Civil/Constitutional Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

Dedicated Civil Rights Lawyers Serving Wisconsin

Throughout the history of the United States, our society has placed a high value on protecting the rights of individuals against unlawful actions by an overbearing government.

The principal way the government is restrained is by a person invoking his constitutional rights. This can be done by invoking rights under the Constitution either in a criminal or civil case. The second way in which people can shield their liberties from government interference is through a federal statute commonly known as Section 1983. A claim brought under Section 1983 generally seeks remedies for a violation of rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. These private actions often relate to some of the most fundamental liberties that an individual can have. Our Wisconsin civil rights attorneys at Midwest Green Card LLC work tenaciously to help ordinary people protect the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and federal laws. These cases can be very complex, so professional legal advice is vital in filing and pursuing a civil rights claim under the Constitution or by a Section 1983 claim.

Common Contexts of Constitutional Claims

A sweeping array of liberties can be vindicated through claims under Section 1983. Among them are Fourth Amendment claims based on unreasonable searches and seizures or other forms of excessive force used by law enforcement or other government agents. False arrests and wrongful convictions also may give rise to this type of action. But Section 1983 claims also may arise when the state breaches the First Amendment’s guarantee that all citizens have the freedom of speech and religion. Whistleblowers in the workplace who experience retaliation often launch these claims, although their statements must relate to a matter of public concern to receive First Amendment protection.

Another key area where individuals often file Section 1983 claims is the equal protection right granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. This famous clause in the Constitution forbids the government to treat one group of people differently from any other group. While these claims arise most often in the context of racial profiling or similar discriminatory policies, it also can prove useful for a single person suffering from irrationally different treatment by a powerful government agent. For example, cases seeking to strike down laws against same-sex marriage have relied in part on equal protection.

Our lawyers are particularly skilled in instituting complex constitutional litigation such as: filing the first challenge to race-based traffic stops in Milwaukee County; filing the first challenge to Milwaukee County In-Custody Intake procedure of shackling all criminal defendants; exposing racial origins of felon disenfranchisement by filing the first Wisconsin Voter’s Right Act challenge to felon disenfranchisement; and filing the first challenge to Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban. That lawsuit, like its analogues in many other states, argues that the state prohibition on same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, we added a unique section challenging Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban on the basis of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

State Action Requirement and Qualified Immunity

To prevail in a Section 1983 claim, an individual must show that his or her rights were violated by a state actor rather than a private citizen. In this context, “state” means not just the employees of the state of Wisconsin, however, but of Madison, Green Bay, and other cities or towns. Public school boards, agency heads, and law enforcement, when acting in their official capacities, are all “agents” of the government and thus viable defendants in Section 1983 lawsuits. Although private citizens are generally not able to violate another person’s constitutional rights, a person who causes quantifiable harm to another person may be liable to the injured person under Wisconsin personal injury laws.

A state actor often will defend against a Section 1983 claim by citing the principle of qualified immunity. A right cannot be asserted successfully in these types of actions unless it has been clearly established, usually by a prior judicial decision. This means that an individual bringing a Section 1983 claim should look for previous cases that recognize the asserted right or a right similar to it. It can be extremely difficult to defeat this defense without consulting a lawyer who can rely on his accumulated legal knowledge to make this technical, abstract argument.

Discuss Your Civil Rights Case with an Experienced Attorney

When the state curtails an individual freedom, you have recourse to protect what the U.S. Constitution has granted you. Our Wisconsin civil rights lawyers at Midwest Green Card LLC are ready to help you proceed through this complicated process. We will work to identify your strongest arguments and the obstacles that you may face in vindicating your liberties. Take a moment to call Spiro Nicolet at (773) 562-6884, or complete our online form to set up an initial consultation with one of our attorneys.