Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, July 6, 2020

Law Professors File Amicus Arguing Question of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification is a Political Question

Julie Suk, Who Decides the Future of the Equal Rights Amendment?, Take Care blog.

In January 2020, the Virginia legislature voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, almost forty years after the ratification deadline.

 

Has the Constitution been amended? In a lawsuit filed in DC federal court, Virginia says that the ERA is now part of the Constitution. But the defendant National Archivist won’t publish the ERA in the Constitution, in deference to the Trump Administration’s opinion that the deadline for states to ratify the ERA expired in 1979.

 

Who is right, Virginia or the Archivist?  More importantly, who decides?

 

Last week, I filed an amicus brief in the case, joined by constitutional law colleagues Erwin Chemerinsky, Noah Feldman and Reva Siegel. Supporting none of the litigants, we argue that whether the ERA is part of the Constitution under these unprecedented circumstances is a political question for Congress in the first instance, not the courts or the Executive Branch.

 

Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois – the states that ratified after Congress’s deadline -- are asking a court to decide that the ERA was validly ratified and order the Archivist to publish it. Five states that did not ratify the ERA, or that ratified and rescinded their ratifications, have intervened. Their Answer tells the court that “[n]o state could have ‘ratified’ the Equal Rights Amendment in recent years because the deadlines for ratifying that amendment expired years ago.” The Archivist seems to think it’s up to the Executive Branch. If the court reaches the merits of the ERA’s validity, more members of the sitting federal judiciary, on the DC Circuit and the Roberts Court, will eventually decide the fate of the ERA.  But Congress should be the first mover on whether an amendment is ratified, particularly when states disagree.

 

The question of who decides matters, for the long-term legitimacy of the amendment in the eyes of the American people.  In Congress, the House passed a resolution lifting the deadline on ratification in February, and a similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate with 48 sponsors so far.  Thirty-five Senate seats are on the ballot this November. Consistent with Coleman v. Miller, which affirmed Congress’s power to determine reasonable time frames for the ratification of constitutional amendments, a court should not prematurely pronounce on whether the ERA has been or can yet be ratified.

 

Although the prospect of getting a federal judge to add the ERA to the Constitution now may have immediate appeal for ERA proponents, much can be gained by persuading Congress to lift the deadline, validate late ratifications, and reject rescissions.  An amendment’s procedural path makes a difference to its meaning and transformative potential.  The legislative process by which Congress is weighing the ERA’s timeliness provides opportunities for the ERA’s meaning to be updated for the twenty-first century.  These opportunities help legitimize a constitutional amendment after a generation has gone by.  Moreover, congressional debate about the broad range of issues implicated by the ERA– rather than court adjudication of the states’ Article V theory – is more likely to produce an ERA with the bite that its proponents seek.

Amicus Brief of Constitutional Law Professors Erwin Chemerinsky, Noah Feldman, Reva Siegel, in Virginia v. Ferriero (D.D.C.) is here.

July 6, 2020 in Constitutional, Courts, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Challenging the Idea of Women Judging Differently: The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen

I've just posted my recent research on Judge Florence Allen, a law review article previewing the book in progress.

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Tracy A. Thomas, The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen: Challenging the Myth of Women Judging Differently (posted July 2, 2020)

A key question for legal scholars and political scientists is whether women jurists judge differently than men. Some studies have suggested that women judges are more likely to support plaintiffs in sexual harassment, employment, and immigration cases. Other studies conclude that women are more likely to vote liberally in death penalty and obscenity cases, and more likely to convince their male colleagues to join a liberal opinion. Yet other studies have found little evidence that women judge differently from men.

This article explores the jurisprudence of the first woman judge, Judge Florence Allen, to test these claims of gender difference in judging. Judge Allen was the first woman judge many times over: the first woman elected to a general trial court (Cuyahoga County Common Pleas in 1920), the first woman elected to a state supreme court (Ohio 1922), the first woman appointed to a federal appellate court (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1932), and the first woman shortlisted for the U.S. Supreme Court. Her forty years on the bench included cases of constitutional law, administrative power, criminal process, labor rights, and patent cases. Using original archival research, this Article shows that Allen's judicial record supports the conclusion that women judge no differently from men. However, Allen worked hard to cultivate this conclusion, seeking to distance herself from claims of women’s difference and inferiority, and instead seeking to establish that women could “think like a man.” Her deliberate effort was to judge in a moderate, neutral, and objective manner, distancing the work from her feminist activism. Overall the historical record reveals the jurisprudence of the first woman judge as one of moderation, fitted to the male-centric norms of the profession and rejecting any promise of women’s advocacy on the bench.

