In the Tea Party, it’s all the rage these days to declare everything unconstitutional – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, disaster relief, federal civil rights laws, health care reform, basically any law that enables the federal government to take on national-scale problems.
One of the main strategies that the Tea Party has been using to push this extreme and regressive view of the Constitution is pushing aside the Commerce Clause, the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
The Commerce Clause, long recognized by courts as the rationale for important progressive economic programs, has come under fire from opponents of health care reform, who are arguing in the courts – with mixed success -- that the clause does not allow the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.
In a new report, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin argues that “a powerful case can be made “that the Commerce Clause is “the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”
Without it, Congress could not have passed the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of race discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and dozens of other federal statutes protecting the environment and establishing the rights of citizens in the workplace and the marketplace.
Why, then, does the Commerce Clause seem pale and dull next to the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses?
Perhaps it is because these provisions clearly declare radiant principles of liberty and equality that translate into easily understood and intuitively attractive protections against arbitrary government power.
Because the Commerce Clause has been a powerful instrument of social reform over the last century, its meaning has periodically provoked deep jurisprudential controversy. This is ironic since the Court routinely and unanimously upheld congressional assertion of a comprehensive federal commerce power before broad democratic purposes entered the picture. The commerce power became the target of virulent attack by corporate conservatives when progressives and labor gained political influence and used this power as the constitutional basis upon which to regulate and improve the character, terms and conditions of the American workplace and marketplace in favor of large numbers of the American people.
Raskin follows the Commerce Clause from its origins at the Constitutional Convention, through the Lochner era, when an activist court “put the Commerce Clause in a straightjacket” to strike down federal worker protection laws and other attempts to regulate interstate commerce, to the late 1930s, when the court returned to a more expansive view of the clause, allowing progressive economic programs and civil rights reforms to flourish, to the Rehnquist Court, which again began to narrow down the scope of Congress’s constitutional regulatory power, to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which threaten to take us back to the Lochner era.
Mitt Romney yesterday announced the members of his campaign’s legal advisory team, which will be led by none other than Robert Bork.
This is interesting because Judge Bork’s views of the law and Constitution were so extreme that his 1987 Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate.
Here’s the TV spot People For the American Way aired about Bork at the time:
Among the reasons PFAW, the United States Senate, and the American people concluded that Bork was not suitable for a seat on the nation’s highest court:
As another Massachusetts political leader, Sen. Edward Kennedy famously put it:
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks.
And in the years after his failed Supreme Court nomination, Bork kept on reminding us of why he would have been a disastrous Supreme Court Justice. From a 2002 PFAW report:
Robert Bork has carved out a niche for himself as an acerbic commentator on the Supreme Court, as well as various cultural issues. In fact, to Bork the two topics are closely related and the Supreme Court’s “illegitimacy” and its departure from the Constitution are in many ways responsible for our growing “cultural depravity.”
According to Bork, we are rapidly becoming a fragmented society that has totally lost its nerve and is now either unwilling or unable “to suppress public obscenity, punish crime, reform welfare, attach stigma to the bearing of illegitimate children, resist the demands of self-proclaimed victim groups for preferential treatment, or maintain standards of reason and scholarship.” Abortion, technology, affluence, hedonism, and modern liberalism are gradually ruining our culture and everywhere you look “the rot is spreading.”
Bork has denounced the public education system that “all too often teaches moral relativism and depravity.” He considers sensitivity training to be little more than “America’s version of Maoist re-education camps.” He has shared his fear that recognition of gay marriage would lead to accommodation of “man-boy associations, polygamists and so forth.” And he has criticized the feminist movement for “intimidat[ing] officials in ways that are destructive of family, hostile to masculinity, damaging to the military and disastrous for much education.”
It appears as if almost everything within contemporary culture possesses the capacity to offend Bork. He attacks movies for featuring “sex, violence and vile language.” He faults television for taking “a neutral attitude toward adultery, prostitution, and pornography” and for portraying homosexuals as “social victims.” As for the art world, most of what is produced is “meaningless, uninspired, untalented or perverse.” He frets that the “pornographic video industry is now doing billions of dollars worth of business” and the invention of the Internet will merely result in the further indulgence of “salacious and perverted tastes.” When it comes to music, “rock and rap are utterly impoverished … emotionally, aesthetically, and intellectually.”
