By Molly Crane ’23
Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This week, challenges to ICWA and indigenous sovereignty remain before the Supreme Court to consider certiorari, the new Texas abortion law was temporarily blocked only for this injunction to be subsequently stayed, body camera footage was released depicting police in Minnesota “hunting activists” after George Floyd was murdered, Senators introduced legislation to restore protections in the Voting Rights Act, and more.
This week, Water Protectors continue to resist the construction of Line 3, an Enbridge pipeline which poses dangers to climate, culture, indigenous treaty rights, and indigenous people. Simultaneously, petitions for writ of certiorari regarding challenges to ICWA and indigenous sovereignty have been filed with the Supreme Court, and the outcome of these challenges could undermine indigenous rights–including with respect to Line 3. Water Protectors are expected to deliver a petition with more than one million signatures to President Biden regarding Line 3 this coming Tuesday, October 12th.
On Wednesday, October 6th US District Court Judge Robert Pitman granted the Justice Department’s emergency request for preliminary injunction against the new abortion law in Texas, temporarily barring enforcement of this law. In his 113-page ruling, Judge Pitman stated, “a person’s right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established,” and critiqued the state’s “flagrantly unconstitutional” attempt to evade judicial review by permitting private causes of action. Late Friday, October 8th however, the 5th Circuit placed a temporary administrative stay on the injunction.
In addition, this week President Biden announced the reversal of Trump’s restrictions on family planning clinics, allowing clinics to refer people who are pregnant and seeking an abortion to providers.
The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed California’s ban on private detention centers in their 2-1 Wednesday, October 6th decision. AB-32, a 2019 law requiring the phased closure of private detention centers, aimed to reduce California’s cooperation with immigration detention centers. The 2-1 majority writes the law “cannot stand” because Congress provides “broad discretion” to the Department of Homeland Security, which includes “the right to contract with private companies to operate detention facilities.” In dissent, Judge Mary Murguia wrote that the law makes no mention of immigration or the federal government, arguing the law should instead be treated as a regulation of “health and safety” rather than of immigration. The California Attorney General stated California’s plan to appeal the decision.
Recently released footage from Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) body cameras displays the responses of officers to the uprising following the murder of George Floyd. Officers are depicted firing rubber bullets at people walking outside after curfew, popping car tires, and shouting remarks such as, “We’re hunting activists!” and, “F*** ’em up, gas ’em, f*** ‘em up.” These videos were released by the attorney for Jaleel Stallings, a Black St. Paul veteran with a license to carry who was just acquitted for returning fire in self-defense when MPD officers shot at him from an unmarked van.MPD officers are under investigation for badly beating Stallings while he was face down on the ground.
On Wednesday, October 6th Kristen Clarke, head of DOJ’s civil rights division, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and urged Congress to act quickly in strengthening the Voting Rights Act. One day prior, Senate Democrats proposed new legislation restoring voting protections lost in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021). Clark testified, “I am here today to sound an alarm. For the Justice Department, restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act is a matter of great urgency.”
The Justice Department released findings this week from their investigation into the South Dakota Unified Judicial System (UJS) under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Findings included that people with limited English proficiency (LEP) faced “language barriers and higher court costs within the UJS that made it difficult for LEP individuals to participate in state civil cases and proceedings.” In response, South Dakota passed a new law expanding “access to court interpreters and translators for LEP individuals in all civil cases,” and increased funding to ensure interpreter services are available at no cost to LEP individuals.
On Tuesday, October 5th the state of Missouri killed Ernest Johnson by lethal injection over objections from “racial justice activists, lawmakers and even the pope.” Missouri proceeded with the execution despite evidence that Mr. Johnson experienced behavioral health challenges and intellectual disabilities.