July 2, 2020 in Courts, Judges, Legal History, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Podcast: Feminist Prosecutors and their Feminist Detractors

Podcast, Feminist Prosecutors and their Feminist Detractors

One prosecutor in rural Maine is trying to change the norms of evidence around prosecutions for domestic violence and sexual assault—she wins, even when she loses. In the era of progressive prosecution, two different historical injustices are pulling prosecutors in opposite directions. Patriarchy has kept too many men from being prosecuted for gender-based crimes, while tough-on-crime policing has resulted in too many men being prosecuted for other crimes. This week we look at what it means to be a feminist prosecutor, and whether advocacy for more policing and prosecution on behalf of women can backfire for progressive causes. Guest voices include Maine District Attorney Natasha Irving, Villanova law professor Michelle Madden Dempsey, University of Colorado law professor Aya Gruber, and University of Maryland law professor Lawrence Sherman.

In Slate Plus, Sarah Lustbader, senior legal counsel at the Justice Collaborative and contributor at the Appeal, and Barry talk about whether the adversarial system of prosecution and defense makes the criminal justice system a bad way to pursue improvements in gender relations and reduce gender-based crime.

May 27, 2020 in Courts, Theory, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 22, 2020

BelieveWomen and the Presumption of Innocence

Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, #BelieveWomen and the Presumption of Innocence: Clarifying the Questions for Law and Life, forthcoming NOMOS: Truth and Evidence

The presumption of innocence and #BelieveWomen both embody compelling considerations, and we may wonder how to reconcile them. My project does not aim to reconcile the positions, but rather, it is prior to it. My goal in this paper is to better explicate the claims that underlie both #BelieveWomen and the presumption of innocence in law and life, as well as to identify instances in which cross-pollination, between our everyday evaluations and the legal system, is contaminating our thinking.

First, I begin with #BelieveWomen and sort through various ways to interpret this demand (though my survey is not exhaustive). I spend additional time on one particular interpretation, an understanding that ties a cry for trust to a non-reductionist position with respect to the justification for believing testimony — that is, the idea that we have reason to believe someone, and are justified in so doing, just on her say-so. Although it is not my contention that this view is superior to other understandings, I believe it has received less attention in the literature and thus warrants additional examination. Next, I demonstrate how complicated our calculations are in life. Then, I turn to law. Here, I show how the various interpretations of #BelieveWomen raise distinct legal questions, but also note that flat footed understandings of this demand have created confusions. I suggest the law may meet the demands of #BelieveWomen through a corrective of the kind proposed by Miranda Fricker, evidentiary instructions, and (potentially by) alterations of the burden of proof, but that full belief may be too much to ask in this context. That is, law may be unable to accommodate a demand that we believe women, though it may be able to treat them respectfully as epistemic agents. In making this claim, I reject that increasing one’s credence in light of testimony “counts” as believing someone.

Second, I look at the presumption of innocence, noting that under the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence it amounts to no more than the requirement that in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, following Larry Laudan, I endorse the view that the presumption in law is simply the claim that a juror has no evidence. But that is not what we want in life. The questions we want to ask in life are (1) what do we owe each other and (2) when there are contested factual situations, what is the default position. The presumption of innocence rhetoric assumes the answers to these questions.

May 22, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Injustice of Formal Gender Equality in Criminal Sentencing

Emma Decourcy, The Injustice of Formal Gender Equality in Sentencing, 47 Fordham Urb. L.J. 395 (2020)  

Over the past 40 years, the entire United States penal population has grown at an unprecedented rate, and the rate of female incarceration is growing at twice the rate of men. Given that there does not appear to be an increase in female criminality that corresponds with the increase in female incarceration, it may be inferred that the rising rate of female imprisonment is the result of changes in criminal justice law and policy that prescribe simplistic, punitive enforcement responses to complex social problems.

While criminological research has paid increased attention to women and girls over the past decade, there is still much work left to be done. This Note aims to address a perceived gap in existing scholarship on female incarceration — existing research and proposed solutions have tended to focus on prison conditions and post-incarceration re-entry. While such work is imperative, an examination of the female pathways to incarceration is equally important. This Note argues reforms that target the front end of the incarceration process, namely sentencing, should be employed to address the rapidly rising rate of female incarceration.

