equal protection

Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Garden Citizens in Action, Inc.

Issues: 

Can disparate impact claims be brought under Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act absent any evidence of intentional discrimination?

(Note: This case settled on November 13, 2013. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on November 15, 2013.)

This case asked whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). That section makes it unlawful “to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” The Township of Mount Holly argued that the plain language of the statute does not permit disparate treatment claims, whereas residents of Mount Holly Gardens argued the opposite. Further, the Township asserted that permitting disparate-impact claims raises constitutional concerns—including Equal Protection Clause and Tenth Amendment violations, but the Residents countered that no such violations result from acknowledging disparate-impact liability under the statute. This case presented the Supreme Court with the opportunity to definitively rule on whether the FHA allows for disparate-impact claims. On November 13, 2013, the parties settled, and on November 15, 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Are disparate impact claims cognizable under the Fair Housing Act?

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Facts

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which includes the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), to secure equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.

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Madigan v. Levin

Issues: 

Does the Age Discrimination in Employment Act provide the sole vehicle for age discrimination claims under federal law or are the claims covered under the Equal Protection Clause via 42 U.S.C. § 1983?

Respondent Harvey N. Levin was an Assistant Attorney General (“AAG”) for the state of Illinois until his employment was terminated in May 2006. Levin sued Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other state Petitioners under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Equal Protection Clause via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Madigan argues the ADEA precludes Levin’s § 1983 claim. Levin contends the ADEA does not preclude a § 1983 claim for age discrimination and even if the ADEA does preclude such a claim, the ADEA does not apply to him because he is not an “employee” for ADEA purposes. In contrast with four other circuit decisions, the Seventh Circuit held that the ADEA does not preempt § 1983 claims. If the lower court’s ruling stands, Levin will be able to pursue his age discrimination claim in court. The Supreme Court can decide what avenues government workers have to pursue age discrimination claims. The decision will also impact the volume of cases that states, and other levels of government, will need to defend.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the Seventh Circuit erred in holding, in an acknowledged departure from the rule in at least four other circuits, that state and local government employees may avoid the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act's comprehensive remedial regime by bringing age discrimination claims directly under the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Facts

In 2000, at the age of 55, Levin began working as an AAG for the state of Illinois. See Levin v. Madigan, 692 F.3d 607, 609 (7th Cir. 2012). After six years and a promotion to Senior AAG, Madigan’s office terminated Levin’s employment.

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United States v. Windsor

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer married in Toronto in 2007 where same-sex marriages were legal. At the time of Spyer’s death, the state of New York recognized the couple’s marriage. However, the IRS denied Windsor use of a spousal estate tax exception on the ground that, under the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits.
 The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide DOMA’s Constitutionality. The Obama Administration is not defending DOMA, so a Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) from the House of Representatives is doing so, arguing that DOMA is rationally related to the legitimate government objective of providing a uniform definition of marriage for federal benefits purposes. The Obama administration counters that the use of sexual orientation to decide who gets benefits is a suspect classification that deserves higher scrutiny. Under that level of higher scrutiny, the Obama administration argues that DOMA is impermissible.
 This case can affect what role the federal government can play in defining marriage and who in the federal government can defend the government’s laws. Not only could this case provide large tax savings to Ms. Windsor herself, but it can also make federal benefits available to other same-sex couples who are legally married under the laws of their state.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Section 3 of DOMA defines the term “marriage” for all purposes under federal law, including the provision of federal benefits, as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” 1 U.S.C. 7. It similarly defines the term “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Ibid. The question presented is:

Whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their state. 

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following questions: whether the executive branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the BLAG has Article III standing in this case. 

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Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank Professor Michael C. Dorf for his insights into this case and former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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Hollingsworth v. Perry

In November 2008, 52.3 percent of California voters approved Proposition 8, which added language to the California Constitution that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In May 2009, a California District Court ruled that Proposition 8 violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and temporarily prohibited its enforcement, and the Ninth Circuit agreed, affirming the District Court’s ruling. The United States Supreme Court will now consider whether a state can define marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman, in addition to considering whether the proponents of Proposition 8 have standing to bring suit in federal court. The Court’s ruling will implicate the rights of gay men and lesbians, the role of the government in structuring family and society, and the relationship between the institution of marriage and religion and morality.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

1. Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the state of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. 

2. Whether petitioners have standing under Article III, §2 of the Constitution in this case.

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Issues

1. Does a state violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by defining marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman?

2. Do the official proponents of a state ballot initiative have standing to appeal a judgment invalidating that initiative?

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Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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State of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

The state of Arizona passed Proposition 200 by popular referendum. Proposition 200 requires that a person must present proof of citizenship when registering to vote and a voter must present identification when casting a ballot. Multiple parties sued the state of Arizona, arguing that Congress had preempted the states in this area of election law with the National Voter Registration Act. While the Ninth Circuit ruled that the National Voter Registration Act superseded the registration requirement, the court also held that the identification requirement at a polling place is legal. Arizona is now appealing the registration requirement to the Supreme Court, arguing that this falls within their powers and the lower courts are taking a broader view of preemption that is not in line with the past rulings of the Supreme Court. The outcome of this case will play a large role in the ability of the states to pass laws governing voter registration, and the Court’s evaluation of preemption will likely have a large effect on the balance of power between the states and federal government.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Did the court of appeals err 1) in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution ("the Elections Clause") that is contrary to this Court's authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions, and 2) in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote?

Issue

Does the National Voter Registration Act preempt state law to the level that lower courts should afford Congress greater deference under the Elections Clause?

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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (11-345)

Petitioner Abigail Fisher, a white Texan, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin for the Fall 2008 entering class. Fisher sued the university, arguing that the denial violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection because she was denied admission to the public university in favor of minority applicants with lesser credentials. Fisher contends that the university’s admission policy cannot survive strict scrutiny as required by Grutter v. Bollinger. The university argues that its admissions policy is essentially identical to the policy upheld in Grutter. It asserts that its use of a holistic admissions process, considering race as one factor for admission, creates a diverse student body that benefits the entire university. This case allows the Supreme Court to reexamine Grutter, and it will have far-reaching implications for university admissions policies and racial demographics in schools throughout the United States.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

May the University of Texas at Austin consider race in undergraduate admissions decisions under the Fourteenth Amendment?

Issue

Does a public university violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when it considers race in admissions decisions?

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