A Statement from:
The African American Policy Forum? American Civil Liberties Union? Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)? Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law? Center for Constitutional Rights? Community Service Society? Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund? Legal Action Center? National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS)? National Health Law Program (NHeLP)? NLG/Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice (the Guild Law Center)? National Senior Citizens Law Center? New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI)? Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp. Legal Services? NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund? Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund (PRLDEF)? Urban Justice Center? Welfare Law Center? Lisa Alexander? Rachel Godsil? Denise Morgan? Sara Rosenbaum? Rand Rosenblatt? Joel Teitelbaum
June 28, 2001
In these final days of the Supreme Court's term, civil rights groups and individuals committed to social justice from across the nation are jointly announcing grave concerns about what is undeniably a rollback of civil rights laws by the Supreme Court. Through this collective statement, we hope to call attention to decisions that signal a historic retreat from judicial protection of civil rights.
In a series of 5-4 decisions, the Supreme Court has invalidated or weakened parts of a number of Congressionally enacted federal rights, including several designed to protect the civil rights of women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and workers over 40 years of age. Because the Court's work so often involves technical legal language–for example, questions involving ?sovereign immunity? or ?private rights of action?–many Americans may find it difficult to understand the significance of what is happening. We are coming together to heighten public awareness.
The Court has taken steps to change fundamentally the powers of the national government, accomplishing this transformation in a string of opinions that routinely ignore precedent, as well as tenets of basic justice. These opinions thwart the will of the Congress and the electorate. In cases such as Kimel and Garrett, the Court has sharply restricted Congressional authority to enact laws to protect the rights of the American people and to enforce the prohibitions against discrimination in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And in Sandoval, the Court closed off access to the courts for individuals and communities challenging racially discriminatory practices and policies. No longer can private individuals bring suit directly under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to challenge the siting of a disproportionate number of environmental hazards in communities of color, or inequalities in state funding of public schools.
Most recently, in Buckhannon, the Court dealt yet another blow to civil rights enforcement, limiting the ability of civil rights groups to obtain attorneys fees and providing a disincentive for defendants to agree to judicially enforceable consent decrees to settle cases.
This is not about any single issue, such as abortion, affirmative action, or the separation of church and state, although each of these is, of course, important. These decisions concern the very structure and powers of our national government, and the authority of the national government to protect civil rights. They will have a wide impact on the lives of the American people.
In particular, we are extremely concerned about three cases decided by the Court this term. Taken together, the following cases reflect a major shift in the Court?s treatment of Congressional authority to enact civil rights laws and the right of Americans to enforce these laws.
- Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001),
- Alexander v. Sandoval, 121 S. Ct. 1511 (2001), and
- Buckhannon v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 121 S. Ct. 1835 (2001).
We would also like to call attention to a number of other cases decided by the Court in the past few years that also raise concern:
- United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000),
- Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62 (2000),
- Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999),
- College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd., 527 U.S. 666 (1999),
- Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999),
- Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997),
- Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 521 U.S. 261 (1997),
- Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996), and
- United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995).