Obama Plans Action on Discriminatory Supreme Court Ruling

While I wrote yesterday about how the Congressional Democrats may be planning to drag their feet on the issue of stem cell research, there is better news.  It’s being speculated that they plan to take swift action on the issue of the Lilly Ledbetter decision and equal pay.  The Ledbetter decision ruled that one could not sue for pay discrimination if it began more than 180 days prior — rather than each new paycheck being considered a new act of discrimination — even if the party being discriminated against was not previously aware of the discrimination.

As a senator, Mr. Obama was a co-sponsor of a bill to overturn the Supreme Court decision. In the final presidential debate, he said he would appoint judges who understood the struggles of “real-world folks” like Ms. Ledbetter.

The legislation would essentially relax the statute of limitations under various civil rights laws, giving people more time to file charges. President Bush threatened to veto the bill, but Mr. Obama is eager to sign it.

“Obama said he would see me in the White House when he signs the bill,” Ms. Ledbetter said in an interview.

Mr. Obama describes the bill as part of a broader effort by his incoming administration to “update the social contract,” reinvigorate civil rights and close the pay gap between men and women.

As the NY Times outlines, the Ledbetter ruling has had incredibly wide-reaching, and increasingly outrageous, effects beyond just equal pay:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reached a similar conclusion in a lawsuit by blacks who had applied unsuccessfully for jobs as firefighters in Chicago. Judge Richard A. Posner cited the Ledbetter case in rejecting their contention that they were victims of a “continuing violation” of the civil rights law.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit extended this logic to a housing discrimination case in Idaho. The ruling significantly limits the ability of plaintiffs to enforce their rights under the Fair Housing Act.

The Idaho plaintiff, Noll Garcia, uses a wheelchair. He said his apartment violated federal standards because it was not readily accessible. Under the law, he had two years to challenge a “discriminatory housing practice” in court.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, writing for the majority, said this two-year period began when construction of the building was complete. Mr. Garcia lost out because he filed suit in 2003 — within two years of renting the apartment, but 10 years after it was built.

As could have been easily anticipated — if not to this ludicrous extent — the ruling is being used to uphold oppression by protecting those who blatantly flaunt anti-discrimination laws.  People being discriminated against are seemingly being asked to take responsibility for that discrimination (rather than, you know, the ones doing the discriminating), and even worse, it includes situations where they cannot possibly win.

Let’s hope the speculation is correct, and the law that will repair this mess is quickly passed.


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5 comments for “Obama Plans Action on Discriminatory Supreme Court Ruling

  1. Kristen (The J one)
    January 6, 2009 at 11:17 am

    The problem with the Ledbetter decision (IMO) was not the law, but the judges. Ginsburg pretty clearly had the better argument in the dissent. Pay discrimination is more analogous to harassment than it is to termination.

    But, you get conservative judges on the bench and these are the consequences.

    And the day Posner comes out with an opinion I like…is the day I’ll resign from the bar. A little economic knowledge is a dangerous thing and too often he bases his opinions on his (very) little economic knowledge.

  2. January 6, 2009 at 11:34 am

    The problem with the Ledbetter decision (IMO) was not the law, but the judges. Ginsburg pretty clearly had the better argument in the dissent. Pay discrimination is more analogous to harassment than it is to termination.

    From what I’ve read (I’m no legal expert!), it seems that way to me, too. The problem is that there seems to be no other alternative, now that the ruling has been made, other than to change the law and make it more explicit.

  3. Kristen (The J one)
    January 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

    “The problem is that there seems to be no other alternative, now that the ruling has been made, other than to change the law and make it more explicit.”

    True. And for some cases this will work. In other cases, conservative judges will just find another reason to dismiss these cases or reduce any potential verdicts. There are a million ways for a judge to influence the outcome of litigation, many of which are within hir discretion.

    In my opinion, the biggest reason why we need to build a long term coalition in the democratic party is not to have a majority in Congress or to enact short to medium term ideas, but because the lives of tens of thousands of people are effected every day by judicial selections. The federal bench is supposed to be where the disenfranchised can turn when no one else will listen, but it has slowly become the standard bearer for the majority and the status quo.

    But I’ll stop ranting now….

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