Confronting Racism

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Category: Civil Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law

Plessy_markerIn Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote “[o]ur constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” [1] Today, most people might say they too are color-blind. However, race relations have been prevalent in the news as of late because the state of racism in America has mutated. Racism is rarely as bold as the cross burnings of yore, but no less insidious. [2]

Because racism is different, our understanding of our inherent biases must also become different. I believe the modern definition of racism has shifted. I define racism as taking a negative action towards someone, whether explicitly or implicitly, on account of their race. This means that people can take racist actions without being aware that they are doing so.[3] We can no longer oversimplify racism, and instead need to confront it within ourselves and as a community.

As a country, we need to do a better job confronting racism. A plethora of high profile incidents, involving police brutality and campus outrage, have given us another opportunity to confront our inherent biases. Unfortunately, too many “color-blind” people have not heeded the second part of Justice Harlan’s dissent and have instead tolerated or even justified the systemic mistreatment of classes of citizens. [4] Read more »

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Atticus Finch Revisited

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Category: Civil Rights, Popular Culture & Law, Public
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Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_courtHarper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has an undeniably odd publication history. Ms. Lee wrote the novel in the 1950s, well before she wrote and published her beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. When she finally agreed to publish Go Set a Watchman in 2015, it registered on critics and readers as a sequel of sorts for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman involves the moving rebuilding of a parent-child relationship after the child has lost respect for the parent, and this account deserves contemplation and reflection. However, the novel as a whole is only mediocre. Furthermore, many readers will be shocked and disappointed by the novel’s suggestion that Atticus Finch is not the heroic man they thought he was.

In particular, Finch is hardly a staunch defender of civil rights for the people he calls “Negroes.” He tells his daughter Jean Louise, who was known as Scout as a young girl, “Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” He also reveals he is taking the case of an African American defendant so that the case does not fall into the hands of NAACP lawyers. In Finch’s opinion, the latter are too eagerly seeking cases they can rush into the federal courts.

If Finch is not the champion of civil rights people took him to be in To Kill a Mockingbird, his attitude about the law has supposedly remained consistent. Uncle Jack Finch tells Jean Louise: “The law is what Atticus lives by. He’ll do his best to prevent somebody beating up somebody else, and then he’ll turn around and try to stop the Federal Government if it is breaking the law . . . . [B]ut remember this, he’ll always do it by the letter of the law. That’s the way he lives.” Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part One: Obergefell v. Hodges

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Today marks the beginning of the United States Supreme Court’s 2015-2016 Term, and coincidentally it also marked my participation in an annual event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup.”  Along with Cato Institute Scholar and Supreme Court expert Ilya Shapiro, I was invited by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society to share my perspective on three cases from the Supreme Court’s docket last year.  The cases we discussed included Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”), King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”) and Yates v. United States (the “fish case”).  Thanks to the law students for the invitation and a special thank you to Mr. Shapiro for his participation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on the Obergefell case.

I call this case “Thurgood Marshall’s Revenge.”

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that state laws denying marriage licenses to same sex couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell is notable for what it does not talk about. The majority opinion does not rely upon the theory that marriage is a fundamental right and that therefore state laws infringing upon the right to marriage must be subjected to strict scrutiny. Nor does the majority opinion rely upon the theory that homosexuals are a suspect class, thereby subjecting state laws that treat homosexuals different than heterosexuals to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The methods by which the Court has traditionally determined whether to apply heightened standards of review to legislative acts – strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, heightened rational review – are what are known as “heuristic devices.” These are artificial aids to problem solving. The Constitution does not use the phrases “strict scrutiny” or “suspect class,” but by creating artificial rules that group cases under these headings, the Supreme Court has developed a methodology for defining the outer boundaries of state policing over individual freedom.

