Thursday, February 18, 2021
Black Women Challenge Florida's Felony Disenfranchisement Law as Undue Burden and Violative of 19th Amendment
New filings in the nation’s sole 19th Amendment felony disenfranchisement suit seek acknowledgement of historical and economic factors that impact Black women in particular.
After nearly two-thirds of the state voted to restore the right to vote to those convicted of felony offenses, McCoy and more than 700,000 Floridians lost access to the voting box in 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7066 into law. The legislation requires formerly incarcerated people to pay any restitution, fines, fees or court costs — also known as legal financial obligations — before regaining the right to vote. McCoy learned that she owed about $7,500 in victim restitution, including interest, and her county expected her to pay it all at once. Advocates call the law a modern-day poll tax.
Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which sued Florida on behalf of McCoy and another Black woman named Sheila Singleton, is asking an appeals court to require a new analysis of the nation’s sole felony disenfranchisement lawsuit alleging a violation of the 19th Amendment. Lower courts dismissed SPLC’s analysis of the law’s disproportionate financial, “undue burden” on women of color. ***
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws in September, but, according to court documents filed on February 10, McCoy’s lawyers want the court to weigh in on The 19th Amendment more directly because of the law’s disparate impact on women of color.
At the core of this renewed legal battle is the question of intent. Lawyers for the state of Florida argue that McCoy and her legal team have to prove that lawmakers and the governor intended to disenfranchise women with the law. But Nancy Abudu, the deputy legal director for the SPLC, filed an appeal for Florida to focus on the impact of this law on women of color.
“We have to move away from having to prove that people are racist and sexist,” Abudu told The 19th. “If that is our burden of proof, then we might as well not bring any of these cases. Instead, we need to focus on what is the impact of these laws. You can’t feel comfortable with a system that incarcerates mostly poor Black people just because the system doesn’t say arrest poor Black people.”
Attorneys representing DeSantis and Florida’s secretary of state did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
Nationwide 57 percent of men made less than $23,000 prior to incarceration, this is true for 72 percent of women, court documents read. The SPLC’s past filings include data from Prison Policy, a nonpartisan criminal justice think tank, showing the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people between the ages of 35 to 44 was 44 percent among Black women and 35 percent for Black men, and 23 percent among White women compared to 18 percent of White men.
Abudu sees this as a timely fight. Black women’s votes ushered in the first ever woman in the White House, and Black women like Stacey Abrams, who’ve been largely uncredited with this work, became household names. Yet laws like Florida’s felony disenfranchisement law have the heaviest burden on Black women, Abudu said.
“Our argument essentially is that because of that legislative history, and because of the political history of Black women and voting in our country, that that leads to the conclusion that Black women, or women of color in general, need greater protection when it comes to their voting rights,” Abudu said.
As the SPLC argues in new court documents, the 19th Amendment claim should be read in a way that grants the greatest protection to women, especially because when Congress passed it in 1920, it hardly enfranchised all women.
“The aim of enfranchising women was not simply so they could cast a ballot, but so they could directly influence the other areas of life that ultimately infringe upon their right of self-determination,” the lawsuit reads.
h/t Paula Monopoli
Julia Ann Simon-Kerr, Relevance Through a Feminist Lens, Philosophical Foundations of Evidence Law, Oxford University Press: Christian Dahlman, Alex Stein & Giovanni Tuzet, eds (Forthcoming 2021)
Evidence theorists have long recognized that relevance is contingent upon generalizing from social understandings or experience. Because knowledge and experience shape our understanding of relevance, assessing relevance naturally raises fundamental questions that are at the heart of feminist inquiry: Whose knowledge, and whose experience? The answers to these questions drive relevance determinations in ways that have been subject to feminist critique. At the same time, relevance’s social contingency holds the potential to validate alternative ways of knowing and to expand the process of arriving at truth. This chapter begins by exploring the contingent nature of the relevance inquiry from a feminist perspective. It then considers the practical importance of relevance in incorporating new baseline positions into legal judgment as a result of legal or non-legal change.
