Women's rights

  • July 30, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. This piece is crossposted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup blog.

    A federal court in Colorado recently put a temporary halt on the implementation of the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage rule, with respect to one company. The contraceptive coverage rule requires insurance plans to cover contraception and stop routinely discriminating against women. The decision, if upheld, could pave the way for businesses to use their owners’ religion as an excuse to discriminate. 

    Here’s what happened, in a nutshell: Hercules Industries is a manufacturer of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products that employs 265 workers. It argued that the contraceptive coverage regulation violated the company’s religious liberty because its owners are opposed to the use of birth control. Two similar lawsuits have been filed by other businesses, one in Michigan and one in Missouri. 

    Businesses exist to make money through commercial activity. By definition, their purpose is profit, not religious exercise. And for decades, the Supreme Court has recognized that entering into commercial activity means accepting that your faith cannot be imposed on those you employ. But Hercules Industries seeks to upend that common-sense rule. In its place, it proposes a theory that would let a business owner’s beliefs trump protections designed to safeguard workers – a radical break from our laws as we know them.

  • July 23, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    In spite of a stated commitment to gender equality at the nation’s largest law firms, the number of women equity partners has held flat at 15 percent, a new National Law Journal study reveals.

    The equity partner rate has been stuck at that same exact level for 20 years now, according to a 2011 National Association of Women Lawyers report cited by NLJ.

    The overall partner percentages are slightly more encouraging -- the percentage of both equity and nonequity women partners increased to 18.8 percent from 16 percent from 2003. And it is at the largest and most profitable firms where women have made the greatest gains, according to NLJ.

    On the state and federal bench, the percentage of women judges increased a slight 0.5 percent between 2011 and 2012 to 27.1 percent, although the percentage of federal women judges actually declined 0.1 percent, according to data from the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at the State University of New York-Albany.  

  • July 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    More than a decade ago federal lawmakers had little trouble coming together to pass a piece of legislation aimed at improving the lives of some the country’s most vulnerable. It was 1994 when Congress in sweeping bipartisan fashion passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), extending government services to victims of domestic violence.

    But reauthorizing that law is mired in what The Hill’s Russell Berman says is a “familiar Capitol dynamic – a political staring contest on stalled legislation that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.”

    While Berman paints an evenhanded picture – both parties are obstinate, can’t work together – a strong argument can be made that what is really going on here involves the intransigence of the Republican Party. The party has moved so far to the fringe, has become so hostile to helping the nation’s most vulnerable that it should come as no surprise that it does not want to work with the Senate to reauthorize VAWA.

    The reason is straightforward: today’s VAWA would expand services for victims of domestic violence.

    The measure the Senate passed in April would bolster services for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, it would strengthen the ability of Native American authorities to prosecute domestic violence, and it would ensure help the LGBT community.

    House Republicans and right-wing lobbying groups have opposed the new services. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly, for instance, called the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”

    When the House passed its reauthorization of VAWA in May it did not include the Senate’s call for extension of services, but also sought to cut existing services. At the time the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers blasted the House version for rolling back “existing law” and failing “to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”

  • July 5, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This piece is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup.

    Last week, as the nation paid rapt attention, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.  The decision is especially critical for women, who are more likely to suffer gaps and discrimination in their health care coverage.  Importantly, it means that the contraceptive coverage rule – which ensures access to affordable birth control for millions of women across the country – is still in place.

    That same day, the Supreme Court made a second decision about the ACA to a much quieter reception.  The Court declined to hear Seven-Sky v. Holder, a case alleging that the ACA’s individual mandate provision violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a statute that precludes federal laws from placing a “substantial burden” on religious exercise unless the government has a compelling interest in enacting the law.  Here, the plaintiffs argued that they “believe in trusting in God to protect [them] from illness or injury,” and therefore did not “want to be forced to buy health insurance coverage.”

  • June 22, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Lolita Buckner Inniss, a professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. This is a cross-post from the blog, Ain’t I a Feminist Legal Scholar Too?

    This June marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Its principal provision reads as follows:

    No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

    Educational institutions from primary schools to universities who receive federal funding are subject to the law. Title IX is best known for having transformed the arena of women’s sports. Title IX, however, has a much broader reach: it applies also to sexual violence and sexual harassment. One of the more controversial aspects of Title IX jurisprudence is that sexual harassment is not only defined by persistent behavior but may also be found in a single episode. This latter fact is the subject of numerous critiques. But what is sometimes missed in such criticism is the full nature of even a “single episode” of harassment, especially within educational institutions.