Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Domestic Violence Offenders

By: Amanda DiLiberto

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

In 1996, Congress passed 18 U.S.C.S §922(g)(9), forbidding anyone convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess firearms.  In passing this law, Congress considered the strong connection between gun violence and domestic violence.

On March 24, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Castleman.  Here, the respondent, James Castleman, had been previously convicted under Tennessee law for the offense of having “intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to his child’s mother.  Several years later, federal authorities discovered that Castleman was selling firearms illegally.  Castleman was charged with two counts of violating §922(g)(9).  The question before the Court was “whether this conviction qualifie[d] as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

To be considered a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” an element of the crime must be “the use or attempted use of physical force.”  It is this phrase that the Court focused on throughout the majority of its analysis.

In its 9-0 decision, the Court concluded that the requirement of “physical force” was satisfied.  To aid in its decision, the Court reviewed Castleman’s original indictment.  The language of the indictment made it clear that the use of physical force was an element of Castleman’s conviction.  Thus Castleman’s conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under §922(g)(9).

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 


United States v. Castleman, 572 S.Ct. 1 (2014).

18 U.S.C.S. § 922(g)(9).

Is a Corporation Religious?

By: Joseph Chirdon

Blog Category: Race & Religion

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether for-profit corporations can deny female employees contraception based on religious beliefs. The lead plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, believes it should be exempt from providing certain contraception that they would be mandated to provide under the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA), including IUDs and morning-after pills. One argument is that “the court has never found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law.” The Justice Department argues that exempting corporations from commonly applied law would cause havoc with ramifications to child labor laws and mandates to serve racially diverse groups.

In 1990, the Supreme Court decided that as long as a generally applied law is neutrally applied it is constitutional despite religious opposition. In response Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Under the RFRA, if the law imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, it must meet a high threshold for justification. Hobby Lobby’s burden – opting out of the AHA – comes with a 26 million dollar penalty. However, 26 million is less than it currently pays for employee healthcare insurance. Assuming the justices apply the RFHA test, they must decide whether the AHA penalty imposes a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby and whether sexual discrimination or other arguments made by the Justice Department meet the high threshold for justification.

Of the various arguments made, the writer found the argument of former Clinton administration Solicitor General, Walter Dellinger, most persuasive:

“Here the 13,000 employees of the Hobby Lobby corporate enterprise aren’t and should not be expected to share the religious beliefs of the Greens. What you really have is one family attempting to utilize their economic leverage to impose their religious beliefs on others.”

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


Nina Totenberg, Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Case Goes Before Supreme Court, NPR (Mar. 25, 2014, 3:18 AM), available at

Supreme Court Unanimously Votes to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

By: Jamilah Espinosa

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic violence abusers.  On March 26, 2014, the court announced its decision in United States v. Castleman, ruling in favor of the Obama Administration and advocates for victims of domestic violence, by overturning a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. James Castleman, a resident of Tennessee, had been convicted of assaulting the mother of his child in 2001, and when he faced gun-related charges in 2009, he was also charged with illegal possession because prosecutors argued that his domestic-violence misdemeanor conviction prevented from owning a gun.

Under federal law, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence—defined as involving “physical force”—is banned from possessing a gun. Castleman had pled guilty to the offense of causing “bodily injury” to the mother of his child, but now argued that that crime was not sufficiently “violent” to make him fall under the federal gun ban. The exact nature of the injuries sustained by Castleman’s victim was not articulated in court records.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court, emphasizing that domestic violence takes varied forms  and that it is a crime that doesn’t always reflect what most people view as “violent,” because it can involve pushing, shoving, scratching, or grabbing. She further emphasized that in many states this type of behavior is prosecuted under battery laws, which meant some courts won’t consider such convictions to be domestic violence. Justice Sotomayor said it was enough that Castleman pleaded guilty to having “intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury to” the mother of this child, further explaining, “because Castleman’s indictment make clear that physical force was an element of his conviction, that conviction qualifies as ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.’” However, the Supreme Court made clear these types of offenses are enough to subject a convicted domestic violence abuse to the federal gun ban.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 


United States v. Castleman, 572 S.Ct. 1 (2014).

Adam Liptak, Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence, N.Y. Times, Mar. 26, 2014, available at

Impact on Minority Populations of State Refusals to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

By: Aaron Kostyk

Blog Category: Race & Healthcare

The recent Supreme Court decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius struck down federal penalties on states that refuse to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). The Court held that these penalties exceeded the scope of the government’s spending powers. This made the expansion of Medicaid programs essentially voluntary on a state by state basis. Not surprisingly, some states don’t want to accept federal funds to expand their programs. As of October 22, 2013, twenty six states were moving forward with Medicaid expansion and twenty four were not.