Friday, February 12, 2021
Using Emerging Science of Women's Sex-Based Brain Differences of Emotional Harm to Support a Reasonable Woman Standard
Betsy Grey, Sex-Based Brain Differences and Emotional Harm, 70 Duke L.J. Online 29 (2020)
Technological advances have allowed neuroscientists to identify brain differences between women and men, which may lead to explanations for sex-biased population differences in behavior and brain-based disorders. Although the research is at its early stages, this is an appropriate time to examine some of the potential legal implications of these findings. This Article examines that question in the context of tort law, especially how scientific findings may affect the use of the reasonable person standard in emotional injury claims. Specifically, studies suggest that there may be distinct sex-based mechanisms involved in reactions to extreme stress, raising the question of whether women experience and process stress and trauma differently than men.
This Article argues that these studies may eventually inform the use of the reasonableness standard for freestanding emotional harm claims. As science further develops, courts may either apply a reasonable woman standard in limited contexts or at least allow jurors to consider evidence of sex-based differences in applying a reasonable person standard. Recognizing these differences, courts have already begun to apply the reasonable woman standard to hostile workplace environment claims, and science may support broader use of that standard, especially for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional harm claims.
This article considers how the law of sexual assault in Canada addresses cases involving intoxicated complainants. There are two main aspects to the law of capacity to consent to sexual touching in the context of intoxicated women. The first involves the evidence of intoxication courts typically require in order to prove lack of capacity. The second pertains to the legal standard to which that evidence is applied. The nature of the evidence required to establish incapacity turns on the level of capacity the law requires. A comprehensive review of Canadian caselaw involving intoxicated complainants reveals a legal standard that is too low and an evidentiary threshold that is too high. The result: no matter how severely intoxicated a woman was when the sexual contact occurred, courts are unlikely to find that she lacked capacity to consent unless she was unconscious during some or all of the sexual activity.
Hannah Brenner Johnson, Standing in Between Sexual Violence Victims and Access to Justice: The Limits of Title IX, 73 Oklahoma L. Rev. (2020)
Sexual violence proliferates across communities, generally, and is especially prevalent in places like colleges and universities. As quasi-closed systems, colleges and universities are governed by their own internal norms, policies, and federal laws, like Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which address how sex discrimination must be handled in institutions of higher education that are in receipt of federal funds. Title IX focuses on all facets of sex discrimination including reporting, investigation, adjudication, and prevention. When schools are accused of failing to adequately respond to reports of sexual misconduct on their campuses, Title IX has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to provide a private right of action by which victims can hold institutions accountable.
In the most typical cases, one enrolled student accuses another enrolled student of sexual assault. The university investigates, perhaps holds a hearing panel, issues a determination after applying the relevant evidentiary standard, and, where warranted, imposes appropriate sanctions. If a student victim is dissatisfied with the institutional response, they have the right to sue the school in federal court. Not all cases follow this typical example, however, raising the question of who, specifically, is entitled to avail themselves of the protections of Title IX. Sometimes victims are visitors or "outsiders" who have been raped or assaulted on campus by enrolled students. Their right to sue educational institutions has been called into question by courts that have denied them standing to sue the schools in federal court.
Historically, some judges have used the standing doctrine to deny access to the courts to certain minority groups. Victims of sexual violence represent a new addition to this cohort of excluded parties. A growing number of federal district courts have barred this class of victims from pursuing their grievances against colleges and universities based ostensibly on their "outsider" or "non-student" status, and federal appellate courts have, to date, been reluctant to take a stand either way. A new case that has emerged along these same trend lines is currently percolating in the Sixth Circuit, brought by a woman who was sexually assaulted in a dormitory at the University of Kentucky (UK). The plaintiff in this case was not actually enrolled at UK but resided in campus housing while attending a community college per a formal agreement between institutions. When she sued UK under Title IX for its deliberate indifference in responding to her reported rape, the trial court dismissed her case without reaching the merits. Instead, the court used a narrow interpretation of standing, finding that in order to sue a school under Title IX, an individual must be formally enrolled as a student or enrolled in a program or activity of that institution.