Instead of using the Obergefell case as an opportunity to develop and clarify how the concepts of strict scrutiny and suspect class inform the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, the majority opinion simply ignores these heuristic devices altogether. In doing so, the majority seems to be belatedly embracing the view of Justice Thurgood Marshall in a 1973 dissenting opinion. Read more »

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Narrative and Social Control

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Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law
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copslogoIn recent decades, awareness of narrative and of stories in general has increased in many fields and academic disciplines, law included.  However, it is nevertheless surprising to see that even law enforcement specialists in the Justice Department have developed an appreciation of the workings and importance of narrative.

This heightened sensitivity surfaced in the recent Justice Department report on police conduct in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown.  Issued by the Department’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” office, the report outlines no fewer than 113 lessons that police in Missouri and elsewhere might learn from developments during the seventeen days following Brown’s death and funeral.

Much of the report is predictable.  It criticizes such police tactics as the use of dogs, tear gas, and so-called “overwatching.”  With the latter, police use rifle sights to survey a crowd from positions on top of police vehicles.  Overall, the report warns that “militarization” of a volatile situation will probably make things worse.

Toward the end of the report, its authors turn to what they label “lost narrative.”  In their opinion, Missouri law enforcement was too slow to provide information about the shooting of Brown and thereby created an opening for alternative representations of the incident.  Supporters of Brown and his family seized the opportunity and offered an alternative narrative, one conveyed largely but not completely through the social media and one stressing that “Black Lives Matter.” Read more »

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The Initial Appeal of Chief Justice John Roberts’ Dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Human Rights, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Rainbows abounded on the morning of Friday, June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court held 5-4 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and a right to have their legal marriages recognized in every state.

The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was not unexpected. The divide in the Court, too, was not unexpected: Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for himself, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

(An interesting side note: Justice Kennedy, a 1988 Reagan nominee, has authored all four of the major SCOTUS cases on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights: Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and now Obergefall v. Hodges. As well, three of those cases were handed down on June 26Lawrence on 6/26/03; Windsor on 6/26/13; Obergefell on 6/26/15).

When I first read the Obergefell decision, I found myself skeptical. Make no mistake: I fully agree with and welcome the holding. However, I was concerned about the Court’s reasoning. My first thought, upon reading the opinion, was to wonder why the Court did not base its holding more on the Equal Protection Clause, like Judge Richard Posner did in his opinion in Baskin v. Bogan, 766 F.3d 648 (7th Cir. 2014). That seemed to me to be the easiest argument. There is simply no compelling justification for the State to distinguish between opposite-sex and same-sex couples when it comes to marriage.

So, when I got to Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent, it initially made some sense to me, and I could envision its appeal to many others. Read more »

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New Marquette Lawyer magazine takes long-term view of major issues 

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Category: Civil Rights, Marquette Law School, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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The long-term view: That’s a theme that underlies much of the content in the just-released Spring 2015 issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine. The way events and trends that date back decades shed light on major issues today is at the heart of several of the feature articles in the magazine.
That is especially true of the cover story, “Screws v. United States and the Birth of Federal Civil Rights Enforcement,” an essay version of Marquette Law School’s 2014 E. Harold Hallows Lecture by Judge Paul J. Watford of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Watford recounts the history behind a 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision which opened the way for more widely known landmark decisions on civil rights. Accompanying the article is a commentary piece by John J. Pauly, Gretchen and Cyril Colnik Chair in the Marquette University Diederich College of Communication, and Janice S. Welburn, dean of university libraries at Marquette University.

A November 2014 conference at the Law School on the state of kindergarten through twelfth-grade Catholic schools, both nationwide and in Milwaukee, is the basis of “Much to Preserve—and Much to Change: The Challenges Facing Catholic K-12 Education,” by Alan J. Borsuk, senior fellow in law and public policy at the Law School. The article reports on the decline in enrollment in Catholic schools, going back to the 1960s, and current efforts to reverse that trend.

Columbia Law School’s Robert E. Scott, a leading expert on contract law, proposes a path for navigating different theories of contract law in “Contract Design and the Goldilocks Problem,” a print version of his 2014 Robert F. Boden Lecture at Eckstein Hall. Scott analyzes the interpretive approaches, going back decades, of contract law titans Samuel Williston (focused on text)and Arthur Corbin (emphasizing context) and suggests a middle path. The magazine includes reactions to Scott’s approach from George Triantis of Stanford Law School; Victor A. Lazzaretti, L’93, of Emerson Electric Co. in St. Louis; Nadelle E. Grossman of Marquette Law School; and Stewart Macaulay and William C. Whitford of the University of Wisconsin Law School.