Refusal to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion creates a “gap” in coverage between existing Medicaid programs and subsidies under the ACA and minorities account for a significant portion of the persons in this gap. Minority populations are more likely to be uninsured than the White population (13%), as compared with nonelderly Hispanics (32%), followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives (27%), Blacks (21%), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (18%). These populations are also more likely to have issues accessing affordable healthcare. Furthermore, given that roughly six out of ten Medicaid recipients are persons of color, minorities are more likely to be disproportionately affected by state refusals to expand their Medicaid programs. People in the gap who fall between one hundred percent of the federal poverty level (the current level of Medicaid coverage) and one hundred and thirty eight percent of the federal poverty level (the level at which ACA subsidies apply) will again be without options if states refuse to accept the money to cover them. The ACA has the potential to improve access to healthcare for historically under served populations. Furthermore, it is important to note that the majority of Medicaid recipients are children. In conclusion, states should set aside ideology and act in the best interest of their most vulnerable populations by expanding Medicaid.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2607 (2012).

Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity: The Potential Impact of the Affordable Care Act, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, available at, (publication #8423).

Samantha Artiga & Jessica Stephens, The Impact of Current State Medicaid Expansion Decisions on Coverage by Race and Ethnicity, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, July 02, 2013, available at, (publication #8450).

Status of State Action on the Medicaid Expansion Decision, as of October 22, 2013, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, available at (last visited Oct. 26, 2013).

A Landmark Decision or just an Affirmation?

By: Morgan Davis
Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas was greatly anticipated, but when the 13-page decision was issued, was it really a decision at all? The Court’s 7-1 decision reaffirmed the Court’s position that diversity in higher education is of great importance. However, the Court declined to settle the ongoing dispute of the legality or constitutionality of affirmative action. Ultimately, the case was remanded back to the Fifth Circuit, leaving various interest groups and universities not knowing exactly what to make of the decision. It is a win in some respects, because the decision did not invalidate the essence of affirmative action in an educational environment. Supporters of affirmative action take the Court’s decision as a sign that the Court supports the consideration of race in admission policies to ensure and promote diversity.  However, the remand will force the University of Texas to further defend the legality of its admission procedures.  On remand the “reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” The decision will ultimately encourage other colleges and universities to be proactive ensuring that their admission policies will withstand the Court’s strict scrutiny test.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 


After Fisher v. University of Texas: Implications for Education Research, Theory, and Practice, Fall 2023 Harvard Educational Review,

Joy Resmovits, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Ruling Leaves Universities in Limbo, Huffington Post (June 24, 2013),

Undue Burden- How Far Is Too Far?

By: Marica Leach

Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

In a 5-4 decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, the United States Supreme Court refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the district judge’s injunction against the enforcement of the abortion restriction law known as Texas HB 2.  Texas HB 2 requires that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic from where the abortion is performed.  Additionally, it requires that medication abortions, non-surgical abortions, be induced only using the FDA approved medications as opposed to the “off the shelf” medications that some physicians recommend.

Planned Parenthood, on behalf of themselves and their clients, argued that Texas HB 2 is unconstitutional since it places an enormous burden on approximately 22,000 who would have to travel almost 150 miles to medical facility where physicians have admitting privileges.  As a result of staying the trial court’s permanent injunction on the enforcement of Texas House Bill HB2, many clinics had to turn away women and some even had to close their doors.

The restrictive abortion statute passed by Texas demonstrates that the Supreme Court is deeply divided.  The Order affirming the stay resulted in two very different opinions.  The dissent points out that the underlying legal question, —whether the new Texas statute is constitutional—is a difficult question that “at least four Members of the Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit ultimate decision.”  In contrast, Justice Scalia joined by Justices Alito and Thomas feel that Texas HB-2 will win on the merits.  Until that ultimate decision is made, however, the Supreme Court does not find that travelling 150 miles for an abortion is an undue burden for the women living in rural Texas counties especially minority women who will have difficulty affording travel costs to cities such as Corpus Christie.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 


Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Servs. v. Abbott, 134 S. Ct. 506, 187 L. Ed. 2d 465 (2013), aff’g 2013 WL5857853.Act of July 12, 2013, 83rd Leg., 2d C.S., ch. 1, §§ 1–12, 2013 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4795–802 (West).

The Consequences of Striking Down § 4: Voter Inequality

By: Carla Arias

Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The United States Supreme Court struck down § 4 of the Voting Rights Act in the summer of 2013.[1] As an integral part of civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act designates which parts of the country must have any voting law changes approved by the federal government.[2]  In a 5-4 decision, the Court held, “[a]t the same time, voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current means.’” (emphasis added). [3] Although the decision does not overturn the Act’s ban on discriminatory voting rules, the striking down of § 4 hinders voting equality throughout the country.

Justice Ginsburg dissented stating, “[c]ontinuance would facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and…, continuance would guard against back sliding.”[4] Section 4 of the Voter Rights Act has proven incredibly successful in “increasing minority registration and access to the ballot.”[5] Section 4 should have remained in place to ensure that the increase in minority registration and access continues.

President Obama was quoted as saying, “[a]s a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists.”[6] If voter discrimination still exists, as recognized by the Supreme Court, why eliminate an act that has had such success in promoting voting equality. The striking down of § 4 will likely lead to the backsliding Justin Ginsburg noted and undue the progress President Obama emphasized.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

[1] Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

[2] See 42 U.S.C.A. § 1973b.

