Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The Respect for Marriage Act moves forward in the Senate, Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” is halted, DOJ opens a disability rights case, and more.
The U.S. Senate advanced the Respect for Marriage Act. The Act would protect marriage equality, but it notably does not codify Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that invalidated bans on same-sex marriage. Specifically, the Act requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, but it does not require them to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In the lame duck session, all 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted to advance the bill, surpassing the 60-vote threshold needed to defeat the filibuster. The law will still face a final vote in the Senate, then move to the House of Representatives for passage.
A federal judge blocked enforcement of Florida’s HB 7 (“Stop W.O.K.E. Act”). The Act was challenged by a group of multi-racial educators and a student under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs in the case. The judge wrote, “The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian. It should go without saying that ‘[i]f liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’”
Department of Justice opens disability-related investigation in Missouri. The Department will investigate the state’s use of skilled nursing facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifically, the investigation will focus on whether the state “unnecessarily institutionalizes adults with serious mental illness in skilled nursing facilities” and “whether the State’s use of guardianship for people with serious mental illness contributes to unnecessary placements in nursing facilities.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations joined a lawsuit challenging alleged discriminatory zoning practices. The lawsuit is brought against Pittsfield Township, Michigan for allegedly treating a local business owned by a Palestinian-American Muslim differently without proof of any legitimate zoning or regulatory concern of the township. According to CAIR, “Pittsfield Township reportedly has a history of discriminatory zoning practices involving Muslims and Arab-Americans.”
More than 100 organizations and experts signed an open letter in support of Amber Heard. The letter “called for an end to online harassment and intimidation of individuals who report sexual and domestic abuse.” Notable signatories include Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, Constance Wu, and Jaclyn Friedman, along with organizations like the National Women’s Law Center, Women’s March Foundation, National Organization for Women, and Equality Now. The letter responds to the trend of alleged abusers weaponizing defamation law against victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence, as well as the virulent abuse directed at Amber Heard during the infamous defamation trial.