Last year, the decision in United States v. Windsor represented a huge victory for marriage equality, as the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court ducked the question posed by a companion case of whether a state ban on marriage between same-sex couples violated the Fourteenth Amendment, since Windsor the trend in lower courts has been unanimous: so far, 18 decisions have found these bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is now poised to address the question in Kitchen v. Herbert and Bishop v. Smith, two cases which arise out of bans on marriage between same-sex couples in Utah and Oklahoma, which lower courts struck down. Read more »
The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t do snow days, apparently. While much of D.C. hunkered down Tuesday for our latest winter storm, the Court went on as usual, hearing oral arguments in a case that could upset years of established labor law. It could leave low-wage workers, overwhelmingly women, who provide home health care services under Illinois’ Medicaid program—and potentially other public employees—without a voice at the negotiating table. Knowing how high the stakes are, I ventured out to listen.
The case, Harris v. Quinn, addresses key questions about the unionizing of in-home care providers paid by the state of Illinois through two Medicaid programs. Here is a boiled-down version of the main issues: First, if a majority of care providers vote in favor of an exclusive bargaining representative (a union), can the state recognize and negotiate with that union? Second, can the providers who voted against unionization be required to pay a “fair share fee,” a payment that goes to cover the administrative costs of bargaining the contract that also benefits them? Read more »
“What’s wrong with having everyone take a step back?” Justice Kagan asked yesterday at oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, a challenge to a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot “buffer zone” around reproductive health clinics. Here are some thoughts on the argument from inside the courtroom, where I was in the audience.
Taking a step back, the protesters challenging the law argue, undermines their speech which they assert is effective only if they are able to engage women entering the clinic in close, quiet conversations. But do the Free Speech rights of McCullen and other protesters include the right to speak in the particular way they seek to speak? And, what about a woman’s right to safely access a reproductive health clinic?
Massachusetts argues that the law is permissible because it does not target anti-abortion speech; rather, it aims to keep clinic entrances open and accessible. In fact, even employees and clinic escorts are also prohibited from advocating within the buffer zone. And pro-choice activists along with anti-abortion protesters must stand outside the 35-foot buffer zone. Speech may be limited, but only incidentally: the point is to keep clinic entrances clear. Read more »
Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an important case for protecting women’s access to reproductive health services. The case is McCullen v. Coakley, a case challenging a Massachusetts “buffer zone” law. The Massachusetts law simply regulates the conduct of the public by ensuring reproductive health care facilities have a 35-foot radius to keep their doors and driveways unobstructed for patient access. Read more »
These are just two of over 40 lawsuits brought by bosses at for-profit companies seeking to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and deny them a critical health benefit. These cases raise big questions, like whether a for-profit corporation is a “person” capable of exercising religious belief and whether requiring a company’s health plan to cover birth control amounts to a “substantial burden” on religious exercise. Read more »
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling Tuesday in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, refusing to block a law that is forcing one-third of Texas’ abortion clinics to stop offering vital services.
Back in July of 2013, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law H.B. 2, which, among other things, requires abortion providers to obtain unnecessary admitting privileges at local hospitals. Almost immediately, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union joined forces with a local Texas firm and filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than a dozen Texas health care providers and their patients.
The district court judge found the restriction both unconstitutional and unnecessary and prevented the restriction from going into effect. His ruling was a clear victory for Texas families, yet was almost immediately reversed by a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that decreasing the number of physicians available to perform abortions and increasing the cost of abortions was not an “undue burden” on the women of Texas, and allowed the law to remain in effect while the matter is fully litigated in the courts. Read more »
Early Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case of Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. At issue in Cline was an Oklahoma law which effectively bans a woman’s ability to terminate an early pregnancy through the use of medication abortion. Medication abortion is both safe and legal – and has been since its FDA approval over a decade ago. For a number of women, it is also the preferred method of abortion. One in four women who have an early abortion decides on this method. Not only is medication abortion safe and legal, it is also protects women’s privacy by allowing them to complete the abortion in the comfort of their own homes rather than in a medical office.
Because the scope of the law was somewhat ambiguous, there was a question as to whether or not the statute truly bans medication abortion. Last December, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a decision on the law. Without addressing the law’s scope, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said that the law was an impermissible restriction on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion and therefore violated the U.S. Constitution. In an effort to keep up the fight, Oklahoma appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read more »
This afternoon I’m headed to the Lincoln Memorial for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. Today’s event is both a commemoration and call to action. Thousands are gathering to remember the 1963 March and to outline the remaining civil rights agenda. Read more »
August 26th marks Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment prohibiting U.S. citizens from being denied the right to vote on account of sex. The 19th amendment is widely known for giving women the right to vote. Read more »
On July 30, George Miller, the senior Democratic member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, or POWADA, which would restore vital civil rights protections for older workers by reversing the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Gross v. FBL Financial. POWADA reestablishes that once a victim shows discrimination was a “motivating factor” behind a decision, the burden is properly on the employer to show it complied with the law.
The Gross decision made it nearly impossible to prove age discrimination by requiring that victims prove that age was not only a factor in an employer’s decision but was the decisive factor (this is also known as “but-for causation” meaning that but-for the age discrimination, the employer would have made a different decision). The Gross decision has had wide-reaching effects: just this year, the Supreme Court applied the higher standard of proof to claims of retaliation in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar (applying but-for causation test to claims of retaliation under Title VII), and, as in Gross, expressed skepticism at the intelligence of jurors and lower court judges in Vance v. Ball State University (restricting the definition of ‘supervisor’ under Title VII). Read more »