Part I of this Note first provides a brief overview of the mass incarceration crisis in America and the changes in criminal justice policy, namely sentencing policy, to which it is attributed. Part I then discusses the impact of changes in sentencing policy on female sentencing outcomes. Part II proposes a framework of inquiry to be used by policymakers engaged in the creation of gender-responsive sentencing policies. This framework includes an analysis of the scope and nature of female incarceration, the correlates of female criminality, and the impact of existing gender-neutral policies on women involved in the criminal justice system. Finally, Part III discusses the efficacy of gender-neutral sentencing policies in action and identifies two policies that exemplify proper application of the framework presented in Part II.

May 5, 2020 in Courts, Poverty, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Historic First SCOTUS Phone Arguments Involve Two Women Attorneys, Bringing Brief Gender Equality to the Judicial Forum

Called to Order: Supreme Court Holds 1st Arguments by Phone

And with that, the Supreme Court made history Monday, hearing arguments by telephone and allowing the world to listen in live, both for the first time.

 

The arguments were essentially a high-profile phone discussion with the nine justices and two arguing lawyers. The session went remarkably smoothly, notable for a high court that prizes tradition and only reluctantly changes the way it operates.***

 

The court chose a somewhat obscure case about whether the travel website Booking.com can trademark its name for its first foray into remote arguments. The more high-profile arguments come next week.***

 

 Roberts asked the first questions of government attorney Erica Ross, who was arguing that Booking.com should not be allowed to trademark its name because it is a generic term followed by “.com.” The justices then asked questions in order of seniority instead of the usual free-for-all, rapid-fire style that questions are asked in the courtroom. That meant Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the court in 2018, went last.

 

One mild surprise came early in the arguments when Roberts passed the questioning to Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went 10 years between questions and has said he thinks his colleagues pepper lawyers with too many. But in this format, Thomas spoke up, asking questions of both lawyers. It was the first time in more than a year that he had asked a question.*** 

 

Several justices said “good morning” to the lawyers, a telephone nicety not often heard in the courtroom. And Roberts occasionally interjected to keep things moving, saying, “Thank you, counsel,” when he wanted Ross or Booking.com’s lawyer Lisa Blatt to stop talking so he could move to the next justice.

 

“It is a fundamental principle of trademark law that no party can obtain a trademark for a generic term like ‘wine,’ ‘cotton,’ or ‘grain,’” Ross told the justices, pointing them to an 1888 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled that adding a word like ”Company” or “Inc.” to a generic term doesn’t make it eligible to be trademarked.

 

Some of the exchanges were playful, as happens from time to time in the courtroom. Breyer used pizza.com and cookies.com as examples of websites and discussed with Blatt searching on the internet for toilet paper.

See also For a Rare Moment at the Supreme Court, the Genders Were on Equal Footing (Oct. 2016)

The first oral argument of the Supreme Court’s new term this month delivered something so rare as to be practically nonexistent: g ender equality.

 

Debating an obscure question about the constitutional principle of double jeopardy were five men, all justices of the Supreme Court, and five women: the three female justices and the two female lawyers who took turns at the lectern for their respective clients.

May 5, 2020 in Courts, SCOTUS, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review of Judge Diane Wood, Sexual Harassment Litigation in the Real World

Brooke Coleman, JOTWELL, The Real World: Reviewing Diane Wood, Sexual Harassment Litigation with a Dose of Reality, 2019 U. Chi. Legal F. 395.

Judge Wood is a beloved jurist and renowned civil-procedure expert. This makes her real-world take on the state of sexual harassment litigation a great read. Judge Wood reminds us that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been on the books for more than fifty-five years. As the #MeToo movement starkly revealed, however, Title VII and similar laws meant to prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace and beyond have not done the job. This is true even when there is Supreme Court precedent that should be working. Cases such as Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (recognizing harassment in the absence of a quid pro quo) or Oncale v. Sundowner Offshores Services, Inc. (recognizing sexually harassment by a person of the same sex) have been in place for decades. But Judge Wood shows that in the real world, “even blatant cases of sexual harassment frequently fail” in our federal district and appellate courts.

