University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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The site home page highlights cases that seem to us particularly interesting—because they are being litigated right now, or because they involve large numbers of people and very consequential issues, or because of their historical importance. We change out those featured cases periodically, and this page is where we put the previous choices.

Since the Supreme Court's June 26, 2013, decision in Windsor v. United States, holding the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional as an affront to the equality of same-sex couples, litigation has multiplied. The Court emphasized in Windsor that it was NOT holding that states had to allow same-sex marriages: "This opinion and its holding are confined to . . . lawful marriages," it said. In many states, then, challenges to bans on same-sex marriage have proceeded. And so far, each federal district court court to address the question has found that marriage equality is constitutionally compelled. Today, the first appellate decision joined that crowd. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the same-sex marriage ban in Utah. All those decisions, and lots of background on the cases, are part of the Clearinghouse's large collection of same-sex marriage cases, available here.

Relevant case(s) include:
The 6th Circuit federal appeals court ruled on November 15, 2012 that Michigan's ban on affirmative action, enacted by voters in 2006, is unconstitutional. The amendment to the state's constitution, known as Proposal 2, followed on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that upheld university affirmative action of limited scope. In an 8-7 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Proposal 2 because, the court held, it creates unfair barriers to minority participation in the political process. The Supreme Court is currently reconsidering higher education affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas, which was argued October 10, 2012. Nonetheless, in a surprise announcement, the Supreme Court announced on March 25, 2013, that it would also review this matter; arguments will be in the fall.

Relevant case(s) include:
In Biediger v. Quinnipiac University, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit just ratified the plaintiffs' trial court victory, affirming a district court ruling subjecting Quinnipiac University's athletic program to court supervision, until it remedied its discrimination against women athletes.

When Quinnipiac University announced in 2009 it was shutting down its varsity women's volleyball team, team members and their coach sued, arguing that Quinnipiac discriminated against its female students by denying them varsity athletic participation opportunities equal to male students, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Judge Underhill, District of Connecticut, agreed in 2010. In two opinions in 2010, Judge Underhill had chronicled numerous shady practices by the University that inflated the number of female athletes counted, without corresponding athletic opportunities for women students. He held that the University’s competitive cheerleading team was too underdeveloped and disorganized to qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX; that Quinnipiac was impermissibly triple counting women cross-country runners (tallying them, as well, as participants in indoor and outdoor track, even when they did not in fact so participate); and that some women's teams rosters were padded, to increase their number without actually providing varsity athletic opportunities to the extra women listed. The Court required Quinnipiac to comply with Title IX, and not to do away with volleyball for at least a year. The Court of Appeals, endorsed each finding in an opinion dated August 7, 2012, by Judge Reena Raggi.

Back in the district court, Quinnipiac is now arguing that they've come into compliance and therefore the injunction should be dismissed. Trial on that issue is set to conclude in March 2013. All the details follow the link below.

Relevant case(s) include:
We've recently completed coding on our current collection of Indigent Defense cases. States, counties, and cities have all taken different approaches as to how to fulfill the the Supreme Court's command in Gideon v. Wainwright that it was the government's obligation to provide for the assistance of counsel to each felony defendant who cannot afford a lawyer.

Some states have formed state-wide public defender offices--including Colorado, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. In other states, it is up to counties and cities to decide how to fulfill their indigent defense obligation, and those counties have formed their own public defender offices, like San Francisco, New Orleans, Cook County (Chicago), and Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor). Still other jurisdictions have contracted the work out to non-profits and private attorneys, to provide indigent defense on an hourly or per annum basis.

Our collection of cases relating to indigent defense is varied. Some cases challenge the caseloads of state public defenders. Other cases challenge the funding that the state provides for indigent defense. More recent cases directly challenge states as failing to meet their obligations by not having a state-wide public defender system.

The whole collection is here.

We've recently added to the Clearinghouse's large collection of fair housing and fair lending cases; we're now posting documents from the U.S. Department of Justice's recent huge fair lending settlements, with Countrywide ($335 million--the largest settlement of its kind ever), Suntrust ($21 million) and, most recently, Wells Fargo ($125 million). Each one settles allegations of systematic race discrimination in mortgage lending, making it more expensive for African-Americans and Latinos to obtain home loans.

