Civil Rights

We've got spirt! Yes we do! We've got spirt! How about you?

Give me an S! Give me a T! Give me an F! Give me a U! What does that spell? STFU!

Just in case you’re not aware, cheerleading is a pretty big deal in Texas. Everyone wants to be a cheerleader because it has some awesome perks. Cheerleaders get the rare privilege of ruling the school while they parade around spreading “spirt” throughout the halls. Cheerleaders hope and pray that they’ll land a football stud who will be their ticket out of town to work at the downtown dollar store.

And last, but certainly not least, alumnae cheerleader moms get to live vicariously through their daughters. And sometimes when former cheerleader moms don’t get what they want, they’ll — Fight! Fight! Fight with all their might! — sue over it.

Girls in my high school used to call each other names and claim Title IX sexual harassment and retaliation all the time. It was no big deal….

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Today we honor the birthday of the late great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929 (so he would have been 82 today). The holiday of MLK Day is observed on the third Monday of January.

Legislation for a holiday honoring Dr. King was first introduced shortly after his assassination in 1968, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the legislation was passed and the holiday signed into law (by President Ronald Reagan). Observation of the holiday was controversial for a time, but in 2000 it was officially observed in all 50 states.

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Truck driver Vasant Reddy is not living the high life. Reddy, a Muslim, refused to transport a shipment of Miller Lite as part of his duties. He claims he was forced to resign because of adherence to his religious beliefs.

Normally refusing to deliver something would seem to be a pretty big problem if your job is to deliver things. But that’s why we have Title VII. As a religious objector, Reddy should still be able to work at his job, provided that he sincerely holds this religious objection and that making an exception doesn’t impose an undue hardship on Reddy’s employers.

Is delivering beer an essential function of being a truck driver? Let’s get into it (dear Muslim friends, you’ll probably want to skip the comments on this post)…

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The Human Rights Campaign has released its annual Corporate Equality Index, which assesses corporate America’s progress towards equal treatment of the LGBT community.

It’s a pretty great day to be gay and searching for career advice. Gawker has a list up right now on the top ten gay colleges, and the Human Rights Campaign is trying to help you figure out where to work when you’re done with law school.

This year, 97 Biglaw firms (out of 130 who responded to the survey) received a perfect score from the HRC. That’s up from last year and makes the legal field the best industry when it comes to LGBT issues. Banking was next and retail finished third.

Check here to see if your firm made the list.

Granted, you’d expect law firms — what with their expert understanding of “laws,” and such — to be leaders when it comes to gay and lesbian equality. But the legal field was able to achieve this distinction notwithstanding a somewhat controversial rating philosophy that may have prevented other firms from achieving perfect scores…

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From Flickr by Sonja Shield

“New York is a great city to live in if you can afford to get out of it,” wrote American author William Rossa Cole.

The same thing works the other way around too. The wealthier you are, access to the city becomes easier.

Manhattan (the city’s richest and whitest borough) is abundantly better connected to trains and buses than any of the other boroughs. In fact, when the Metropolitan Transit Association cut its buses and train lines, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens felt it the hardest.

That’s when this becomes a civil rights issue. Minorities and other low income groups, who overwhelmingly live in the outer boroughs, are far more affected by transit cuts and increasing highway spending than their largely white counterparts who live in wealthier neighborhoods.

Title III of the Civil Rights Act prohibits state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, religion, gender, or ethnicity, where as Title VI, prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funding. If an agency is found in violation of Title VI, that agency can lose its federal funding.

While the cuts were not made to be discriminatory, in practice they violate both the above titles.

Bet you never thought infrastructure could be racist. Read more on Alt Transport

This one is going to get really weird, really quickly. See if you can spot the civil rights violation.

Issue 1: City council of Alexandria, Virginia, approves a permit for a new barbecue restaurant.
Issue 2: The restaurant will have an open-air, gas grille.

Did you see the potential violation? No? Well, you’re just not thinking like a lawyer — or, at the very least, you’re not thinking like an insane person. The Alexandria Gazette Packet reports:

Del Ray Attorney Ed Ablard is challenging the restaurant as a violation of his civil rights. Because the gas-fueled smoker will release particulate matter into the air, his suit charges, his civil rights will be violated.

Is a white man claiming that a barbecue joint is somehow racist towards white people? No, it’s way more crazy than that…

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Who knew that zoning law and land use could be so controversial? A proposal to build a Muslim center and mosque just two blocks away from Ground Zero has become a huge issue here in New York — and, in fact, around the country.