 

To unpack why, Judge Wood surveys a set of Seventh Circuit sexual harassment cases. The cases are startling. First, lest anyone think that corporations and individuals are routinely slapped with sexual harassment lawsuits over “innocuous or misunderstood” behavior, these cases prove the opposite. The stories are harrowing. One female employee endured repeated sexual advances by her supervisor, including an episode where he followed her while she was on a walk and grabbed her. Another female worker was told by her supervisor that he could see down her blouse during her interview. That supervisor also repeatedly said things such as, “You know you want me, don’t you?” And still another male supervisor grabbed a female employee’s breasts and buttocks and, on another occasion, simulated a sexual act on her while holding a zucchini between his legs. In all of these cases and most others Judge Wood details, the female employees did not prevail.

 

Judge Wood explains that while her data are not comprehensive, these cases provide a unique window into how sexual harassment cases are handled in the real world. Sexual harassment cases are under-reported, and even when a court case is filed, it often settles. Thus, the cases in her survey represent the small number that proceed to summary judgment or trial. In many of these cases, the parties appealed on an agreed factual record.  This provides interesting insight. The agreement on the facts reveals what is actually occurring in the workplace. And the trial and appellate courts’ responses, as detailed in their opinions, provide a better sense of why these cases are unsuccessful.

 

What Judge Wood observes overall is that substantive and procedural blockades, combined with judicial skepticism of sexual harassment claims, render even the most dreadful of sexual-harassment cases dead on arrival.

April 27, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment, Judges | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Court Dismisses on Standing Grounds, Lawsuit Against NYU Law Review for Gender and Racial Preferences for Staff and Articles

NYU Law Review Wins Dismissal of Suit Challenging its Racial and Gender Preferences

The New York University Law Review has won dismissal of a suit challenging preferences given to women and minorities in selection of members and choice of articles.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos tossed the suit Tuesday by Faculty, Alumni and Students Opposed to Racial Preferences but allowed the group to file an amended complaint. Ramos said the FASORP had not demonstrated standing to sue and had not stated a viable claim for relief.

Law360 has coverage.

The FASORP had alleged that its members were being subjected to race and sex discrimination when they submitted articles for publication, and when their work was judged and edited by “less capable students” who won spots on the law review through preferences.

The New York University Law Review has 50 spots available each year. Fifteen students are selected based on a writing competition, 15 are selected based on their first-year grades, and eight are based on a combination of both, Ramos said in his March 31 opinion. The remaining 12 slots are filled by the law review’s diversity committee.

Authors of articles submitted for publication in the law review are invited to include demographic information that includes their race, sexual orientation and gender identity. The law review says it is committed to publishing scholarship by “authors from underrepresented backgrounds.”

The FASORP had sued for alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title VI bars racial and national origin discrimination in programs receiving federal financial assistance, while Title IX bars discrimination in education programs receiving federal assistance.

Ramos found several problems with standing.

The FASORP had failed to identify even one injured member with specific allegations of harm, Ramos said. The FASORP also failed to plead a concrete and particularized injury or a real or immediate threat of repetition of that injury, he said.

April 13, 2020 in Courts, Gender, Law schools | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

5th Circuit Upholds Texas Ban on Abortions During Coronavirus Pandemic, Staying Contrary Ruling of District Court

Appeals Court Allows Texas to Ban Abortions During Pandemic

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can temporarily enforce a ban on abortions as part of its coronavirus response.

 

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a ruling from a lower court that had blocked Texas from enforcing the ban. State officials argue the ban is intended to conserve medical supplies for health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. But abortion rights advocates say states are using the pandemic as an excuse to block access.

 

In a 2-1 opinion, the appeals court ruled that the order from the lower court be stayed until an appeal from Texas is considered. The two judges who ruled in favor of a stay were nominated to their posts by President Trump and former President George W. Bush.

 

"The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. 

 

Circuit Court Judge James Dennis, a Clinton appointee, dissented, writing “a federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the executive order to prohibit abortions during this critical time.” 

 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive earlier this month suspending nonessential medical procedures in an effort to conserve masks and gloves for health workers on the front lines of the pandemic. 

See also CBS News, Texas Abortion Ban Can Go Back into Effect, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules

Several states have issued similar orders, but a divide has emerged between red and blue states about whether abortion is an essential procedure.

