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  Civil Rights - Legal News


People in same-sex relationships in South Carolina should get the same legal protections against domestic violence as heterosexual couples, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday, deeming a portion of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

The court was asked to weigh in after a woman tried to get a protective order against her former fiancée, also a woman, and was denied.

Current law defines "household members" as a spouse, former spouse, people with a child in common, or men and women who are or have lived together. It does not include unmarried same-sex couples.

Acting Justice Costa Pleicones, who wrote the majority opinion, said during oral arguments in March 2016 that he felt the law was "pretty clearly unconstitutional in its discriminatory impact upon same-sex couples."

In his opinion, Pleicones pointed out lawmakers have over the years addressed the definition of "household members" as covered under domestic violence protections in 1994, amending the language from "persons" living together to "male and female." In 2015, during a massive overhaul of South Carolina's criminal domestic violence law, legislators made changes including increasing penalties for offenders but left the gender-based definition intact.

The U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, the court wrote, states, "No state shall ... deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," such as a benefit offered to one class of person but not others.

"In this case, we cannot find a reasonable basis for providing protection to one set of domestic violence victims - unmarried, cohabiting or formerly cohabiting, opposite-sex couples - while denying it to others," the court wrote.

Other states have addressed this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2016 adopted the use of gender-neutral references in family court cases. California and Massachusetts proactively changed language in their laws.


Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is taking her bid for a statewide recount of Pennsylvania's Nov. 8 presidential election to federal court.

After announcing Stein and recount supporters were dropping their case in state court, lawyer Jonathan Abady said they will seek an emergency federal court order Monday.

"Make no mistake — the Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania," Abady said in a statement Saturday night. "We are committed to this fight to protect the civil and voting rights of all Americans."

He said barriers to a recount in Pennsylvania are pervasive and the state court system is ill-equipped to address the problem.

Stein has spearheaded a recount effort in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states with a history of backing Democrats for president that were narrowly and unexpectedly won by Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Stein has framed the campaign as an effort to explore whether voting machines and systems had been hacked and the election result manipulated. Stein's lawyers, however, have offered no evidence of hacking in Pennsylvania's election, and the state Republican Party and Trump had asked the court to dismiss the state court case.




A suburban Denver baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple will argue in court Tuesday that his religious beliefs should protect him from sanctions against his business.

The case underscores how the already simmering tension between religious-freedom advocates and gay-rights supporters is likely to become more heated in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

"What the relationship is between that reality and sort of what that will mean for things like service provisions is where I think the battles will really be fought now," said Melissa Hart, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

The 2012 case before the Colorado Court of Appeals has ignited a passionate debate over whether individuals can cite their beliefs as a basis for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony or if such refusals on religious grounds can lead to discrimination allegations.

Gay couples have won battles in other states.

Last week, the owners of a Portland, Oregon-area bakery that declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple two years ago were ordered to pay $135,000 in damages. Two years ago, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who wouldn't take pictures of a gay couple's 2006 commitment ceremony violated the state's discrimination law.



Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz are among 57 Republicans in Congress who are calling on the Supreme Court to uphold state bans on same-sex marriage.

The congressional Republicans said in a brief filed at the high court Friday that the justices should not impose "a federally mandated redefinition of the ancient institution of marriage" nationwide. The Republicans said the court should let voters and their elected legislatures decide what to do about marriage.

The court will hear arguments on April 28 in cases from McConnell's home state of Kentucky, as well as Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Same-sex couples can marry in 37 states.

Last month, 7 Republicans joined 211 Democrats and independents in Congress in support of same-sex marriage nationwide.



Mississippi's governor and attorney general will have to decide whether to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that is keeping the state's only abortion clinic in business.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 Tuesday to block a 2012 Mississippi law that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

When Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, he said he hoped it would end abortion in the state. In defending the law, state attorneys said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states. But the appellate judges ruled that every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.

Bryant, in a statement late Tuesday, said he was disappointed by the court's ruling.

"This measure is designed to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this potentially dangerous procedure, and physicians who provide abortions should be held to the same standards as physicians who perform other outpatient procedures," Bryant said.


Calif. meets first inmate target set by court

  Civil Rights  -   POSTED: 2012/01/04 11:24

California has met the first target set by federal courts to reduce its inmate population as a way to improve health care in the nation's largest state prison system, prison officials said Tuesday.

Federal judges ordered the state to reduce the population by about 10,000 inmates by the end of 2011, to about 133,000 inmates, as a means to improve the care of mentally and physically ill inmates. The population in the 33 prisons for adults fell to 132,887 as of last week's court-imposed deadline.

"Based on that number, we have met the benchmark," said Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "It's gratifying to see that we have in fact made it."

The state is reducing its population mainly through a new law transferring responsibility for lower level criminals from state prisons to county jails.

The population is now two-tenths of a percentage point under the goal required by the courts. It means the state is on track to reduce the state's inmate population by 33,000, or 23 percent, over two years.

"Headline Civil Rights News" Series

  Civil Rights  -   POSTED: 2009/02/21 16:36

Justice for Women Stalked in the Workplace and Retaliation by Their Employers - The Law Offices of Dawn V. Martin

WaMartin v. Howard University and Alice Gresham Bullock, U.S. Supreme Court No. 08-204.


In 1997, Howard University Law Professor Dawn Martin was stalked on campus by a delusional serial stalker, Leonard Harrison. Despite instructions to Howard University from the Washington D.C. Police Department to implement and improve its campus security, Howard failed to take action, and instead, punished Professor Martin by refusing to renew her teaching contract. The story you are about to watch is the true story of Dawn Martin's 11-year Journey for Justice for her and all women who are stalked in the workplace. The National Organization for Women and The National Association of Women Lawyers join her cause.

When Prof. Martin was stalked by Leonard Harrison, he was searching for the physical embodiment of his "fantasy" wife -- a fictional female character in a book, written by the renowned civil rights Professor, Derrick Bell. Instead of following its own security procedures to ban Harrison from campus, Howard responded to Prof. Martin's requests for protection by refusing to renew her teaching contract. She sued Howard, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination and harassment, on the basis of sex/gender. Prof. Martin alleged that Howard permitted the stalker to harass her on the basis of her gender in her workplace. 78% of stalking victims are women. 54% of female murder victims reported their stalkers to the police before being killed by them. Prof. Martin further alleged that Howard retaliated against her by refusing to renew her teaching contract because she asked for protection from Harrison on campus.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), joined by additional women's and victims' advocacy groups, filed an Amicus Brief in this case, stressing the need to protect stalking victims from employer retaliation. In this powerful TV documentary, Prof. Martin is joined by such esteemed leaders as Kim Gandy (President of NOW); Prof. Derrick Bell, a renowned civil rights leader and university professor; Roberta Wright, who wrote amicus briefs for NOW and NAWL; and Amos Sirleaf, a former Howard University Security Officer.

The Law Offices of Dawn V. Martin represents plaintiffs in civil rights, employment discrimination and personal injury/tort cases. The firm litigates to enforce the rights of employees who have been discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability. Ms. Martin has also been featured on Sky Radio as part of its series on ¡°Salute to Women in Leadership,¡± as noted in TIME Magazine.

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