Relevant case(s) include:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided Arizona v. U.S., the case challenging S.B. 1070, an Arizona statute that attempted to augment federal immigration enforcement. The Obama administration argued that the state statute illegitimately regulated matters that must be strictly federal, and the Court largely agreed. The Court declined at this point to strike down Section 2(B) of S.B. 1070, the "show us your papers" provision, which requires state police to check the immigration status of people arrested under non-immigration state law, but did not uphold the provision, either. Its constitutionality will turn on how it is construed; if it is held not to authorize extra detention time, it may be constitutional.

There are five other states with similar pending lawsuits, listed below.

In addition, we have loads of information about nearly fifty other state and local immigration enforcement cases here.

Relevant case(s) include:
As a new project, the Clearinghouse is adding same-sex marriage cases to the collection. Check back as that collection grows; it's posted here. (It includes the Massachusetts cases in which the first Court of Appeals held DOMA unconstitutional, on May 31, 2012.)

Relevant case(s) include:
On May 21, 2012, 43 Catholic organizations brought 12 federal lawsuits in U.S. district courts around the country, seeking injunctions against the requirement that their health care plans cover contraception. They alleged violations of their free speech and free exercise rights under the Constitution, and also of the Administrative Procedures Act.

All 12 cases are grouped together as a special collection here.

Relevant case(s) include:
Late in 2011, a class of female employees of the Nassau County New York Police Department, represented by private counsel, settled their six-year litigation to enforce their right to pay and employment opportunities equal to those of their male counterparts. On December 22, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York approved a $7,000,000 class settlement. No injunctive relief was included in the settlement.

Many equal employment cases are brought by the EEOC or the U.S. Department of Justice, but most of these cases are litigated by private attorneys. You can find other large-scale private employment discrimination class actions in this Clearinghouse special collection.

Relevant case(s) include:
Late in 2011, a state-wide settlement in Georgia set new standards for the quantity and quality of state-provided counsel for indigent criminal defendants in new trial and appellate proceedings. The parties agreed in this state-court litigation that because of the litigation, a vast backlog of requests for counsel had cleared; the settlement set up procedures to ensure that, going forward, persons entitled to representation will no longer have to wait years for help.

Relevant case(s) include:
In 2003, persons with mobility impairments who rely on wheelchairs successfully sued Philadelphia's regional transit agency (SEPTA) when it reconstructed sections of its Center City station without making these sections accessible.

After lengthy litigation, lasting from 2003 through early 2011, the Third Circuit agreed with the Plaintiffs and in doing so, established definitions of key portions of the laws protecting persona with disabilities.

Relevant case(s) include:
In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington, the Supreme Court has ruled that jails act reasonably under the Fourth Amendment when they require all new arrestees to be strip searched by deputies, regardless of the reason for arrest. This was the approach taken in the 3d and 9th Circuit courts; the other federal Courts of Appeals had answered this question the other way, finding that the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches limited strip searches to cases involving violent or drug offenses, or in which there is individualized reason to suspect the arrestee of possessing contraband.

The Clearinghouse has a large collection of class and individual actions alleging unreasonable jail strip searches, many of which had resulted in large money settlements for plaintiffs, as a group. For those cases with injunctive components, presumably the covered jails may now be considering whether to seek amendment of the injunctions.

Relevant case(s) include:
Discrimination on the basis of race can take many forms. In this case, the first of its kind to be filed against a federal agency, people of color who applied for jobs with the 2010 U. S. Census claimed the Census screened out applicants when their names showed up in an FBI database, indicating a match with an arrest record. These denied applicants were given 30 days to produce official documentation to refute the disqualification, but the process was onerous and in many cases impossible.

Further, because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans far exceed those of whites nationwide, the rejected applicants claim that the policy unlawfully discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, and national origin.

More information about the lawsuit is available at www.censusdiscriminationlawsuit.com.

Relevant case(s) include:
On October 3, 2008, the American Council of the Blind won a landmark disability discrimination case against the U.S. Treasury. The government may not approve any new designs for its paper money unless the bills can be easily distinguished by persons who are blind or have other vision impairments.

Judge Robertson wrote, “[t]here was a time when disabled people had no choice but to ask for help – to rely on the ‘kindness of strangers.’ It was thought to be their lot. Blind people had to ask strangers to push elevator buttons for them. People in wheelchairs needed Boy Scouts to help them over curbs and up stairs. We have evolved, however, and Congress has made our evolution official, by enacting the Rehabilitation Act, whose stated purpose is ‘to empower individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society.’”