March 31, 2020 in Abortion, Constitutional, Courts, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Legal and Ethical Implications of Non-Disclosure Agreements and Arbitration Clauses in the MeToo Era

Maureen Weston, Buying Secrecy: Non-Disclosure Agreements, Arbitration, and Professional Ethics in the #MeToo Era, 

We’ve heard the horrific reports of sexual assault on children, women, and men, in the context of the workplace, Hollywood, sports, and even sacred places. Now. But often these incidents took place many years ago, and we are just learning why and how. Secret settlements. Deals reached in private to buy secrecy in exchange for the release and dismissal of claims. Oftentimes through private and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes such negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. In most cases, the parties were represented by lawyers, loyal advocates, who are also officers of the court; third-party neutrals serving as mediators or arbitrators administered the dispute resolution process. While the immediate cases were privately resolved, the accused harasser/predator remained at large. This paper examines the role, use, and possible misuse or complicity of lawyers, neutrals, and ADR in the process of procuring and enforcing “secret settlements” in cases that effectively shielded predators, harassment, and other misconduct and left similarly situated non-parties at risk. This Article examines the existing rules, structures, and rationales for confidentiality and private dispute resolution, alongside the ethical considerations for lawyers, neutrals, and the ADR process in reaching and enforcing “secret settlements.” The paper explores the legal and ethical considerations for the professionals involved in situations where a secret settlement or provision for non-disclosure leaves similarly situated non-parties at risk. The Article counsels that lawyers, neutrals, and ADR consider the impact on others and protection of vulnerable persons from potential harm as professional ethics obligations in the advocacy and representation of parties to private settlements in order to ensure integrity of people, process, and substantive outcomes.

March 19, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Now All Women with New Appointment

Navajo Nation Council Confirms Tina Tsinigine to Tribe's Supreme Court

The Navajo Nation Council confirmed Tina Tsinigine as an associate justice for the tribe's Supreme Court.

 

Tsinigine will serve alongside Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne and Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, marking the first time three women will serve simultaneously on the three-member court.

 

It is an outcome that Delegate Mark Freeland noted before casting a vote in favor of Tsinigine's appointment.

 

"That is a testament for Navajo women. … Our women are strong," Freeland said.

 

The confirmation ends nearly a decade-long vacancy on the high court and Tsinigine will serve a probationary period of two years then undergo the process for permanent appointment.

 

The council considered the legislation for Tsinigine's appointment during the winter session on Jan. 28 in Window Rock, Arizona.

 

Tsinigine spoke to delegates about her career, which started as a mathematics instructor for the Tuba City Unified School District in Arizona before she earned a master's degree in Indigenous Nations Studies from the University of Kansas in 2003 followed by a Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2007.

From left, Navajo Nation Supreme Court Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, Associate Justice Tina Tsinigine and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne stand for photos after Tsinigine took the oath of office on Jan. 28 in Window Rock, Arizona.

March 5, 2020 in Courts, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

Legal Scholars Weigh in on the Harvey Weinstein Sexual Assault Verdict

Slate, The Weinstein Verdict is Both a Victory and a Disappointment

On Monday morning, a Manhattan jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty of two of the five charges prosecutors brought against him: criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree. The jury also acquitted Weinstein of two counts of predatory sexual assault, the most serious charges prosecutors had brought against him, which would have required the jury to conclude that Weinstein had committed first-degree sex crimes against two or more victims. In other words, the verdict is a mixed bag: Harvey Weinstein has now been convicted of rape. The counts that he was acquitted on, however, seem at odds with the number of allegations that have publicly surfaced against him.

 

This was just one trial, set up to evaluate a specific set of crimes and circumstances. But it has been impossible to think of it as anything other than a referendum on the entire contemporary #MeToo movement. Weinstein was the person whose long-ignored abuses and alleged assaults spurred thousands of women to reassess their own experiences. Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lead attorney, has spent her weeks in the spotlight accusing rape survivors of failing to take responsibility for their own mixed signals and explaining how the #MeToo movement has denied men their due process rights, even as her own client was enjoying his in the courtroom. Since the fall of 2017, when dozens of women first shared their stories about Weinstein, countless defenses and dismissals of the sexual misbehavior of other men have rested on the conviction that if sexual offenses don’t rise to the level of Weinstein’s misbehavior, they don’t merit consideration under the purview of #MeToo. Weinstein’s trial morphed into the ultimate #MeToo test: If a jury couldn’t convict Weinstein, the benchmark against which all other alleged abusers are now measured, what hope does any other survivor have of holding a rapist accountable in the criminal justice system?

The Weinstein Verdict is a Complicated Win for Survivors

On Monday, the system worked.