This distinction between insider and outsider rape victims is wholly problematic. Colleges and universities, while reliant on the presence of and tuition generated by their enrolled students, cannot entirely depend on insiders to succeed. They actively solicit, depend on, and profit from engagement with outsiders every single day as a means to fulfill their educational mission. This Article will use Doe v. University of Kentucky as a point of contemporary illustration (filled in by the decisions of other similar cases) to argue that individuals who are sexually assaulted on college campuses should be afforded equal access to Title IX protections and, specifically, should be granted standing to sue regardless of their enrollment status.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Natalie Gomez-Velez, Judicial Selection: Diversity, Discretion, Inclusion, and the Idea of Justice,48 Capital Law Review 285 (2020)
Improving the “diversity” of the bench often has been discussed as a component of judicial selection and presented as a goal that nominally has had the support of the mainstream legal community. Judicial selection methods that support fairness and impartiality are particularly important at a time when there is significant evidence of bias and animus on the part of the Executive. Today, there is deep concern that on the federal level, the goal of judicial diversity has been not only abandoned, but reversed. This article examines difficulty in improving judicial diversity despite oft-stated support for greater inclusion. It then discusses the role philosophical theories of justice embracing a “view from nowhere” has been used, erroneously, to link impartiality to colorblindness (read “whiteness”). It critiques this transcendental approach and offers a different philosophical “view from everywhere” which argues that the inclusion of persons representing diverse views and experiences supports impartiality and open-mindedness and should be a key consideration in improving justice and supporting greater diversity on the bench.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Maryam Ahranjani, "Toughen Up, Buttercup" versus #TimesUp: Initial Findings of the ABA Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, 25 Berkeley J. Crim. L. (2020)
"Practicing criminal law as a woman is like playing tackle football in a dress.” Andrea George, Executive Director of the Federal Public Defender for Eastern Washington and Idaho, began her testimony to the American Bar Association’s Women in Criminal Justice Task Force with that powerful observation. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the ABA has focused on ways to enhance gender equity in the profession and in the justice system. The Criminal Justice Section of the ABA has invested significant resources in the creation of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force (WCJ TF), which launched its work in January 2019. Written by the WCJ TF Reporter, this Article describes the current status of women criminal lawyers by situating the Task Force’s research within the larger literature on gender equity in the legal profession and in criminal law in particular, sharing unique original qualitative data from the project’s listening sessions, and proposing solutions and next steps for supporting women who choose the important societal role of criminal attorney.
The #MeToo movement has been instrumental in bringing attention to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexual assault (collectively, sexual misconduct ) in all walks of life and in all environments, including at work, school, home, and out in public. But the movement has also brought with it a great deal of confusion about how we define sexual misconduct and whether and when legal liability attaches. Part of that confusion can be blamed on the fact that at least three discrete areas of law can possibly apply to sexual misconduct—criminal law, Title VII (when the sexual misconduct takes place in the workplace), and Title IX (when the sexual misconduct takes place in schools and universities). Adding to that confusion is that there are several inconsistencies between how these three areas of the law address issues surrounding sexual misconduct. The most prominent of these inconsistencies is the varied due process protections that apply, depending on where the sexual misconduct takes place. This article will discuss these inconsistencies, and will address the issue of whether these differences can be justified. In the end, this article concludes that the increased due process protection for Title IX cases (compared to Title VII cases) cannot be justified. Thus, it proposes a compromise response to answer the question—how much process is due?
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Why It Remains So Difficult for Employers to Prevent and Respond Effectively to Workplace Harassment
This article asks why it remains so difficult for employers to prevent and respond effectively to harassment, especially sexual harassment, and identifies promising points for legal intervention. It is sobering to consider social-science evidence of the myriad barriers to reporting sexual harassment—from the individual-level and interpersonal to those rooted in society at large. Most of these are out of reach for an employer but workplace culture stands out as a significant arena where employers have influence on whether harassment and other discriminatory behaviors are likely to thrive. Yet employers typically make choices in this area with attention to legal accountability rather than cultural contribution. My central claim is that these judgment calls—about policy, procedures, training, and operations—shape workplace culture and that it is a mistake to view them only through a compliance lens. With this insight, it becomes clear that each of these will be more effective in shaping culture when the employee user-experience is a focal point, and this article suggests many ways to achieve this result.
By seeing harassment prevention and response as an opportunity for culture creation in addition to being a compliance obligation, it also becomes clear that harassing behavior may negatively affect the targeted employee and the broader workplace even when there is no risk of liability. This includes “lowgrade harassment,” a category I use to describe behaviors that are intentionally harassing but not severe or pervasive enough to meet doctrinal thresholds. Also relevant are microaggressions and interactions that reflect implicit bias, as these are unlikely to expose a firm to liability because they lack the discriminatory intent required by legal doctrine but nonetheless can create significant challenges for employees and organizations. This is not to suggest that employers should respond in an identical way to all of these occurrences. Rather, the point is that inattention to experiences that go beyond legal-accountability requirements is likely to spill over into the broader workplace culture and diminish the effectiveness of other harassment prevention and response efforts.
