Category: Race

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Constitutional Redemption

Jack M. Balkin’s profound book, Constitutional Redemption, develops an aspirational interpretation of the Constitution. The presentation is not nostalgic; rather, Balkin provides a hopeful picture of an evolving form of constitutional interpretation. His methodology requires the reexamination of existing social morality and political forms but not an abandonment of the Constitution’s commitments to standards and principles of justice.

Balkin’s narrative of redemption speaks of unfulfilled promises made at the nation’s founding. These promises, he argues, should guide reform. Improvement, amendment, and advancement are not merely results of blind flux, but concerted efforts to achieve the “promise[s] of the past.” He neither seeks nor engages in constitutional idolatry, but a belief that the ideals of liberty and equality imbedded into the document can mold public opinion against injustices that violate them.

Such a grand vision is based on faith that the Constitution’s flexible framework will be instrumental to the achievement of social justice. Balkin’s perspective is positioned with the leanings of scholars like Mark Tushnet, , Sanford Levinson, William Eskridge, and Larry Kramer, who regard social and political movements to be important actors for “shifting the boundaries” of what are considered to be reasonable and plausible alternatives to existing inequalities. According to Balkin’s perspective, the effect of civil rights groups on our understanding of the Constitution is reflected in cases like Brown v. Board of Education, Reed v. Reed, and Lawrence v. Texas. These decisions, indeed, bear witness to the ability of litigation groups–like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Women’s Rights Project, and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund–to integrate visionary popular activism into a constitutional framework compelling enough to alter Supreme Court decisionmaking.

I believe that in Balkin’s redemptive vision of constitutional interpretation lies, arguably, the central paradox of American history. The nation was built on the principled foundations of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes universal inalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but from its inception the United States failed to fully carry those ideals into law. The Declaration too, I argue in a forthcoming book, offers the sort of visionary (or in Balkin’s language redemptive) possibilities that drove Abraham Lincoln’s vision of federal government and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s advocacy of reform.

While the founding document spoke in terms of liberal equality, not quite twelve years after the Declaration was signed (on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth sate to adopt the Constitution) the Constitution’s notorious protections of slavery became binding. That is, the Constitution was not merely a step forward in the establishment of binding institutions pregnant with redemptive possibilities but also a document that compromised some of the ideals of the Revolution. Even the ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments did not lead to immediate redemptions of those original ideals. But I believe that Balkin is correct, that the Constitution just as its legal forerunner, the Declaration of Independence, contains the necessary kernels of wisdom that allow for the national and human evolution of understanding about the significance of due process, equal protection, and the pursuit of happiness.

Balkin correctly points out that the many failures to live up to the nation’s ideals do not diminish the value of anti-classist promises the nation made to improve of people’s welfare. His redemptive model helps explain why abolitionists could condemn the nation for its gross failures while clinging to its ideals. The original documents were useful for those who condemned the nation’s existing practices and for those who sought a jubilaic plan for its reform.

A letter published in abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star, mocked the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal.” The author insisted that the document should be rewritten to say, “All men are created equal; but many are made by their Creator, of baser material, and inferior origin, and are doomed now and forever to the sufferance of certain wrongs–amongst which is Slavery!” To blacks, the writer went on to say, the Fourth of July was “but a mockery and an insult.” To the advocates of slavery, he surmised, “liberty and equality” meant no more than the noises of firecrackers, raised flags, and other raucous festivities. J.D. “The Ever-glorious Fourth”, North Star (Rochester, NY), July 13, 1849.

But there was more to be said about America; it was not merely a composite of its failures but also a set of affective and effective norms. Despite the nation’s failures, the Declaration of Independence committed the country to liberal equality. In this context, an ex-slave’s daughter described her father’s awakening when he heard the Declaration read aloud. From that moment, she wrote, “he resolved that he would be free, and to this early determination, the cause of human freedom is indebted for one of its most effective advocates.” Biography of an American Bondman, by His Daughter 15-16 (1856). Her father, William Wells Brown, successfully escaped in 1834, later to become a prolific novelist and abolitionist lecturer.