 

Jurors found Harvey Weinstein, a disgraced media mogul who has been accused of assault or harassment by at least 100 women, guilty of sexual assault and rape. His verdict, along with that of comedian Bill Cosby in 2018, sends a strong message that the jurors are capable of believing survivors over powerful men. A legal process in which less than 1% of sexual assault cases lead to convictions sided with survivors over a millionaire whose sexual misconduct has been an open secret for decades.

 

It was empowering. But while Weinstein’s guilty verdict is progress, it won’t fix a deeply broken system. 

 

Many experts and survivors told HuffPost they thought the conviction was important but ultimately, and unfortunately, symbolic. While high-profile cases help shift cultural attitudes toward sexual assault, that doesn’t always change how the legal system treats average victims whose cases may not get the widespread media attention, the high-profile legal representation or the support of multiple accusers that the Weinstein trial did. ***

 

“A high-profile conviction just says that, in this case, there was enough to convict this person,” said Leigh Goodmark, the director of the gender violence clinic at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. “But it doesn’t make any grand pronouncements for me about the system’s friendliness to people who’ve been raped and sexually assaulted.”***

 

There is silent, everyday violence and suffering committed against women that just don’t meet the threshold of public interest,” said Aya Gruber, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

 

“And Harvey Weinstein going to jail isn’t going to do anything for them.”

Suzanne Goldberg, #MeToo is Just Beginning, Wash Post
In the swirl surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s mixed conviction and acquittal on rape and related charges, it can be easy to overlook what hasn’t changed in the wake of #MeToo. The movement has put a spotlight on the starkly divergent views that Americans hold about what kinds of behaviors cross the line into unwanted — and, at times, criminal — acts, and about what should happen when they do.***
 
 
But Weinstein’s trial and all the other changes #MeToo has brought won’t put an end to the roiling debates about what counts as consent and how we should judge long-ago assaults. We’ll continue to disagree, too, about what legal and social sanctions should apply to conduct that is “bad but not as bad” as Weinstein’s.

 

This is a good thing. As uncomfortable and frustrating as these conversations can be, we cannot afford to stop talking about what we expect from each other when it comes to sex and to workplace interactions.

February 28, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment, Media, Pop Culture, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Grilling MeToo Accusers in the Courtroom

Weinstein Rape Trial Shows #MeToo Accusers Should Prepare for Courtroom Grilling

 In the #MeToo era, women who make sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men can count on public support, but the rape trial in New York of former movie producer Harvey Weinstein has shown that accusers should brace for far less friendly treatment in a court of law. ***

 

 During the trial that began on Jan. 6, Weinstein’s attorneys have questioned his accusers about their appearance at the time of the alleged attacks, their drinking habits and whether they used Weinstein to land a Hollywood acting job.

 

“Just because we live in the Me Too era doesn’t mean you don’t attack in defense of your clients,” said Tom Mesereau, who represented comedian Bill Cosby in his sexual assault trial.***

 

Legal experts said the movement has complicated the work of defending someone like Weinstein because a jury is more likely to sympathize with the alleged victims.

 

But accusers should not expect a shift in legal standards or tactics, experts said.

February 12, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Libel Law is Being Used Against MeToo Accusers

She Said, He Sued: How Libel Law is Being Turned Against MeToo Accusers

***As more survivors have come forward to call out perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment, a legal backlash to the MeToo movement has been brewing. While it’s well known that powerful men have preemptively quashed accusations with payoffs and nondisclosure agreements, less well known is that dozens of men who claim they are victims of false allegations have sued their accusers for speaking out publicly. The plaintiffs include celebrities and college students, professional athletes, professors, and politicians. At least 100 defamation lawsuits have been filed against accusers since 2014, according to Mother Jones’ review of news reports and court documents. Prior to October 2017, when the MeToo hashtag went viral, almost three in four claims were brought by male college students and faculty accused of sexual misconduct; they usually sued their schools as well as their accusers. Since MeToo took off, cases have been filed at a faster rate, with three in four coming from nonstudents.

 

This list of cases is not comprehensive, but attorneys confirm that these suits are becoming more common. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which helps workplace harassment victims pay their legal bills, has assisted 33 accusers, including Lopez, who have been sued for defamation in the past two years—nearly 20 percent of its caseload. As the number of cases grows, so does the chilling effect: Defamation lawsuits are being used “more and more to try to silence people from coming forward,” says Sharyn Tejani, director of Time’s Up. “It was not something that we expected would take as much of our time and money as it has.”