The good news is that there are specific steps an employer can take to have harassment prevention and response become part of the workplace culture rather than being sidelined as compliance. Thoughtfully crafted legislative and policy interventions, along with litigation settlements, also can bridge this gap and create a more seamless set of cultural expectations for how employees interact with each other at work and what they can expect from their employer when challenges arise.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Laura D. Hermer, COVID-19, Abortion, and Public Health in the Culture Wars, 47 Mitchell Hamline L.Rev. (2020)
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 36 governors ordered or requested a halt to all elective health care visits, procedures, and tests in March or April 2020 to conserve scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies and to help prevent the spread of the virus. Among those states, at least nine expressly chose to include many or most abortion services within the order’s scope, whether directly or through informal clarification. Civil liberties and women’s health care organizations rapidly filed suit in eight of the states to enjoin the various orders. Over the course of about three weeks, federal district courts in six of the cases granted plaintiffs’ requests for temporary restraining orders. The Sixth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits upheld the district courts’ decisions on appeal, but the Fifth and Eighth Circuits reversed. Both of those reversals were ultimately rendered moot when Texas and Arkansas each permitted elective procedures to resume. Three other cases settled.
The states that implemented abortion restrictions generally took substantial efforts to protect their populace from COVID-19, except in health care contexts involving abortion. At the same time, the lower-income women and women of color who disproportionately provided essential services during the pandemic and were infected with and suffered more severe cases of Covid-19 also disproportionately need abortion services. While they were making the greatest sacrifices for all of us, they also found their reproductive safety net in grave jeopardy.
Documents filed in the litigation over state-level COVID abortion restrictions make it clear that the states that sought to use pandemic PPE shortages to restrict abortions were not concerned about the health or welfare of any of the parties involved, including fetuses. The article examines the arguments that they and their amici made to support their policy choices and details the implications of those policies on the patients seeking abortions, their health care providers, their fetuses, and their loved ones in the context of the pandemic. The evidence demonstrates that the restrictions had nothing to do with protecting anyone’s life or health or conserving scarce PPE. The juxtaposition of these restrictions against our society’s fierce fight against the pandemic makes the disparities in how we treat certain biological problems rather stark. The time is ripe for a re-evaluation of when, if ever, it may be reasonable for a state to restrict the right to an abortion.
Friday, December 4, 2020
Using Social Science to Understand Why Family Courts Discount Women's Testimony in Domestic Violence Cases
Amelia Mindthoff, Deborah Goldfarb, Kelly Alison Behre, How Social Science Can Help Us Understand Why Family Courts May Discount Women's Testimony in Intimate Partner Violence Cases, 53 Family Law Quarterly, No. 3, 2019.
Thirty years ago, legal scholars and social scientists began to note the legal systems’ skepticism of women in general and victims of gender-based violence in particular. Despite increased public awareness about domestic violence, female victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) continue to find their credibility discounted. Deborah Tuerkheimer coined the term “credibility discount” to describe how the criminal legal system responds to women’s reports of sexual violence by discounting their credibility at every step of the process, from initial reports to law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion through judicial and jury decisions. Deborah Epstein and Lisa Goodman expanded the dialogue on credibility discounting to include the experiences of female victims of IPV in legal and social service settings. IPV victims often access family courts for injunctive relief, child custody and visitation orders, and financial relief following separation from an abusive partner, a time period during which they are at a heightened lethality risk. Consequently, credibility discounting by family courts may prove particularly dangerous for victims of IPV.
This Article builds upon the work done thus far on the intersection of gender and credibility in the family courts by reviewing both psychological research and legal scholarship examining factors that may contribute to the perseverance of credibility discounting of IPV victims. As part of this discussion, we raise potential psychological misperceptions or assumptions that underlie the discounting of people’s credibility, including factors that may be particularly pertinent to women reporting IPV. We further consider the implications of these misperceptions in family court settings. We hope this advances the discussion on remedies for credibility discounting to ensure that victims receive just treatment as they navigate the legal system.
