Minority Issues

If I’m ever euthanized, it hope it’s as gentle as the way Chief Justice John Roberts put down the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement.

Not the whole act, mind you. The prohibition on any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” is still constitutionally permissible. And folks can sue to enforce that.

But the preclearance requbirement is now effectively gone. That’s the rule that the federal government has to approve changes to voting laws in certain jurisdictions that haven’t been so great about race – in that folks registering black people to vote had been murdered in there, or, they’d had really bad records of African-American voter turnout in the past.

Strictly speaking, the preclearance requirement is not gone — it just no longer applies to any jurisdiction in the country any longer. The Court invalidated the method by which it is determined which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, rather than preclearance itself. So, now no jurisdiction is subject to preclearance — the preclearance formula is gone.

Many people who are concerned about whether black people are allowed to vote think that the preclearance requirement has been an important tool to make sure black people enjoy the right to vote.

Including, it seems, the Chief Justice himself….

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The liberator… of the South.

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, the South is free at last.

After, man, like decades of having to deal with suspicion and preclearance, man, just because of its 400 year history of slavery and segregation, Chief Justice Roberts held Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. Section 4 is the section that outlines which states should be covered for “preclearance” by the federal government before they can change their voting laws. Overruling it overturns one of the biggest and most effective weapons against the Jim Crow South.

Section 5, which gives the government the authority to preclear certain states, still survives. The question is kicked back to Congress to update their “decades old” formula.

Let’s look at the opinions…

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The front of the Supreme Court building: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ (Click to enlarge.)

Justice O’Connor, Justice Stevens, Ted Olson, David Boies, Jeffrey Toobin.

All of them were at the Supreme Court today, eager to hear what the Court had to say. New gay-marriage crusading BFFs Olson and Boies sat together. Also in attendance were lots of other fancy folks — like Solicitor General Don Verrilli and Nina Totenberg — who are there more often.

There’s nothing like late June at One First Street.

At the start of the day, 11 cases remained to be decided, four of them blockbusters. The issues on deck: the Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, the Voting Rights Act, and the University of Texas’s use of a form of affirmative action. Today, one of the big cases was resolved; with five others coming out, there are only six remaining.

Today, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, addressed the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action. As the Chief Justice announced that Justice Kennedy had the opinion and would start reading it, a rush swept through the courtroom. People leaned forward. Papers rustled….

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Today, the Supreme Court surprisingly ruled 7-1 to vacate the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. Texas. The opinion was a great big dodge. Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the lower court failed to apply “strict scrutiny” to the University of Texas’s admissions policies. Cutting through the legalese, that means the Supreme Court actually upheld the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which is the controlling case allowing affirmative action in college admissions. While conservative justices indicated that they would have overturned Grutter had they been asked, the majority found that they had not been asked.

If that all sounds like a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to you that avoids the heart of the issue, you are not a lawyer. You are right, but you aren’t a lawyer.

This is no “victory” for affirmative action. There are still a majority of Supreme Court justices that want, almost desperately, to end racial preferences in college admissions. What the Court did today was threaten colleges and universities that want to use racial preferences to come up with really good justifications for their affirmative action policies. Schools that aren’t really committed to diversity, or that go about achieving diversity in a stupid way, will surely have their programs ruled unconstitutional in the future.

This is, I think, the end of affirmative action as a tool for “racial equality.” But affirmative action as a tool to promote “racial diversity” is alive and well.

Which, all things considered, is just fine by me. I think the Court signaled that it is just no longer buying the old reasons for affirmative action. While the rabid conservatives don’t seem to be wiling to consider any, it looks like moderates like Kennedy may listen to new justifications for using race as a factor in admissions, but you are going to have to convince him….

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Finally. The Supreme Court has issued its long-awaited ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, the closely watched affirmative action case.

And the result might surprise you. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the Court, which should shock no one. But here’s a surprise: the vote breakdown was 7-1 (with Justice Kagan recused).

How did Justice Kennedy garner seven votes for a ruling on one of the most controversial issues of our time?

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

– Charles Dickens

In addition to opening A Tale of Two Cities (affiliate link), this extended quotation kicked off Professor Pam Karlan’s comments when asked to provide some measure of sense to the Supreme Court’s rights jurisprudence this Term. And by that I mean she read the entire quote to an audience of people whose body language screamed out, “yeah, we got it” after the word “foolishness.”