The magazine includes excerpts from nine articles by Law School faculty members in the current issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review. Each excerpt focuses on an aspect of the interaction between law and the world of sports. The nine professors are Michael K. McChrystal, Nadelle E. Grossman, Matthew J. Mitten, Kali N. Murray, Chad M. Oldfather, Judith McMullen, Edward A. Fallone, Jay E. Grenig, and Lisa A. Mazzie.

Dean Joseph D. Kearney takes a long-term view of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, including the Law School’s involvement with the society’s work, in remarks that he made at a Legal Aid Society event.

The magazine begins with the dean’s column and law school news and concludes with the Class Notes section, including extended profiles of several accomplished Marquette lawyers: Jessica Poliner, L’06; Tim Reardon, L’88; R. L. McNeely, L’94; and Daniel Chudnow, L’84.

The full magazine may be found by clicking here.

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Court of Appeals Upholds Dismissal of Sing-Along Citation

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Public

Woody_Guthrie_NYWTSToday the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a citation issued to a “solidarity singer,” one of the participants in the ongoing State Capitol Sing-a-Long in which the participants sing songs protesting Governor Walker’s policies.  The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the citation by the Circuit Court, agreeing with the lower court that the permitting policy instituted by the Walker Administration unconstitutionally infringes on the First Amendment rights of individuals and small groups to engage in protests in the Capitol Building.  The decision of the Court of Appeals can be read in its entirety here.  Today’s ruling is unsurprising.  I argued that an earlier version of the permitting policy was unconstitutional a little over three years ago, in a post on the Faculty Blog that can be read here.  Reading the flimsy legal arguments put forth by the State in defense of the policy before the Court of Appeals (and I do not use the word “flimsy” lightly), I remain baffled as to why the Walker Administration would spend so much time and money in pursuing a permitting policy that so obviously conflicts with established First Amendment precedent.  While the Walker Administration typically rushes to appeal contrary judicial rulings to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, confident of receiving a sympathetic hearing from that body, I suggest that they think long and hard before appealing today’s ruling.

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Wisconsin to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

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Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Public, Seventh Circuit, U.S. Supreme Court, Western District of Wisconsin
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wedding cakeOn Monday, the United States Supreme Court quietly denied certiorari on cases from three federal courts of appeals (the 4th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, and the 10th Circuit) that found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Court’s denial leaves those federal decisions standing, thus making same-sex marriage legal in five states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The decision is also likely to mean that the other states covered by those federal appellate court districts—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming—will also allow same-sex marriage. Or at least, they can’t ban it.

Most surprising to many SCOTUS observers was that the Court made no comment about its decision to deny certiorari. Read more »

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The Howard Fuller You Probably Don’t Know: An Advocate’s Remarkable Life

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Category: Civil Rights, Education & Law, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Fifty-five minutes into Thursday’s one-hour “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, prominent education advocate Howard Fuller finally began talking about the last 20 years of his life. Because the conversation was dragging on? Definitely not. It was because Fuller has led such a remarkable life, with so many chapters (and so many stories to tell) that talking about earlier years was appealing and confining even a well-paced interview to an hour was hard.

Many people in Milwaukee associate Fuller with his nationally significant role as an advocate for private school vouchers and charter schools in the last couple decades. But the full story of his life offers not only a remarkable personal narrative, but provocative perspective on the development of political thinking and advocacy among African Americans in the United States since the 1950s.

