Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The Supreme Court allows Congress to discriminate against Puerto Rican Americans in providing access to federal social programs, the ACLU announces two major settlements, the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopts highly partisan legislative maps that entrench Republican power for a decade, and more.
In an 8-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an equal protection claim to extend Supplemental Security Income (SSI) access to residents of Puerto Rico. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Vaello Madero, rejecting the claim that the equal protection element of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process clause requires Congress to make the SSI program available to residents of Puerto Rico to the same extent it does for state residents. Justice Sotomayor dissent, calling the majority’s holding “utterly irrational” and noting it is “especially cruel given those citizens’ dire need for aid.”
The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a stay against the State’s plans to execute Richard Moore by firing squad on April 29. While the court only issued a temporary stay, it plans to release a more detailed order at a later date. In 2021, South Carolina joined Mississippi and Oklahoma in authorizing execution by firing squad in order to restart and speed up State executions. The law is being challenged as an Eighth Amendment violation as cruel and unusual punishment, and Mr. Moore’s sentence is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the basis that his death sentence is a disproportionate punishment compared to similar crimes.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, following orders by the U.S. Supreme Court, adopted new state legislative maps drawn by the State legislature’s Republican-majority. In doing so, the court reversed its earlier decision of adopting more politically representative maps. Its hand was forced by the Supreme Court, which found the state court’s previous decision regarding whether the Voting Rights Act requires an additional Black majority district was not sufficiently carefully considered. Through partisan gerrymandering, the maps adopted by the Wisconsin court will lock in Republican majorities in the state legislature for the next decade.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement in a pregnancy and lactation discrimination case against Frontier Airlines. Although the settlement does not include admission of liability by Frontier Airlines, it does include an agreement by Frontier Airlines to make several policy changes to better accommodate pregnancy and lactation needs. One commitment made by Frontier Airlines is to maintain a recently enacted policy to permit “flight attendants to safely pump during flight with the use of wearable breast pumps.”
The Department of Justice announced a finding that conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary violate the Constitution. Specifically, the Civil Rights Division concluded “there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions and practices” at the facility known as Parchman Farm “violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments…” based on an investigation that began in February 2020. In response, the DOJ sent the State written notice of the findings and provided “the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them in a comprehensive 59-page findings letter.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also announced a major settlement in Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump. The lawsuit involved constitutional rights violations and violence inflicted on protestors, including with tear gas and military-grade weapons, at Black Lives Matter and racial justice demonstrators in June 2020 at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. The Biden Administration agreed to settle the case and committed to important policy changes for the Park Police and Secret Service related to demonstrations, such as requirements to wear visible identification and providing audible warnings before dispersing a crowd in order to protect demonstrators.