The author of Douglass’s paper reflects the failure to live up to the substance of freedom. But Brown’s experience speaks to the possibility of unfulfilled aspiration to inspire and guide individuals, and perhaps even the nation, to liberal equality. This ability to animate hope even in the course of culturally accepted injustice demonstrates the Constitution’s redemptive quality, providing visionary revitalization of existing institutions and leading to social beneficial revision.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 58, Issue 5 (June 2011)

Volume 58, Issue 5 (June 2011)


Articles

Melville B. Nimmer Memorial Lecture: What Is a Copyrighted Work? Why Does It Matter? Paul Goldstein 1175
Equal Opportunity for Arbitration Hiro N. Aragaki 1189
Asymmetrical Jurisdiction Matthew I. Hall 1257


Comments

Multiracial Work: Handing Over the Discretionary Judicial Tool of Multiracialism Scot Rives 1303
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, and Your Queer: The Need and Potential for Advocacy for LGBTQ Immigrant Detainees CT Turney 1343


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Will America’s Civil War Ever End?

Seems I prematurely announced my departure as a guest blogger last week.  Concurring Opinions has kindly asked me to stay on for another month, so here is my first offering for May.

It recently occurred to me that there is a connection between the persistent belief of some Americans that President Obama is not a natural born citizen and continuing debates about the Civil War.  Both go to fundamental questions about national identity, citizenship and governance.  Almost a decade ago I wrote a quirky piece entitled Exploring White Resistance to Racial Reconciliation. The article was triggered by what I regarded as a shocking action by Congress, namely, the rejection of a 1997 proposal by a dozen Democrat and Republican congress members calling on Congress to issue an apology to the descendants of kidnapped West Africans for their enslavement.  In 2008, after it became apparent that then Senator Barack Obama would be the Democrat’s presidential nominee, Congress quietly issued an apology for slavery.  Ironically, President Obama is not descended from West Africans, or to my knowledge, slaves.

In my article I speculated that this proposal was rejected because most Americans remain woefully ignorant about the causes and conflicting political agendas surrounding the Civil War.  This ignorance has been reinforced, I theorized, by popular culture, particularly films like the pernicious Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind, that romanticize the “lost cause.”  I offered many proposals, including better education about the Civil War, its causes and effects.

Why, you may ask, am I blogging about “old” news?  Well, a study funded by the Pew Foundation and released last month found that most Americans still consider the Civil War relevant to “American politics and political life.”  As the 150th anniversary of the War approached, two major newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, featured series or periodic articles about the War.  The Post also hosts a blog, A House Divided, “dedicated to news and issues of importance to Civil War enthusiasts across the country and around the world.”  Even my local paper, The Baltimore Sun, has a series about the War.  Maryland, although a slave-holding border state, saw many battles during the War.  Further, Maryland considers the April 17, 1861 Baltimore Riot, when Union troops passing through the City were attacked by local confederate sympathizers, to be one of the War’s first conflicts.  I celebrate these educational efforts mentioned above because most Americans still do not fully understand the reasons for this war and why it continues to bedevil the Nation.

One of the most factious long-standing debates is over the causes of the War, namely, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights.  According to the Pew study, 48% of Americans surveyed think that states’ rights was the main cause of the War, while 34% said slavery was the cause. Documents linked in The Times, and essays by noted historians, acknowledge that states’ rights was an issue, but that the continuation of slavery was a primary triggering cause.   Even the State of Georgia, a former confederate state, finally conceded that slavery was the cause of the War.  Nevertheless, some Americans continue to reject the historical evidence.  For example, Baltimore Sun readers, in response to a columnist’s assertion that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, challenged and vigorously debated each other.  Commentators offer various, mostly benign, explanations for the reluctance to acknowledge slavery’s role in triggering the Civil War.