More to the point, Bork is not content merely to criticize; he wants the government to do something about it. “Sooner or later,” he claims “censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues plunging to ever more sickening lows.” So committed is he to this cause that he dedicated an entire chapter in his 1996 book Slouching Toward Gomorrah to making “The Case for Censorship.” In it, he advocates censoring “the most violent and sexually explicit material now on offer, starting with obscene prose and pictures available on the Internet, motion pictures that are mere rhapsodies to violence, and the more degenerate lyrics of rap music.”
When asked by Christianity Today about how he would decide what should and should not be censored, Bork announced: “I don’t make any fine distinctions; I’m just advocating censorship.” He went on to argue that the United States has a long history of censorship, and that such censorship “didn’t suppress any good art, it didn’t eliminate any ideas.” He goes on to state that, were individuals to decry such censorship as inhibiting their individual liberty or right to express themselves, he would reply “… yes, that is precisely what we are after.”
In choosing Bork to head his legal team, Mitt Romney is sending a clear message to the farthest right of the Right Wing... \and reminding us all that our 2012 vote for president is also a vote for the Supreme Court for the next generation.
Saturday was the 70th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination by defense contractors. Last week, Congressman Bobby Scott hosted a press conference and briefing in honor of the anniversary of this event, which marked the first time a U.S. president had acted to combat discrimination by private employers who were using federal taxpayer money. Future presidents expanded on President Roosevelt’s action and added to its protections.
However, this was more than just a celebratory event of an important civil rights milestone: it was a call to action to correct an erosion of equal employment opportunity law that has been in effect since 2002. That’s when President Bush signed an Executive Order that made discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money legal. In so doing, he reversed our nation’s continuous expansion of the promise of equal protection and opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Religious entities had always been able to discriminate based on religion using their own money, but never to use taxpayer money to do so.
All the panelists were united in asking President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the law. On the panel were: Congressman Bobby Scott (convener of the event); Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Professor Eric Arnesen (professor of history at George Washington University and biographer of civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whose activism prompted FDR’s executive order); Rabbi David Saperstein (Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and also a board member of our affiliated People For the American Way Foundation); Barbara Arnwine (Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law); Hilary Shelton (Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau); and Rev. Dr. Paul L. Brown, Sr. (Pastor of Miles Memorial CME Church and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action).
Among other things, speakers discussed how employment discrimination harms the victims and society as a whole; warned that religion can easily be used as a proxy for race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; condemned discrimination paid for by the tax dollars of its victims; asked why the religion of someone ladling out soup for the hungry should matter; and warned of the dangerous consequences to churches that want to retain federal funding they have become dependent on. As the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Brown opened a window into his daily work helping the hungry and the homeless, the “least and the lost,” and strongly condemned federally funded discrimination.
When he was running for President, then-Senator Obama promised to reverse President Bush’s policy, but he has yet to do so. What better time than the anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 8802 for President Obama to put our nation back on the right road and restore through executive order the prohibition against federally funded discrimination? Yesterday, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action joined more than 50 other civil rights and religious organizations asking him to do just that.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama let us know who he would be selecting as judicial nominees.
You know, Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire. But the issues that come before the court are not sport. They're life and death. And we need somebody who's got the heart to recogni-- the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young, teenaged mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.
This “empathy standard” became a red herring used to attack the President and qualified jurists like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Then Senator Ted Kaufman (DE) emphasized just how wrong that argument was.
Likewise, President Obama’s promotion of empathy is not, as his critics suggest, the advocacy of bias. “Empathy,” as a quick look at the dictionary will confirm, is not the same as “sympathy.” “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Let me repeat that. “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Words have meanings, and we should not make arguments that depend on misconstruing those meanings.
As we continue to hear empathy trotted out as something sinister, it’s important to consider where our country might’ve been without it. That’s the lesson of The Loving Story.
Virginia’s argument that its law did not discriminate on the basis of race because it restricted both whites and African Americans equally might have persuaded Justices who were blind to the devastating impact of anti-miscegenation laws on everyday people. However, empathy allowed the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia to see what it really meant to ban interracial marriage. Yet just because that meant the Warren Court came down on the side of the “little guy,” doesn’t mean it ignored constitutional principles.
This case presents a constitutional question never addressed by this Court: whether a statutory scheme adopted by the State of Virginia to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. For reasons which seem to us to reflect the central meaning of those constitutional commands, we conclude that these statutes cannot stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment.
