Civil Rights


Untangling the Twombly-McDonnell Knot: The Substantive Impact of Procedural Rules in Title VII Cases

Angela K. Herring

Lower courts are still sorting out the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decisions
in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which together
heralded a heightened factual pleading standard. Though many have focused on
the impact of the new standard on plaintiffs facing significant information asymmetries,
this Note focuses on the potential substantive impact on federal civil rights
claims resulting from application of the Iqbal standard. Specifically, this Note
argues that, when strict interpretations of the evidentiary standards used in claims
based on the McDonnell Douglas framework clash with a stronger factual pleading
standard, the effects can be distortive, closing out theories of discrimination for
which there was relief before Iqbal.

Reviewing potential solutions, this Note concludes that the most significant source
of the distortion is in the evidentiary standards themselves and argues that a more
practical and less rule-oriented approach can keep the civil rights laws broad in
reach while requiring a reasonable level of factual pleading.

Life Without Parole: An Immigration Framework Applied to Potentially Indefinite Detention at Guantanamo Bay

Laura J. Arandes

The Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that detainees at Guantanamo
Bay have the right to challenge their detention in habeas corpus proceedings and
that the courts hearing these claims must have some ability to provide “conditional
release.” However, in Kiyemba v. Obama, the United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia ruled that if a detainee cannot be released to his country of
origin or another country abroad, a court sitting in habeas cannot grant the
detainee release into the United States. The court based its determination on the
assumption that the plaintiffs’ request for release implicated “admission,” generally
considered within the purview of the political branches and inappropriate for judicial
review. This Note argues that “parole,” a more flexible mechanism for release
into the United States, is not limited by the admission precedents requiring extreme
deference. This Note then surveys cases in which the judiciary has granted parole as
a remedy, and argues that courts have done so primarily in cases of executive misconduct.
Thus, courts confronting requests for domestic release from executive
detention without a legal basis should consider parole as a remedy distinct from
admission—one that serves a valuable purpose in maintaining a meaningful check
on the Executive.

The Promise of Mancari: Indian Political Rights as Racial Remedy

Addie C. Rolnick

In 1974, the Supreme Court declared that an Indian employment preference was
based on a “political rather than racial” classification. The Court’s framing of Indianness
as a political matter and its positioning of “political” and “racial” as
opposing concepts has defined the trajectory of federal Indian law and influenced
common sense ideas about what it means to be Indian ever since. This oppositional
framing has had specific practical consequences, including obscuring the
continuing significance of racialization for Indians and concealing the mutually
constitutive relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.
This Article explores the legal roots of the political classification doctrine, its
ongoing significance, and the descriptive limits and normative consequences of the
ideas that it contains. Specifically, this Article argues that the political classification
doctrine constructs race as an irrelevant matter of ancestry and Indianness as a
simple matter of civic participation. This Article suggests a new framework for considering
Indian issues and federal Indian law that draws on a more robust and
realistic understanding of both race and Indianness to acknowledge the cyclical
relationship between Indian racialization and Indian political status.

Neutralizing the Gendered Collateral Consequences of the War on Drugs

Marne L. Lenox

As a result of the War on Drugs, women are disproportionately impacted by the civil sanctions resulting from felony drug convictions. While legislation imposing collateral consequences of felony drug convictions does not explicitly discriminate against women, these laws reflect sex-based institutional biases and are thereby unequal in effect. While some statutes permit a disparate impact theory of sex discrimination, there exists no statutory protection for women in the context of collateral consequences. And because the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not adequately protect against gender-neutral legislation that adversely affects women, raising a constitutional claim is not a viable alternative to statutory protection. In response, this Note sets forth two separate—constitutionally sound—proposals for legislative reform. First, I suggest that in light of historic sex discrimination, a remedial sex-based exemption from penalties imposed by collateral consequences is in order. In recognition of the Court’s distaste for sex-based legislation, however, I alternatively recommend that Congress exempt from collateral penalties ex-offenders who serve as the primary caretakers of their children.

Entrenching Privacy: A Critique of Civil Remedies for Gender-Motivated Violence

Lauren M. Gambier

In 2000, the Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison struck down a provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that enabled victims of gender-motivated violence to bring civil suits against their attackers in federal court. In the wake of that decision, several states and localities have created similar remedies, and there has been a great deal of scholarly discussion of ways to craft a federal civil rights remedy that comports with the Constitution. The decision to create the federal provision stemmed from Congress’s recognition that violent crimes against women are systematically under-enforced or unenforced: presumably, the comparable state remedies were also intended to address this problem. Such remedies have received considerable scholarly support. In this Note, I argue that this continued emphasis on civil remedies for victims of gender violence is both pragmatically and normatively problematic. I argue that reliance on private civil remedies to address law enforcement failure reinforces the traditional separation of women from civil society and their relegation to the private sphere. This same relegation of women to the private sphere, I posit, also underlies the continued failure of the state to protect women from violent crime. As such, any serious efforts to address the continued prevalence of gender-motivated violence must focus not on private alternatives to inadequate law enforcement, but on changing the understanding of the relationship between women and the state that underlies the state’s continued failure to protect them.

Intentional Blindness

Ian Haney-López

Since the early 1970s, the Fourteenth Amendment’s emancipatory potential has dramatically eroded, with rapid plunges followed by ever-lower plateaus. In 2007, we entered another cycle of precipitous devolution. Today, this latest drop seems to be accelerating along two supposedly distinct tracks: intent doctrine and colorblindness.

