Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—March 25

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ion Capitol Hill in 2010. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

1987—So much for the express ban on employment discrimination set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Justice Brennan’s majority opinion in Johnson v. Transportation Agency holds that a Santa Clara County agency “appropriately took into account as one factor the sex of Diane Joyce in determining that she should be promoted.”

Never mind that the county’s affirmative-action program explicitly embraced the goal of racial and sex quotas (“attainment of a County work force whose composition … includes women, disabled persons and ethnic minorities in a ratio in all job categories that reflects their distribution in the Santa Clara County area work force”). And never mind that, according to the undisturbed findings of the district court, the county had never discriminated against women in employment and that Joyce’s sex was the “determining factor” in her selection.

As Justice Scalia points out in his dissent, Title VII speaks with “a clarity which, had it not proven so unavailing, one might well recommend as a model of statutory draftsmanship.” But the Supreme Court “completes the process of converting [Title VII] from a guarantee that race or sex will not be the basis for employment determinations, to a guarantee that it often will, and it thus “replace[s] the goal of a discrimination-free society with the quite incompatible goal of proportionate representation by race and sex in the workplace.” In sum: “A statute designed to establish a color-blind and gender-blind workplace has thus been converted into a powerful engine of racism and sexism, not merely permitting intentional race- and sex-based discrimination, but often making it, through operation of the legal system, practically compelled.”

1993—In her plurality opinion in Wyche v. State, Florida chief justice (and, thanks to President Clinton, later Eleventh Circuit judge) Rosemary Barkett strikes down as facially unconstitutional an ordinance that prohibits loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Barkett strains to misread the ordinance as not requiring, as an element of the crime, a specific intent to engage in prostitution. Further, she asserts that even if specific intent were required, the ordinance would still be unconstitutional because of the hypothetical possibility that it could be applied in a manner that would chill First Amendment speech. Never mind that it’s difficult to see how the ordinance would reach any constitutionally protected activity, much less the substantial quantum needed for First Amendment overbreadth doctrine to apply to a facial challenge.

In two other cases that same day (E.L. v. State and Holliday v. City of Tampa), Barkett similarly strikes down as facially unconstitutional ordinances prohibiting loitering for the purpose of engaging in drug-related activity. So much for the ability of crime-ridden communities to combat the scourges of prostitution and drugs.

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