It just so happens that the Lovings were on the right side of the Constitution in their struggle to live with who they loved, where they were happiest, and where they wanted to raise their family.
If you get the chance to see The Loving Story, as I did at a DC screening earlier this week (more in Silver Spring next week), think about Mildred and Richard Loving and the countless couples who faced the same struggle. Think about how their state laws wronged not only them but also the Constitution. Think about how empathy put justice back on track.
Laura Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, sums it up better than I ever could.
Yesterday, proponents of California’s Proposition 8 went before a federal judge to argue that the ruling overturning the discriminatory law should be thrown out because the judge who issued it is gay.
Today, they were handed an epic takedown. In an order dismissing the motion to vacate the Prop 8 case, district court judge James Ware tore apart the arguments made by the anti-marriage equality lawyers who claimed that Judge Vaughn Walker’s decade-long same-sex relationship should have disqualified him from hearing the marriage equality case.
The arguments made by Prop 8’s defenders were so ridiculous (for example, see here and here) that it’s hard to pick just one part of Judge Ware’s takedown to quote, so I’ve picked out a few of my favorites.
The Prop 8 camp’s main line of argument was that the problem with Judge Walker wasn’t that he is gay but that he may at some point want to marry someone of the same sex, thereby benefiting from his own pro-marriage equality decision. This led them to partake in some celebrity-magazine style speculation about whether Judge Walker was planning to wed. Judge Ware responds that that type of speculation about a judge’s personal life isn’t enough to disqualify him from a case:
[D]isqualifying Judge Walker based on an inference that he intended to take advantage of a future legal benefit made available by constitutional protections would result in an unworkable standard for disqualification. Under such a standard, disqualification would be based on assumptions about the amorphous personal feelings of judges in regards to such intimate and shifting matters as future desire to undergo an abortion, to send a child to a particular university or to engage in family planning. So too here, a test inquiring into the presiding judge’s desire to enter into the institution of marriage with a member of the same sex, now or in the future, would require reliance upon similarly elusive factors.
Then there was the argument that Judge Walker’s long-term same-sex relationship “gave him a markedly greater interest in a case challenging restrictions on same-sex marriage than the interest held by the general public.” Judge Ware responds that in cases of fundamental rights, all members of society are affected by the outcome…in a way, turning the logic of the Prop 8 crowd (who argue that straight people will be hurt by gay marriage) on its head:
The fact that this is a case challenging a law on equal protection and due process grounds being prosecuted by members of a minority group does not mean that members of the minority group have a greater interest in equal protection and due process than the rest of society. In our society, a variety of citizens of different backgrounds coexist because we have constitutionally bound ourselves to protect the fundamental rights of one another from being violated by unlawful treatment. Thus, we all have an equal stake in a case that challenges the constitutionality of a restriction on a fundamental right. One of the duties placed on the shoulders of federal judges is the obligation to review the law to determine when unequal treatment violates our Constitution and when it does not. To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally. Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case. The single characteristic that Judge Walker shares with the Plaintiffs, albeit one that might not have been shared with the majority of Californians, gave him no greater interest in a proper decision on the merits than would exist for any other judge or citizen.
And then Judge Ware tells Prop 8 supporters that not all gay people think in the same way…so they can’t assume that a gay judge will come to a certain conclusion:
Finally, the presumption that “all people in same-sex relationships think alike” is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief. On the contrary: it is reasonable to presume that a female judge or a judge in a same-sex relationship is capable of rising above any personal predisposition and deciding such a case on the merits. The Motion fails to cite any evidence that Judge Walker would be incapable of being impartial, but to presume that Judge Walker was incapable of being impartial, without concrete evidence to support that presumption, is inconsistent with what is required under a reasonableness standard.
Ware concludes that requiring judges to recuse themselves under the standard proposed by Prop 8’s backers would lead to a “standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases.”
Justice Antonin Scalia is in the news again, having pronounced yet again that the United States Constitution does not prohibit the government from discriminating against women. The Huffington Post reports on a newly-published interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer:
[Interviewer:] In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
[Scalia:] Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.
The Huffington Post notes:
Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, called the justice's comments "shocking" and said he was essentially saying that if the government sanctions discrimination against women, the judiciary offers no recourse.
Although you might not know it from what Scalia says, there is nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment that puts women outside its scope. The text is quite plain on that regard: "No state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (emphasis added). The last anyone checked, women are people.
