From Issue Spot: SCOTUS Fall 2012 Starting Lineup

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Amid much anticipation, the United States Supreme Court opened its 2012-2013 term on October 1st. At the Boston Bar Association (BBA), we are watching three specific cases with great interest in their impact on civil rights and equality.

Fisher vs. the University of Texas is scheduled for oral arguments on Wednesday, October 10th. The issue at hand in the Fisher case is the diversification of student bodies in higher education. However, the impact of the decision in this case will be far reaching – with the potential to derail whatever progress is being made in advancing diversity in the legal profession.

Fisher challenges the Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger a case challenging the affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan Law School. Our amicus brief in Grutter supported the position that race-based criteria in admissions decisions pass constitutional muster.

We fervently believe that race-conscious policies promote more diverse student bodies, which lead to more racially representative legal communities. This determined our position when we filed an amicus brief this summer in Fisher. If the Court chooses to overturn the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies, the impact on the higher education landscape will be devastating, not just in Texas but throughout the country.

This particular brief was drafted for the Boston Bar Association by Bingham McCutchen on a pro bono basis. Thank you again to the Bingham team –Jon Albano, Deena El-Mallawany and Caleb Schillinger.

Meanwhile we can only hope that the Court will take up another civil rights issue presented in MA v. U.S. DHHS and Gill v. OPM. These two cases –one filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the other by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office – challenge the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex spouses for any federal purpose.

Last winter, the BBA joined an amicus brief drafted by GLAD and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. DOMA presents a challenge to our civil rights, posing a significant threat to fundamental concepts of fairness and equality.

Civil marriage – which allows a couple to seek a license to marry – should not be confused with religious wedding ceremonies that may take place in churches, mosques or synagogues. As a matter of equality under the law, the BBA supports civil marriage for same sex couples. The BBA filed an amicus brief in the landmark case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

We celebrated when theU.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston struck down the section of DOMA that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states that have legalized such unions. We will celebrate again at the 3rd Annual Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion ceremony on November 13th when we honor GLAD and the Attorney General’s Office for their work in this area.

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