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Hobby Lobby: A "Perfect Storm" to Galvanize the Public

Posted by Sharon Levin, Director of Federal Reproductive Health Policy | Posted on: July 14, 2014 at 01:35 pm

Although I was expecting a strong public outcry after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the depth and breadth of the outrage has surprised me. People who have never expressed an interest in women’s issues are posting about it on Facebook and asking me questions about the case. Friends who have a passing interest in reproductive rights have reached out to me to find out what they can do and where they can donate.

I think the reason for this wide-spread outrage is that in the Hobby Lobby decision, several different long-term attacks on individual liberties all come together. Just as three different weather fronts collided to make the 1991 “Perfect Storm” that is the subject of the book and film of the same name, three different “fronts” collide in the Court’s decision as well:

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Not Backing Down: Minnesota Home Care Workers Move Forward With Union Vote

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: July 11, 2014 at 04:23 pm

The Supreme Court might not get it, but workers do. 

The Court's decision in Harris v. Quinn came down just last week, and we're still learning how the ruling will impact home care and child care unions around the country. But let's be honest: The end of fair share fees for some unions is a major blow to the overwhelmingly female and poorly paid workers who fill these roles. Even the most supportive op-eds have been depressing, noting (rightly!) that the Court "discussed the unionized workers as if they were lumps of clay" rather than workers who voted for unionization and stating that the opinion means "disadvantaged workers should be disadvantaged some more." 

Right now, with so much at stake for workers who found a voice at the table after being isolated and underpaid, it's hard to find a silver lining. Amazingly, though, some workers have done just that. 

The same day the Harris decision was announced, home care workers in Minnesota vowed to keep fighting for better working conditions and high-quality care for the people they serve.

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With Broad Bipartisan Support, Congress Takes Step to Build 21st Century Workforce

Posted by Lauren Khouri, Fellow | Posted on: July 11, 2014 at 11:35 am

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) with overwhelming bipartisan support. WIOA, which reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), reforms federally-funded workforce training programs to create opportunities for many workers and their families. WIOA passed the Senate with a bipartisan 95 to 3 vote, and House Republicans and Democrats alike followed suit, voting 415 to 6 to send the bill to President Obama for his signature. 

WIA, originally passed in 1998, authorized a federally funded workforce development system and created holistic career centers, in which employers and jobseekers can access a wide array of employment and training services. For 16 years it has helped individuals with barriers to employment enter and remain in the workforce. WIOA updates and modernizes job-training programs, and will help improve employment opportunities for women, low-income adults, low-income youth, and dislocated workers. This increased access to high-wage, high-skilled occupations will promote an economy that enables long-term financial sustainability for women and their families. 

Yet our work is not done. It is an unfortunate reality that more and more women and their families are falling behind in today's economy.

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The Working Families Child Care Act Aims to Help Families with Young Children

Posted by Therese Salazar, Intern | Posted on: July 10, 2014 at 02:31 pm

The first three years of a child's life are crucial for brain growth and development. Yet affordable, high-quality care for infants and toddlers is extremely hard to find, particularly for families with limited incomes. Nearly one in five (19.2 percent) working mothers of very young children are employed in low-wage jobs. These families often struggle to afford the reliable, nurturing care that parents need to work while ensuring their children's well-being. 

So what can be done to help give more infants and toddlers access to the high-quality care that fosters their growth and development? The Working Families Child Care Act takes a step in the right direction. 

The bill (HR. 5000), which is sponsored by Representative Lois Frankel and 64 co-sponsors at last count, would provide $2 billion in mandatory funding to states to help low-income families with infants and toddlers pay for child care and increase payments rates to child care providers serving these families. Additional funding would be available to states for initiatives to increase the supply of high-quality care for infants and toddlers. 

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ICYMI: Cheryl Krause Confirmed to Third Circuit Seat This Week

Posted by Amy K. Matsui, Senior Counsel and Director of Women and the Courts | Posted on: July 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Late Monday afternoon, the Senate confirmed Cheryl Krause to a Pennsylvania-based seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by a vote of 93-0. Her confirmation brings the number of active female judges on this court back up to 3 (out of 13 judges). In addition, now-Judge Krause is the fourth consecutive female Court of Appeals judge to be confirmed, bringing the percentage of active female federal appellate court judges to almost 34 percent. 

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Whiplash: Post-Hobby Lobby, What Did the Supreme Court Just Do In the Wheaton College Case?

Posted by Hillary Schneller, Fellow | Posted on: July 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

Just as we were trying to figure out what last Monday's Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby wrought, the Court added yet another layer of confusion late Thursday afternoon when it issued an order that appears to question one of its main premises in its Monday decision. 

Hours after a five justice majority issued its decision in Hobby Lobby allowing for-profits like Hobby Lobby to get out of including birth control in their health insurance plans, Wheaton College filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court so that it, too, could get out of including birth control coverage in its health plan. 

But Wheaton College is already eligible for an accommodation that allows non-profits that hold themselves out as religious to sign a form and opt out of providing birth control coverage. Still, Wheaton pushed all the way to the Supreme Court to stop even this accommodation. Why? Because, under the accommodation, Wheaton's employees and students will still get birth control coverage (just not through Wheaton's health insurance plans). A majority of the Supreme Court granted Wheaton temporary relief [PDF] on the condition that they notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — instead of their insurance company and TPA as required in the accommodation — of their religious objection to contraceptive coverage. 

Why does Wheaton lead to more questions than answers? Fortunately, Justice Sotomayor lays that out for us in plain English in her fierce dissent, which the two other female justices joined. 

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Rewriting Hobby Lobby: If Women Were People, Birth Control Was Health Care, and Sex Discrimination Was Discrimination

Posted by Hillary Schneller, Fellow | Posted on: July 08, 2014 at 10:50 am

Where are the women in Justice Alito's opinion for the majority in Hobby Lobby? In a decision that has so much at stake for women — and, indeed, seems to set up different  rules for when reproductive rights are at stake — the rights and interests of women were absent. Instead, the rights and interests of for-profit corporations — their religious liberty, their economic interests, and their personhood — were front and center. 

One sentence in particular struck me as eerily familiar and, indeed, infuriating: "The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus HHS would effectively exclude these people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation." Just over twenty years ago, in the Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, it declared something similar but also oh so different: "The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives." (Justice Ginsburg actually begins her dissent with this quotation, reinforcing the disconnect between majority and the dissent as to the central concerns in this case.) Justice Alito's perhaps unintentional paraphrase of the Court's prior opinion is stunning. 

That led me to do a little rewriting to show the disturbing flip in the majority's understanding of women's rights and corporate rights.

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The Hobby Lobby Majority Opinion: It Can't Be Sex Discrimination If Women Aren't in the Picture

Cross-posted from Alliance for Justice

The majority opinion in Hobby Lobby erases women from the picture altogether. In a decision that is squarely about women's health and equality, the male justices in the majority refuse to acknowledge the centrality of women. And in evidencing greater concern for protecting corporations from discrimination than in protecting women from discrimination, the majority opinion creates a hierarchy of discrimination where women are at the bottom (if they even merit consideration at all). 

To begin with, Justice Alito's opinion for the majority barely mentions women. As the Washington Post reported, the opinion uses the word "women" or "woman" a mere 13 times in 49 pages. Closer reading of the majority decision makes clear that seven of those mentions were either because the majority was refuting Justice Ginsburg (and her use of "women"); summarizing the government's position (and its use of "women") or describing the birth control coverage requirement (a simple recitation of fact). 

That leaves precisely six instances in which the majority — on its own — mentioned the word "women." There are two possible explanations. Both are troubling. 

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