Scalia has previously discussed with legal audiences his opposition to constitutional equality for women. In fact, he wrote a lone dissent 15 years ago in United States v. Virginia making his view clear: He believes that the landmark 1971 Supreme Court case ruling that the government cannot discriminate against women simply because they are women was wrongly decided. (Then-litigator Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped write the brief arguing for equality in that case.)
When it comes to the rights of women, Scalia’s Constitution is a stiff, brittle document, relegating women to the limited rights they were allowed to have in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted.
Interestingly, his approach is far more flexible for corporations, as we saw in Citizens United, when he concluded that mega-corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people for the purposes of election law.
Perhaps if a woman wants to have full constitutional protection from Justice Scalia, she needs to incorporate.
Last week, SCOTUSBlog had a podcast interview with legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, discussing his new book The Conservative Assault on the Constitution. The blog has asked Chemerinsky some follow-up questions, and his responses are worth reading.
For instance, he discusses the concept of a living Constitution and the hypocrisy behind the Right's claims of a consistent approach to judging cases.
Q. Within the context of the "conservative assault" you discuss in the book, can you please define the terms "living constitution" and "strict constructionist"?
- Everyone is a strict constructionist in that everyone believes that the text of the Constitution should be followed where it is clear. But the phrase "strict constructionist" was coined by Richard Nixon to refer to something more ideological: Justices who followed the conservative approach to interpreting constitutional provisions. Interestingly, conservatives are not strict constructionists in interpreting the Second Amendment. There conservatives read the Second Amendment as if it simply said "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." They ignore the first half of the Amendment which speaks of the right existing for the purpose of having a well-regulated militia.
A belief in a "living Constitution" rejects the notion that the meaning of a constitutional provision is the same in 2011 as when it was adopted. A living Constitution says that in interpreting the Constitution, Justices and judges should consider history, tradition, precedent, and modern needs. There always has been a living Constitution and hopefully always will be. The opposite of a living Constitution is a dead Constitution and no society can be governed under that.
He also discusses how self-professed conservative "originalists" are selective in when they pay attention to original intent.
Q. You write in your book that "it is clear that conservatives often abandon the original-meaning approach when it does not serve their ideological purposes." Can you please elaborate - perhaps by providing an example or two?
- Affirmative action. I am skeptical that we can ever really know the original intent or meaning for a constitutional provision. But if ever it is clear, it is that the drafters of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to allow race-conscious programs of the sort that today we call affirmative action. The Congress that ratified the Fourteenth Amendment adopted many such programs. Yet originalist Justices, like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, pay no attention to this history in condemning affirmative action. Another example is campaign finance. There is absolutely no indication that the drafters of the First Amendment intended to protect the speech of corporations (that did not occur for the first time until 1978) or spending in election campaigns. But conservative Justices nonetheless find a First Amendment right for corporations to engage in unlimited expenditures in campaigns.
Of course, that is a reference to Citizens United, where the aggressively activist Roberts Court handed our elections over to powerful corporate interests. There is a direct line from that case to the new corporate-friendly gang that will be running the House of Representatives for the next two years.
Who sits on the Court has consequences for us all.
Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of law students that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. In a great column for Time today, Adam Cohen outlines what has gone so wrong with the trend toward vehement--but inconsistent--Constitutional originalism that Scalia represents:
The Constitution would be a poor set of rights if it were locked in the 1780s. The Eighth Amendment would protect us against only the sort of punishment that was deemed cruel and unusual back then. As Justice Breyer has said, "Flogging as a punishment might have been fine in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that it would be OK ... today." And how could we say that the Fourth Amendment limits government wiretapping — when the founders could not have conceived of a telephone, much less a tap?
Justice Scalia doesn't even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters — who, after all, were trying to help black people achieve equality — intended to protect President Bush's right to have the same procedures for a vote recount in Broward County as he had in Miami-Dade? (If Justice Scalia had been an equal-protection originalist in that case, he would have focused on the many black Floridians whose votes were not counted — not on the white President who wanted to stop counting votes.)
Even worse, while Justice Scalia argues for writing women out of the Constitution, there is another group he has been working hard to write in: corporations. The word "corporation" does not appear in the Constitution, and there is considerable evidence that the founders were worried about corporate influence. But in a landmark ruling earlier this year, Justice Scalia joined a narrow majority in striking down longstanding limits on corporate spending in federal elections, insisting that they violated the First Amendment.
