Following are details of some of the new term's most important
The harassment case, Harris v. Forklift Systems, No. 92-1168,
marks only the second time the Court has considered the legal
consequences of sexual harassment on the job. The Court ruled
unanimously in 1986 that a sexually hostile work environment is a
form of sex discrimination, prohibited by Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. But without further guidance from the
justices, the lower federal courts have split over how to define
the existence of such an environment.
In this case, a woman who worked as a manager at a Nashville
truck leasing company sued the man who owned the company,
charging him with continually subjecting her to vulgar and
sexually demeaning remarks. While accepting her accusations as
true, lower courts dismissed the case on the ground that the
behavior had not caused her "severe psychological injury."
The Court is not likely to agree that a hostile work
environment requires proof of psychological injury, and in fact
the company itself stopped defending that standard once the
justices agreed to hear the woman's appeal. But the Court's
eventual choice of a standard _ whether, for example, the
offending behavior should be viewed from the perspective of the
victim or instead from that of a hypothetical "reasonable woman"
_ could determine how powerful a tool this aspect of
discrimination law will be in the future.
The Court will use two cases, one involving a claim of sex
discrimination and the other race discrimination, to decide
whether the Civil Rights Act of 1991 should be given retroactive
effect. Congress and the Bush administration could not resolve
the retroactive issue when the law was passed _ Congress wanted
retroactivity, but the administration was vigorously opposed _
and so the issue was left to the courts.
Beyond the decision's impact on thousands of pending cases,
the Court may also arrive at a general rule for determining
whether new laws should be given retroactive effect in the
absence of an explicit Congressional directive. The cases are
Landgraf v. USI Film Products, No. 92-757, and Rivers v. Roadway
Express, No. 92-938.
In a series of rulings since 1986, the Court has made race an
impermissible factor in the selection of juries. Now it will
decide whether sex is in the same prohibited category. The State
of Alabama, suing a man in state court to establish his paternity
and child support obligation, used its peremptory challenges to
remove male prospective jurors and create an all-female jury.
The Alabama courts rejected the man's argument that the
exclusion of men amounted to unconstitutional sex discrimination.
The case is J.E.B. v. T.B., No. 92-1239.
The voting rights cases from Georgia and Florida raise
separate issues under the Voting Rights Act. Black voters, who
make up nearly one-fifth the population of rural Bleckley County,
Ga., persuaded a federal appeals court that the single-member
commission that governs the county serves to dilute their voting
power, in violation of the law.
At issue for the Supreme Court in this case, Holder v. Hall,
No. 91-2012, is whether the Voting Rights Act applies in that
situation, and whether it authorizes a federal court to expand
the membership of the governing body.
The underlying question in a pair of procedurally complex
redistricting cases from Florida is whether the plans that the
state Legislature drew for its own reapportionment violated the
Voting Rights Act by not providing the maximum possible number of
districts in which Hispanic residents would make up a majority.
The Florida State Senate case, DeGrandy v. Johnson, No.
92-593, also involves potentially competing claims by black and
Hispanic residents. The State House of Representatives case is
Johnson v. …