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First Monday Preview: The Assault On Civil Rights Law From The Right

Next Monday, February 4th at 3 pm ET/noon PT, we’ll have our next installment of the First Monday series on law, politics and you. Our topic will be the assault on civil rights laws in the last few years, with the impact of the Roberts Court on years of civil rights precedents front and center, with a great film on the issue courtesy of Alliance For Justice.

In case you’ve somehow missed it, the Roberts Court has been gutting civil rights laws in a systematic effort to overturn years of work on equality and the precedents designed to protect less powerful Americans from the whims of the powerful. Via NYTimes:

One of the most troubling rulings was in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant who was paid less than her male colleagues after she was given smaller raises over several years. The court’s conservative majority ruled that Ms. Ledbetter had not met the 180-day deadline to file her complaint. It insisted that the 180 days ran from the day the company had made the original decision to give her a smaller raise than the men.

The ruling made no sense, since Ms. Ledbetter was being discriminated against when she made her complaint. As a practical matter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in a strongly worded dissent, it would have been exceptionally difficult for Ms. Ledbetter to complain when she was first given a lower raise than the male supervisors because Goodyear, like many employers, kept salaries and raises confidential.

The Fair Pay Restoration Act, one of Senator Kennedy’s bills, would undo the injustice of the Ledbetter decision by establishing that the 180-day deadline runs from when a worker receives the unequal pay, not when the employer decided to discriminate. It would make clear that each discriminatory paycheck restarts the clock.

Mr. Kennedy’s other bill, the Civil Rights Act of 2008, would reverse more bad decisions. One of these is a 2001 ruling that says that people who are discriminated against in programs using federal funds can sue only for intentional discrimination, not for actions that have a discriminatory effect. This decision dramatically scaled back protections against discrimination of all kinds.

More background on the Ledbetter case and Justice Ginsburg’s stinging dissent to the 5-4 decision here, and analysis of its longer-term impact on gender discrimination laws here. And, at a time when the civil rights division of the Department of Justice has been used to launder voter roll purging schemes and other politicized agendas that use the power of the state against less powerful minorities, the entire system of laws and protections envisioned by civil rights activists has been undercut in the courts.

All of this has roots in the political decisions that we make. And, come Monday, we’ll discuss civil rights laws, the courts, the Congress, and what all of us can do in the voting booth and beyond. Hope you will join us for the next First Monday…

(YouTube is a live Marvin Gaye performance from 1973, featuring James Jamerson on bass. Great stuff…)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com