Still you might say, this too is “old” news that has nothing to do with President Obama, but I urge you to read on. Read More

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The Ministerial Exception Part III

In my previous blogs, I explained the basics of this judicially-created doctrine, and argued that the ministerial exception can’t really be justified by either the Free Exercise or the Establishment Clause. The main Establishment Clause justification for the ministerial exception is the fear that in adjudicating discrimination claims, courts will become entangled with theological questions or endorse one religious vision over another. In this last post, I want to argue that application of the ministerial exception can entangle a court in religious doctrine more than application of anti-discrimination law.

For the ministerial exception to apply, the plaintiff in a discrimination suit must be a “ministerial” employee. Who counts as a ministerial employee? That is the question before the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC: is a teacher at a religious school who mostly teaches secular subjects but also leads students in prayer and teaches a religion class a ministerial employee? Courts do not simply defer to a religious organization’s characterization of a position, as it could insist that all its employees were ministers. Instead, courts have taken a functional approach, looking at the main duties of the employee, and essentially asking whether plaintiff’s job “is important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church.”

In order to decide whether a position is “important to the spiritual and pastoral mission of the church,” however, a court might have to delve into the religious beliefs of a particular religion. In ruling that a church’s music director was a minister, for example, the Fourth Circuit analyzed the religious significance of music. The plaintiff argued that she was not a ministerial employee because she merely taught people to sing and perform music. The court disagreed, noting that “music serves a unique function in worship” and concluding that the music director’s job was “an integral part of Catholic worship and belief.” In reaching this determination, the court did exactly what the Establishment Clause forbids: choose between competing religious visions. In the plaintiff’s vision of the Roman Catholic faith, music’s significance did not rise to the level of ministry, such that teaching it made her a minister. In the defendant’s vision, it did. The court essentially resolved a religious dispute about the role of music. Hosanna-Tabor potentially presents a similar risk. In determining whether Perich is a minister or not, the Supreme Court may end up resolving a religious dispute about the role of school teachers in Evangelical Lutheran Church schools.

Read More

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Ministerial Exception Part II

In my previous blog on the ministerial exception, I explained the basics of this judicially-created exception. In this blog, I take a more partisan view, and argue that the religion clauses do not justify the ministerial exception. To the extent that church-clergy relations are protected, they should be protected under the freedom of association guaranteed by the Free Speech Clause.

Does the Free Exercise Clause require the ministerial exception?

The simple answer is: not after Employment Division v. Smith. Employment Division v. Smith held that as long as a law is neutral and generally applicable, it does not violate the Free Exercise Clause even if it imposes a substantial burden on religion. Smith itself upheld a law that made illegal a religious sacrament. Since few would dispute that anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act are both neutral and generally applicable, Smith should defeat any free exercise justification.

Nonetheless, lower courts have uniformly argued that Smith only applies to individual free exercise claims and not institutional free exercise claims. The arguments for this distinction are not persuasive, and they can be understood as the lower courts’ attempt to limit the impact of the unpopular Smith decision. For example, courts cite to a line of Supreme Court cases addressing church property disputes as precedent for church autonomy. Yet they overlook the Supreme Court’s most recent church property case, Jones v. Wolf, which actually applies a “neutral principles of law” approach more in line with Smith than the older cases that deferred to church hierarchies.

Doesn’t the potential entanglement with religion mean the Establishment Clause requires the ministerial exception?

The Establishment Clause may be violated if a court were to independently evaluate a minister’s spiritual or theological qualifications. For example, the court would act beyond its competence if it were to hold that a church was wrong to fire a choir director for her choice of music because the music chosen was in fact perfectly suitable for Sunday services. However, it is a mistake to assume that resolving anti-discrimination cases will lead courts to substitute their judgment for that of the religious institution on spiritual and theological matters. To start, many discrimination suits do not present any religious questions. In addition, this fear overlooks a substantial body of anti-discrimination law that ensures that courts assess only matters well within their competence. In other words, when evaluating a claim that a professor was wrongfully denied tenure, courts will consider objective data, but they will not second-guess the employer about subjective professional qualifications.

