An Administrative Right to Be Free from Sexual Violence? Title IX Enforcement in Historical and Institutional Perspective
57 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017
Date Written: April 29, 2017
One of the most controversial administrative actions in recent years is the U.S. Department of Education’s campaign against sexual assault on college campuses. Using its authority under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (mandating nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in all educational programs and activities receiving federal funds), the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has launched an enforcement effort that critics denounce as aggressive, manipulative, and corrosive of individual liberties. Missing from the commentary is a historically informed understanding of why this administrative campaign unfolded as it did. This Essay offers crucial context by reminding readers that freedom from sexual violence was once celebrated as a national civil right—upon the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994—but then lost that status in a 5–4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. OCR’s recent campaign reflects a legal and political landscape in which at least some potential victims of sexual violence had come to feel rightfully connected to the institutions of the federal government, and then became righteously outraged by the endurance of such violence in their communities. OCR’s campaign also reflects the unique role of federal administrative agencies in this landscape. Thanks to the power of the purse and the conditions that Congress has attached to funding streams, agencies enjoy a powerful form of jurisdiction over particular spaces and institutions. Attempts to harness this jurisdiction in service of aspirational rights claims should not surprise us; indeed, we should expect such efforts to continue. Building on this insight, the Essay concludes with a research agenda for other scholars seeking to understand and evaluate OCR’s handiwork.
Keywords: administrative law, civil rights, Title IX, sexual assault, sexual violence, violence against women, gender, rights
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