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Civil Rights

Moral Courage

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Moral Courage

I will be the first to admit that I do not have this kind of moral and physical courage, but if little children can stand up for justice in the face of dogs and fire hoses and even church bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, what is our excuse?

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Sessions DOJ Attacks Gay Rights in Federal Court

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Sessions DOJ Attacks Gay Rights in Federal Court

 

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) under Jeff Sessions has launched an attack on gay rights under the Civil Rights of Act of 1964 in a friend of the court brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, report the New York Times and the Huffington Post.  The filing is remarkable for coinciding with President Donald Trumps' tweets purporting to ban transgender people from serving in the military in a bid to shore up support to fund his planned border wall between the United States and Mexico.

The DOJ filed the amicus brief in the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express urging the court to rule that the prohibition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Mr. Zarda, a skydiving instructor, had revealed to a client that he was gay, and his employer subsequently fired him when she complained.

The DOJ's gratuitous intervention runs counter to the Supreme Court's growing recognition that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unlawful.  In Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., the Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited same sex harassment. The Court's well-known ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges established the Constitutional right to same sex marriage.

Not only the EEOC but also the Seventh Circuit, not notoriously liberal, have come around to the view that sexual orientation is protected against discrimination in employment. In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the Seventh Circuit en banc concluded that sexual orientation was protected in two ways. The first is that discrimination against gays is the result of sexual stereotyping.. The courts have struck down discrimination based on gender stereotypes, as in Price Waterhouse v Hopkins, in which Hopkins, despite being the highest grossing associate, was not promoted because she was not feminine enough. Second, the courts have struck down discrimination based on association with persons of a different protected class in cases such as Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state could not prohibit interracial marriage.

Now Jeff Sessions is so concerned that the Second Circuit will follow suit that DOJ has submitted an amicus in a case which it is not litigating, seeking to persuade the court to uphold outdated pre-Obergefell precedents. Hopefully, the Second Circuit will decline to do so.

Of course, with Neil Gorsuch now on the Supreme Court, the GOP eager to pack the courts with far right judges, and the Congress potentially willing to roll back the Civil Rights laws, the future of the issue is uncertain. For now, however, despite the Influence of the DOJ, it is the courts that decide.

 

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How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!

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How to Get Your Congressman to Wake Up and Pay Attention!

I would like to respectfully share a couple of thoughts based on my own experience personally lobbying Congressmen and other legislators on behalf to the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), discussions with my father, who spent several decades as a lobbyist on Capital Hill, and my own brief experience years ago as a intern on both sides of the aisle with Senator Carl Levin and Representative William S. Broomfield. Here are some suggestions:

If you find yourself in Washington, visit your Congressman's office on Capitol Hill and meet with the Chief of Staff and possibly even the Member. Particularly if you are a constituent from out of town, I guarantee that a staff member will be happy to speak with you. According to my father, 10 minutes with the Washington staff is worth 20 with the member.

Don't neglect your state senators and delegates. State law can't conflict with federal law, but, for example, state civil rights laws often have a much farther reach, better remedies, and more access to the courts than federal law. Also your state representatives may have better access to the Congressman than you; my newly elected Congressman spent years as a state senator.

Attend events at which your Member or state legislator is appearing. You would be surprised by the fact that they are not always well attended, and you never know when you might be able to get in a word or two.

Donate to the national NAACP and ACLU, but don't forget that they have local chapters across the country which are always hungry for volunteers.

Coalitions of local organizations are very powerful. I once had an opportunity to meet for an hour with Congressman Chris Van Hollen's staff and for about 20 minutes with the Congressman himself to discuss national security issues and surveillance as part of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition in his district, which includes representatives from a number of state and local organizations, including the ACLU. All politics are local.

Don't neglect organizations who might have a different point of view on other issues. My father used to say that the Congressman had to think very hard when he walked in the door as the company lobbyist accompanied by the union lobbyist when both had the same position. Most of us do not have the clout of a Fortune 100 company and the United Auto Workers, but don't neglect people like the Chamber of Commerce and local congregations. Maybe they won't respond, but maybe they will.