Take the retaliation claim at issue in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. In terminating Cheryl Perich, Hosanna-Tabor cited issues related to her health and its disability leave policy. No mention was made of any spiritual shortcomings. Therefore, as the Sixth Circuit concluded: “a trial would focus on issues such as whether Perich was disabled within the meaning of the ADA, whether Perich opposed a practice that was unlawful under the ADA, and whether Hosanna-Tabor violated the ADA in its treatment of Perich.”

Are churches never immune from anti-discrimination suits?

Even though the religion clauses may not justify the ministerial exception, the freedom of association might shield religious organizations from some anti-discrimination claims brought by ministers. Proponents of the ministerial exception argue that religious organizations must be able to freely select their ministers and religious leaders. The freedom of association protects that choice: especially after Boy Scouts of American v. Dale, the freedom of association protects the right of all associations, religious and nonreligious, to choose leaders who will properly represent and convey the association’s message, even if it means violating anti-discrimination law. In Dale, the Supreme Court allowed the Boy Scouts to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation on the grounds that gay Scoutmasters would undermine the Boy Scouts’ anti-homosexuality message.

At the same time, Dale makes clear that an association seeking immunity from a discrimination claim must have a message that would in some way be impaired by compliance with that anti-discrimination law. Thus, a church may assert immunity from a minister’s discrimination suit only if it first argues that its religious tenets require that discrimination. Religious organizations whose beliefs are consistent with anti-discrimination law cannot complain that compliance interferes with their expression. Unless Tabor-Hosanna argues that a disabled minister will undermine its religious message, Perich should be able to sue the religious school for violating the American with Disabilities Act.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)

Volume 58, Issue 3 (February 2011)


Articles

Good Faith and Law Evasion Samuel W. Buell 611
Making Sovereigns Indispensable: Pimentel and the Evolution of Rule 19 Katherine Florey 667
The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Jennifer L. Mnookin et al. 725
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Joseph P. Bono 781
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Judge Nancy Gertner 789
Commentary on The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences Pierre Margot 795


Comments

What’s Your Position? Amending the Bankruptcy Disclosure Rules to Keep Pace With Financial Innovation Samuel M. Kidder 803
Defendant Class Actions and Patent Infringement Litigation Matthew K. K. Sumida 843


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(A few reasons) why Angela Onwuachi-Willig should be appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court

Various law blogs have mentioned the news that University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig is on the short list for the Iowa Supreme Court

Angela is a leading scholar on topics of racial justice and critical race theory.  She is the only woman on the shortlist, as well as the only person of color

In addition, Angela is a longstanding supporter of LGBT rights who has written eloquently in favor of marriage equality and who signed a brief supporting marriage equality in Varnum v. Brien.

Given the backdrop of the current Iowa vacancies — they are the direct result of a homophobic right-wing smear campaign — I am thrilled to see Angela’s name on the shortlist.  I can think of no better way to respond to the anti-gay hate machine than to fill a court vacancy with a smart, articulate, energetic Black woman who is committed to LGBT rights — and to a principled and progressive feminist and antiracist legal philosophy as well.

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Gender Justice and Indian Sovereignty

It is my pleasure to invite you to Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s upcoming 10th Anniversary Women and the Law Conference, “Gender Justice and Indian Sovereignty: Native American Women and the Law,” on Friday, February 18, 2011.