The passage (at least the gist of the passage), however, is apropos. This Term saw a voter registration law struck down in Arizona, even though Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is likely to follow it out the door. As Elie is quick to point out, the black community is likely to get hammered by the Court, yet Professor Karlan thinks that the gay community is going to win, either this year or next.

Karlan, and her fellow panelists at Netroots Nation, outlined a theory that ties these competing decisions together — at least until Monday, when the Court might shoot the whole logic down…

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Place eight metric tons of butter in large mixing bowl.
Add 16 kilos of salt.
Mix in buttermilk, meat product, and two eggs.
Fry in LOW FAT cooking oil.
Liquify.
Inject directly into carotid artery.
Serves one baby.

– Every Paula Deen recipe ever.

By now, many of you have heard about Paula Deen’s ridiculous deposition, in which she basically admitted that she’s a horrible racist who thinks slavery was funny. But since she made a career off of being a random woman who cooks like she thinks heart disease is funny, I already have a hard time taking anything she says seriously enough to be outraged by it.

So, how about this, I won’t act like Paula Deen’s views on a “perfect Southern wedding” speak for all Southerners, and Southerners won’t feel the need to reflexively defend the offensive and racist views of Paula Deen. It’s one thing to live in the South and like butter. It’s another thing to wish for a “bevy of tap dancing little n***ers” at your brother’s Southern wedding….

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Caution: May lead to malpractice suits.

* Just like he said in 2008, President Barack Obama says that he’s going to close Guantanamo Bay, and this time, he means it. No, really, he appointed a Skadden partner to handle it, so we know he means business now. [Blog of Legal Times]

* The Supreme Court just invalidated Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration law, so of course Ted Cruz wants to add an amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill to require citizenship to vote because, well… duh. [Politico]

* According to a Pew Research survey, a majority of Americans think Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for his NSA leaks. It’s also likely that same majority don’t even know what Edward Snowden leaked. [USA Today]

* It looks like Jon Leibowitz, the FTC’s ex-chairman, got some great birthday presents this week. Davis Polk partnership and a SCOTUS victory aren’t too shabby. [DealBook / New York Times]

* They don’t give a damn ’bout their bad reputation: malpractice claims filed against attorneys and firms were up in 2012, and some say mergers and laterals are to blame. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* If you’re worried about your low GPA when applying to law school, you haven’t been reading the news. You’ll get in everywhere you apply. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* ¡Ay dios mío! The Hispanic National Bar Association is hoping that a week spent in law school will inspire minority high school students to become lawyers in the distant future. [National Law Journal]

I’m not usually the one to give sartorial advice around here. My blogging attire can be exclusively purchased from MLB Shop if I so desire. I need a suit or two for television and then, whatever, it doesn’t matter and I don’t care.

But back when I was in Biglaw and I had to be presentable, I appreciated some basic advice from the people who cared about how I looked way more than I did. Don’t confuse the issue with your WASP-y tales of Seersucker Saturdays. Just tell me the bare minimum I have to do to fit into your shallow little club, and I’ll do it. I really can’t stand people who are all like, “Well Jasper, did you see that chap wearing white after Labor Day? How gauche.” But if that’s going to be a rule that affects my professional advancement, just tell me and I’ll follow it. Biglaw pays enough for people to invest in their wardrobe in whatever arcane ways are required.

So, in a way, one can appreciate this list put together by an office managing partner of a national law firm about the business casual dress code for men. Sure, it comes from an annoying place of conformity that values style over substance. Sure, it’s a document dripping with low-grade sexism that contemplates a time when men were men and somebody else did their laundry.

But we’re talking about guys who work at law firms, we’re not talking about rebels; nobody should be trying to be a hero. Everybody should just wear what they’re told…

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Several organizations filed a Complaint of Judicial Misconduct against Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones earlier this week. The complaint charges Judge Jones with a variety of offenses, but the headline-getter is the claim that she made racist remarks during her speech on February 20, 2013, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

With no transcript or recording of the event, the 12-page complaint relies on the affidavits of a few individuals who attended the speech, including Marc Bookman, the Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. Bookman’s affidavit serves as the primary account, with the other affiants agreeing and adding relatively few details. About a week before the Penn Fed Soc speech, Bookman published an essay in Mother Jones titled “How Crazy Is Too Crazy to Be Executed?”, about Texas murderer Andre Thomas. Whether Bookman intended ahead of time to use his account of the Fed Soc event as the basis of a misconduct complaint or not, he was likely expecting to be offended when he attended a Federalist Society speech called “Federal Death Penalty Review” by a pro-death-penalty, Texas-based judge. Just a guess….

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