Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Harassment Case Shows How High Court Has Changed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Harassment Case Shows How High Court Has Changed

Article excerpt

A SUPREME COURT argument over a 1991 civil rights law offered a new look at how dramatically a presidential election can affect the high court.

There in the courtroom was Solicitor General Drew Days III, the administration's top-ranked courtroom lawyer, arguing that the law aimed at restoring and expanding remedies for job-bias victims applies to thousands of suits pending when it was passed.

Business is on the other side. So was President George Bush's administration.

And there was the newest justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who argued that even though Congress had imposed stiffer sanctions on employers, the basic rule has remained unchanged since 1964: "Thou shalt not discriminate."

In a later case Wednesday, one in which the justices are trying to clarify what conduct amounts to sexual harassment, another administration lawyer took the side of a Tennessee woman seeking to revive her suit against an ex-boss.

The administration favors a standard that would make it easier to prove sex harassment and collect back pay or monetary damages.

In the first two discrimination disputes to reach the Supreme Court on its watch, the Justice Department has linked arms with the civil rights and women's rights communities.

Debbie Brake of the National Women's Law Center said: "We're hopeful the Clinton administration will be more willing to listen to our positions, more receptive."

Some civil rights activists, still smarting from President Bill Clinton's decision to pull back Lani Guinier's nomination to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, are less willing to publicly praise his administration.

But they say privately that they take comfort in having Days, whose longtime commitment to civil rights is well-known, as the government's top advocate before the Supreme Court.

If the administration's arguments in the two cases heard Wednesday are to succeed, Ginsburg - Clinton's first high court appointee - may be a key vote. …

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