Tag Civil Rights

The Military Must Lead in Advocating for Marriage Equality

Matthew Alex Ward

Pictured: Colonel Ginger Wallace and Kathy Knopf.
Credit: American Military Partner Association

Through explicit statements and an array of support programs, the military has demonstrated its deep commitment to military families. In addition, since the passage of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act in 2010, which permitted LGB servicemembers to serve openly, the military has clearly expressed its belief that sexual orientation is a ‘nonissue’ in the military. Given these facts, it would seem that the military would not seek to discriminate between military families based on sexual orientation.

Yet the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) frustrates this logical outcome. DOMA prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and permits states to refuse to acknowledge same-sex marriages from other states. As a result, DOMA prevents the military from supporting all its military families, even as the military recognizes that family readiness improves military readiness and the efforts of military spouses benefit the military. In addition, inconsistent state laws on same-sex marriage create obstacles for LGB military families. Only once same-sex marriage is recognized nationwide will the military be able to make sexual orientation a true nonissue and realize its promise to support the families of all servicemembers. The military must, therefore, lead in the fight for marriage equality.

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Progressive Corporations At Work: The Case of Diversity Programs

Soonhan Kim, Alexandra Kalev, and Frank Dobbin


During the civil rights era in the 1960s, the federal government passed a series of measures to end racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. Yet the laws and regulations did not clearly define what constituted illegal discrimination and gave only weak enforcement power to federal agencies. As a result, over the following decades, corporations themselves have defined how they will comply with civil rights law. Human resources managers have created a series of programs designed to improve the status of women and minorities in the workplace, from formalized hiring and promotion procedures to diversity training to mentoring programs. Since firms have made different decisions about which programs to implement, researchers can track firms across time to study the causes and effects of the various programs.

In this article, we review many studies, some of which are our own, to find out what factors lead firms to implement anti-discrimination programs and which of these programs are actually successful at increasing workforce and management diversity. We find that regulatory pressure from the federal government has become less influential in driving firms to adopt diversity programs. Instead, advocacy from groups within the firm and industry culture have played greater roles in recent decades. We also find that some of the most popular equal opportunity programs are not actually the most effective. Formalized hiring and promotion procedures, diversity training, and grievance procedures do not lead to improvements in workforce diversity. We argue that these programs are ineffective because they treat managers as the source of the problem. The programs that do lead to results, such as recruitment initiatives and diversity taskforces, are successful because they engage managers in finding solutions. We also conclude that members of historically disadvantaged groups do not benefit from networking programs, but they do benefit from mentoring programs, which link them directly to managers who can help them advance in their careers.

Our findings have important public policy implications. Despite progress since the civil rights era, women and minorities are still underrepresented in management-level positions. Therefore, it remains as pressing as ever to understand which programs are effective in promoting workplace equality. The conclusions we present here offer guidance for managers deciding which programs to implement, courts awarding injunctive relief in discrimination suits, and agencies enforcing equal opportunity laws.

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The History of Voter Suppression and VRA’s Section 5 Today

by Sean McMahon

The 2012 election cycle was rife with a new crop of voter suppression measures, designed to reduce the access of minorities, the poor, and limited-English speaking citizens to the polls. Despite these well-documented abuses of the electoral process, advocates have emerged arguing that disenfranchisement of minorities is no longer a major concern and that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – the federal government’s bulwark against disenfranchisement – is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court will decide the fate of Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, a case brought by a district in Alabama asserting that Section 5’s requirements violate federalism and equal protection. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to obtain federal preclearance before changing any voting procedure or regulation. This places the burden on state and local governments that fall under the coverage of Section 5 to justify their new electoral procedures as nondiscriminatory.

In considering whether Section 5 is still necessary today, it is worth reflecting on why such a far-reaching measure was adopted originally. Civil rights leaders understood that limiting access to the polls – even with facially neutral laws – could have a grossly disproportionate impact on minority voters and effectively prevented their participation in the political process. Section 5 is designed to prevent such laws from going into effect and is a major reason the Voting Rights Act has been called “the most effective civil rights law ever enacted.”

