Category: Civil Rights

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New Jersey Crosses the Finish Line to Marriage Equality – Maybe

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey at 12:01 am on Monday, October 21. Wedding ceremonies are everywhere. The process may not be over, however; there are tactical decisions yet to be made as to how best to solidify and clarify the win.

It was a roundabout victory, achieved via a Superior Court decision last month, in which Judge Mary Jacobson held that civil union did not satisfy a state constitutional mandate of equal protection established in Lewis v. Harris (N.J. 2006). There followed, on Friday, October 18, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling denying a motion for stay of Judge Jacobson’s order. So it’s legal for same-sex couples to marry here, but there is no a ruling on the merits by the state Supreme Court. That’s the problem. Read More

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Race Talk and the Government Shut Down

Since last night I have been writing and re-writing this blog about race and the fiscal crisis.  My link to the New York Times page keeps changing – though the content remains essentially the same.  As the Senate moves toward a deal to reopen the government and avert a default, the Times reports that the House balks.

What explains the continued opposition to a deal, despite the seemingly obvious catastrophic consequences of a government default?  Racial anxiety may be playing a role, suggests  Shutdown Power Play:  Stoking Racism, Fear of Culture Change to Push Anti-Government Agenda.  The article describes an analysis by Democracy Corp (a research group led by Stan Greenberg and James Carville) of focus groups with three groups comprised of Evangelicals, Tea Party Republicans, and moderates.  The Democracy Corp concludes that “base supporters” of the Republican Party fear that they are losing to a Democratic Party of big government that is creating programs that “mainly benefit minorities.  Race remains very much alive in the Republican Party.”

So here we are again.  Encouraging mistaken beliefs that only a particular few benefit from government programs – and perpetuating the continued division of “us” and “them” on racial grounds has long been a political strategy.  Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” is a stereotype that continues to live on in some corners.  Even though welfare, like most government programs, including the Affordable Care Act, stands to benefit large numbers of whites.  Indeed, according to 2011 census figures, 46.3% of all uninsured people are non-Hispanic white while 16% are black.

Why has the blog taken so long?  Because the counter-strategy is challenging.

The instinctive response is to call out those distorting the facts as racist.  This tactic has the benefit of moral clarity, and is emotionally satisfying. But calling out those who oppose the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as “racist” will not move people in the political middle. This group is likely to consider someone “racist” only if they publicly disclose old-school-George-Wallace-like animus toward people of color.  The political debate about the role of government in people’s lives—particularly the less fortunate—is much murkier territory, filled with subterranean, unspoken dynamics and assumptions. It does not resemble the image of ardent segregationists proudly flaunting their bigotry.

But simply ignoring the role race is still playing and pretending that we are all “color-blind” is also inadequate.  Social science research has shown that most people carry a set of stereotypical assumptions about race – and that these stereotypes are most  likely to influence decision making when race is right below the surface but not expressly mentioned.  A set of juror studies by Sam Sommers and Phoebe Ellsworth provides powerful evidence of this phenomenon (for a short description of these studies, see this recent piece by Sommers).

The juror studies suggest that when mock jurors confront inter-racial incidents in which racially charged language is used, white jurors were no more likely to convict a black than a white defendant.  When an incident involved a white victim and a black defendant but was otherwise not racially charged, white jurors were more likely to convict a black defendant than a white defendant.  Why?  Because only in the incident in which racial language was used were white jurors conscious that race may come into play — which triggered them to work to be fair.  Donald Bucolo and Ellen Cohn in their study, Playing the race card: Making race salient in defense opening and closing statements, found similar effects in inter-racial trials:  when defense attorneys explicitly mention race, white juror bias toward black defendants is reduced.

The findings in the juror studies are heartening – they provide an empirical foundation for the idea that most white people want to be racially egalitarian.  And they suggest a way forward in policy discussions even if they do not provide play-by-play instructions.  The goal, as john powell aptly states, is to allow people to maintain a self-concept as egalitarian while drawing attention to behaviors that are inconsistent with those values.

I have found listeners of all races to be extremely receptive to this social science in talks at public libraries as well as law schools.   White listeners express relief that they are not being accused of racism –  and once this anxiety is alleviated, the defensiveness melts away.  Listeners of all races seem very interested in the facts about who benefits from government programs and how race operates in the unconscious.