Part I of this Article reviews the family court’s role in IPV cases and how it can perpetuate credibility discounting. Part II discusses gender biases in the legal system that have the potential to propagate credibility discounting of IPV victims navigating the family court system. Part III explores general psychological theory and associated empirical evidence and considers how theory can shed light on why credibility discounting may persist in family courts. Part IV provides suggestions for ways to mitigate gender bias demonstrated in the credibility discounting of IPV victims in family courts.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Mary Graw Leary, Is the #MeToo Movement for Real? Implications for Juror's Biases in Sexual Assault Cases, 81 Louisiana L. Rev. 1 (2020)
For decades the conventional wisdom asserted that law enforcement, the judiciary, and jurors were skeptical of claims of sexual violence and largely unsympathetic to the plight of victims. Many high profile cases highlighted this reality. These include the acquittal of R. Kelly for rape despite some video evidence, the sentencing of Brock Turner to less than a year incarceration for sexual assault of an unconscious woman, and the guilty plea of Jeffrey Epstein to minor charges despite significant evidence of the sex trafficking of minors. This perception of a lack of justice for sexual violence victims is also generally supported by the documented attrition rates of sexual violence cases as they progress through the criminal justice system. Scholars suggest many reasons for this bias against sex crime victims including victim blaming, discrimination, a desire to not want to believe the abuse occurred, stereotypes of the victims, acceptance of the rape myth, or the perceived credibility of the offenders.
In October of 2017, a public social movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault emerged on the national level (although it previously existed), entitled the “Me Too Movement.” This movement awakened a revelation in the United States of the prevalence of the sexual harassment and abuse experienced by women. By underscoring the frequency with which women are assaulted, the movement forced a reluctant public to face the breadth of the problem and the trauma experienced by these women.
A body of research exists regarding the lack of sympathy of jurors to victims of sexual violence. A new body of research is emerging documenting the effect of the #Me Too Movement on societal perceptions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. This article examines the latter focusing on the effect the movement could have on contemporary societal norms regarding sexual assault. It explores whether these effects may alter previously accepted assumptions regarding jurors, perhaps suggesting a shift not only in public perception, but jury perception of sexual violence. It argues that the Movement has significant potential to ameliorate the attrition problem in sexual assault cases, but not in expected ways. For this positive change to occur, it requires work of prosecutors and judges in these trials rethink evidence and jury selection and incorporate some of the lessons learned.
Monday, November 2, 2020
Podcast Discusses the Potential Implications and Impacts of the Appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett
I discuss the potential implications and impacts of the recent appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. Discussion includes the Court itself with shifting majorities and possibilities for court reform including court expansion, court reduction, term limits or retirement, or a bipartisan court. The discussion also delves into questions about potential substantive changes to the law of abortion, healthcare, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty.
Listen here: Women With Issues Podcast, Potential Impacts of The New Conservative Supreme Court
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Equal Rights Amendment supporters won’t get an immediate hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court as they fight to ensure the nearly 50-year-old proposition is added to the U.S. Constitution.
The high court on Tuesday denied an unusual direct Supreme Court petition, which would have leapfrogged a U.S. appeals court, after a federal trial court in Boston dismissed their lawsuit for lack of standing.
“The petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment is denied,” the justices said.
The case is one of the two pending in federal courts over the ERA’s drawn out, and therefore disputed, ratification. ERA supporters had argued immediate Supreme Court action was appropriate “because the ERA is the most important and fundamental of all women’s rights, but also because everyone in America has a right and need to know whether it is now the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.”
The case had been dismissed on standing grounds in August, and the plaintiffs sought a direct petition in the Supreme Court
A Boston judge dismissed one of two federal lawsuits over the Equal Rights Amendment, finding the women’s rights groups who sued to ensure its addition to the U.S. Constitution lacked legal standing to bring the case.
The case—like a similar lawsuit pending in Washington—sought official recognition of the ERA as the 28th amendment to the Constitution after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify it in January. If its ratification is deemed valid, the amendment that Congress advanced to the states in 1972 would create a constitutional guarantee of equal treatment under the law for women, potentially affecting a broad swath of the law governing employment, health care, and more.
ERA supporters and those who oppose its ratification disagree over the validity of the 1979 deadline Congress imposed for three-fourths of states to approve it. A U.S. Justice Department legal opinion published in January found the deadline to be valid, and the U.S. archivist has declined to certify the ERA as officially ratified.
In the Boston lawsuit, the advocacy groups Equal Means Equal and The Yellow Roses, along with an individual woman, Katherine Weitbrecht, asked the court to order Archivist David Ferriero to grant that certification.