In May 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the government’s appeal and sent the case back to Judge Robertson. The case is ongoing, with six-month status reports coming in from the government.

Relevant case(s) include:
In this lawsuit in 1995-1996, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and several other plaintiffs, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the League of Women Voters brought suit against the State of Illinois, which was refusing to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), 42 U.S.C. Section 1973gg, et seq., usually known as the Motor Voter law. The State argued that the Constitution did not authorize Congress to force state governments to administer federal programs, here a program for facilitating the registration of voters in federal elections. Both the district court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Act against this challenge, and Illinois proceeded to implement the statute.

This case has been the subject of a great deal of recent interest--including a large number of requests that it be featured in the Clearinghouse--because ACORN and several other plaintiffs were represented by Barack Obama. As a service to anyone interested, we've posted a great many documents and opinions in the case.

Relevant case(s) include:
Many hundreds of people have come to this site looking for this case, in which Barack Obama was one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. Here's a summary. For more information on the case, click on its name, below. We've posted public versions of most of the most important documents.

Plaintiffs filed their class action lawsuit on July 6, 1994, alleging that Citibank had engaged in redlining practices in the Chicago metropolitan area in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691; the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619; the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1982. Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendant bank rejected loan applications of minority applicants while approving loan applications filed by white applicants with similar financial characteristics and credit histories. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, actual damages, and punitive damages.

The case was certified as a class action in 1995, and settled three years later. The settlement is posted.

Relevant case(s) include:
The California prison system—the largest state system—incarcerated about 160,000 people on any given day in 2010. It is subject to a large number of system-wide cases in which courts have found serious constitutional violations or violations of prior settlement agreements. The most costly of these cases, Plata, concerns medical care, which has at this point been turned over to a court-appointed receiver. It has become apparent that solving the constitutional problems will cost billions of dollars.

In three of the cases—Plata, Coleman (mental health care), and Armstrong (disability discrimination)—the plaintiffs asked for imposition of a population cap on the California system, as a constitutionally necessary remedy. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, such a cap may be entered only by a specially constituted three-judge district court. Judge Wilken stayed consideration of the motion in Armstrong, but such a panel was convened to decide the issue in Plata and Coleman. The three-judge court found that a population cap necessary to cure the constitutional violations that have long existed with respect to the provision of medical and mental health care. Considering the strict requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act for entry of a population cap, the court found (as required by the statute as a prerequisite to such an order) that overcrowding is the primary cause of these violations. It approved a population limit of 137.5% of design capacity, and it ordered the state to submit a plan as to how best it can reduce the current prison population from its then-extant level of more than 190% of design capacity. No immediate release of prisoners was ordered. Rather, the reduction in prison population of over 40,000 was required to be accomplished by the state over a two-year period, through a combination of various measures previously recommended by numerous state commissions and committees, including through the early release of some non-dangerous prisoners or the diversion to other forms of custody or supervision of other individuals, such as technical parole violators who are currently returned to prison for short periods.

The PLRA also requires courts considering population caps to assess the impact on public safety. The court found that the overcrowding in the prisons led to "criminogenic" conditions, which resulted in more crimes being committed by former prisoners and an increase in the recidivism rate. It also determined that, with adequate safeguards and improved rehabilitation and re-entry programs, the state could ensure that the order would result in an increase in public safety.

California appealed as of right to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the Order violated the Prison Litigation Reform Act; the order was stayed pending that appeal. On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the three-judge panel decision. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court resolved the jurisdictional and substantive issues in favor of the Plaintiffs, most significantly affirming the order to cap the prison population at 137.5% of design capacity within two years of the decision.

On remand, the state has taken a number of steps to bring down population, in paritcular, altering the parole system. See the individual case pages for much more detail.

Relevant case(s) include:
In this ongoing litigation in Missouri state court, plaintiffs argued that the Missouri Constitution's right to vote was violated by a state statute requiring would-be voters to present a state- or federal-issued photo id at the polls. In September 2006, the state circuit court held the statute unconstitutional and entered a declaratory judgment and injunction forbidding state and county officials from implementing the law.

In October 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. Over the sole dissent of Justice Limbaugh, the court held that the law burdened the fundamental right to vote and violated the equal protection provisions of the Missouri Constitution.

Relevant case(s) include: