. Martin and two colleagues wrote in a study published in 2005 in The North Carolina Law Review shortly before Justice O’Connor’s retirement.

With Justice Alito joining the court’s more conservative wing, Justice Kennedy has now unambiguously taken on the role of the justice at the center of the court, and the ideological daylight between him and Justice O’Connor is a measure of the Roberts court’s shift to the right.

The statistics back up a right wing trend on the Supreme Court that has been hard to ignore. Since Alito joined the Court, it has made startling decision after startling decision, including overturning democratically enacted restrictions on corporate spending in Citizens United v FEC, and defending discrimination against women in the workplace in Ledbetter v Goodyear.

Just one justice can make the difference between democratically enacted campaign finance laws and unlimited corporate spending in elections; between employment discrimination laws that work for employees and those that work for employers; between our democracy holding corporations accountable and corporations owning our democracy.

All of which is why, when we talk about presidents and senators, we have to talk about the Court.


Court Stops Right-Wing Anti-Marriage Referendum

An appeals court ruled this morning that the DC City Council has every right to refuse to hold a referendum aimed at shooting down the city’s four-month-old marriage equality law.

The push to end DC’s marriage law was led by Bishop Harry Jackson, an anti-gay activist who has allied with national right-wing groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council in his quest to undo the law.

The DC Council refused to let Jackson introduce a referendum to ban gays from marrying in the District, citing a policy that prohibits ballot intiatives to authorize discrimination. In January, a lower court agreed with the Council, and today the DC Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The Appeals Court’s decision was split 5-4, but the judges were unanimous on one key point: that Jackson’s referendum constituted discrimination.

The DC Council passed the marriage equality law in an 11-2 vote in December; marriage licenses became available in March.

All in all, it’s been a good July for marriage equality.


Jon Kyl Attacks Women, Older Workers, Baby Seals

Today, when questioning the first panel of witnesses for the Elena Kagan confirmation, Senator Jon Kyl decided not to ask questions, but simply to attack those who had agreed to testify.

Instead of, say, listening to the witnesses, or even ignoring them, he accused three witnesses testifying about sex discrimination, age discrimination, and the devastating impact of the Exxon Valdez spill of demanding a Justice who would rule for them. All they wanted, he claimed, was “results oriented judging.”

He didn’t give them a chance to answer the accusation, so maybe we can answer for them.

No, Senator Kyl, all we want is a Justice who will follow the law.

In Ledbetter, the Court read the law in a cramped and unnatural way in order to limit the right of women to sue for discrimination. In Gross, the Court arbitrarily changed the standard used to determine discrimination on the basis of age. And in Exxon v. Baker, the Court invented a limit on punitive damages out of whole cloth—the ruling was so bad that even the Heritage Foundation thought it was judicial activism.

In the Ledbetter, Gross and Exxon cases, the Court went out of its way to side with corporations and defend them from people who were trying to hold them accountable.

Remind me again, Senator Kyl: what’s the definition of “results oriented judging?”


Lilly Ledbetter Recounts Her Fight

Lilly Ledbetter just appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak about the damage that can be done by a Supreme Court that’s not grounded in the realities of life for average Americans.

When Ledbetter found out that she’d been discriminated against, it would have been easy for her to just walk away—after all, it’s not in any way easy to pursue a discrimination claim—but Ledbetter was used to tough jobs. She stood up and demanded that Goodyear be held accountable for its actions. She fought hard, she pursued her case for many years, and she won.

But when the case made it to the Supreme Court, it decided that Goodyear couldn’t be held accountable for its actions. Because the company hid the discrimination for long enough, they were free to discriminate for as long as they wanted.

In 2007, when the Court denied her compensation for decades of pay discrimination, Ledbetter sat down with us to talk about her fight for fair pay for herself and others like her:

After the Supreme Court stopped her from collecting the pay she had earned, she led the fight to make sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else—and she’s still fighting to make sure that the Supreme Court gives a fair hearing to people like her when they go up against big corporations like Goodyear.

She told the Judiciary Committee:

Since my case, I’ve talked to a lot of people around the country. Most can’t believe what happened to me and want to make sure that something like it doesn’t happen again. They don’t care if the Justices are Democrats or Republicans, or which President appointed them, or which Senators voted for them. They want a Supreme Court that makes decisions that make sense.

That’s why the hearings here are so important. We need Justices who understand that law must serve regular people who are just trying to work hard, do right, and make a good life for their families. And when the law isn’t clear, Justices need to use some common sense and keep in mind that the people who write laws are usually trying to make a law that’s fair and sensible. This isn’t a game. Real people’s lives are at stake. We need Supreme Court justices who understand that.


Joining the Club

Yesterday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar shot down her colleague Tom Coburn’s assertion that the American people are less free now than we were 30 years ago, offering up some powerful illustrations of the progress women have made since 1980. “I think about whether people were more free in 1980,” she said, “it's all in the eyes of the beholder.”

Kagan, who if confirmed would be the fourth female Justice in the history of the Supreme Court, responded, “I think that there's no question that women have greater opportunities now, although they could be made greater still.”

Today, the Pew Research Center released a survey of attitudes toward working women throughout the world. One finding stood out:

Indeed, the United States and Germany reported an especially strong gap between the sexes on whether enough has been done to give women equality. Of those who believe in equal rights, many more American and German men believe their nations have made the right amount of changes for women, while many more women than men in those countries think more action is required.

“When you’re left out of the club, you know it,” said Prof. Jacqui True, an expert in gender relations and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. “When you’re in the club, you don’t see what the problem is.”

This disparity in the perception of progress brings to mind Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fiery dissent to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. In that ruling, the Court’s majority ruled that Lilly Ledbetter couldn’t collect her fair share after decades of pay discrimination because, they said, she would have had to report the discrimination before she even knew that it was taking place. At the time, Ginsburg was the only female member of the Supreme Court, and she knew what it was like to be “left out of the club.”

Introducing her dissenting opinion, Ginsburg said, “In our view, the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

This isn’t to say that those who haven’t experienced discrimination can’t understand it. But it’s a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to have a diversity of voices, coming from a diversity of experiences, in positions of power.


Outdated Stereotypes and Gender-Based Discrimination in Flores-Villar v. United States

On Monday, People For the American Way Foundation signed on to an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision to enforce a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that imposes a greater residency requirement for unmarried citizen fathers to transfer citizenship to their children born abroad than on unmarried citizen mothers.

The statute permits unmarried citizen fathers to transmit citizenship only if they have lived in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth for ten years, five of them after the age of 14. Mothers, on the other hand, are only required to have lived in the U.S. for just one year prior to the child’s birth. The petitioner’s father was 16 when his son was born, making it impossible for him to meet the requirement of five years of residency after age 14. Mr. Flores-Villar filed suit on the grounds that the law violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.

PFAWF’s brief, authored by the National Womens’ Law Center, argues that such gender-based discrimination perpetuates the old stereotype that unwed fathers have less meaningful relationships with their children than do unwed mothers, and the Supreme Court has rejected the use of such stereotypes in justifying gender-based classifications. The classifications also do nothing to further the government’s stated objective of encouraging parent-child relationships, and in countries where citizenship is derived from the father, would render stateless the children of fathers who cannot meet the requirements.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Ninth Circuit’s decision, it would be ignoring over 30 years of Equal Protection jurisprudence to enforce a discriminatory law that perpetuates outdated stereotypes and is harmful to family relationships.


A Victory For Religious Liberty

In today's 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

The University of California, Hastings College of Law, is a public institution with a viewpoint-neutral policy of recognizing and providing some funding to official student organizations, as long as the groups open their membership to all comers regardless of their status or beliefs. The campus Christian Legal Society (CLS) denies voting membership to those who do not subscribe to its religious beliefs, including those which condemn sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because the CLS's discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation violates the school's "all comers" policy, Hastings denied them official recognition.

All student groups, the CLS included, are subject to the same rules. But the CLS demanded – and the four arch-conservative Justices would have given them – a special favored status denied to other groups: the right to the funds and benefits of recognition from a public institution, along with an exemption from the rules that apply to any other group seeking those funds and benefits.

People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief with other civil rights organizations in support of Hastings College of Law in the case. The brief emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of the states to withhold public funding that would support discrimination. This is particularly relevant in the context of government-funded "faith-based initiatives," where conservative Christian groups are demanding the right to receive public funds and then use them to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Had the four-Justice dissent carried the day, grave damage would have been done to the power of government to prohibit public funds from being used to forward invidious discrimination. Today is a victory for religious liberty.


