By Patrick Forrest
President Donald Trump’s latest selection to the Supreme Court of the United States, federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has a local history, having spent three years on the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
While many media reports have centered on Coney Barrett’s opinion on the issue of abortion and the precedence of the Roe v Wade decision, an investigation into the judge’s past reveals the potential justice’s view on Brown v Board of Education could also be important.
Coney Barrett assisted in a ruling that, if made while on the Supreme Court, could demolish all of the progress made in America on the issue of desegregation.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, AutoZone managers decided in 2012 to eliminate or limit the number of non-Hispanic employees working at the store located at Kedzie and West 49th Street. The EEOC’s pre-suit administrative investigation, supervised by EEOC District Director John Rowe, revealed that the employer appeared to believe Hispanic customers of the store would prefer to be served by Hispanic employees.
As a result, the Black sales manager was allegedly told to report to another store on the far south side of Chicago. When he refused to do so, he was fired, the EEOC said.
The EEOC brought the suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits limiting, segregating, or classifying employees on the basis of race. It is also illegal for employers to base employment decisions on customers’ discriminatory preferences – whether real or imagined. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, (EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-cv-5579) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve.
“Fifty years after the adoption of the Civil Rights Act, a major employer transferring an employee simply because of his race and then firing him for not going along is unacceptable,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago before the original case began. “When the employer is a major national brand and a leader in its industry, it’s even worse. Everyone must understand that supposed customer preference is no excuse for discrimination – it’s still illegal, and the EEOC will step in to challenge it.”
Following a decision by the District Court, EEOC moved forward with the suit in appeal. The Appellate court on which Coney Barrett sat, denied rehearing the case which allowed the lower court ruling to stand, effectively announcing agreement.
In the dissenting opinion published November 2017, which Coney Barrett was not signed on to, three of the other judges wrote how important allowing the appeal should have been.
“This case presents a straightforward question under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Does a business’ policy of segregating employees and intentionally assigning members of different races to different stores tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities on the basis of race?” three of the judges on the panel wrote. “The importance of the question and the seriousness with which we must approach all racial classifications convince me that this case is worth the attention of the full court.”
Possibly even more timely, in a year marked in history by the massive protests seen throughout the nation following high profile deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, Coney Barrett also reversed a judgement to the family of 18-year-old Terrell Day after he was killed during an arrest by Indianapolis police.
Day was confronted by security who called for police, and was arrested, after he allegedly shoplifted a watch from a Burlington store.
Indianapolis police arrived and placed Day in handcuffs. Day told officers he was having trouble breathing, and the police told Day he exerted himself by running and instructed him to take slow breaths. Day was not remaining in an upright seated position and at one point soiled himself. He again told the officers he could not breathe. An ambulance was called, and paramedics concluded that Day was breathing normally, and did not need to go to the hospital.
An officer then requested the “jail wagon” to transport Day to detention. Before it arrived, however, a second pair of handcuffs was added to Day’s wrists. When the jail transport arrived, the driver found Day unresponsive and lying on his back. A second ambulance was called. Paramedics performed CPR for 30 minutes, but Day was dead.
The autopsy report listed the cause of death as “Sudden Cardiac Death due to Acute Ischemic Change.” Listed as a contributing cause, was sustained respiratory compromise as a result of having his hands cuffed behind his back.
Following the death Day’s mother, Shanika Day, sued the two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and the city of Indianapolis in 2017, alleging excessive force and negligence led to her son’s death. She and her attorneys also believe race played a factor in his death.
She was awarded partial judgement by a federal judge before Coney Barrett and the Seventh Circuit Court reversed the decision and reprimanded Judge Manion, who offered the original judgement.
“This case arose from an unfortunate tragedy. However, the officers did not violate any clearly established right,” the court said in its decision.
The court denied the ruling noting that Day weighed about 312 pounds and had an underlying heart condition and that the handcuffs were used in a manner that would not have harmed an average arrestee.
“I think that this changes a lot of the rules,” co-counsel Faith Alvarez said following the Appeal court’s ruling. “Now, the burden is on the person who’s dying. It’s no longer on the police to be trained.”
The decision becomes important as it follows the massive protests calling for, among other things, the abolishment of the role of qualified immunity in policing, allowing Coney Barrett to be one of the few voices able to set the course of the nation on the issues of our time.
“Apart from matters of war and peace, the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice is the most important decision an American President can make,” President Donald Trump said of his nominee.