[3] Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013).

[4]  Id. at 2619.

[5]  Id. at 2632.

[6]  Ryan J. Reilly et al., Voting Rights Act Section 4 Struck Down by Supreme Court, Huffington Post, June 25, 2013,


Affirmative Action Admission Policies After Fisher

By: Andrew Patrick
Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The recent United States Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin did little to clear up the issues surrounding affirmative action’s role in the higher education admission process.  The case involved a challenge to the University of Texas at Austin’s (“University”) undergraduate admission process, which considered potential applicant’s race.   The Petitioner, a white female, sued the University after being denied admission alleging that the consideration of race in the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause.   The 7-1 decision vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the lower court failed to correctly apply the “strict scrutiny standard” consistent with precedent.

The opinion authored by Justice Kennedy indicated that the Fifth Circuit did not make an “independent searching examination,” which was essential in determining whether the University’s affirmative action plan was narrowly tailored.   The University had the burden of showing that there were “no workable race-neutral alternatives [which] would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”  The Court of Appeals mistakenly gave deference to the University’s judgment with respect to the means of achieving the compelling interest of diversity.   The case was remanded to the lower court where the University will be required to demonstrate that their admission process is in fact narrowly tailored to achieving the educational benefits of diversity.

Going forward, this decision imposes a significant evidentiary burden on educational institutions that consider racial classifications in the admissions process. Universities will be required to “demonstrat[e], before turning to racial classification, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”


Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 132 S.Ct. 2411 (2013).

Supreme Court Ruling Opens Doors to Racial Discrimination in Voting System

By: Christina Quinn
Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

On a Tuesday in June, 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“Voting Rights Act”), which required certain states to receive clearance from the Justice Department or Federal Courts before making changes to voting procedures. The majority of the Supreme Court held that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. However, the Court did not strike down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets forth the pre-clearance requirement. Section 4 determined what states must receive clearance from the Department of Justice or Federal Courts. Moreover, Section 4 was a significant provision because it worked to prevent lawless conduct by officials who were determined to bar African Americans from voting.

The impact of the ruling is likely to be felt in the Southern states, which are most strongly impacted by the Voting Rights Act. States such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia, are now free to make minor changes, such as changes to voting procedures, or major changes, like redrawing electoral districts without pre-approval by either the Justice Department or a Federal Court. Racial discrimination in elections is precisely what the Voting Rights Act had prevented for many years and this Supreme Court ruling has opened the doors to once again allow racial discrimination in the voting system.


Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act, New York Times, available at (last visited October 10, 2013).

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl—Interpreting the Indian Child Welfare Act

By: Jamilah Espinosa

Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions

The Supreme Court this summer cleared the way for the adoption of a four year old girl known as “Baby Veronica,” by the Capobiancos’, a South Carolina couple.  The case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, has been a long, emotional, and contentious battle between the prospective adoptive parents and the biological father, Dusten Brown.  The story began when a woman in Oklahoma placed her daughter, Baby Veronica, up for adoption and agreed to allow the Capobiancos’, a South Carolina couple, to adopt her newborn daughter.  The baby’s biological father, Brown, had expressed his desire to terminate his parental rights.  Brown knew the mother was pregnant, but did not provide her with any support during her pregnancy.  Therefore, the adoptive couple, theoretically, would not need his consent for the adoption to proceed.

However, Brown was served with a notice of the pending adoption which he signed and did not contest.  After signing the papers, and prior to the adoption becoming finalized, Brown objected to the adoption. Brown went to court to get full custody of Baby Veronica, citing the Indian Child Welfare Act (hereinafter “ICWA”). This Act prevents Native American children from separation from their biological families and given to non-Native American foster parents.  Brown is a registered member of an Indian tribe, the Cherokee nation, thus Baby Veronica was categorized as “Indian because she was 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.”  The trial court ruled in favor of Brown, finding that the ICWA barred the adoption.

After the lower court ruled, the South Carolina Supreme Court gave custody of Baby Veronica to Brown, and at this point Baby Veronica was twenty-seven months old, and had lived her entire life with her adoptive family.  The Capobiancos’ petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the case. On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision held that the relevant sections of the ICWA were designed to preserve American Indian families.  The Supreme Court held that the ICWA did not apply to Brown because he abandoned Baby Veronica and never even had custody of her.  Justice Samuel Alito stated, “as the Supreme Court reads [the Indian Child Welfare Act], a biological [American] Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother—perhaps contributing to the mother’s decision to put the child up for adoption—and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interest.”  The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts to determine Baby Veronica’s placement using state law and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of ICWA.  As of today, Baby Veronica is now living with the Capobiancos’, her adoptive parents, after the Oklahoma Supreme Court dissolved a temporary court order leaving her with Brown.  The effects of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl are yet to be seen in other cases, but the Native American tribes fear the purpose of the ICWA has been diminished by the case.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  


Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 133 S.Ct. 2552 (2013).

Hansi Lo Wang, Happy Ruling for Adoptive Couple, Uncertainty For Baby Girl, NPR, (June 25, 2013),