Women's rights

  • August 8, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Judge Patricia Wald, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, will be awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama later this year.

    Wald, a former ACS Board member, is among 16 recipients the White House announced today. Of Wald, the president said:

    Patricia Wald is one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation.  After graduating as 1 of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, she became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991.  She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.  Ms. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. 

    Wald retired from the bench in 1999, but as Obama noted hardly became idle. She was also honored in 2008 by Legal Timesas a ‘Visionary’ for breaking through barriers during a long career in law,” its blog notes.

    This year Wald has been instrumental in pushing back against Senate Republicans led by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who have sought to prevent the president from filling vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, considered one of the most powerful federal appeals court circuits because of myriad cases it hears regarding constitutional concerns and challenges to federal regulation. Grassley has introduced a bill that would remove three judgeships from the 11-member D.C. Circuit under the guise that its caseload is not as burdensome as others.

    Many, such as the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Judith Schaeffer, have noted the obviously political effort to keep a Democratic president from shaping the make-up of the D.C. Circuit, which currently has a distinctly conservative bent. In a recent post for CAC’s Text & History blog, Schaeffer provides plenty of documentation undermining Grassley’s argument that judgeships should be yanked from the D.C. Circuit. She notes that an April letter to the Judiciary Committee from the Judicial Conference of the United States providing assessments of staffing needs of the federal bench did not “contain any recommendation to eliminate or not fill seats on the D.C. Circuit.”

  • July 26, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law 
     
    Liberty University v. Lew, the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision about the Affordable Care Act [ACA], should please no one. The opinion demonstrates the dangers of exempting religious organizations and individuals from the law. Take your pick. The court either exempted too many, or too few. Its middle ground unsatisfactorily addresses the First Amendment challenges to the Act.
     
    Individual plaintiffs and Liberty University opposed the individual and employer mandates of the ACA. The individual mandate requires individuals to obtain minimum essential health care coverage or pay a penalty in their taxes. The employer mandate requires employers to provide affordable minimal essential health care coverage to full-time employees or face a tax penalty.
     
    All plaintiffs are Christians morally opposed to abortion except to save the life of the mother. The most straightforward of their complaints alleged that their mandated insurance payments would wind up paying for abortions in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights. This is the simplest exemption argument in the case: plaintiffs think they should be exempt from the ACA because it burdens their religion.
     
    The court quickly dismissed that argument. Under the Free Exercise Clause, it ruled, the ACA is a neutral law of general applicability that applies to everyone without singling out religions for disfavor. Moreover, the court decided, plaintiffs’ religion was not burdened by the mandates. Although plaintiffs alleged that their money would be used for abortion, other provisions of the ACA required that a plan without abortion coverage would always be available as a choice for consumers. Without a substantial burden on religion, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religion without a compelling government interest) was violated.
     
  • May 31, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Lisa Heinzerling, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law. Heinzerling is also a Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member Scholar. This piece is crossposted at CPRBlog.

    A panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has just taken under consideration the Food and Drug Administration’s motion for a stay of a district court order directing the agency to make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives available to women and girls of any age without a prescription and without other point-of-sale restrictions. In deliberating on this motion, the panel of judges should not, I am sorry to say, take anything the FDA has said in its briefs at face value. The government’s opening and reply briefs on the motion to stay are so full of misstatements and omissions that the court could badly err if it did not take everything the government says with a shaker full of salt.

    One of the factors in deciding whether to grant a stay pending appeal is the likelihood that the moving party will succeed on the merits. The government devotes most of its briefs to this factor. It makes two arguments as to why the court of appeals should find that the government is likely to win on appeal and should thus stay the district court’s order on emergency contraception. Both arguments depend crucially on incomplete and inaccurate renderings of the law and facts of the case.

    Before turning to these arguments, a bit of context is necessary. The levonorgestrel-based emergency contraception at the center of this legal dispute takes two forms. One, Plan B and its generic versions, requires two pills. The other, Plan B One-Step and its generic versions, requires one pill. Both involve the same total dose of levonorgestrel. Despite these obvious similarities, the FDA has worked very hard to treat these drugs very differently; it has made Plan B One-Step available without a prescription to all women and girls over the age of 15, it has apparently blocked nonprescription market access to generic versions of Plan B One-Step for girls under 17, and it has resisted requests to make Plan B and its generic versions available without a prescription to girls under age 17. The district court’s order would make all of these drugs (except Plan B, which is no longer marketed) available without a prescription; the FDA would like to keep treating them differently.

  • May 7, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Fatima Goss Graves & Amy K. Matsui, National Women's Law Center

    This week the Senate HELP Committee will vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor.   In the midst of the many unfair and unfounded attacks lobbed against Mr. Perez in recent weeks, an important legal doctrine for combating sex discrimination has also come under attack: disparate impact. Under Mr. Perez’s leadership as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, the Department has employed the longstanding disparate impact analysis to combat employment discrimination.  Its application is not only legally sound, but exceptionally important to eliminate discrimination and further justice.

    The Supreme Court and Congress have long made clear that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “prohibits employers from using employment practices that cause a disparate impact” based on sex and other protected classes. The doctrine of disparate impact allows for a remedy when an employment practice that may be neutral on its face has an unjustified adverse effect on members of a protected class.

    Disparate impact has been crucial to addressing entrenched discriminatory employment practices.  Indeed, women’s entry into high-wage, nontraditional occupations has been made possible in large part by challenges to unfortunate employment practices that disproportionately disadvantage women, which would have otherwise remained unchanged but for the Title VII’s disparate impact doctrine.  Courts, for example, have struck down height, weight or strength requirements implemented by employers in police departments, fire departments, in construction and in correctional facilities because the requirements were not related to job performance, but instead reflected stereotypes about the skills required for a position.  Moreover, there are often alternative practices that may both satisfy job performance demands and allow for a diverse workforce.

  • April 19, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Allison Guttu*

    On April 5, U.S. federal judge in Tummino et al. v. Hamburg ordered that the Morning-After Pill be made available "without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days."

    Until the court’s ruling, emergency contraception was only available without a prescription for women 17 and up, forcing all women to be “carded” to buy it. Now, the Morning-After Pill or “Plan B” can be stocked on any shelf in any store, next to condoms, aspirin, or shampoo. No prescription or identification will be needed to buy it.

    The Morning-After Pill prevents pregnancy up to 5 days after sex; but is most effective within the first 24 hours. It is not RU-486, which induces an abortion. If you are pregnant, it will not work. But, having this form of birth control at our fingertips will give women enormous freedom--if we don’t want to have a child, we won’t have to.

    When women can’t control how many children we have, it impacts us as a group, not just individually. Not being able to control the course of our lives has deep implications for women. It means we have less leverage, whether in the workplace, with partners, in our families, or in our public lives. No birth control method is foolproof. Sometimes our partners resist using condoms, condoms break, and sometimes we forget to take the pill. Less frequently we are "swept away" by the moment, but should that mean that we have to bear a child? The Morning-After Pill is one more way for us to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

    For over a decade, grassroots feminists with National Women’s Liberation (NWL) -- including lead plaintiff Annie Tummino -- have been waging the most important fight in decades to expand access to birth control in the United States: making the Morning-After Pill available over-the-counter without any restrictions.