Fuller, 73, provided a healthy dose of that narrative and perspective in the session with Gousha, Marquette Law School’s Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy, before a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. In much more detail, it is what he provides in his autobiography, No Struggle, No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform, published this month by Marquette University Press. Read more »

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7th Circuit Affirms District Court Ruling Invalidating Wisconsin’s Marriage Amendment

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Public, Seventh Circuit, Western District of Wisconsin
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same sex hand holdingJudge Richard Posner minces no words. In an opinion dated September 4, Judge Posner wrote for a unanimous 7th Circuit panel, affirming the Wisconsin district court’s decision invalidating Wisconsin’s so-called marriage amendment. (I reviewed the district court decision here.) Wisconsin’s case—Wolf v. Walker—was heard with its equivalent from Indiana—Baskin v. Bogan—and both states saw their prohibitions on same-sex marriage crumble.

The court confines its analysis to equal protection, avoiding the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process argument (marriage as a fundamental right) that both sides pressed. As an equal protection analysis, the court sets up the legal question as one that requires heightened scrutiny because, as the court determined, sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic rather than a choice (and, Judge Posner added, “[w]isely, neither Indiana nor Wisconsin argues otherwise” (*9)).

Because heightened scrutiny applied, the state needed to provide an important state interest for treating same-sex couples differently when it came to marriage, and the discriminatory means chosen (denying same-sex couples the right to marry in Wisconsin and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that sanction such unions) must be substantially related to achieving that important state interest. In true Posnerian style, Judge Posner discussed the equal protection analysis in terms of costs and benefits. (See **4-7.) That is, “in a same-sex marriage case the issue is not whether heterosexual marriage is a socially beneficial institution but whether the benefits to the state from discriminating against same-sex couples clearly outweigh the harms that this discrimination imposes” (*6).

The court found no important state interest to satisfy the heightened scrutiny analysis. As Judge Posner noted, “[T]he only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously” (*7). In fact, the court found none of the arguments proffered by either state as rational, much less serving important state interests. “The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subject to heightened scrutiny . . .” (*8). Because the court found an equal protection violation (whether it used heightened scrutiny or rational basis analysis), the court avoided the due process argument. Read more »

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Wisconsin Becomes 27th State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Public, Western District of Wisconsin

On Friday afternoon, June 6, 2014, marriage equality arrived in Wisconsin. Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, held Wisconsin’s “marriage amendment” to be unconstitutional.

Article XIII, section 13 of Wisconsin’s constitution provides that “[o]nly a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.” This amendment was passed by Wisconsin voters in November 2006. Since that time, however, a number of states have extended the right to marry to same-sex couples, and other state bans on same-sex marriages have been struck down by federal judges. At the federal level, the United States Supreme Court last summer struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, thus requiring the federal government to recognize state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples.

Earlier this year, the ACLU filed Wolf v. Walker in federal court, challenging the marriage amendment. The plaintiffs in Wolf are eight same-sex couples who live in Wisconsin. Some of those couples have been legally married in other states and want Wisconsin to recognize their marriages; others want to marry and would do so in Wisconsin but for the marriage amendment. On Friday, June 6, 2014, they got their wish. Read more »

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The Gender Wage Gap and Equal Pay Day

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Category: Civil Rights, Feminism, Public

paydayMy brother and I used to love to play the game of Life. We’d always go to the college route because it didn’t take much to see that going straight into business was going to get you the lowest pay on the board ($12,000, at the time). We’d grumble if we ended up teachers (the next lowest pay at $24,000) and always wished for that coveted doctor salary (the highest pay at $50,000). Ironically, we both became teachers in the real game of Life.  But that aside, one thing in that game was always certain: if we both ended up with the same occupation, the pay was the same every payday, for him and for me.

The real game of Life isn’t like that.  Today is Equal Pay Day—the date on which the average woman earns what the average man made in the preceding year.  Except it’s taken the average woman an extra 98 days to earn it.

We’ve heard much about the gender wage gap; the fact that the average woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. It’s a number that has stubbornly resisted change for about a decade. And when you break it down further, women of color suffer from an even wider gap than white women when comparing their salaries with white men—64% for African American women and 53% for Latinas. Yes, the gap does close somewhat, if you adjust for education and occupation, but there’s always a gap. Read more »

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