Opponents of the project — originally known as Cordoba House, but now more commonly referred to as Park51, a 15-story tower that will contain a mosque, 500-seat auditorium, and swimming pool — had hoped to stop the project by winning landmark status for the building currently on the site. This morning, however, NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 against granting protected status to 45-47 Park Place in lower Manhattan, which will be demolished to make way for the $100 million center.

Of course, this controversy is about so much more than granting landmark status to a random downtown building designed by an unknown architect….

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While in journalism school, one of my “assignments” was to hang out at New York’s night court (open until 1 a.m. every night), observe the proceedings, and then write about them. It was less exciting than Judge Harry had led me to believe, but was an interesting night replete with drug addicts, prostitutes, and a cheap-date-loving couple who had stopped in to observe as free post-Chinatown-dinner entertainment.

It also introduced me to a 2006 New York law that requires felons to submit a genetic sample to the state DNA database. When informed of the law, one defendant arraigned on burglary charges resisted giving up his double helixes. “Are you willing to issue a court order to make me do it, sir?” he asked the judge.

“Is my saying it to you not enough?” the judge replied. The defendant said: “If you sign a court order, I’ll do it.” The judge asked for a piece of paper, and the defendant objected, “No, I want an official court order.”

The assistant district attorney then explained, in an annoyed tone, that any paper written and signed by the judge qualifies as a “court order.” The judge issued the order, but the man returned 15 minutes later, still refusing to give the DNA sample. The judge set bail and again reminded the dude that the DNA sample was required by law.

Many states have criminal genetic databases these days. As noted by the Genomics Law Report, the LAPD’s using theirs to catch the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer has resulted in a lot of media attention for these databases, despite the fact that they’ve been around for awhile. That’s because, according to GLR, “the case marks the first time in the United States that a DNA search technique known as familial searching has led to an arrest in a homicide case.” The LAPD nabbed the Grim Sleeper after DNA samples from the murders were found to be genetically similar to those of the Sleeper’s son, who had given up his DNA after a felony weapons charge. (Apparently, criminal genes run in that family.)

The attention being paid to the databases is not all positive, though. The ACLU, which has a problem with the way that California compiles its database, filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jerry Brown last year. It’s now before the Ninth Circuit. What’s the ACLU’s problem with California’s compiling genetic information for felons and suspected felons?

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martin luther king.jpgToday we remember the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader. Dr. King’s birthday was actually on January 15th, but the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year.

If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. If you are at work, check in with us from time to time; we are around today (but will be posting less than usual). Feel free to complain in the comments about the evil law firm / partner / client that does not recognize this important holiday.

If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you use today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov. (A number of today’s service projects are aimed at helping the people of Haiti.)

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service [MLKDay.gov]

theguantanamolawyers.jpgPresident Obama recently announced that Guantanamo Bay will not be closing in January – reneging on a promise he had made to close the detention center within a year of his taking office. This did not come as a surprise to the many lawyers who have provided counsel to the detainees in Cuba.

At a panel discussion about the Guantanamo lawyers, Ramzi Kassem — a City University of New York law professor representing one of the current detainees – said: “What matters more than when [the closing] happens is what happens to the [200] men still there.”

Hundreds of attorneys have been working for years to ensure habeas corpus for the over 800 men who have been detained at Guantanamo Bay. The lawyers who have assembled to represent detainees come from many walks of law, from human rights advocates to law school professors to Biglaw partners. Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux and civil rights attorney Jonathan Hafetz have collected the stories of 113 of the Guantanamo lawyers, law students, and translators for The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law.

There is a rainbow of Biglaw firms involved in Guantanamo. Among the firms working there (with lawyers who contributed to the book) are WilmerHale, King & Spalding, Pillsbury Winthrop, Jenner & Block, Pepper Hamilton, Dorsey & Whitney, Baker Hostetler, Paul Weiss, Perkins Coie, Reed Smith, Mayer Brown, MoFo, Weil Gotshal, Hunton & Williams, Covington, Dechert, Bingham McCutchen, and Shearman & Sterling. A heart-warming tale among the horrors of the book was two Allen & Overy attorneys who fell in love and married after meeting while representing a 17-year-old Yemeni detainee.

Both Denbeaux and Hafetz point to Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling as one of the most important Gitmo lawyers. “He cleared the way for the others,” said Denbeaux. “Shearman was the central [Biglaw] firm in getting it all going.”

More about Wilner, and tales from other Biglaw Guantanamo counsel, after the jump.

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