The issue of dependence of a person’s legal status on his/her belonging to the specific social group has always sparked intense debate among scholars (161). The chapter that is to be reviewed here contains some of the most spectacular examples on interrelationship between gender/race/social class stereotypes and the legal provisions and/or case resolutions adopted by the U.S. courts or other authorities in this regard.
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The issue of gender is the first to be examined in Chapter 8. The authors assert that the ideology of “domesticity” and submissive womanhood that was originally propagated in the 18th–19th centuries Anglo-Saxon countries left its imprint on the conservative understanding of women’s legal status as their husbands’ “legal property” (161). The resulting convention, known as the coverture, effectively barred adult married women from exercising the full rights of legal person as marriage was habitually equated to civil death until at least the 1840s (162). The denial of right of suffrage to adult women rested on the same assumption, with females viewed as legal extension of their husbands’ household. Even the early grants of suffrage to female voters in some Western U.S. states were motivated more by pragmatic concerns for increasing the states’ voting power than by any desire to empower local women (164).
In addition, a patriarchal legal regime entailed the tolerance for battering and other forms of husband’s misconduct with respect to the females of the household. Only in 1913, the Colorado Supreme Court decision on Bailey v. People case established that any forms of battering or other infringement upon the wife’s person by her husband were illegal, and her person as inviolable as that of a man (164-165). The same situation eventually emerged in the case of rape laws, which initially had been devised to prosecute the perpetrator for defying the ‘honor’ of the family rather than for violating the woman’s person and body (165).
Racial minorities such as Native Americans and African-Americans were similarly discriminated in legal conventions and practices of the traditional U.S. judicial authorities. While the earliest legal declarations with respect to Native Americans’ land rights and political liberties emphasized their equality with White settlers, the so-called Marshall trilogy of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions effectively diminished the former’s status to that of “dependent nations” (166). In 1871, Federal government unilaterally abrogated its own commitment to negotiating with Native American nations on contentious issues turning the latter into unequal subject peoples (168). The series of the following Supreme Court decisions further eroded tribal sovereignty. It was only in 1924 when Native Americans were acknowledged as the U.S. citizens, and in 1953, they were relieved from the Federal government supervision (169).
The African-Americans have historically been another racial group heavily discriminated by Federal laws. From the 1640s to the time of signing of the 1863 Emancipation Declaration, the vast majority of Black Americans were relegated to a slave’s legal status (172-173). In spite of the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the ‘black codes’ and ‘Jim Crow laws’ adopted in the majority of Southern states entrenched Africa- Americans’ inequality. The 1896 ‘separate but equal’ clause upheld in Plessy v. Fergusson Supreme Court ruling established the foundation for a more comprehensive system of legal segregation that existed in the South until the 1960s (173).
Finally, the social class position still exerts a visible impact on the person’s chances to defend him/herself in legal process in the U.S. courts. While such Supreme Court ruling as Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) established the indigent defendants’ right to be represented by an assigned counsel in both federal and state courts, the bail legislation as well as the ability of the rich to hire the best professionals as their counsels provides a potential advantage to a more prosperous party (174).
As demonstrated by death penalty statistics, the gender, race, and social class variables still play an important role in determining legal cases’ outcomes (184-190). Therefore, the overcoming of status bias generated by the legacy of legal discrimination of aforementioned social groups may be one of the most important tasks for modern law experts and scholars.
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