The view of the Constitution that Scalia champions—where corporations have rights that the Constitution’s authors never imagined, but women, minorities, and working people don’t—has become a popular political bludgeon for many on the Right. GOP senators pilloried now-Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for offenses such as thinking Congress has the right to spend money, arguing the case against giving corporations the same free speech rights as human beings, refusing to judge according to a subjective view of “natural rights,” and admiring the man who convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional.
An avowed allegiance to the original intent of the Constitution has become a must-have for every right-wing candidate. The talking point sounds great, but it hides the real priorities behind it. Anyone who needs reminding of what the fidelity to the Constitution means to the Right needs just to look to Scalia.
A federal judge in California today ruled Proposition 8, the state’s ban on gay marriage, unconstitutional. Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion declares the marriage ban a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses, and debunks the arguments of marriage equality opponents on issues ranging from the welfare of children raised by gay and lesbian parents (they do just fine) to the effect of same-sex marriage on other marriages (none).
To be honest, we’re still wading through the opinion, and will have more analysis of the legal arguments tomorrow. But for now, let’s appreciate the real effect this decision will have on people like Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami, two of the plaintiffs in the case, who now have a chance at regaining the right to marry. Here are the video that the American Foundation for Equal Rights put together about Jeff and Paul:
Yesterday, a federal judge in Massachusetts struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act on two separate constitutional challenges. Judge Joseph Tauro, a Nixon appointee, ruled that the provision banning the federal government from recognizing gay people’s marriages violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, and the principle of state sovereignty.
Tauro’s opinion in the equal protection case includes some strong words on the motivation behind DOMA, the 1996 law designed to push back against states granting marriage equality. The main purpose of the law was to disadvantage a particular set of people simply out of dislike for them, he writes…and that sort of motivation doesn’t pass constitutional muster:
This court simply “cannot say that [DOMA] is directed to any identifiable legitimate purpose or discrete objective. It is a status-based enactment divorced from any factual context from which [this court] could discern a relationship to legitimate [government] interests.” Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It seems pretty straight-forward to conclude that the Constitution doesn’t allow Congress to discriminate against people just because they dislike them…but, of course, conservative groups are already calling it “activism.”
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.
You do have to feel for the big corporations who were being discriminated against before the Supreme Court decided they could spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, right? Jeff Sessions, for one, is standing up for corporate underdogs who have fallen victim to moral injustice. Talking Points Memo reports:
Last night, elaborating on his criticisms of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sessions made the unusual comparison of Citizens United v. FEC to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
"[Marshall] was right on Brown v. Board of Education. It's akin in my view to the Citizen's United case. The court sat down and we went back to first principles--What does the Constitution say? Everybody should be equal protection of the laws," Sessions told me after a Senate vote last night.
"Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can't?" Sessions asked rhetorically. "We've now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause."
Let’s break this down into a few points that I guess we shouldn’t assume are obvious:
The confusing logic aside, the main point here is that Sessions just compared limits on corporate spending in elections with systematic racial segregation. This is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And abstract arguments about judicial philosophy aside, that’s just appalling.
Well, this is a nice change. In her first few minutes of testimony, responding to questions from Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan spoke about the Constitution as an enduring document that can be amended and interpreted in a changing world.
The founders recognized that “circumstances and the world would change,” Kagan said. They wrote about “unreasonable” search and seizure, but didn’t write a manual on what counts as unreasonable. “They didn’t do that because of this wisdom they had, because they knew the world was going to change,” she said.
Kagan outlines two varieties of change in constitutional interpretation: the formal amendment process and changing mores. She used as an example the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868, which established equal protection under the law, and the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board, which interpreted the amendment in a way never imagined in 1868 in order to desegregate American schools.
It’s nice to hear that Kagan won’t be engaging in the flawed “balls and strikes” analogy—we might end up hearing a conversation about what the Supreme Court actually does.
[Required reading: former Justice David Souter’s recent speech on this very subject].
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.
Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and African American Ministers in Action gathered on Ellis Island to sign an immigration reform covenant.
