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Legal Roundtable discusses SCOTUS, DOJ Ferguson report, gun violence, more

Flickr | steakpinball

The U.S. Supreme Court recently passed monumental decisions on same-sex marriage and upheld a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, our legal roundtable guests joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss those cases, as well as local issues including gun violence, the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, and Jennifer Joyce’s decision to not run for another term as Circuit Attorney.

Same-sex discrimination continues, despite SCOTUS decision

On July 7, Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order requiring state and local agencies to uphold the decision. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, many issues of discrimination remain for same-sex couples.

“You hear all this press about the Supreme Court saying same-sex marriage is OK, but in most states, it’s still not illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor of students at Washington University in St. Louis. “So, while a gay couple could get married, that doesn’t mean their employer couldn’t fire them because they’re gay. There are some states that prohibit that, but Missouri does not.”

“The opinion in the marriage equality case did not address what lawyers call the ‘level of scrutiny that applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation,’” added Susan Appleton, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

With the recent rulings on same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, some have questioned whether the court has become more liberal over the years. William Freivogel, a professor in the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, said that the overall stance of the court depends upon the types of cases the court is currently reviewing.

“I don’t think [the court] is any more liberal, but certainly what we describe is the more liberal justices on the court [that] won more of the court’s decisions this year,” Freivogel explained. “But that depends on the mix of cases that are before the court.”

Mo. Supreme Court upholds gun rights Amendment

On June 30, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to uphold Amendments 5, which deals with gun rights. The decision comes amid St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s requests for federal courts to handle all violent criminal cases involving guns. They believe that this amendment keeps them from prosecuting felons in possession of a firearm.

“The Missouri Constitutional amendment on guns doesn’t really give gun users any rights they don’t already have under the Second Amendment.” Freivogel said. “I’m not sure I think it’s a great idea to be moving a lot of homicide and gun cases from state into federal court.”

“The big question is whether or not this interpretation of what the amendment does is binding in future cases and binding on lower courts,” Appleton stated.

DOJ Ferguson Report

In a Department of Justice report on Ferguson, officials criticized law enforcement’s response to protests in the days following Michael Brown’s death. Agency officials are expected to meet with local law enforcement agencies to discuss the findings. A final report is expected in the coming weeks.

“The main criticisms seem to be the ones that have been voiced broadly,” Freivogel said. “Use of dogs, having an officer on top of a vehicle pointing his rifle at the demonstrators during the daytime, making demonstrators continue to walk on the sidewalk, saying that they couldn’t stop. Many of these things went to the federal courts and were found to be violations of the First Amendment.”

“As I read it, there were also broader criticisms just about bad community relations on the part of the police,” Appleton added.

Other topics discussed were The Confederate monument in Forest Park, the “right-to-farm” amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, and Bill Cosby’s sexual allegation cases.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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