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Feminist News


March-31-97

Supreme Court Tells Appeals Court to Reconsider Ruling in Sexual Harassment Case

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a federal appeals court should reconsider its ruling striking down a criminal conviction of a judge accused of assaulting five women. The federal appeals court had ruled that because federal prosecutors used a 1874 law that makes its a crime for government officials to deprive someone of their rights "protected by the Constitution", the conviction could not stand against former Tennessee Judge David Lanier, convicted of sexually assaulting five women. The Federal Court argued that no similar Supreme Court decision had established freedom from sexual attacks by government officials as a constitutional right. In their ruling, the Supreme Court did not explicitly establish such a right, but told the appeals court to restudy its earlier ruling because it did not consider itself to be the sole harbinger of such rights. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, writing for the court, stated, "We think it unsoundthat only this courts decisions could provide the required warning."

The Court firmly rejected Laniers arguments that he was not acting "under the color of law" when he assaulted the women and thus could not be tried with the federal ruling. His lawyers argued that the women finally submitted to him because of his prominence in a small town, not because of his judicial position. One woman testified, however, that he reminded her that he was hearing the custody case involving her child.

The Case is U.S. v. Lanier, 95-1717

Media Resources: The Nando Net - March 31, 1997]