Opposition to Janice Rogers Brown

Categories: Advocacy Letter

Recipient: Senate Judiciary Committee


The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Hatch and Leahy:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with more than 180 member organizations, we write to express opposition to the confirmation of Janice Rogers Brown to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Brown’s record as a California Supreme Court justice demonstrates a strong, persistent, and disturbing hostility toward affirmative action, civil rights, the rights of individuals with disabilities, workers’ rights, and the fairness in the criminal justice system.

Janice Rogers Brown has often been the lone justice to dissent on the California Supreme Court, illustrating that her judicial philosophy is outside the mainstream. Not only does she show an inability to dispassionately review cases, but her opinions are based on her extremist ideology and also ignore judicial precedent, even that set by the United States Supreme Court.

Brown’s opinions on civil rights and discrimination cases are perhaps the most troubling part of her record, revealing a blatant disregard for judicial precedent and a desire to limit the ability of victims of discrimination to sue for redress. In Aguilar v. Avis Rent A Car Systems, Inc. 980 P.2d 846 (Cal. 1999), the trial court found that the employer had violated the California Fair Housing and Employment Act by creating a hostile work environment through the use of racial slurs directed at Latino employees. On appeal, the California Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s remedy that prohibited the use of racial slurs in the future, holding that prevention of such speech was not a violation of the employer’s First Amendment rights. Brown dissented, arguing that the First Amendment protects the use of racial slurs in the workplace, even when it becomes illegal race discrimination. Brown’s dissent virtually ignored several Supreme Court precedents. Her opinion also went so far as to suggest that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, violates the First Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional.

Janice Rogers Brown’s lone dissent in Konig v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission, 50 P. 3d 718 (Cal. 2002), would have seriously limited the redress options available to victims of housing discrimination. Brown found that the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing Commission, unlike the courts, did not have the right to award damages for emotional distress. Further, in Peatros v. Bank of America NT&SA, 990 P.2d 539 (Cal. 2000), Brown argued in dissent that the National Banking Act of 1864 pre-empted California’s fair employment law, thus preventing a bank employee from being able to file a lawsuit for race and age discrimination in state court. Justice Brown made this argument despite the fact that other more recent federal laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, would clearly supercede the 135-year-old banking law on this question.

Brown has also expressed a desire to limit legal recourse for people with disabilities who are victims of discrimination. In Richards v. CH2M Hill, Inc., 29 P.3d 175 (Cal. 2001), an employee sued her employer for disability discrimination based on her employer’s refusal to reasonably accommodate her disability over a five-year period. The state trial court awarded the plaintiff emotional distress and economic damages. On appeal, the employer argued that the statute of limitations had run on the allegations that were more than a year old at the time the case was filed, and thus liability should be greatly reduced. In its majority decision upholding the trial court’s verdict, the California Supreme Court adopted a version of the “continuing violation doctrine,” under which there may be liability for acts occurring outside the statute of limitations if they are sufficiently related to acts occurring within the prescribed time period. Brown’s lone dissent argued against use of the “continuing violation doctrine.” Rather, she asserted her view that plaintiffs should have to file separate lawsuits, subject to separate statutes of limitations, for each act of discrimination.

In City of Moopark v. Superior Court, 959 P.2d 752 (Cal. 1998), Brown argued in dissent against allowing a disabled city employee to bring a cause of action under the state common law prohibiting employers from firing workers in violation of well-established, substantial, and fundamental public policies, such as the policy against firing people because they have a disability. As the author of the only dissent in Stevenson v. Superior Court, 959 P.2d 752 (Cal. 1998), Brown argued that the plaintiff had failed to show that public policy against age discrimination “inures to the benefit of the public” or is “fundamental and substantial.” She further stated, “Discrimination based on age is not, however, like race and sex discrimination. It does not mark its victim with a ‘stigma of inferiority and second class citizenship’ (citation omitted); it is the unavoidable consequence of that universal leveler: time.”

Brown has also shown hostility toward affirmative action. Her majority opinion in Hi-Voltage Wire Works v. City of San Jose, 12 P.3d 1068 (Cal. 2000) has made it nearly impossible to have a meaningful affirmative action program in California. Justice Brown’s opinion went so far as to also prohibit cities from requiring their contractors to reach out to subcontractor businesses owned by minorities and women. Her opinion also ignored legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite consistent Court rulings that, under the right circumstances, affirmative action is permissible under federal law, Justice Brown stated that affirmative action was at odds with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While some of the result in this case may have been dictated by Proposition 209, California’s anti-affirmative action ballot initiative, her opinion clearly misinterpreted Proposition 209 and the intentions of California residents who voted for it. One of Brown’s California Supreme Court colleagues, who concurred with the result of the case, wrote that Brown’s opinion seriously distorted history and that she was not correct when she wrote that past decisions in favor of affirmative action were “wrongly decided.”

Justice Brown’s opinions have also shown great antagonism toward the rights of workers. In Loder v. City of Glendale, 927 P.2d 1200 (1997), a case addressing the constitutionality of a drug and alcohol testing program for employees of the City of Glendale, Brown, in dissent, explicitly rejected binding Supreme Court precedent that called for the use of a balancing test to weigh the interest of the government against those of its employees in assessing whether these types of tests were constitutionally permissible. Despite the clear Supreme Court precedent, Brown would have imposed a bright line rule allowing drug tests for all employees. This opinion raises very serious concerns about Brown’s commitment to upholding settled law in both the workers’ rights context and many other areas of civil rights and liberties.

Brown’s extreme ideological opinions also extend to the rights of defendants. In People v. Mar, 52 P.3d 95 (Cal. 2002), the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a defendant who was made to wear a stun belt during his testimony at tria