The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) has a lobby day every year in which groups of lawyers meet personally with members and their staffs for about 20 minutes.

According to Jack Sinclair, my former Congressman's AA, a contribution, no matter how small, gets you on the Member's list of contributors. Members notice if you are both a contributor and a constituent. It does not hurt to volunteer on the campaign either.

If you can find a substantial donor or even better, a fundraiser, a handwritten note approving an enclosed news article can have a real impact.

If you call your Congressman, don't just leave a comment with the receptionist, tell them that you have a question you would like to ask the relevant staff member.

I hope these ideas are helpful as people try to advocate for our rights as citizens and those of our fellow citizens.

I welcome and encourage people to make other suggestions.

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International communication and domestic understanding: A Moroccan and American forum on the role of the press at home and abroad.

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International communication and domestic understanding: A Moroccan and American forum on the role of the press at home and abroad.

I am making a point of attending (and modestly sponsoring) the Moroccan International Media Forum at the National Press Club Building this September 28, 2016. The event, featuring a diverse list of speakers from both the United States and Morocco, promises a window on cross cultural communication between the United States and a key ally in the Arab world.

At a time when immigrants, especially Muslims and Arabs, are being publicly vilified across the United States, an examination of intercultural communications at home and abroad is important to our understanding of the role of immigrants in our own country.  As the Washington Post reports, people "who are most skeptical about immigration . . . are also the least likely to actually encounter an immigrant in their neighborhood."  Just as we need to better understand the world, we need to better understand ourselves, especially the role of our minority and immigrant communities.

Owing to my personal history as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, I tend to be particularly interested in outreach to the Moroccan community.  As Professor Brian Edwards documents in a recent book, Morocco (our oldest treaty partner) is both historically friendly to the United Statesand and increasingly alienated by recent American political trends.  In examining communications strategies in and between the two countries, the forum seeks both to strengthen the bond and avert the potential rift between the two countries.

Morocco is a country of fascinating contrasts. For example, although Morocco has its own history of antisemitism and discrimination against its formerly numerous Jewish population (as do many other countries), it is also noteworthy that the government has attempted to take a constructive role in resolving conflict in the Middle East and has generally tried to protect the rights of the Jewish community.  With respect to communications within Morocco, the country has expressed a commitment to increased press freedom since the accession of the current king, but this commitment has been severely undermined by recent politically-motivated criminal trials of a number of journalists.  A forum on international and domestic communication within and between our countries promises to address issues important to our understanding of ourselves and the world at large, especially an area of the world in which Americans currently have a heightened interest, both positive and negative.

Photo Credit

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Political correctness is a problem?

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Political correctness is a problem?

Some people seem to think that "political correctness" is a problem in this country.  After all, even after three centuries of Native American genocide (Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia), African American slavery (Dred Scott v. Sandford), segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson, but see Brown v Board of Education), immigrant exclusion based on race and nationality (Chae Chan Ping v. United States), internment camps (Korematsu v. United States), police coercion (Miranda v. Arizona), and discrimination in jobs (McDonnell Douglas v. Green); housing (Shelley v. Kraemer), public accommodations (Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States);  personal relationships (Bowers v. Hardwick), and even marriage (Loving v. Virginia, Obergefell v. Hodges), why should all these people be so damned sensitive?

We have real problems in this country, including unemployment, debt, income inequality, racism, war, homelessness, poverty, crime, addiction, global warming, and lack of education. "Political correctness," a.k.a. common decency and respect for people who are mostly not as privileged as the hypersensitive, overprivileged white Anglo-Saxon Protestant population of this country, is not one of them.

 

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Rapper Educates the Oxford Union on Global History

The last time I heard Taylor Branch, the author of the three volume biography of Martin Luther King, speak, his theme was the erasure of the the Civil Rights Movement from modern consciousness and the sanitization of a small revolutionary movement into a cuddly, generalized and comfortable lovefest in which children of all colors play together. This is history as fairy tale.

In this hour and a quarter address to the Oxford Union, Akala, also known as the Shakespeare Rapper and founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, addresses the Oxford Union on the erasure of Africa from global history. (Somehow I could not help but notice that he appears to be one of only two people of African/Caribbean ancestry in the rooom.)

