Thursday, January 28, 2010

Equal: Judges strike back, and then strike back again

I just realized how long it's been since I posted a chapter of Equal. My apologies.
Here's two, to make up for it.

23. Judges Strike Back

Chief Justice William Rehnquist's attacks on women's rights were not unusual, which was why his opinion in Vinson was a surprise. But they usually were contained in judicial opinions. But in 1991, Rehnquist attacked VAWA in his year-end report. VAWA would involve the federal courts in a host of domestic disputes, add to the caseload crisis, and degrade the high quality of the federal courts. Only congressional action vital to meeting important national interests was appropriate, which did not include violence against women.

At the time, O'COnnor was the only Supreme Court woman justice; 9 percent of the Courts of Appeals judges were women and fewer than 7 percent of the federal trial judges were women. More than half the district courts had no women judges.

The Conference of Chief Judges of the state supreme courts opposed the civil rights provision as well. Then, a federal judicial impact assessment suggested that VAWA would damage the judiciary, apparently because violence was so pervasive that the courts would be flooded with claims. The need for the law meant the law should be opposed.

Rehnquist formed an ad hoc committee on gender-based violence to prepare a resolution for the Judicial Conference of the United States. Two women judges were appointed to the committee. The committee met with Nourse and was reassured that VAWA would not flood the federal courts, but the Judicial Conference disregarded this assurance and claimed the impact of the law would be more than 20 times greater than the original judicial impact assessment.

In doing so, the judges arguably were going beyond lobbying against legislation but interpreting in opposition to the stated intent of its drafters and before it was considered by Congress. These events coincided with the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, which Biden was conducting.

Rehnquist continued his attack of VAWA on the grounds of federalism, again arguing that the federal courts limited role should be reserved for important national issues. He and other judges began to lobby the ABA to oppose VAWA's civil rights actions.

At a Congressional hearing sponsored by Rep. Chuck Schumer, chair of the House subcommittee on crime and criminal justice, Biden took on the chief justice. He told them that one of the judges in the ad hoc committee had said, in response to a comparison between VAWA and civil righs laws protecting African-Americans, “I wouldn't do it for black folks either.” Biden was challenging the committee to explain the difference between race discrimination and sex discrimination.

24, Seeking Equal Judicial Firepower

VAWA turned to the National Association of Women Judges, which had pioneered research into gender bias in the court system, not only from judges but from male attorneys. They took their work back to their states, sometimes to the chagrin of their male colleagues. New Jersey was first, followed rapidly by other states, including Minnesota. Slowly, the federal courts became involved. “Nourse [recognized] the potential power of almost a decade of surveys and investigations into judicial gender bias led by America's National Association of Women Judges.”

Remembering Angie McCaffrey

The legal community and I lost a friend last night. Professor Angela McCaffrey, director of clinics at Hamline University School of Law, died from ovarian cancer. She was a kind and gentle soul, a loyal friend to Legal Aid, and an inspiration to law students. As the director of legal clinics at Hamline, she was an advocate for the poor and voiceless.

Anglie was married to Assistant Hennepin County Public Defender Mark Cosimini, and mother to Charlie and Michael. Her mother survived the war in Hitler's Germany, and Angie once told me her mom mopped up blood in concentration camps. She was, understandably, an advocate of non-violence and the sort of person who loved origami birds that symbolized peace. She liked to go hear Mark play the blues and she liked to play bridge with us – although not as much as she liked staying home with her kids in the evenings, so we didn't see enough of her. During her cancer treatment her hair came back in very curly, and she thought that was “wild.”

She was not somebody the legal profession, or the world, can afford to lose.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reflections on a SmartTalk

On Monday, hundreds of Minnesota women (and maybe a few men) gathered at Orchestra Hall as the Minneapolis SmartTalk series got underway.

SmartTalk is a lecture series held once a month for the first five months of the year. The mission "stems from the idea that women are inspired by the heart and voice of other remarkable women." The lectures feature about 45 minutes of speech and then 45 minutes of question-and-answer.

The first speaker was former First Lady Laura Bush. Her topic: Life at and after the White House. All politics aside was the theme of the night. Her down-to-earth personality and easy-going nature allowed the audience to really think: what would it be like to live in the White House? How does such a life-altering experience ever allow you to feel at peace?

And even though you had to wonder if Laura Bush had really ever had a normal life once marrying the former President, with the Bush family's heavy involvement with high-stake politics, it made you realize that no matter where you live, certain things, like family, children, and love, always take the top priority.

While the talk may not have inspired all to go out and change the world, that might be the exact point. No matter how much of our lives we dedicate to changing the world, it is the close relationships with others that truly shape the world around us.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Tragic Endings Continue

This morning's Star Tribune features a report on Minnesota's latest domestic dispute to end in tragedy. Three people were found dead on Sunday in a farmhouse in the southern part of the state.

The tribune was able to discover that the people were a 25-year-old woman, her stepfather, and a 28-year-old man who had been charged with assaulting the woman in December. The man, Shaun Haugen, had been released from the local jail just last Thursday after having violated the no contact order.

The tribune reports that this is at least the third such incident in recent months, and further states that:

In 2008, 3,119 of the 10,798 protective orders issued in Minnesota were violated. In 2007, there were 3,365 violations of the 11,374 orders filed. The first violation of an order is a misdemeanor. A second is a gross misdemeanor, and a third is a felony.

One quick Google search lead to one potential thought--tailoring protective orders or security measures when some of the more serious factors are present in a woman's request for a protective order. One study found that two huge indicators of protective order violations and further abuse is any continuing relationship once the order is issued, and any patterns of stalking. Although the courts are already stretched thin on domestic abuse work, there may need to be one extra step in the issuance of such orders to prevent the tragic endings that have been occurring with more and more frequency.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sotomayor profile: She thought she deserved to be a Supreme Court justice

The New Yorker has a really interesting piece on Sonia Sotomayor. I like this story:

Not every senator was charmed by Sotomayor. The day she broke her ankle, she kept an appointment with Senator David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana. Vitter, Sotomayor later told a friend, was unwelcoming. As they were finishing their meeting, Vitter said, “I want to ask you—do you think if I was you, and I had made the wise-Latina comment that you made, that I would have deserved to be a Supreme Court Justice?”

Sotomayor replied, “If you had my record, yes.”

Read more:

Monday, January 4, 2010

ATL readers react with cruelty to sex discrimination filing

Above the Law has a post about lawyer Julie Kamps suing the Big Law firm of Fried Frank for sex discrimination. She worked there as an associate for 10 years, was repeatedly promised partnership, and then was fired. Now she is suing for sex discrimination, claiming sexual harassment. Although what I've read of the complaint is melodramatic and could use a good edit, it sounds like a sad story. What is really annoying, however, are the personal comments. (Annoying, but not surprising. I read them in order to get blog fodder.) "Ugh, look at her. Nobody is going to sexually harass that. I would make her wear a burqua if she worked in my office." Nice. What is the matter with these ATL readers?