Ostensibly, the search for discriminatory intent provides a means of ferreting out unconstitutional racial discrimination. In contrast, colorblindness subjects race-conscious laws to strict scrutiny whether their impetus is benign or invidious, rendering intent irrelevant. On and off the Supreme Court, supporters and critics spar over whether these doctrines fulfill the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Nevertheless, both sides accept the seemingly fundamental division in racial jurisprudence between intent and colorblindness.

This Article challenges the notion of a divided equal protection. First, it shows that before the advent of colorblindness, intent doctrine formed the undivided—and reasonably efficacious—heart of equal protection. Intent doctrine once worked tolerably well for detecting the mistreatment of non-Whites, and also in distinguishing benign from invidious discrimination—the two tasks at which current equal protection grievously fails. Second, it demonstrates that colorblindness developed in response to intent doctrine, and in turn led to a disastrous reworking of that approach. Intent and colorblindness are not separate, but inextricably intertwined. Rather than seeing equal protection today as bifurcated, we should understand it as again unified, though under what might best be termed “intentional blindness.”
Combining the names of the two doctrines, this portmanteau captures the marrow of the Court’s racial jurisprudence—which seems intentionally blind to the persistence of racial discrimination against non-Whites. It is this resistance that connects the current assaults on antidiscrimination statutes to the impending demise of affirmative action. It also links both of these to a larger history of reversals in equality law spanning four decades.

Beyond the Private Attorney General: Equality Directives in American Law

Olatunde C.A. Johnson

American civil rights regulation is generally understood as relying on private enforcement in courts rather than imposing positive duties on state actors to further equity goals. This Article argues that this dominant conception of American civil rights regulation is incomplete. American civil rights regulation also contains a set of “equality directives,” whose emergence and reach in recent years have gone unrecognized in the commentary. These federal-level equality directives use administrative tools of conditioned spending, policymaking, and oversight powerfully to promote substantive inclusion with regard to race, ethnicity, language, and disability. These directives move beyond the constraints of the standard private attorney general regime of antidiscrimination law. They engage broader tools of state power, just as recent Supreme Court decisions have constrained private enforcement. They require states to take proactive, front-end, affirmative measures, rather than relying on backward-looking, individually driven complaints. And these directives move beyond a narrow focus on individual bias to address current, structural barriers to equality. As a result, these directives are profoundly transforming the operation and design of programs at the state and local levels. They are engaging both traditional civil rights groups and community-based groups in innovative and promising new forms of advocacy and implementation.

Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools—Are Anti-Bullying Statutes the Solution?

Lisa C. Connolly

In the last decade, anti-bullying legislation has rapidly proliferated, motivated in part by a string of highly publicized suicides by bullying victims—many of whom were targeted because of their sexual orientation. Despite heightened attention to the issue of anti-gay bullying, few statutes extend explicit protection to sexual minorities. In this Note, I argue that statutory proscriptions against bullying speech targeted at LGBT youth are necessary to ensure full protection for this particularly vulnerable group. Such limitations are constitutional under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court’s seminal case on student speech. Just as importantly, explicit prohibitions on anti-gay speech place state authority behind a clear message that LGBT students are just as important as their heterosexual peers. This message helps construct a reality that leaves no room for anti-gay bullying—where full equality for sexual minorities is the norm, rather than the exception.

Affirmatively Further: Reviving the Fair Housing Act’s Integrationist Purpose

Austin W. King

This Note seeks to contribute to the revival of an underutilized section of the Fair Housing Act intended not just to ban individual acts of discrimination but also to achieve integrated residential neighborhoods. The gulf between lofty, vague federal policy and the local governments responsible for zoning, planning, and housing siting decisions, however, has stymied this pro-integration purpose. Although all state and most local governments are required to certify that they are meeting their obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing,” this certification has rarely risen above mere boilerplate. Building on recent litigation that reinvigorated the Act’s positive purpose with some skeletal substance and a new proposed rule seeking to improve procedural compliance, this Note proposes an expanded federal rule to define meaningfully this obligation through concrete, quantitative benchmarks. In the absence of such an expanded rule, this Note suggests guidance on how a court might evaluate compliance with this capacious statutory standard by using housing segregation data in a burden-shifting framework. This Note concludes by addressing workability and constitutionality concerns, evaluating practical hurdles, and testing the proposed rule against the Roberts Court’s jurisprudence on equal protection and federalism. The ultimate purpose is a pragmatic program to achieve the still-unrealized goal that animated the Act’s passage: a truly integrated nation.

Unscrambling the Egg: Social Constructionism and the Antireification Principle in Constitutional Law

Natasha J. Silber

Since the mid-twentieth century, the Court’s developing view on the social construction of identity has driven some of the most fundamental changes in modern equal protection jurisprudence. One of these transformations has been the development of what I call the “antireification principle” in the Court’s affirmative action cases. Under this principle, an important function of constitutional law is to regulate social meaning in accordance with the view that social categories like race are mere constructs. Guided by the antireification norm, the Court has used judicial review to block state action that, in its estimation, treats false constructs as real, important, or enduring. The Court, however, has been highly selective in its application of the principle outside of the race context. Where gender and sexuality are at issue, the Court has been more than willing to cast existing categories as real and even celebrate them.

This Note describes and questions the Court’s selective use of antireification, suggesting that there is no reason, per se, why antireification could not further the goal of social equality in the realms of gender and sexuality. By denying their bases in reality, the Court could—according to the logic of antireification destabilize all such identity constructs and decrease the harms they cause. This Note proceeds to hypothesize a set of explanations for the Court’s selective application of the principle, but ultimately finds each unsatisfying. Finally, it suggests that selective deployment of antireification is symptomatic of inherent contradictions embedded in the structure of contemporary equal protection doctrine, which relies upon fixed identity categories at the same time that it seeks to destroy them.

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