His wide ranging discourse includes discussions of African contributions to science and mathematics, the sprawling medieval empires of Mali and the Almoravids, the brilliant 800 year history of El Andalus (now Spain), and the tantalizing possibility that Africans arrived in the New World centuries before Columbus, perhaps even by the legendary fleet of Abu Bakr.

While African discovery of the Americas may be speculative based on available evidence, Akala's larger point is that a historical assumption of African inferiority by the majority of European historians in modern times has been strongly influenced by confirmation bias. For example, "scholars" have reasononed along the lines that the pyramids are an extraordinary achievement, black people are not capable of extraordinary achivement, therefore the pyramids must not have been built by black people, despite descriptions of the Egyptians to the contary by such authors as Aristotle and Herodotus.

Akala's most telling illustration of modern historical bias is the common British attribution of the singlehanded abolition of slavery to William Wilberforce with little or no mention of the seminal role of the Haiti's successful slave rebellion against their French masters. His most shocking anecdotes are the "barbequeing" of African Americans as a spectacle for public enjoyment throughout most of America's history.

All of which is to say that there is much more to global history than the narrow Eurocentric version we are commonly taught in high school. Akala articulates a much more inclusive and nuanced version of history than that with which we are familiar, in which Africans and their descendants are edited out except when they are portrayed as slaves.

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Principles Professional and Personal

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Principles Professional and Personal

Any civil rights law practice requires lawyers to embrace what we have in common and to reconcile our differences.  No civil rights practice can operate without a recognition of certain fundamental principles of freedom and equality, and every lawyer must be willing to put aside, to the extent possible, his or her own prejudices, biases, and predilections, and yet remain true to his or her convictions.

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Kids' Clocks and Presidential Priorities

In a classic case of false equivalence, the Washington Post writes that in a recent viral video, an African American youth named CJ Pearson “shredded” the president over the decision to invite Ahmed Mohammed to the White House. Mohammed brought a clock to school and was arrested on the pretext that it was a “hoax bomb.” Pearson went on to criticize the president for lighting up the White House in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court issued its decision upholding the right for gays to marry and alleged that the president had encouraged the shooting of police officers. Pearson concludes by accusing the president of being “incompetent.” Bold words for a thirteen-year-old.

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Why We Can't Have a Conversation About Race in America

A very interesting article on the defensiveness of white people in discussions about race, which inevitably devolves into "I, personally, am not a racist," without taking into account the benefits our society confers on whites, in which we all share, and the disadvantages imposed on African Americans.

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A Thought for the Day

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A Thought for the Day

There is a certain tendency in this day and age to see King as a kind of insipid do-gooder, diffusing a general air of benevolence as he invites us to sit together and sing a national round of kumbaya.

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Point of Privilege

Our ongoing search for a better society — fair, productive, and efficient — demands both individual justice and social change.

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Race and Inequality

Nick Kristof may not be the best spokesman for racial inequality in America (and maybe neither am I), but he has had the courage and decency to speak out.  The fourth installment in his series "When Whites Just Don't Get It" points out that the ongoing legacy of slavery  — which persisted in the form of convict labor well after the Civil War — segregation, and discrimination perpetuates significant disparities in wealth and opportunity between whites and African Americans to this day.  As Kristof also points out, this disparity is something that white America is loath either to confront or acknowledge.  We cannot do the work that is necessary to create equal opportunity in America until we recognize that there is work to be done.  That recognition continues to be well overdue.

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We Should All Be Feminists

New York Times columnist Charles Blow has written a provocative and insightful column entitled "Yes, All Men" on why we should all be feminists. Blow makes two major points, citing some startling statistical evidence in support of some widely acknowledged truths. The first is that women globally are disproportionately targeted for sexual violence. The second is that women are pervasively disadvantaged by discrimination and harassment. Blow concludes with the observation that fair treatment is everyone's responsibility, not just the responsiblity of those who are denied it. Equal treatment for women is a people's issue, not a women's issue.

