Category: Civil Rights


Lots Worth Reading At Is That Legal

Eric Mulller, over at Is That Legal, has been very busy for the last few days. First he offered a trenchant critique of Pope Benedict’s talk at Auschwitz last week. (“The Pope’s Disasterous Speech At Auschwitz.”) Then he engaged Dean Esmay over what he frames as Esmay’s propogation of ” the revisionist myth of a terrorized German populace whose will was overborne.” You know the world is topsy-turvy when John Leo is citing Eric approvingly.

Now Eric’s writing about an interesting development in Wilmington, North Carolina: a legistlatively authorized commission has concluded that an 1898 race riot there was a political coup d’etat that reversed the fortunes of the city’s African-American community for years to follow. The committee offered recommendations “to repair the moral, economic, civic and political damage wrought by the violence and discrimination resulting from a conspiracy to re-take control of city, county, and state governments by the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign.” The executive summary is here.

This report will presumably be of great interest to Al Brophy, who served as counsel to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. You can find a number of links to Tulsa Race Riot materials here.

On a more self-interested note, we’re very excited that Eric will be visiting with us here at Co-Op starting in a couple of weeks!


Whistleblowers and Stereotyped Cultural Norms

I’m a little slow to weigh in on this issue, but I just received the latest edition of the ABA Journal. This month, they have a story, “Culture Clash,” by John Gibeaut describing how Sarbanes-Oxley’s whistleblower provisions are causing trouble for foreign cross-listed companies. Ideoblog and Conglomerate have already provided some commentary about the article, which begins as follows:

Americans like to elevate whistleblowers to near folk-hero status, from Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to Sherron Watkins, who exposed the Enron Corp. financial scandal that in 2002 moved Congress to pass the fraud-busting Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Indeed, Watkins shared Time magazine’s Person of the Year honors in 2002 with World Com Inc. whistleblower Cynthia Cooper and FBI agent Collen Rowley, who accused the bureau of mishandling information on suspected hijacking plotter Zacarias Moussaoui before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Say whistleblower in Germany, however, and the term most likely conjures up memories of the Gestapo, Adolf Hitler’s secret police. In France, the term evokes images of the Vichy regime’s collaboration with the Nazis and of neighbors ratting out one another.

I think that the beginning of the article relies on some flawed cultural stereotypes of both Europeans and Americans. Be that as it may, I would question the author’s proposition that American whistleblowers enjoy some sort of elevated status. About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about (American) whistleblowers and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In the article, I argue that whistleblowers are not being given enough protection. Not under state employment law, and not under Sarbanes-Oxley either. Studies – cited in my article – show in graphic detail that American whistleblowers end up unemployed, broke, divorced, and depressed.


Discrimination Law Going to the Dogs?


I, too, saw the NYT story on animals and the ADA. Despite puns aplenty in both the story and in Jason’s (excellent) post directly below, I was initially hesitant to give this more press than it had already received. That’s because I hate to see the ADA – an important piece of civil rights legislation – seen as a law that leads to ridiculous results.

Perhaps all is well until the non-disabled see a loophole in the law and try to exploit it. After all, the law makes sense as a public accommodation when applied to seeing-eye-dogs and other dogs that are “working animals,” but becomes ridiculous when Biff / Buffy tries to insist on the “right” to smuggle his / her boston terrier / chihuahua into a restaurant to avoid eating alone.

So how do we define that “ridiculous” line without throwing the bichon out with the bathwater? The NYT article quoted trainers who work with seeing-eye-dogs or other working dogs; they might help provide a line. As for the idea that no-pet rules in buildings should be waived for the depressed or anxious, I am more skeptical. In this instance, I think the market would take care of the problem. There are buildings where pets are allowed. They may be more expensive, but that presumably internalizes the price of having an animal that could potentially cause damage to the apartment / property.

In any event, all this talk of animals is inspiring. The next two posts from me will carry a dog theme.


If Pigs Had Wings

pigs.jpgThe Sunday New York Times has a story on people invoking the service animal protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act to bring animals that provide them with emotional support on airplanes and in to restaurants and other normally human-only settings.

In 2003 the Department of Transportation issued an administrative opinion that animals used to aid people with emotional ailments like depression or anxiety should be given the same access and privileges as animals helping people with physical disabilities like blindness or deafness.

Unsure of just what the law requires and fearful of being sued, airlines, presented with a letter from a medical professional attesting to an animal’s function, have made available cabin space for emotionally supportive goats, ducks, monkeys and miniature horses–in addition to more pedestrian cats and dogs. The gist of the Times article is that, on the one hand, lots of people seem to really need their animals around them at all times. On the other hand, an emotional supportive duck seems a long way from a seeing eye dog.

Then, of course, there are the other airline passengers or restaurant diners.

Some years ago, US Air allowed a woman and her daughter who invoked the ADA to bring into first class their 250 pound potbelly pig. When they made the reservation they apparently said they had a 13 pound “service animal.” For whatever reason US Air personnel at the airport decided they had to accommodate the beast.