The women’s groups and Weitbrecht failed to show they’d suffered injuries that could be remedied by the court, a prerequisite to their maintaining the suit, Judge Denise J. Casper wrote in a decision granting the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case.
The judge stopped short of ruling on the merits of the case—namely, whether the 1979 deadline is valid and whether five states that voted to rescind their ERA approval had legal authority for those rescissions.
“Plaintiffs argue that all persons that would be protected under the ERA are injured by the Archivist’s actions because they have a legal interest in the ‘continued vitality of the ERA,’” Casper wrote.
“Cognizable injuries must be both concrete and particularized,” the judge said. “These generalized injuries to all those protected by the ERA fail in both respects.”
An attorney for the Boston plaintiffs said she is prepared to appeal and simultaneously seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court, following the model of a previous ERA lawsuit.
“Legally the judge got it wrong, but politically the decision was anticipated and we have already prepared a cert petition to get the case before the Supreme Court as soon as possible,” said Boston attorney Wendy J. Murphy. “It’s not common to go straight to the Supreme Court from the District Court but it’s exactly what happened with the Idaho ERA case in 1980, so we will follow that model and file an appeal with the First Circuit and a cert petition with SCOTUS.”
See also SF Chronicle, Equal Rights Amendment Battle Highlights Obstacles to Challenging Federal Decisions in Court
Friday, October 23, 2020
L. Camille Hebert, How Sexual Harassment Law Failed its Feminist Roots, 22 Georgetown J. Gender Law (forthcoming)
The dawn of sexual harassment law showed so much promise. But in spite of the hopefulness with which the legal recognition of sexual harassment was greeted, the intervening years have shown that the law of sexual harassment has not lived up to its potential. Rather than creating a cause of action empowering women to challenge employment practices that have subjected them to degrading treatment while limiting their workplace opportunities, courts have instead recognized a number of elements of a cognizable claim of sexual harassment that have effectively sanctioned the continuance of the conduct, while effectively blaming women for its occurrence. The judicial imposition of the elements of a claim for sexual harassment and the judicial gloss placed on those elements has turned the cause of action for sexual harassment into something far different than the feminists who worked for recognition of the cause of action envisioned. The courts have turned that promise into a cause of action that seeks to protect the workplace from women who would make claims of sexual harassment, rather than a cause of action that seeks to protect women from discriminatory workplaces. This article explores how some of that lost promise might be recaptured, first through a reshaping of the law by the courts and legislatures within the frame of the existing structure of the cause of action, explaining how the courts could apply the existing elements of the cause of action in a way more consistent with the purpose of Title VII to assure women of the right to workplace equality. The article then imagines a more fundamental reshaping of the law of sexual harassment, exploring what the law of sexual harassment might look like if it were designed by feminists, forged by an overriding concern about ensuring women’s workplace equality rather than protecting existing workplace norms.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Brooke Coleman, #SoWhiteMostlyMale Federal Procedural Rulemaking Committees, UCLA L. Rev. Disc. (Forthcoming)
Of the 630 members of a specialized set of committees responsible for drafting the federal rules for civil and criminal litigation, 591 of them have been white. That’s 94% of the committee membership. Of that same group, 513—or 81%—have been white men. Decisionmaking bodies do better work when their members are diverse; these rulemaking committees are no exception. The Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure are not mere technical instructions, nor are they created by a neutral set of experts. To the contrary, the Rules embody normative judgments about what values trump others, and the rulemakers—while expert—are not disinterested actors. This essay examines racial and gender diversity across six different committees. The data tell a textured story of homogeneity, diversity, and power. Critically, the respective committees’ demographic compositions differ both historically and now. But there is one significant similarity across all committees: The Chief Justice can and should appoint a more diverse set of individuals to these committees, and the rulemaking committee members, the Judiciary, and the Bar should demand it.
Monday, October 12, 2020
A review of my recent paper, Tracy Thomas, The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen: Challenging the Myth of Women Judging Differently, forthcoming, William & Mary J. Race, Gender & Social Justice.
Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog, New Paper Reexamines Judge Florence Allen, Sixth Circuit Trailblazer
An old clerk’s tale refers to the arrival of Florence Allen (1884-1996) to her Sixth Circuit chambers in 1934. “It’s a Girl!” read a banner in the courthouse where Judge Allen would henceforth sit as the first female appellate judge in the U.S. judiciary.