This material is harder to translate into a sound-bite.  But it seems to be the best way forward to an honest conversation about race.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 61, Discourse

Volume 61, Discourse Discourse

Fighting Unfair Credit Reports: A Proposal to Give Consumers More Power to Enforce the Fair Credit Reporting Act Jeffrey Bils 226
A Legal “Red Line”? Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons in Civil Conflict Jillian Blake & Aqsa Mahmud 244
Alleyne v. United States, Age as an Element, and the Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama Beth Colgan TBD
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Legal Developments in Revenge Porn: An Interview with Mary Anne Franks

A handful of state legislatures have recently passed or considered some different proposed bills to address the harm of non-consensual pornography (often called ‘revenge porn’). The topic of revenge porn raises important questions about privacy, civil rights, and online speech and harassment.

Law professor Mary Anne Franks has written previously on the topic in multiple venues, including in guest posts at Concurring Opinions. We were pleased to catch up with her recently to discuss the latest developments. Our interview follows:

**

Hi, Mary Anne! Thanks so much for joining us for an interview. This is a really interesting topic, and we’re glad to get your take on it.

I am delighted to be here! Thank you for having me.

Okay, some substantive questions. First, what is ‘revenge porn’? Read More

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Are any white people poor?

Today’s New York Times lead story, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law,” reports on the devastating effect that states’ decisions not to expand Medicaid is having on poor people.  This article is accompanied by an image – on the jump page 18 in print and featured online – of two poor families, one in Mississippi and one in Texas.  Neither family is white.  

The imagery leads the reader to presume that white people are unaffected by the failure to expand Medicaid and also perpetuates the general stereotype that most poor people are Black or Latino.  The census figures released in 2013 tell a different story:  18.9 million non-Hispanic whites live in poverty and 8.4 million live in deep poverty.  The next largest demographic group living in poverty is Latino – with 13.6 million living in poverty and 5.4 million living in deep poverty.  The smallest group of people living in poverty – by over 8 million — are Black people, with 10.9 million living in poverty and 5.1 living in deep poverty.  These numbers are staggering and shameful.  And it is true that a larger proportion of African Americans and Latinos live in poverty than whites by a significant margin.  However, the decision to depict only Black and Latino families in an article about poverty is itself problematic on a number of fronts.

Living in poverty should not be seen as an individual or group failure.   Most of us have lived in poverty at some point in our own lives or in our families’ history.  And undoubtedly the authors of the article and the editors who chose the picture have sympathy for poor people and hope that their news story and the image will elicit concern and moral outrage.   This result is unlikely.  Instead, research in social psychology suggests that news stories and images of this sort generally have exactly the opposite effect.

In an article entitled Justifying Inequality:  A Social Psychological Analysis of Beliefs about Poverty and the Poor,  Heather Bullock at the University of California, Santa Cruz explains that:  “single mothers and ethnic minorities, most notably African Americans, are the public face of poverty. Consequently, poverty is viewed not only as a “minority” problem (Gilens 1999; Quadagno 1994) but a reflection of weak sexual mores and the decline of the nuclear family (Lind 2004; Orloff 2002). Stereotypes about the poor and ethnic minorities mirror each other with intersecting characterizations including laziness, sexual promiscuity, irresponsible parenting, disinterest in education, and disregard for the law.”  So the imagery in the NYT article and the discussion of the particular effects on single mothers and “poor blacks” simply confirms negative stereotypes.   And the stereotypes are not rooted in fact.    The vast majority of African Americans and Latinos in the United States — over 70% — are not poor.

This article and many others in the media contribute to a set of negative stereotypes about people of color and render invisible the enormous numbers of whites who are poor.  Sadly, the combined effect, as Bullock explains, appears to be a growing tolerance for economic inequality and a willingness to support decisions that harm the poor (such as the rejection of Medicaid expansion).

The negative stereotypes, as I will discuss in future posts, underlie a set of psychological phenomena such as implicit bias, that underlie discriminatory behavior even among those with egalitarian values and create significant obstacles for progress toward racial equality.   As an academic and  as a civil rights litigator in my previous life, I have focused on legal and policy change as a means toward racial equality.  More recently, I have been part of a consortium, the American Values Institute, linking social scientists with lawyers, legal academics, and the media to recognize the significance of culture.  Law, as we all know, is in part a creature of culture.  So long as our culture is infused with distorted facts and images about race, law reform is a vastly more difficult task.

 

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The Dignity of the Minimum Wage?

[A brief note of apology: it's been a terrible blogging summer for me, though great on other fronts.  I promise I'll do better in the coming academic year. In particular, I'd like to get back to my dark fantasy/law blogging series. If you've nominations for interviewees, email me.]

WorkDetroitThis is one I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

One of the major lessons of the cultural cognition project is that empirical arguments are a terrible way to resolve value conflicts. On issues as diverse as the relationship between gun ownership and homicide rates, the child-welfare effects of gay parenting, global warming, and consent in rape cases, participants in empirically-infused politics behave as if they are spectators at sporting events. New information is polarized through identity-protective lenses; we highlight those facts that are congenial to our way of life and discounts those that are not; we are subject to naive realism.  It’s sort of dispiriting, really.  Data can inflame our culture wars.

