Tagged: equal protection

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Now may be the moment . . .

Heed their rising voices.

heed-rising-voicesIn light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, that admonition seems as relevant today as it was when it was when it appeared on March 29, 1960 in a New York Times political advertisement directed at the Montgomery, Alabama police. Of course, it was that advertisement that gave rise to the celebrated ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964).

The analogy to the events surrounding the killing of young Michael Brown and the famed First Amendment case is more apt than may first appear. How so?  Well, let us start here: It is important to remember that the First Amendment victory in Sullivan emerged against the backdrop of intense racial strife. What is remarkable about the case is how it blended the liberty principle of the First Amendment with the equality principle of the Fourteenth Amendment to forge a landmark opinion. Perhaps at no other time in American history have the two been so wonderfully wed as to serve the high principles of both constitutional guarantees.

Know this: Racial injustice cannot endure the light of the First Amendment; police abuse cannot continue unabated when subjected to the scrutiny of a camera; and governmental indifference cannot persist when the citizenry assembles in a united front to oppose it. Put another way, the link between free-speech liberty and racial equality is vital to the health of our constitutional democracy.

Frank Pasquale’s recent post (“The Assault on Journalism in Ferguson, Missouri) ably points out why citizens of all political stripes should be concerned about what has been going on in Ferguson. His sober post is a timely reminder of the importance of the First Amendment in the affairs of our lives, be they in Ferguson or Staten Island or elsewhere.

(CNN) – The New York City medical examiner’s office Friday confirmed what demonstrators had been saying for weeks: A police officer’s choke hold on a man being arrested for selling loose cigarettes killed him. (Aug. 2, 2014)

So, now may be the moment to reunite the liberty and equality principles. What does that mean? Among other things, it must mean this:

  1. The press — traditional and modern — must be free to continue to exercise its rights in a robust manner.
  2. Citizens should be able to freely exercise their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and protest.
  3. More transparency should be demanded of government, be it in matters concerning the investigation of the killing of Michael Brown or the need for police identification badges to be plainly visible.
  4. And demands must be made of state and local officials that clear and specific measures be taken to respect and protect the lawful exercise of any and all First Amendment rights.

To that end, press groups, civil rights and civil liberties groups, along with political and religious groups should seize this opportunity, borne out of tragedy, to reinvigorate our First Amendment freedoms employed in the service of racial justice. In that way, perhaps some of the admirably defiant spirit of New York Times v. Sullivan may find its way back into the hearts and minds of people of good will who refuse to sit silent while law-abiding citizens of Ferguson stagger through clouds of teargas.

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New Jersey Marriage Equality Part II: When Lewis Met Windsor

United States v. Windsor, – U.S. –, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on somewhat murky constitutional grounds. It also provided the catalyst for this month’s move to marriage equality under state constitutional law in New Jersey. But it did so in a most curious way.

In Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006), a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court had held that same-sex couples could not be denied the equal rights and benefits guaranteed by the New Jersey constitution. However, a four-person majority in Lewis demurred as to whether the state had to allow same-sex couples to marry, allowing the legislature instead to choose to create a new status that would provide the same rights and benefits as marriage, but with a different name. In short order the legislature enacted a Civil Union Act, which became effective in 2007.

From the outset, it was clear to marriage equality advocates that that civil union would not and could not convey the equal rights and benefits that Lewis v. Harris mandated. The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission held hearings and made extensive findings to that effect, unanimously. But how to persuade either the courts or the legislature to make the move all the way to marriage equality? Both legislative and judicial mechanisms were deployed. As to litigation, there was an initial attempt in 2010 to return the matter directly to the New Jersey Supreme Court, by way of a motion in aid of litigant’s rights filed in Lewis v. Harris. It failed because the court determined, on a 3-3 vote, that an evidentiary record was necessary. 202 N.J. 340 (2010). It is this evidentiary trial process that Windsor short-circuited. Read More

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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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Viewpoint, Voting, and Structuring the Electorate

I am delighted to join the blogging community of Concurring Opinions for the month of April.  Thanks to Solangel Maldonado and Daniel Solove for their gracious invitation.

Denying voting rights to citizens with felony convictions has gotten a bad rap. The reason it’s not worse is because that rap is based on only half the story.  Anyone familiar with the complexion of our prison population knows that felon disfranchisement laws extend striking racial disparities to the electoral arena.  Less known, however, is that citizens with felony convictions are excluded from the electorate, in part, because of perceptions about how this demographic might vote or otherwise affect the marketplace of ideas.  In other words, citizens with felony convictions are denied the right to vote because of their suspected viewpoint.

Picking up on this point earlier this year, Michael Dorf highlighted a dispute between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum about which of them held the most conservative position concerning the voting rights of citizens convicted of a felony.  Inventing a criminal persona named Snake, Dorf queried what issues might provoke such a person to vote: Lower protections for private property or public safety? Redistribution of public resources from law enforcement to education, health, or recreation?  Elimination of certain criminal laws?  I can fathom many other lawful motivations for voting.  However, as Dorf points out (and decidedly rejects), the underlying objection to allowing citizens with felony convictions to vote is based on an assumption that, if they could vote, they would express self-serving and illegitimate interests. In other words, the viewpoint that felons would express through voting has no place in the electoral process.

I have always assumed that my viewpoint was precisely what I and other voters are supposed to express at the ballot box.  Whether that viewpoint is shared, accepted, condoned or vehemently disdained and abhorred by others is irrelevant to the right to vote.  Not so for citizens with felony convictions.  This group of citizens is presumed to possess deviant views that justify their exclusion from the electorate and the denial of a fundamental right. Read More

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Lewis v. Harris II — “civil union” versus “marriage”, one more time

Last month, on behalf of several same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed a “Petition in Aid of Litigants’ Rights”  with the New Jersey Supreme Court, asking for further relief in Lewis v. Harris, 908 A.2d 196 (N.J. 2006).    The petition argues that the state’s Civil Union Law, created in 2006,  has utterly failed to create the constitutionally required equality for same-sex couples.  It requests the court to revisit the matter forthwith and order the state to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.

In 2006 in Lewis v.  Harris, the court held 7 – 0  that New Jersey’s constitution as a matter of equal protection (although not as a fundamental right) required the state to provide all the rights and benefits of marriage to committed same-sex couples, and also some kind of full legal recognition — the already-existing “domestic partnership” regime, with its limited benefits and different structure, was constitutionally insufficient.  But the court split 4 – 3 on whether to require the legislature to include same-sex couples within the legal definition of marriage, or to permit the legislature in its discretion instead to create a new legal institution for same-sex couples.  The legislature (very quickly) chose the latter course, enacting New Jersey’s Civil Union Law.

Three years later, the March 2010 pleading challenges that law as constitutionally inadequate.  It argues that the separate institution of civil union does not convey to same-sex couples and their families the important though intangible status of marriage, and that the separate-but-equal approach stigmatizes them in an ongoing way; that same-sex couples and their families must expend considerable effort and suffer considerable embarrassment claiming the equal rights that “civil union” is supposed to provide; and that in daily encounters, failures of others to recognize “civil union”, whether inadvertent or deliberate and feigned, regularly result in not being accorded rights and benefits equivalent to those of different-sex married couples, the goal that civil union is required to achieve.

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