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No Rights the White Man Is Bound to Respect

The Supreme Court's most (in)famous pronouncement on the issue of race and the rights of African Americans and the one with which any analysis of the role of race in American jurisprudence should begin is that

They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393, 407 (1857). This is the starting point in the long, tortuous struggle for greater equality and civil rights in this country, the benchmark against which our progress must be measured, and the backdrop which must never be forgotten.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor tartly points out in her dissent to the Court's recent opinion in Schuette v. BAMN, in which the Court upheld Michigan's amendment to the state constitution banning race-sensitive university admissions, it is a history to which her colleagues in the plurality are oblivious. See No. 12-682 slip op. at 56 (April 22, 2014) (Sotomayor, J. dissenting) (The view that race-sensitive admissions do more harm than good "ignores the importance of diversity in institutions of higher education and reveals how little my colleagues understand about the reality of race in America.")

In contrast to Justice Sotomayor's understanding of a long, ongoing struggle against a pervasive racism that saturates American life and history, her colleagues seem to view racism in modern life as an occasional aberration which warrants the Court's attention only is its most blatant intentional forms. The general cluelessness of the Chief Justice on this issue is apparent in his conclusion:

To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wish away, rather than confront” racial inequality. Post, at 46. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.*

Schuette v. BAMN No. 12-682 slip. op. at 2 (Roberts, C.J. concurring). The Chief Justice is correct that people can differ in good faith on this issue, but the sad fact is that all too often the openness and candor of the white majority is open to question for very, very good historical reasons. And as a white kid who grew up outside Pontiac and Detroit, I am not prepared to give Michigan's white majority a pass on this issue.

The narrower issue in the case was whether it was appropriate to use the state constitution to override the admissions systems developed by elected college regents because those systems encouraged at least modest representation of minority students in the student bodies of Michigan's public universities. As Justice Sotomayor points out, minority representation has dropped sharply since the passage of the amendment, a result that can hardly be construed as accidental. Justice Sotomayor argues that the majority should not be able to rig the political system to take away political gains of minorities at one level of government by overriding those gains at a higher level explicitly on the issue of race. Doing so clearly deprives minorities of a level political playing field and a chance to have a fair opportunity for political participation in their local communities.

There is more at stake here than the access of minorities to education in the state of Michigan. Ultimately at stake is an understanding of our nation, its history, and what is required to overcome that history.

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MLK Remembered

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead a safe life. He took risks with his person, and he took risks with his ideas.

Today, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a safe suject. His life is universally praised, while his ideas are safely ignored. The idea of racial equality is invariably given lip service while our schools and our prisons daily belie it. And all the while the country simmers with an air of white gievance, as though the occasional displacement of white privilege was somehow grounds for discontent.

King wpent the last years of his life promoting the Poor People's Campaign; today we are obsessed with cutting food stamps and taxing the poor so that they will "have skin in the game," whatever that means.

And King would be unsurprised if unhappy to find that the United States is still one of the leading purveyors of violence in the world today, congratulating itself on the orgy of destruction it has visited on the Middle East in an alternating litany of wreaking vengeance and promoting democracy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is today a safe subject becuse he has been buried for nearly half a century. In his life he was hounded by his government, shunned by his society, stabbed, arrested, and finally murdered. His forthright stand and determined action against bigotry, discrimination, poverty, injustice, and war would make him no more popular today than when he lived. His was a voice crying in the wilderness, and we all know how such prophets are treated in the end.

It is not given to most of us to display the extraordinary moral and physical courage of Dr. King. But if we would truly honor his memory with more than a passing nod to a Monday holiday, then we should keep ever before us the plight of the less fortunaate and strive every day to act to improve their lot.

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Equal Rights is Good Business

Stepahnie Coontz argues in the New York Times that equal rights for women is the path to better lives for men. In particular, a living wage, improved child care, and better benefits for part-time work — all causes long associated with women's rights — increasingly also benefit male workers, whose status in the workplace has in many cases declined. Now more than ever, what is sauce for the goose is truly sauce for the gander.

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© Charles Williamson Day, Jr., 2016. All rights reserved.

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