 

Bruce Johnson, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in First Amendment cases, says that before fall 2017, he was contacted twice a year by women who were worried about being sued if they spoke out about sexual violence or harassment or who were threatened with legal retribution for doing so. Now it’s every two weeks, he says. Alexandra Tracy-­Ramirez, a lawyer who represents both survivors and accused perpetrators in campus-­related cases in Colorado and Arizona, has also noticed more accusers speaking out and facing the prospect of being sued.

February 12, 2020 in Courts, Equal Employment, Pop Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Potential Persuasive Influence of the Feminist Judgments Project on Judicial Decision Making

Kate Webber Nunez, Persuasive or Pipe Dream? The Feminist Judgments Project's Potential Influence on Judicial Decision Making, British Journal of American Legal Studies (Vol. 9 2020 Forthcoming)

The Feminist Judgments Project (“FJP” or the “Project”) rewrites existing judicial opinions from a feminist perspective. This article explores whether and how the FJP’s alternative jurisprudence can influence future decisions. The FJP rewrites the law in order to reveal the underlying biases that exist in purportedly neutral decision making. In doing so, the FJP seeks to influence future advocacy and, ultimately, change the law. According to the Project’s commentary, this change will come by revealing unconscious bias and opening judicial minds to previously unknown perspectives; a method that draws on psychological theories of decision making, such as cultural cognition. This article takes a different approach and evaluates the FJP using theories from political science on how judges decide cases. The article’s analysis is relevant because certain prominent theories in the political science field would challenge the utility of the Project. Specifically, given an increasingly conservative judiciary and Republican administration, the attitudinal and strategic theories of decision making would give the FJP little prospect of actually influencing the law. This article explains, however, that the field of political science would not universally nor completely dismiss the Project’s efforts. An alternative line of thought, historical institutionalism, presents a theoretical explanation for why and how the FJP’s re-envisioned law could possibly create persuasive arguments that will influence the judiciary. This article applies historical institutionalist concepts to the FJP, exploring how, and the degree to which, this view of decision making supports the Project’s utility. Ultimately, it concludes that the path of persuasion is somewhat narrow and limited, but possible.

December 4, 2019 in Courts, Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Story of Mediation and Restorative Justice in a Rape Case

My Justice Dream

This past summer, I sat in an eight-hour mediation circle with the man who raped me. My mom and sister also participated as impacted community members. Two mediators held the space and actively worked to safeguard triggers. They asked us only one question: What brought you here today? 

All of this occurred after several months of therapy and extensive education in consent and patriarchy for my assailant. It was the outcome that I fought for.

This was an exercise in restorative justice (RJ)—and my mediation circle marked one of the first times in North America that a sexual assault case in the legal system concluded with one.***

When I was subpoenaed for a criminal trial, I considered dropping the charges completely—but I was still holding onto my justice dream. At the urging of a friend, I began researching ways to make it happen. I connected with an RJ-aligned lawyer, and we called a meeting with the crown; my proposal was met with a condescending assumption that I didn’t understand how bad rape is.

My response? “I believe that rape is so bad that we have to consider alternative options. We know that incarceration often leads to recidivism and that acquittals are too common. Rates of sexual assault are not declining. It’s time to try something different.” Despite the push back from prosecutors aligned with the punitive system, we eventually got a yes.

December 4, 2019 in Courts, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Understanding the Outdated but Pervasive Legal Definitions of Sexual Harassment

Brian Soucek & Vicki Schultz, Sexual Harassment by Any Other Name, 2019 U. Chi. Legal F. 229

The New York Times won a Pulitzer and helped ignite the #MeToo movement with its reporting on sexual harassment. But the Times still doesn’t understand what sexual harassment is. In its official definition and the stories it pursues, the Times employs a sexualized conception of sexual harassment that is twenty years out of date in the law. It’s also disconnected from the lived experience of most people and from the findings of social science research. In this, the Times is not alone. Even the two leading enforcers of federal antidiscrimination law — the EEOC and the Department of Justice — still at times issue pronouncements that fail to reflect current Title VII law or even those agencies’ own enforcement priorities.

Lost in these outdated but still pervasive definitions of sexual harassment are the many ways employees are undermined, excluded, sabotaged, ridiculed, or assaulted because of their sex, even if not through words or actions that are “sexual” in nature. “Put-downs” and not simply “come-ons,” these types of sexual harassment are even more pervasive than the overtly sexualized forms. Relegating them to another category or term such as “gender harassment” or “sex-based harassment” treats them as secondary to the sexualized forms, causes society to misunderstand the dynamics at play even in the latter, and skews the focus of workplace training (and subsequent reporting) about sexual harassment. With the #MeToo movement giving unprecedented attention to the problem of sexual harassment, now is the time to better understand that term.

