Women's rights

  • July 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicole G. Berner, Associate General Counsel, Service Employees International Union

    In a narrowly divided opinion, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court in Harris v. Quinn ruled against homecare workers who provide crucial care to people with disabilities and the elderly and to the consumers who rely upon that care to live independently and with dignity in their homes. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an extreme anti-worker group funded by the likes of the Koch brothers and the Walton family. The case is part of a broader concerted attack on working people and women in this country. Although the June 30 ruling is a setback for homecare workers, our members are more determined than ever to ensure quality care for people with disabilities and seniors, all of whom want nothing more than to enable this population to live independently and with dignity at home.

    The petitioners asked the Court to disregard one of the bedrock principles of Supreme Court jurisprudence (stare decisis) and to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U. S. 209 (1977), a case relied on and reaffirmed in myriad cases since it was decided nearly four decades ago. In Abood, the Court held that a government entity may, consistent with the First Amendment, require public service employees to pay a fair share of the cost that a union incurs negotiating on their behalf for better terms of employment. While the Court declined the invitation to overrule Abood – a decision that would have radically restructured public sector labor relations in this country – the majority instead ruled that Abood’s protections do not extend to home care workers in the State of Illinois.

    The Court’s narrow ruling leaves intact the right of most public service workers such as teachers, fire fighters, and police officers to join together in a union and to negotiate for fair share arrangements. The ruling also leaves intact the rights of the Illinois homecare workers to form a union and to bargain collectively through an exclusive bargaining representative. But the conservative five-justice majority carved out an exception to Abood for the tens of thousands of homecare workers in Illinois, thereby weakening the ability of this majority female workforce to advocate collectively for improved working conditions and quality care.

  • June 30, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Two things stand out to me about this morning’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants “religious” for-profit corporations an exemption from regulations requiring businesses to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans:

    First, the majority opinion attempts to hold itself out as a limited, cautious one. A closer look, however, shows that it is no such thing.

    Second, even though Justice Kennedy joined the five-justice majority opinion, his separate concurring opinion indicates that he disagrees with the majority in important respects. In such circumstances, a Justice normally joins a colleague’s opinion only in part, at most. Justice Kennedy’s imprudent joinder of the majority’s entire opinion will likely lead to mischief and confusion in the lower courts.

    Applicability to for-profit corporations

    The majority’s analysis begins with the conclusion that RFRA protects the religious “beliefs” of for-profit corporations, even though it is quite doubtful that the senators and representatives who voted for RFRA expected it to extend that far.

    The majority attempts to “limit” its ruling on this issue by stating that it is addressing only closely-held for-profit corporations here, and that it is not deciding whether RFRA also covers publicly-traded corporations.  But a reading of the majority’s reasoning on this issue — including its explanation that the word “person,” as used in RFRA, is defined as covering all corporations by a law called “the Dictionary Act” — leaves no doubt that the same result will ensue in the case of publicly-traded entities.

    The majority’s real attempt to answer concerns about extending the coverage of RFRA to all for-profit entities is to say: “don’t worry about it,” it’s unlikely that a publicly-traded corporation will attempt to impose religious requirements on its employers because it probably won’t be able to agree internally on any particular religious belief. This should not be of comfort to employees.

    Perhaps smaller, minority religions will not be able to impose their religious views on employees through publicly-traded corporations. But there is no reason to be confident that the religious views held by the majority of persons wealthy enough to own stock, at least in a particular industry or field, won’t give rise to RFRA claims by large, publicly-traded entities. In other words, employees need only worry about being subjected to majority religious views, of the better-off.

  • June 12, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Today, four U.S. Senators sent an open letter to Washington Post columnist George Will, after he penned a column dismissing rape and sexual assault as a major problem on college campuses.  Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Robert Casey and Diane Feinstein condemned Will for his irresponsible idea that victims of sexual assault enjoy “a coveted status that confers privileges.”

    In his column, Will disputes the statistics that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Will also claims that the definition of sexual assault is too broad, including forms of harassment other than rape. 

    The column invokes an old-fashioned blame the victim mentality, saying, “[t]hen add the doctrine that the consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape.”  Will’s column, which blames progressive Washington for creating a culture of victims who make up accusations of rape and sexual assault, is dangerous. 

    What Mr. Will needs to understand is that sexual assault is real.  It ruins lives. The senators are right in saying, “There is no acceptable number of sexual assaults; anything more than zero is unacceptable.”

    Mr. Will should listen to the victims of sexual assault, not blame them. 

  • June 2, 2014
     
    Today, the Obama administration will announce new environmental regulations that will cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent. The regulations represent the “strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change.” Coral Davenport at The New York Times explains how the action will affect environmental health and its implications for the American electricity industry.
     
    Pro-choice activists are working to counter the growing anti-abortion legislation sweeping the country as many expect the issue to reach the Supreme Court next term. Sophie Novack and Sam Baker at The National Journal explain why, if the issue reaches the Court, pro-choice activists may be “on the verge of a massive gamble.”
     
    At Bilerico, John M. Becker discusses Justice Anthony Kennedy’s response to the National Organization for Marriage’s recent efforts to block same-sex marriage in Oregon.
     
    A six-year old girl is recovering from being a victim of a stray bullet while playing at a local Washington, DC playground. NPR’s All Things Considered addresses how gun violence continues to trouble America’s inner cities. 
  • May 30, 2014

    Acclaimed writer, poet and professor Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86. In a life that inspired many influential figures of the twentieth century including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Angelou eloquently merged the lines between artist and civil rights activist. Adam Serwer at MSNBC celebrates the legacy of an American hero. 
     
    Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that would close many of the state’s remaining abortion clinics. Writing for Salon, Katie McDonough comments on what the legislation could mean for women throughout the region.
     
    Alicia A. Caldwell at The Associated Press notes the Obama administration’s decision to delay a review of the nation’s deportation policy until the summer in an attempt to pressure Congress to act on immigration reform.
     
    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s IQ requirements were too strict in assessing whether or not a prisoner was mentally competent enough to be executed. At The New York Times, Adam Liptak breaks down Hall v. Florida