That was but one of many firsts for the late judge, whose remarkable career was capped with a twenty-five-year tenure on the Sixth Circuit. Among other feats, Judge Allen was the first woman in America appointed prosecutor (1919), elected to a general trial court (1920), elected to a state supreme court (1922), and shortlisted for nomination to the United States Supreme Court (1938).
Judge Allen’s place in history has recently come under reexamination in an academic paper by University of Akron law professor Tracy A. Thomas. Released via SSRN on July 28, the paper chronologically surveys the life of Judge Allen, from her upbringing in a progressive and anti-polygamist Utahn family to her leadership in the women’s suffrage movement and onto her career in public office, which also featured unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate (1926) and House (1932).
Thomas ultimately concludes that Judge Allen “became a token” for the women’s movement by choosing to assimilate to a male-centric legal world, rather than challenge its foundations. Inadvertently, the law professor argues, this approach may have slowed the advance of women in the legal profession.
“She . . . molded herself in the male norm to prove that women could ‘think like a man,’ which to her meant crafting clear, objective, authoritative decisions unencumbered by emotion or her former pro-woman idealism,” Thomas writes. The paper later states that “[a]t the end of the day, more than tokenism then is needed in diversifying the bench.” ***
In her jurisprudence, Judge Allen defied simple labels. She called herself “liberal conservative” and issued opinions that at times pleased unions and other times employers. In a case involving the film The Birth of a Nation, Judge Allen received plaudits from the NAACP. She then lost the group’s support over Weaver v. Board of Trustees of Ohio State University (1933), a case in which Judge Allen declined to dissent from a per curiam holding that discrimination laws did not reach roommate relations.
Judge Allen’s moderate approach on the bench elicits reproach from Thomas, who notes that the judge’s example did not pave the way for more female judges: a second female appellate judge would not be appointed until 1968, and not until 1979 on the Sixth Circuit. Perhaps Thomas is right that more “zealous advocacy” or a more gender-centric approach would have helped accelerate this process, but perhaps not.
Whatever the merits of Judge Allen’s jurisprudence and character, the paper serves as a useful reminder of her captivating and colorful contributions to the judiciary, as well as the Sixth Circuit’s exceptionalism. A judicial pioneer whose sole biography is out-of-print and autobiography unavailable on Amazon, Judge Allen—thanks to Thomas—once again gets her day in the sun.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
A legal fight against Walmart Inc. that became the largest employment class-action lawsuit in history will become a series at Netflix Inc. from actress Amy Adams and “The Big Short” director Adam McKay.
“Kings of America” will follow three women involved in the lawsuit, which went to the Supreme Court in 2011: a Walmart heiress, an executive and a saleswoman at the retail chain. Adams stars as one of the women, and McKay will direct the first episode of the series.
The case involved female employees suing Walmart for alleged gender discrimination -- including pay disparities and favoring male workers -- on behalf of potentially more than a million employees. That made it the largest lawsuit of its kind. Walmart is the biggest private employer in the U.S. and the world’s largest company based on revenue.
With billions of dollars at stake for Walmart, the Supreme Court blocked the suit from proceeding as a class action in a 5-4 vote in June 2011. The late Justice Antonin Scalia argued there was no “convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Judge Mary Pat Gunderson, Gender and the Language of Judicial Opinion Writing, 21 Geo. J. Gender & Law 1 (2019)
The "#MeToo" Movement has forced corporations and the entertainment industry, as well as state and federal executive and legislative branch officials, to take a hard look at gender inequities and sexual harassment in the workplace. But, how does our judicial system fare? Is the one branch of government charged with being fair and impartial in the interpretation and application of our laws truly fair and impartial? Between 2010 and 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court was the only state supreme court in the country that did not include any women or people of color. Does it matter? Is there an institutional bias when only one gender reviews, decides and writes opinions? Is the lack of female perspective on the court detrimental to women?
This piece considers the real possibility of implicit gender bias in judicial opinion writing by deconstructing four recent Iowa Supreme Court ethics opinions written by an all-male Court wherein the survivors were female clients and/or intimate partners of the male attorney/abuser. Not only do the case results themselves raise questions but also the language those results are wrapped in may be even more revealing. This article examines both these results and language through the eyes of an Iowa woman who served as a trial court judge in Iowa's largest judicial district.