November 26, 2019 in Courts, Equal Employment, Theory, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2019

History of the French Shadow Jury of Women

Sara Kimble, Of "Masculine Tyranny" and the Women's Jury": The Gender Politics of Jury Service in Third Republic France, Law & History Review (2019)

In 1905 Hyacinthe Bélilon (1846–1913) and Camille Bélilon (1851–1930), two sisters working under pseudonyms as writers, began attending criminal trials and issuing unofficial verdicts as part of a new organization: the jury féminin, the women’s jury. Led by the sisters, this organization consisted of a panel of twelve female jurors who attended trials in Paris.  As witnesses to the courtroom spectacle, these women would have been seated as members of the public audience, behind the gates of the barreau, the open space where attorneys and witnesses addressed the judges. Following each trial, the jury féminin issued their own unofficial verdicts and published their reasoning in the monthly newspaper Journal des femmes over a period of 5 years.  The resulting trove of verdicts for eighty cases highlights the ways in which these unauthorized female jurors made decisions to exonerate or assign responsibility to the defendants.

 

The jury féminin contributed to a sustained public protest against male bias in the justice system, a condemnation of official all-male juries’ role in perpetuating a double moral standard and the inequalities of the French civil and penal codes. Their feminist legal commentary on criminal cases challenged the assumption that the legal system provided equal treatment for female victims or defendants. These activists’ courtroom appearances and published articles were forms of protest that furthered the political campaign to admit women to criminal juries, and by extension, to promote an enlarged role in civic life for women.

September 30, 2019 in Courts, International, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

How the First Forty Years of Circuit Precedent Got Title VII's Sex Discrimination Provision Wrong

Jessica Clarke, How the First Forty Years of Circuit Precedent Got Title VII's Sex Discrimination Provision Wrong, Texas Law Review Online, Forthcoming

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is discrimination “because of sex” to fire an employee because of their sexual orientation or transgender identity. There’s a simple textual argument that it is: An employer cannot take action on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender identity without considering the employee’s sex. But while this argument is simple, it was not one that federal courts adopted until recently. This has caused some judges to object that the simple argument must be inconsistent with the original meaning of Title VII. In the words of one Fifth Circuit judge, “If the first forty years of uniform circuit precedent nationwide somehow got the original understanding of Title VII wrong, no one has explained how.”

This Essay explains how the first forty years of circuit precedent got Title VII wrong. It demonstrates that, rather than relying on the statutory text, early appellate decisions relied on their era’s misunderstanding of LGBTQ identities as pathological, unnatural, and deviant. The errors of the early cases persisted as a result of stare decisis, until the old doctrine was rendered indefensible by changing social attitudes, the rise of textualism, and the Supreme Court’s recognition that Title

September 3, 2019 in Courts, Equal Employment, Gender, LGBT | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Feminist Law Professors Critique Title IX and Domestic Violence Law

Chronicle, The Revolt of the Feminist Law Professors

 In the fall of 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued informal, non-binding guidance on how colleges should treat claims of sexual assault and harassment in a document now referred to as the Dear Colleague letter. It was accompanied by public claims of an ongoing crisis of sexual violence on universities made by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. In 2014, Gersen and three of her colleagues — Elizabeth Bartholet, Janet Halley, and Nancy Gertner — led a contingent of their peers in calling out the system of investigation and adjudication that emerged during the Obama years as “so unfair as to be truly shocking.” The four were joined by 24 of their Harvard Law colleagues in an open letter published in The Boston Globe decrying Obama’s Title IX recommendations as “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused.”

 

In a statement called “Fairness for All Students Under Title IX,”  jointly authored with Halley, Bartholet, and Gertner, Gersen noted that at many colleges, investigators are trained to start by believing the complainant. Many schools would “improperly house the functions of investigation and adjudication” in the same office, with “strong incentives” to keep the schools in the Office for Civil Rights’ “good graces.” “Some schools,” they wrote, “allow appeals only on very narrow grounds such as new evidence or procedural error, providing no meaningful check on the initial decisionmaker.” The evidentiary threshold required was the lowest one, the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning anything greater than 50 percent certainty should yield a finding of wrongdoing. 

August 13, 2019 in Courts, Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)