The flying pig, seated between seats 1A and 1C, stayed quiet for most of the Seattle to Philadelphia flight, presumably providing silently its emotional support. But when the plane landed, the pig ran up the aisle, tried to enter the cockpit and then sat stubbornly in the galley until lured out with food.

No word on whether post-9/11 air marshals have training in handling disurptive farm animals aboard.


Review of Apex Hides the Hurt

Apex.jpgIn this latest novel from Colson Whitehead, the (ironically) unnamed protagonist is a “nomenclature consultant” who takes delight in helping corporate American find the best names for particular products. He names a social anxiety drug “Loquacia,” and he names a multicultural band-aid (it is sold in numerous skin tones) “Apex.”

The novel loosely centers around a legal dispute (of sorts), with a city council deadlocked on the rightful name of a growing Midwestern town. Founded by Black settlers leaving slavery behind and striking out for a better life on the plains, the town was originally named “Freedom.” Only a few years later, a wealthy white industrialist brought his factory along with a new name for the town, “Winthrop.” Today the Winthrops are a family in decline, and a new economy entrepreneur wants to rename the town “New Prospera.”

With the city council split three ways, our narrator must arbitrate the dispute. I will not give any spoilers, but the end somehow leaves a number of questions unanswered. And, although filled with clever language, puns, and plays on words – the major strength of this book – the major plot lines fail to grab the reader’s attention, and the characters seem underdeveloped.

It could have been a great book about an unusual legal dispute, or about race in America, but somehow fell short on both accounts. (Points for clever puns though).


Nothing Ordinary About Sexual Orientation Discrimination

ford-logo.jpgOn Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that Ford Motor Company must allow a shareholder vote on a resolution altering the company’s anti-discrimination policy. The resolution eliminates sexual orientation from the policy, implicitly suggesting that discrimination against gay people is OK. This is yet another volley in the ongoing culture wars playing out at Ford. A few months back, social conservatives pressed the company to withdraw ads from magazines targeted at gay people. The company decided to pull ads from gay-oriented publicatioins, explaining that the decision was purely financial. The American Family Association withdrew its threat to boycott the company. Then, after meeting with members of the gay community, the company backed off and re-committed to advertise in these publications. Now, a shareholder named Robert Hurley of Alton, Illinois, is taking a new approach: turning Ford “gay-unfriendly” from the inside.

Ford sought to have the resolution excluded from a vote under SEC Rule 14a-8(i)(7), which provides that a company need not submit an issue to shareholders if it involves “ordinary business operations.” The question, then, is whether anti-discrimination policies are part of ordinary business operations. Let me say, first, that I have not dealt with SEC matters since I was a young associate in New York. But I would have guessed that an anti-discrimination employment provision would be part of ordinary business operations. Some might contend that mundane employment policies cease to be “ordinary” when they touch on hot-button social issues – and sexual orientation anti-discrimination policies, arguably, fit this category. But from my cursory research of SEC no-action letters, it appears that the SEC often allows companies to kill shareholder votes on employment polciies and does so even when the issues involve socially controversial matters.

On one hand, I tend to agree with those who believe in shareholder democracy. I am suspicious when a company seeks to shelter its policies from shareholder scrutiny and input. But I would be troubled if the SEC’s new decision reflects a changed attitude about sexual orientation discrimination, rather than corporate governance. That is, is the SEC now forcing companies to put all manner of employment policy resolutions to a vote? Or did it only choose to do so when sexual orientation was at issue? I simply don’t have the expertise to know.

Whatever the motives of the SEC, I’m not sure that the result is bad. Many progressives have come to believe that civil rights won through debate and democratic choice are more stable than those obtained through the decisions of small groups of elites. When change happens by majority choice, the remaining objectors can’t play the “anti-majoritarian” card. There is no denying that, sometimes, elites – Presidents, judges, or corporate boards – spur positive change through anti-democratic actions. But on the issue of gay rights, I think that the public has already become pretty well engaged.

As for Ford, I say let Mr. Hurley have his vote. There are good business and social reasons for Ford to take a stand against discrimination. I agree with KipEsquire: those who seek to discriminate and diminish will be forced to the margins. And if they lose by acclamation, rather than declaration, perhaps they will find other things to be grumpy about.

UPDATE: I have not been able to find a free copy of this SEC letter, which was released on March 6, 2006. It is available on Westlaw at 2006 WL 739897.

FURTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Marty Lederman, a PDF copy of the letter is now available gratis.

From Gradgrind to Glaeser

Economic analysis is often illuminating, but sometimes it just seems to provide cover for new Gradgrinds to ply reductionist utilitarianism. Case in point: the NYT Magazine has a glowing profile of Edward Glaeser, an economist from Harvard. As a patrician, provocateur, and polymath, Glaeser is reported to have single handedly revived the field of urban economics. Here are some of his prescriptions (as reported by Jon Gertner):

1) Don’t rebuild much of New Orleans– just let hard-pressed residents move somewhere else (and expect our exceedingly eleemosynary Congress to cut checks to each resident for $200,000, since that’s what they were planning to spend on infrastructure!). And don’t try to revive struggling rust-belt cities like Detroit, either.

