Women's rights

  • March 8, 2013

    by Kristine Kippins

    In celebration of International Women’s Day, ACS highlights the progress made over the last four years to diversify our federal judiciary.

    According to the White House, President Obama has taken great steps to put more women on the bench. With two vacancies on the Supreme Court, Obama filled both spots with women, including the first Latina Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.  He appointed the second and third openly gay women to the district courts, Alison Nathan and Pamela Chen.  Chen is the first openly gay Asian American on the federal bench.  Six district courts have their first female judge ever – AK, E.D. Cal., S.D. Iowa, ME, VT, and Wyo. Shelly Dick will be number seven once installed in the Middle District of Louisiana.  Five states can now claim their first female circuit court judge – Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. And the first Asian American woman to a circuit court, Jacqueline Nguyen, now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

    Overall, Obama has placed 74 women on the federal bench, 42 percent of all confirmations, and that same statistic carries through to the percentage of female nominees pending in the Senate.  At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush could only boast that 22 percent of his confirmed judges being women.

  • February 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It took the U.S. House of Representatives far too long, but it has finally passed a more inclusive and bolder reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

    By a vote of 286 – 138, the House passed the reauthorization version approved by the Senate earlier this month. The measure will now be sent to President Obama for his signature.

    The Senate reauthorization was passed during the 112th Congress, but died when the House refused to support it, opting instead for a more limited version. The Senate reauthorization, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), extends services to help more victims of domestic violence. It does so by providing expanded jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute domestic violence. The reauthorization also includes more services for college students, undocumented immigrants and members of the LGBT community.

    Leahy applauded the House for passing a “fully-inclusive, life-saving legislation with a bipartisan vote” but also noted that supporting such legislation should not have been such a heavy lift. Indeed VAWA was passed with strong bipartisan support in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 without much wrangling.

    “We made the Violence Against Women Act our top priority in this Congress but it should not have taken this long,” Leahy continued.

    Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a leading voice opposing the House Republican’s weak VAWA reauthorization, said it was time to bolster the law. “It is critical that we continue these programs and, with this subsequent reauthorization, those safeguards will be afforded to the LGBT, Native American, and immigrant communities as well.”

    This time around, as The New York Times and others pointed, the Republican-led House was obstinately opposed to the reauthorization legislation because it extended services to undocumented immigrants and the LGBT community. In a Feb. 9 editorial, The Times blasted Republican opposition as “driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.” Right-wing organizations, such as the Family Research Council, also mounted strident attacks on the reauthorization, claiming it would run up deficits and undermine individual freedoms. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly called the VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”


  • February 22, 2013

    by John Schachter

    While most Americans know that today, February 22, was George Washington’s birthday, not enough know that he shares this day with another late great American. Former Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) would have turned 81 today had he not tragically succumbed to brain cancer in August 2009. Fortunately his legacy lives on.

    On so many of the issues dominating the public debate today -- voting rights, educational opportunity, marriage equality and equal rights for all Americans – Kennedy was a leader and a force to be reckoned with. As the Supreme Court grapples with these issues and more, let us hope that Kennedy’s work will be neither forgotten nor for naught.

    In honor of Kennedy’s life and legacy, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate was founded in Massachusetts following his death. The Institute “is dedicated to educating the public about our government, invigorating public discourse, encouraging participatory democracy, and inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the public square.” To commemorate his birthday, the Institute has posted a tribute video first shared at a celebration of Kennedy’s 77th birthday. It’s well worth a watch.

    Kennedy was a leading advocate of progressive ideals and also a friend to ACS. He was a major draw at a 2002 ACS national event and also authored an article for the summer 2008 volume of the Harvard Law & Policy Review (HLPR), the official journal of ACS, on the work of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

    Ted Kennedy will be remembered for many things, for better or for worse. But his nearly five decades in the Senate left a record in many ways unparalleled in the history of the institution. And while he is no longer around to keep the work going, that doesn’t mean the work is done. As was often the case, no one could put it better than Kennedy himself: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

  • February 12, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    There was a time, a long time ago, when major pieces of social safety net legislation could get through Congress with some bipartisan support. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, which extended government services to victims of domestic violence, passed Congress in 1994 with bipartisan support.

    But as noted here last year the reauthorization of the VAWA proved too difficult for the 112th Congress, primarily because of the Republican-controlled House, which is all about cutting services for the nation’s most vulnerable, while coddling the superrich. A Senate reauthorization version, championed by Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would extend government services to help more victims of domestic violence – such as providing limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute violence committed on tribal lands by those who are not living on the land or not members of the community.

    Today the 113th passed a VAWA reauthorization similar to the one it passed last session – one aimed at bolstering the services provided to victims of domestic violence and extending services to more victims of domestic violence. And the reauthorization measure had some Republican support – 23 voted in favor. All Democrats supported the measure. Twenty-two Republican rejected reauthorization.

    Once again it was the extension of services that prompted Republicans to vote against reauthorization. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he couldn’t support reauthorization, in part, because of “concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons on Indian country, including non-Indians,” Pema Levy reported for TPM.

    In an ACS Issue Brief, law professor Matthew L.M. Fletcher urged national lawmakers to help with an epidemic of domestic violence on Indian reservations partly by “recognizing tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians for domestic violence misdemeanors.”


  • February 8, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law

    The Obama administration recently offered more accommodations to the religious employers who oppose women’s reproductive freedom and seek exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employee insurance coverage extend to contraception and sterilization. The employers won two big victories. First, the definition of religious employer was expanded to include not only organizations where everyone shares one faith but also those that employ or provide services to individuals who are not members of the same religious community. Second, the employers will not have to provide the coverage. Instead, the insurance companies will independently contact employees and make separate contraceptive policies available to them at no charge. The insurance companies will cover the costs of this new arrangement and, presumably, pass them on to other consumers.

    The new rules are responsive to repeated and vociferous complaints about the president’s war on religion. As soon as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, first announced that religious employers would be expected to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage at no cost to employees, the nation’s Catholic bishops attacked the president for his unprecedented assault on religious freedom. Those critics ignored the fact that the idea of requiring employers to protect women’s equality by providing insurance was not new or unprecedented. Twenty-six states have similar laws, and the highest courts of New York and California upheld their women’s contraceptive equity statutes against First Amendment claims.

    With the federal act currently under challenge in 45 lawsuits, however, the administration chose to compromise rather than to press the legality of its actions on behalf of women’s equality. The strategy of compromise has been unsuccessful. Even the new accommodations have not satisfied the administration’s critics. The Catholic bishops still believethat the president should compromise even more by extending the exemption to secular, for-profit corporations run by religious individuals. And Kyle Duncan, the general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has sponsored much of the litigation against the mandate, stated that the new rules do “nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans.”