Disenfranchisement from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement

Following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, all men “regardless of of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” were formally ensured the right to vote. Yet for nearly a century, people of color were disenfranchised via literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses. Since generations of slavery and racial inequality rendered people of color far less wealthy and educated than whites, these facially neutral laws effectively disenfranchised many African Americans.

After the formation of the NAACP in 1909, African American leaders pursued a strategy to challenge restrictive voting laws. Despite notable victories in cases such as Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347 (1915) (striking down a grandfather clause in Oklahoma and Maryland) and Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) (striking down whites-only Democratic primaries), racist voter suppression was too pervasive to be defeated by individual lawsuits. Furthermore, it was sometimes difficult to prove the government enacted these laws with discriminatory intent, which was necessary to establish an equal protection violation. Compounding the NAACP’s struggle was the fact that a single case could take years to win.

As the Civil Rights Movement gained ground throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, white supremacist tactics evolved and became subtler. Some jurisdictions implemented new facially neutral voting tests purporting to measure understanding of the issues and the character of the voters. Due to longstanding systemic inequality in education and subjective evaluation of good character, these tests effectively barred African Americans from the polls. Incumbent white politicians further disempowered African American voters by gerrymandering voting districts to weaken the black vote and prevent the formation of majority-black districts. In order to halt this deliberate avoidance of the requirements of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress enacted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to force state and local governments across the South to justify any new electoral rules and procedures.

Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson Signs t...

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders look on. (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

The Voting Rights Act to Today: Why Section 5 Is Still Needed to Protect Access to the Political Process

Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and again in 2006; both times, it noted the continued importance of Section 5 despite advancements in racial justice. Jurisdictions under Section 5 persist in proposing regulations that restrict minorities’ access to the polls. The number of Section 5 objections (regulations flagged by the Department of Justice as discriminatory) has declined since the 1960s, but the provision has not fallen into disuse. The Lawyers’ Committee’s National Commission on the Voting Rights Act found that between 1965 and 2004, over half of all objections were made after 1982. Surveying data from 1982 to 2004, the Commission found that out of 800 DOJ requests for more information from state and local governments regarding new rule proposals, 205 rule proposals were withdrawn. Columbia law professor Nathaniel Persily notes that this “gives a sense of how many dogs did not bark as a result of the threat of denial of preclearance.”

In this past election cycle, conservative politicians sought new voting rules in order to reduce Democratic voter turnout. Section 5 has been the strongest defense against voter suppression tactics. In the past year, Section 5 prevented the reduction of early-voting hours in some districts in Florida and blocked a voter ID law in Texas. The court that struck down the Texas ID law noted that the required documentation would be enormously burdensome to obtain, and would disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Recently, federal judges used Section 5 to block a Texas redistricting plan that would have divided a population of African American and Latino voters into new, white-majority districts. Judge Thomas B. Griffith described it as a “deliberate, race-conscious method to manipulate not simply the Democratic vote but, more specifically, the Hispanic vote.”

Jurisdictions under Section 5’s review have complained that it is burdensome and unfair since other jurisdictions do not need to submit to preclearance. However, it is possible to be released from Section 5 preclearance – a jurisdiction simply needs to refrain from proposing a discriminatory electoral law for ten years. Over seventy jurisdictions have successfully done so,and ten jurisdictions in the state of New Hampshire are currently in the process of being released from Section 5 review, which would make it the first entire state to leave Section 5 coverage – though a conservative advocacy group is attempting to block the release as part of a broader strategy to strike down Section 5 as unconstitutional.

Society has changed for the better in the past half-century, and the turnout of minority voters is on the rise. But the amelioration of a problem is not its eradication. Until full and equal participation for people of color in the political process can truly be guaranteed, Section 5 is necessary to enforce their political and civil rights.

Sean is a 2L at NYU and a Staff Editor on the Review of Law & Social Change.

Dr. King and Parents Involved: The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Wendy B. Scott

English: Thomas J. O'Halloran. School integrat...

English: Thomas J. O’Halloran. School integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C., 1955. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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