Supreme Court Denies Access to Justice in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson

In yet another decision highlighting the Roberts Court's tendency to favor corporations over individual citizens, the Supreme Court on Monday made it more difficult for employees and consumers challenging their contracts to seek justice in court.

In Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, Antonio Jackson filed suit in a Nevada federal district court against his employer, Rent-A-Center, claiming that he had suffered racial discrimination and retaliation. Rent-A-Center tried to dismiss the lawsuit and force Jackson to move the dispute to arbitration, as was required by Jackson’s employment contract. The district court agreed with the company, but the Ninth Circuit court reversed, holding that when a person opposing arbitration claims that he or she could not have meaningfully consented to the agreement, the question of whether the original contract was fair must be decided by a court.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit's ruling, saying that Mr. Jackson failed to specifically challenge the arbitration provision in the agreement that requires challenges to the validity of the entire agreement to also be decided by an arbitrator. Previously, if an employee challenged certain aspects of a contract that included a binding arbitration clause but not necessarily the arbitration clause itself, the dispute would go to the arbitrators. However, the Court's decision expanded upon that to hold that even if an employee argues that the entire contract – including the arbitration clause – was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable, that person is still denied access to the courts unless he specifically and separately challenged the arbitration clause. In other words, arguing that the entire contract is illegitimate is not enough.

Treated as contracts, arbitration clauses waive one’s rights to go to court, meaning that any disputes must instead be settled through private arbitration. Often built into the fine print of a contract, these clauses are very common in the consumer context and usually there is little choice but to sign or not sign the contract. Most people at some point or another will become bound to an agreement with an arbitration clause, perhaps as part of a cell phone contract, a health insurance plan, or an employment contract. Although they are ostensibly for the benefit of both parties, they are primarily drafted to protect companies from litigation, as it is often too expensive for a claimant to even initiate the arbitration proceedings, much less pay the arbitrator’s hourly fees. In a telling signal of what a majority of the Court today thinks about these practical obstacles for ordinary Americans, Justice Scalia, in oral arguments, dismissed people who sign arbitration agreements as “stupid.”

Forced arbitration is an increasing problem as these clauses become standard parts of everyday contracts, but they are particularly troubling in civil rights cases such as this one. Mr. Jackson’s claim that his employer discriminated against him based on his race was brought under section 1981 of the Civil Rights Acts – legislation that was passed specifically to ensure that victims of such discrimination would have access to the federal courts. Instead, because Mr. Jackson signed an employment agreement - an agreement that he had little choice but to sign if he wanted the job - he is now precluded from asserting a violation of those rights and seeking justice in court.

As confirmed in Justice Stevens’ dissent, neither party even asked the Court for such a heightened standard of pleading, showing how once again, the Roberts Court is going out of its way to protect corporations and prevent real citizens - workers and consumers - from being able to access the federal courts.


Equal Protection Under Attack: Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board

Last week, People for the American Way Foundation signed on to an amicus brief urging the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision allowing a Louisiana middle school to segregate classrooms by sex. The amicus brief, led by the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sex-segregated classrooms are harmful to members of both sexes and violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Parents of the Rene A. Rost Middle School were informed in 2009 that classes for the school would be segregated by sex for the coming fall semester. A parent whose children were placed in sex-segregated classes without receiving constitutionally mandated coeducational options objected and was told that because the coed classes had already been filled, the only option left for one of her daughters was a special needs class. Represented by the ACLU, the parent sued and the trial court dismissed the case by wrongly shifting the burden of proof, requiring the victim to prove discrimination by demonstrating an “intent to harm” - a new standard that is almost impossible to meet and not recognized by the Supreme Court.

As the Supreme Court held in its 1996 decision requiring the Virginia Military Institute to admit women, for a state to permissibly classify on the basis of sex, it “must carry the burden of showing an exceedingly persuasive justification for the classification.” Additionally, the state must not “rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.” Simply put, the Court has found that a state must have a very good reason before it decides to discriminate on the basis of sex.

NWLC’s brief cites evidence that suggests a total lack of adequate justification for the school’s policy, both from a legal and practical perspective, specifically a flawed study performed by Rost Middle School’s principal. Simply put, if the Fifth Circuit were to uphold the District Court’s decision, it would ignore almost 30 years of settled Equal Protection law in order to endorse a discriminatory policy that is harmful to all students regardless of gender.