The Federalist Society’s New Executive Branch Review Blog

The Federalist Society recently unveiled its new Executive Branch Review Blog, which focuses on legal and constitutional issues involving – you guessed it – the executive branch.

One of the regular bloggers there will be my wife Alison Somin, who serves as a special assistant/counsel with the US Commission on Civil Rights. Yesterday, she put up her first post, which focuses on the EEOC’s efforts to curb employers’ use of criminal background checks in hiring on the grounds that such checks might have a disproportionate negative effect on minority job-seekers:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission… is making a particular effort to restrict allegedly discriminatory use by employers of criminal background checks. Because African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be arrested or convicted of crimes than members of other racial and ethnic groups, the EEOC’s thinking goes, an employer policy that excludes job applicants based on past arrests or convictions will have a disparate impact on African-Americans and Hispanics and, if not job-related and justified by business necessity, may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In April 2012, the EEOC issued a new Enforcement Guidance regarding such employer criminal background checks. Some civil rights advocacy groups praised the document, stating that it will help “remove unfair barriers for people who have moved beyond their pasts” and discourage employers from discriminating against employees who have paid their debt to society.”

But critics raised both substantive and procedural concerns about the new guidance. Substantively, critics noted that the new policy does not do enough to make clear in what circumstances an employer may use a background check; it notably contains no “safe harbors” and may chill some lawful use of checks….

The EEOC appears committed to rigorous enforcement of the new Guidance. At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, EEOC member Victoria Lipnic emphasized the EEOC’s commitment to pursuing these cases, noting that “Criminal background checks are ripe for the picking.”

Although the EEOC does not ordinarily make investigations public until a case has been filed, news stories about recent targets of EEOC investigation suggest that the agency is setting a fairly high bar for “business necessity.” Such investigations include a probe into the use of checks at a company that provides security services, and also an unnamed firearms retailer, although the employer believes that federal law requires him as a federal firearms licensee to conduct such checks.

[NOTE: I have not copied the numerous links in the original post].