This one-day conference will be held at TJSL’s brand-new state-of-the-art building in downtown San Diego, and will feature the annual Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture (founded in 2003 with generous support from Justice Ginsburg), by our Keynote Speaker, Interim Associate Dean Stacy Leeds, University of Kansas School of Law, former Justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court and currently chief judge of three Indian Nation tribal courts. Her Lecture will be titled: “Resistance, Resilience, and Reconciliation: Reflections on Native American Women and the Law.” Read More

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Bright Ideas: Chamallas and Wriggins on The Measure of Injury

The Measure of InjuryToday’s Bright Idea comes from Martha Chamallas and Jenny Wriggins. Martha Chamallas is the Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law at the Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law and is the author of Introduction to Feminist Legal Theory, and Jenny Wriggins is the Sumner T. Bernstein Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law. Both Martha and Jenny have written extensively about some of the ways in which tort law fails to adequately respond to the experiences of marginalized groups such as women and racial minorities. In The Measure of Injury, published earlier this last year by NYU Press, the authors draw on their expertise (and a stunning array of mind-boggling real-life examples) to systematically demonstrate that tort law undervalues women and racial minorities, both historically and into the present. It’s an incredibly valuable contribution which also makes for a fascinating read. For the Bright Ideas series, we asked the authors a few questions about the book and also about their larger project.

1. As a general observer it seems to me that there is a moderately widespread public perception that race and gender inequalities are largely a thing of the past. What would you say in response to that idea?

The conventional wisdom about tort law certainly is that the field is gender and race neutral. In that respect, our book’s emphasis on gender and race bias cuts against the grain. In writing this book, we had to confront the reality that few people realize that tort law was historically marked by sharp distinctions based on race and gender. This lack of awareness contrasts with general assumptions about other parts of the legal system. There is a widespread perception, for example, that at one time the criminal justice system was racist. Historical inequalities in tort law, however, are just as striking and also merit attention, particularly since their legacies are imprinted in contemporary law. Read More

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Virtual Perils of Cyber Hate and the Need for a Conception of Digital Citizenship

Although intermediaries’ services can facilitate and reinforce a citizenry’s activities, they pose dangers that work to undermine them.  Consider the anonymous and pseudonymous nature of online discourse.  Intermediaries permit individuals to create online identities unconnected to their legal identities.  Freed from a sense of accountability for their online activities, citizens might engage in productive discourse in ways that they might not if directly correlated with their offline identities.  Yet the sense of anonymity breeds destructive behavior as well.  Social science research suggests that people behave aggressively when they believe that they cannot be observed and caught.  Destructive online behavior spills offline, working a fundamental impairment of citizenship.

For instance, digital expressions of hatred helped inspire the 1999 shooting of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Jews in suburban Chicago by Benjamin Smith, a member of the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) that promotes racial holy war.  Just months before the shootings, Smith told documentary filmmaker Beverly Peterson that: “It wasn’t really ‘til I got on the Internet, read some literature of these groups that . . . it really all came together.”  More recently, the Facebook group Kick a Ginger Day urged members to get their “steel toes ready” for a day of attacking individuals with red hair. The site achieved its stated goal: students punched and kicked children with red hair and dozens of Facebook members claimed credit for attacks.

Cyber hate can produce so much psychological damage as to undermine individuals’ ability to engage in public discourse.  For instance, posters on a white supremacist website targeted Bonnie Jouhari, a civil rights advocate and mother of a biracial girl.  They revealed Ms. Jouhari’s home address and her child’s picture.  The site showed a picture of Ms. Jouhari’s workplace exploding in flames next to the threat that “race traitors” are “hung from the neck from the nearest tree or lamp post.”  Posters included bomb-making instructions and a picture of a hooded Klansman holding a noose.  Aside from moving four times, Ms. Jouhari and her daughter have withdrawn completely from public life; neither has a driver’s license, a voter registration card or a bank account because they don’t want to create a public record of their whereabouts.

Search engines also ensure the persistence and production of cyber hate that undermines citizens’ capability to engage in offline and online civic engagement.  Because search engines reproduce information cached online, people cannot depend upon time’s passage to alleviate the damage that online postings cause.  Unlike leaflets or signs affixed to trees that would decay or disappear not long after their publication, now search engines index all of the content hosted by social media intermediaries, producing it instantaneously. Read More