On Wednesday, members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA) gathered on Ellis Island to pledge their unified support for a dignified, just, and tolerant approach to reforming the country’s immigration laws. The ministers, from five states and diverse denominations, were the first to sign a multi-faith covenant calling for “immigration dialogue and reform that will inspire hope, unite families, secure borders, ensure dignity and provide a legal avenue for all of God’s children working and desiring to reside in this country to drink from the well of justice and equal protection under the law.”
The covenant, which lays out seven principles for a respectful immigration reform debate, will be circulated among faith leaders of diverse traditions and ethnicities across the United States.
“We believe immigration reform is important for this nation. As faith leaders from various faith traditions, we stand united with one message and that is a message of love,” said Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs.
Watson Malachi put together the covenant in response to what she called the “increasingly nasty and divisive political and social tone of the immigration debate.”
Rev. Robert Shine
“For years, we have witnessed rhetoric around immigration reform that is deceptive, harmful, and pits communities against each other,” she said. “What took place in Arizona last month, when the state essentially legalized racial profiling in the name of immigration reform, demonstrated the mean-spirited, inhospitable atmosphere that is moving across state lines. This covenant is a statement that faith leaders will reclaim civility, lead a genuine, compassionate conversation, and not stand for racially divisive tactics that undermine the dignity of human beings.”
Members of the AAMLC were quick to sign on.
“We are concerned about all people, from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all races, all nationalities, ethnic origins, etc.,” said Reverend Melvin Wilson of St. Luke AME Church in New York, one of the original signers, “But the tone of the current discussion of immigration has been so negative, so divisive, we are just not going to sit idly by and let the talking heads speak without providing a counter-voice.”
Rev. Patrick Young signs the covenant as Rev. Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness looks on.
“To sign this covenant is important for multiple reasons,” said Reverend Byron Williams, of Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, who was among the first leaders to add his name to the document. “First of all, it’s important on the issues of equality, and justice, and fairness and dignity. But it also makes an important statement that we have African American pastors coming together. Our ancestry does not take us by Ellis Island, but the concept of liberty is one that’s as deep in our community as it is for anyone that’s come to these shores looking for a better life. It’s those deeply held values of liberty, justice and fairness that are the bedrock of American principles.”
Watson Malachi plans to continue promoting the messages of unity and dignity through education and awareness efforts that include informative dialogue sessions, roundtable conversations with faith leaders from African, Caribbean, Latino, African American and other communities.
The full text of the covenant can be found here.
People For’s report on divisive and dishonest rhetoric in the debate on immigration reform is here.
In his column yesterday, E.J. Dionne laid out exactly the right prescription for liberals and Democrats in the upcoming confirmation battle over the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.
We don't know who the nominee is yet, but we know the dangers posed by the Roberts Court and what the right-wing ideologues are doing to our country via their agenda-driven interpretations and reinterpretations of the law and the Constitution.
Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.
What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the last 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.
Several days earlier, Joe Conason wrote a great piece discussing the politics of Supreme Court confirmation battles and why Democrats and progressives should be eager to have a constitutional debate about the role of the Court and how the Right's definition of "constitutional" really means the dangerous upending of the traditional understanding of the Constitution which has served America well.
What exactly do they mean by "constitutional"? On the increasingly powerful fringes of the Republican right, a category that includes some Tea Party activists, the Constitution is interpreted as prohibiting every social and political advance since before the Civil War. They would outlaw the Federal Reserve System, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, consumer regulation and every other important federal initiative of the past century.
Targets of the "constitutional conservatives" would certainly include civil rights legislation that guarantees equal protection under law to minorities and women...
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, in a piece titled, “Don’t ask, don’t judge?” gave a rhetorical green light to Religious Right activists who have responded to news that federal judge Vaughn Walker is gay by attacking his ability to rule fairly on the constitutional challenge to Prop. 8, the California ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the right to get married.
Although Marcus concludes in the end that Walker, who was randomly assigned to hear the case, was right not to recuse himself simply because he is gay, she does so after a lot of “squirming” like this:
So when Walker considers claims that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law, it's hard to imagine that his sexuality, if he is gay, does not influence his decision-making -- just as the experience of having gay friends or relatives would affect a straight judge.
In the end, Marcus writes,
In this case, I hope the plaintiffs win and that Walker rules that the same-sex marriage ban violates their constitutional rights. At the same time, I've got to acknowledge: If I were on the side supporting the ban and found it struck down by a supposedly gay judge, I'd have some questions about whether the judicial deck had been stacked from the start.