One example of this phenomenon is the empirical debate over minimum wage laws. As is well known, there is an evergreen debate in economics journals about the policy consequences which flow from a wage floor.  Many (most) economists argue that the minimum wage retards growth and ironically hurts the very low-wage workers it is supposed to hurt. Others argue that the minimum wage has the opposite effect. What’s interesting about this debate -to me, anyway- is that it seems to bear such an orthogonal relationship to how the politics of the minimum wage play out, and the kinds of arguments that persuade partisans on one side or another. Or to put it differently, academic liberals in favor of the minimum wage have relied on regression analyses, but I don’t think they’ve persuaded many folks who weren’t otherwise disposed to agree with them. Academic critics of the minimum wage too have failed to move the needle on public opinion, which (generally) is supportive of a much higher level of minimum wage than is currently the law.

How to explain this puzzle?  My colleague Brishen Rogers has a terrific draft article out on ssrn, Justice at Work: Minimum Wage Laws and Social Equality. The paper urges a new kind of defense of minimum wages, which elides the empirical debate about minimum wages’ effect on labor markets altogether. From the abstract:

“Accepting for the sake of argument that minimum wage laws cause inefficiency and unemployment, this article nevertheless defends them. It draws upon philosophical arguments that a just state will not simply redistribute resources, but will also enable citizens to relate to one another as equals. Minimum wage laws advance this ideal of “social equality” in two ways: they symbolize the society’s commitment to low-wage workers, and they help reduce work-based class and status distinctions. Comparable tax-and-transfer programs are less effective on both fronts. Indeed, the fact that minimum wage laws increase unemployment can be a good thing, as the jobs lost will not always be worth saving. The article thus stands to enrich current increasingly urgent debates over whether to increase the minimum wage. It also recasts some longstanding questions of minimum wage doctrine, including exclusions from coverage and ambiguities regarding which parties are liable for violations.”

I’m a huge fan of Brishen’s work, having been provoked and a bit convinced by his earlier work (here) on a productive way forward for the union movement. What seems valuable in this latest paper is that the minimum wage laws are explicitly defended with reference to a widely shared set of values (dignity, equality). Foregrounding such values I think would increase support for the minimum wage among members of the populace.  The lack of such dignitary discussions in the academic debate to date has level the minimum wage’s liberal defenders without a satisfying and coherent ground on which to stand. Worth thinking about in the waning hours of Labor’s day.

 

 

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Why “Accommodating Traditions” is Sometimes Wrong: The Case of Gender Segregation in Ultra-Orthodox Communities

Gender segregation on buses is becoming increasingly conspicuous in the Hassidic community in New York. Should society tolerate seating arrangements which mandate women to sit at the back of the bus? Is it analogous to racial segregation? Or are there valid considerations that make gender segregation legitimate? The ultra-Orthodox cite multiculturalism, and demand tolerance of their traditions. But what is tradition, and how old should a practice be in order to be recognized as a tradition?

All these questions have been asked in Israeli, where gender segregation in public transportation to and from ultra-Orthodox communities began in the late 1990’s. In a recently published article I argue that gender segregation is a self-defeating practice. Its motivation is to erase female sexuality from the public sphere, but by being so preoccupied with women’s “modesty” it in fact puts their sexuality at the center of attention. The paradoxical obsession with female sexuality is also, in a way, a form of sexual harassment. Gender segregation on buses is not part of Jewish tradition; not even the ultra-Orthodox tradition. It is a very new product of a rising Jewish religious fundamentalism, which I believe is a reaction to women’s demand for equal rights and their exposure to the outer world (thanks to technology). in Israel segregation on buses is sometimes enforced by passengers violently.

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox communities, both in New York and in Israel, have been very astute in their enlistment of multicultural discourse and political correctness to promote their misogynist agenda. The majority should not be confused by this. There are plenty of strong voices from within the ultra-Orthodox community who object to this trend. In Israel, for example, a group of ultra-Orthodox women and men petitioned the Supreme Court against segregation on public transportation. These people are part of the ultra-Orthodox community as well, and have as strong a claim to their traditions as any of the Rabbis who have decided all of the sudden to send women to the back of the bus.