2) “Car-based cities” are great; they “enable residents to buy cheaper, bigger houses,” and “the average car commute is about 24 minutes; on public transportation, it is around 48 minutes.”

I have a few questions for Glaeser. First, does his model value stability at all? Let’s say that this process of dispersion in search of better jobs leaves very few nuclear families with extended families nearby to help with child and elder care. Is the resultant need to hire day care workers and visiting nurses a boon to the economy, because unpaid labor to that end wouldn’t count in the GDP? Just how parsimonious are his models?

I have some personal experience with the “exodus from the Rustbelt” that Glaeser finds so appealing…

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Reparations within the Rule of Law

At the upcoming reparations conference, I will speak on the topic of reparations within the rule of law. My paper is still (ahem) a work in progress. However, I know the structure of my remarks, and I just turned in my abstract (so that our publicity folks could get to work on the printed materials). The abstract of my presentation is as follows:

Kaimipono David Wenger

Reparations within the Rule of Law

The question of reparations for slavery raises a number of concerns. One important question is whether reparations can fit within the rule of law. This question relates to underlying concerns about who defines the rule of law and what the rule of law includes.

The rule of law is a broadly respected concept in legal discourse, and is viewed as an important element undergirding society’s interaction with the law. A strong rule of law creates several benefits for individuals and for society. The rule of law can serve as a safeguard against certain kinds of tyranny and oppression. In addition, a perception of a robust rule of law lends legitimacy to laws and legal regimes, and streamlines legal experience.

The rule of law as a concept is not always well defined. At its most basic, the concept requires that individual interactions with law be based on application of law rather than arbitrary exercise of power; that laws be equally applied to all individuals; and that laws be knowable and performable. Some influential formulations of the rule of law, such as that offered by A.V. Dicey, follow this basic structure and are almost entirely procedural in nature. Such exclusively procedural formulations are not universally accepted, however, and longstanding debates exist on whether the rule of law is capable of bearing substantive content.

Slavery reparations present special challenges to the rule of law. Reparations potentially involve the transfer of large amounts of money to a class of people – descendants of an original harmed group – who are seeking payment over a century after the initial harm. In addition, the cost of this transfer will necessarily fall on at least some parties who are not morally culpable for the original harm. These aspects of reparations raise complex concerns relating to the rule of law, which should be addressed before any restitution is possible. While these concerns are certainly reasonable, examination of the broader rule of law concerns shows that the greatest offense to the rule of law would arise from not paying reparations.

Reparations are an acknowledgment of the displacement of the rule of law under slavery, a displacement which in turn created a regime of lawlessness and repression. Slavery was only made possible through the removal of rule of law protections as applied to one segment of the population – Blacks. The denial of rule of law protection for Blacks did not end with slavery, but continued for a century or more after slavery’s end. Blacks were denied civil and political rights and meaningful participation in the political process until the civil rights era; even today, they struggle for equal rights.

Given this background, reparations serve as a form of atonement – a crucial signal to the Black community that society wishes to atone for its error and take concrete steps to repair the damaged community. Absent such a signal, the rule of law breach that began with slavery will continue, unhealed. The consequences of the breached rule of law – resentment, distrust of law, a perception that law is beholden only to power – will continue to negatively impact society and undermine faith in the rule of law.

Societal expression of remorse for rule of law breaches – coupled with concrete steps to ameliorate the harm – is a necessary step in repairing the damage done by slavery to the rule of law. Reparations show societal will to set things right following the removal of the rule of law protections for Blacks. They are also a way of affirming that such breach of the rule of law will not recur. Thus, payment of reparations allows society to move forward, and encourages disadvantaged groups to regain confidence in the rule of law. Not only are reparations consistent with the rule of law, they are in fact a product of the rule of law.


Paper Discovers Trove Of Unseen Civil Rights Photos

Thurgood Marshall.JPG Today the Birmingham News published a treasure trove of photographs documenting the Civil Rights movement. These absolutely remarkable photos, featuring Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall (pictured at right in a group that included Constance Baker Motley), and other significant individuals and events from that era, can be accessed here. While some appeared at the time, many of these images have not been published previously. According to the account in today’s News, the photos were found accidentally:

[The discovery was] the result of research by Alexander Cohn, a 30-year-old former photo intern at The News. In November 2004, Cohn went through an equipment closet at the newspaper in search of a lens and saw a cardboard box full of negatives marked, “Keep. Do Not Sell.”

The accompanying article includes interesting interviews with News photographers and others discussing why many of these images never saw the light of day. One photographer recalled that “the editors thought if you didn’t publish it, much of this would go away.”

The News has changed over the years naturally. In 1988, it offered a tempered self-critique of its civil rights coverage saying: “The story of The Birmingham News’ coverage of race relations in the 1960s is once marked at times by mistakes and embarrassment but, in its larger outlines, by growing sensitivity and acceptance of change.” That remains a fair characterization of the broadsheet. The editorial board is iconoclastically conservative. It is anti-abortion and solidly Republican but unafraid to confront ideological inconsistency and social injustice. For example, the News recently reversed course on the death penalty, calling for its abolition. Why?

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