But why wouldn’t the deck be considered “stacked” against gay people if a straight judge were deciding the case? By concluding her column that way, Marcus gives credence to the offensive notion that is already being promoted by right-wing leaders that a gay judge cannot be expected to rule fairly in a case involving the legal rights of gay Americans.
Here’s Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with Liberty Counsel, responding to news that Judge Walker is, in Barber’s words, “an active practitioner of the homosexual lifestyle.”
“At worst, Judge Walker’s continued involvement with this case presents a textbook conflict of interest. At best, it objectively illustrates the unseemly appearance of a conflict.
"If Judge Walker somehow divines from thin air that the framers of the U.S. Constitution actually intended that Patrick Henry had a ‘constitutional right’ to marry Henry Patrick, then who among us will be surprised?
“Any decision favoring plaintiffs in this case will be permanently marred and universally viewed as stemming from Judge Walker’s personal biases and alleged lifestyle choices.
"For these reasons, and in the interest of justice, Judge Walker should do the honorable thing and immediately recuse himself.”
Barber tries to make a case that he is taking a principled stand by saying, “This is no different than having an avid gun collector preside over a Second Amendment case,” continued Barber, “or a frequent user of medical marijuana deciding the legality of medical marijuana.”
Really, Matt? You expect us to believe that you would advocate that judges who collect guns should recuse themselves from cases involving the Second Amendment? What about avid hunters, like Justice Antonin Scalia? Should anyone who owns a gun be assumed not to be able to rule fairly on legal issues involving guns?
The Post’s Marcus concluded that asking Judge Walker to recuse himself would “invite too many challenges to judicial fairness -- Jewish judges hearing cases about Christmas displays, or judges who once represented unions or management presiding over labor disputes.”
What about Christian judges presiding over Christmas displays? Can you imagine the outrage from Matt Barber and his Religious Right colleagues if someone were to suggest that Christian judges should be barred from hearing cases involving legal and constitutional questions about separation of church and state?
In a diverse and pluralistic nation, it’s important that the federal bench reflect that diversity. But what’s far more important than an individual judge’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is his or her judicial philosophy and understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, and role in protecting the rights and opportunities of all Americans.
The unspoken offensive presumption at work here is that people who come to the law with a life experience that is considered “normal” – say, straight white male Christian – are inherently unbiased, or that their life experience somehow gives them a singularly correct way of viewing the law. Others are suspect.
This notion was on ugly display during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, when her recognition that she would bring her life experience as a Latina to the bench was used to pillory her as a white-male-hating racist. What about all those white male senators, and the white male Supreme Court Justices they had voted to confirm? Samuel Alito’s ethnic pride and empathy were considered valid, while Sotomayor’s was radical and threatening.
Ruth Marcus is no Matt Barber. She is in some ways simply acknowledging the reality that there is still a level of emotional prejudice against gay people that will keep some Americans from believing that a gay judge can be fair. But she is far too sympathetic to the purveyors of that prejudice. Her column validates their bigotry and will encourage more of the kind of divisive rhetoric we see from the likes of Barber.
Anyone interested in equal rights for all Americans might want to pay attention to the trial starting today in San Francisco. In the case, superstar lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson are arguing that Prop 8 violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. They’re right, of course, but the trial is expected to last for weeks and appeals may well go on for years.
For now, though, you’ll be limited to media reports about what goes on in the courtroom. Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who is hearing the case, had ruled that video of the proceedings would be made accessible through YouTube, but this morning the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the video—for now. Their injunction only lasts until Wednesday, by which time they’ll (presumably) make a more final decision.
Last night, in a 178-234 vote, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act moved one step closer to becoming law. This legislation protects victims of hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
The vote was taken on what's called a motion to instruct conferees - this one would have instructed those negotiating a final Defense Authorization bill to remove the hate crimes language included by the Senate. In a series of speeches (item 35) fit only for Right Wing Watch, the motion's supporters tried to take down this critical update to "equal protection under the law." Thankfully, their efforts were to no avail, and the Shepard/Byrd bill may soon reach President Obama's desk. A few minor hurdles remain, but we hope to see it signed within the next week.
With the stroke of a pen, the President will have an opportunity to send loud and clear the message that freedom from discrimination is a right all Americans should enjoy. And we cannot forget that this action would affirm - for the first time in federal law - a positive protection for gender identity.
Click here for more information from People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action.