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The Decline of Homophobia and the Rise of Heterophilia in the Aftermath of United States v. Windsor (Part I)

Hello everyone, and thanks Solangel and the other regulars for hosting me here. I thought I would begin with some thoughts on the aftermath of United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). June 26, 2013, the day in which the case was decided, will no doubt be one of those days that many will reminiscent about, ask and will be asked “where were you when the decision was published?” As someone who studied is Constitutional Law class when the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick was still the law, the day Windsor was decided was a truly wonderful day for me. Indeed, this day marked a significant decline in legal homophobia, and we should all celebrate that. But is it the end of marriage-based discrimination?
I’m afraid that the answer to this question is “not yet.” It seems that the campaign for same-sex marriage has been almost too successful, and that the right to marry is rapidly becoming a requirement to do so. Postbulletin.com reports that the Minnesota Mayo Clinic is requiring its LGBT employees to marry their same-sex partners in order to continue their eligibility for health benefits. The previous policy was introduced in order to remedy the discrimination against LGBT employees who could not marry their partners. Now when they can do so, they must, if they wish to continue to be eligible for the benefits. There will even be a deadline for these couples to get married. What a charged idea, a deadline to get married, and one that is created by one of the partners’ employee!
On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this change: Under this policy, unmarried heterosexual partners of employees are ineligible for health benefits. The update is necessary in order not to create a new form of discrimination, this time against unmarried heterosexual couples. But this is only one way of looking at this policy.
The updated policy which requires same-sex couples to marry in order to keep their health benefits exposes what I call law’s heterophilia, a concept which I have introduced in a recent article. Much has been written about law’s homophobia, past and present. Various forms of discrimination against LGBT individuals have been labeled “homophobic” and in most cases, justly so. But law sports an additional, more insidious prejudice—namely, heterophilia.
Homophobia works “against” LGBTs. Criminalization of sex between men or between women is homophobic. But what are we to make of legal norms that do not work directly “against” gays, but “for” heterosexuals? Such norms do not consciously discriminate against LGBT individuals, but privilege heterosexuals (not all of them, as I explain below). The underlying result is discrimination. These norms are not homophobic in the sense that unlike sodomy laws, they were not designed with the specific aim of persecuting sexual minorities.
I borrow the term “heterophilia” from psychoanalyst David Schwartz, who argued in the early 1990s that in addition to homophobia—a well-explored prejudice which is rooted in devaluation—there can be another form of prejudice against LGBT individuals which is rooted in “philia,” namely in the idealization of heterosexuality. Heterophilia, argued Schwartz, is an “unarticulated belief in a particular sexual ideology,” rather than an objection to an alternative sexual ideology. By the absence of phobia, and in many cases by actual acceptance of LGBT individuals in several respects, heterophiles “immunize their ideological commitments against articulation and scrutiny.”
Now, let’s return to the Mayo Clinic’s revised spousal health benefit policy. Heterophilia idealizes not merely heterosexuality, but heterosexual monogamous relationships in which the spouses are married to each other. Marriage is the quintessential heterophile institution. This is why heterophilia can discriminate not just against LGBTs, but also against heterosexuals who refuse to get married. They too are ineligible for health benefits for their partners, if they are employed by a company who has a similar policy in place.
While the Windsor Court’s ruling is just and humane, it exists within a context, and is subject to interpretation (or misinterpretation and even abuse) within that context. One such misinterpretation is the quick evolution of an equal right to marry for LGBTs into a requirement. Critics of the campaign for same-sex marriage have warned against this consequence. But I believe that the critique was misdirected. The problem is not with the proponents of same-sex marriage, but rather with the general socio-legal culture, which still discriminates on the basis of marital status and, now, happily, does so regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Part II of this post.

Race, Justice, and the Political Economy of Vigilantism

A few thoughts in the wake of Zimmerman verdict (and related matters):

1) The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson stated last night, “I still don’t understand what Trayvon Martin was supposed to do” once he knew he was menaced.  Gary Younge similarly asked, “What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life?”

Cord Jefferson, in a way, provides a practical response to that question:

To stay alive and out of jail, brown and black kids learn to cope. They learn to say, “Sorry, sir,” for having sandwiches in the wrong parking lot. They learn, as LeVar Burton has, to remove their hats and sunglasses and put their hands up when police pull them over. They learn to tolerate the indignity of strange, drunken men approaching them and calling them and their loved ones a bunch of [n______]. They learn that even if you’re willing to punch a harasser and face the consequences, there’s always a chance a police officer will come to arrest you, put you face down on the ground, and then shoot you execution style. Maybe the cop who shoots you will only get two years in jail, because it was all a big misunderstanding. You see, he meant to be shooting you in the back with his taser.

Yahdon Israel writes about similar coping mechanisms in Manhattan, and the fallback tactic of avoidance.  He notes that, “Although Columbia [University] is in Harlem, power wills that there is no Harlem in Columbia. Rather than walk through, the people of Harlem are more comfortable with walking around Columbia to get to the other side because they know where they don’t belong.”

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