Women's rights

  • January 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    This year marks major anniversaries of several landmark Supreme Court opinions, including two that advanced liberty and equality. In January 1973, the high court in its Roe v. Wade opinion trumpeted liberty by striking a Texas law banning abortion. Equality and liberty were also advanced in June 2003 when a majority of the justices in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated a law targeting sex between consenting adults of the same gender.

    On Jan. 18 – 19 as part of the Constitution in 2020 project, several groups, including ACS, will host “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries.” (See below for more information about the gathering, including a tentative conference schedule.)

    In striking down a state law banning abortion, Justice Harry Blackmun declared that a “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state actions, as we feel it is, or as, the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

    The Roe court, however, did not find this right to be absolute, and subsequently we have seen an erosion of this liberty in a steady and disconcerting fashion by courts and lawmakers over the years. Indeed a string of states over the past few years has ratcheted up efforts to make it vastly more difficult for many women, especially the young and poor, to have abortions. State lawmakers have also pushed laws requiring physicians to lecture women on the alleged dangers of abortions and/or undergo ultrasounds all in an effort to slow the process or dissuade women from abortions.

    In 2003’s Lawrence, the majority of the court also advanced liberty by knocking down a Texas law that criminalized sex between people of the same gender. And like Roe, the majority found that liberty is broad enough to prevent the government from intruding upon intimate relations of lesbians and gay men. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the Lawrence majority, citied the high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion upholding Roe. In Casey, the Court wrote, “These matters, involving the most intimate personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    Kennedy’s Lawrence opinion also advanced equality, saying the challengers of the Texas law persuasively argued that their equal protection rights were subverted by a law that criminalized an intimate part of their relationships.

  • January 8, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

    The preventive care provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which include coverage of women’s reproductive health, took effect on January 1. To date, the thirteen district courts’ and three appeals courts’ decisions involving secular, for-profit companies’ challenges to the ACA’s contraceptive insurance mandate are all over the map. They lack a coherent rationale and reasoning. Instead, the courts should rule consistently that the exemption requested by the plaintiffs violates the Establishment Clause.

    According to the contraceptive coverage mandate, employee group health benefit plans must contain preventive care coverage that includes FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures. Numerous secular, for-profit companies and their Catholic, Christian or Mennonite owners challenged the mandate as a violation of their constitutional free exercise rights and the statutory protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”

    Among the plaintiffs in the secular, for-profit lawsuits are Weingartz Supply Company, which sells outdoor power equipment; Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store; Mardel, Inc., a bookstore and educational supply company; Hercules Industries, which manufactures and distributes heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, which mines, processes and distributes refractory and ceramic materials and products; Tyndale House Publishers, a Christian publishing company; American Pulverizer Co., Springfield Iron and Metal, LLC, Hustler Conveyor Co., and City Welding, businesses engaged in scrap metal recycling and manufacturing of scrap-related machines; Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, a construction business; Domino’s Farms, a property management company owned by Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza; Sharpe Holdings, Inc., a non-bank holding company including farming, dairy, creamery, and cheese-making; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinet and wood specialties company; Grote Industries, which manufactures vehicle safety systems; Triune Health Groups, which helps injured workers reenter the workplace; and Autocam Industries, which provides automotive parts.

  • December 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    When the Supreme Court announced in fall 2011 that it would review the constitutionality of the landmark health care reform law, civil rights groups and constitutional experts tried to highlight the lawsuits' threat to  the expansion of Medicaid coverage -- and what it would mean if the Supreme Court adopted the states' arguements against the expansion. If the high court were to decide that Congress had overstepped its spending power by penalizing states for not joining in the expansion of Medicaid it could have a potentially profound impact on other progressive laws, such as the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

    Writing for Slate, Simon Lazarus and Dahlia Lithwick warned that if the high court were to side with the states’ argument against the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid (the states argued that they were being unconstitutionally coerced into expanding Medicaid) then other programs run by the states with federal dollars could be in jeopardy. The ACA sought to expand Medicaid coverage to adults below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line. In a 2011 ACS Issue Brief, Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, described the states’ arguments against the Medicaid expansion as proposing “a radical upheaval in applicable constitutional law.”

    But the National Women’s Law Center’s Emily J. Martin in an ACS Issue Brief released today argues that the majority’s spending clause analysis from the high court’s ACA opinion from late June does not pose a danger to the major federal law aimed at stopping discrimination against women – Title IX.

    Title IX, in part, states, “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 ….”

    Martin, vice president and general counsel at NWLC, provides great detail on why the Roberts Court’s spending clause analysis would not undermine the antidiscrimination law and also notes that even if Title IX were vulnerable to a spending clause challenge based on the ACA decision, it would still survive because it is an appropriate means for Congress to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

  • November 19, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Crawford, Director of Workplace Fairness, National Partnership for Women & Families


    Later this term, the Supreme Court will decide the case of Vance v. Ball State, a case that will have critical implications for the ability of our nation’s civil rights laws to root out unlawful workplace harassment. At issue in the case is the meaning of “supervisor” and whether employers may be held vicariously liable for harassment committed by supervisors who have the authority to direct and oversee employees’ work, as compared to those who have the authority to hire or fire.  The Court’s decision will have important ramifications for the ability of victims of supervisor harassment to hold their employers accountable. 

    With so much at stake, the National Partnership for Women & Families led a group of ten top civil and workers’ rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in Vance that calls on the Court to reject an overly restrictive definition of supervisor that is limited to those with the authority to make “tangible” employment decisions like hiring and firing. Quite simply, this definition does not reflect the realities of the workplace or the Court’s previously demonstrated understanding of what it means to be a supervisor. 

    Petitioner Maetta Vance worked at Ball State University as a catering assistant for the university’s dining services department when she was harassed by an employee that she considered to be a supervisor with the authority to direct and oversee her work. Vance alleges that, as a result of the harassment and physical intimidation she suffered, she lived and worked in a constant state of fear. Despite her complaints to the university, the harassment persisted.

  • November 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The evolution of the nation’s democratic process has been arduous, tragic and bloody. And the process which still excludes too many remains a work in progress.  

    It took a Civil War, constitutional amendments and eradication of Jim Crow for African Americans to be able to participate in democracy. But dogged bigots still worked on ways to keep blacks from the polls. The Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, was a step by the federal government to drag recalcitrant states into line and stop harassment and oppression of African Americans at the polls. We now have several states with long, tawdry histories of discriminating against minorities at the polls, fighting to gut a major enforcement provision of the VRA. (Some of those state officials, in Alabama, for instance argue that discrimination at the polls does not exist anymore and therefore Section 5 of the VRA needs to be dumped. Congress, however, has found ample evidence that discrimination against minorities at the polls is not a thing of the past.)

    It wasn’t until 1920 when women gained the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. In summer 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a close vote in the Tennessee legislature. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex,” it reads. And the ratification of the 19th Amendment didn’t happen overnight; it was nearly a 70-year work in progress.   

    Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan notes a “quick and comprehensive lesson” on voting rights, linking to a video, “Democracy Distilled: Examining the Evolution of our Nation’s Voting Rights.”

    The video, less than 4 minutes, notes, “When our nation was founded, voting rights were anything but equal. The freedoms we have today represent two centuries of successes and failures made by individuals constantly battling to make their voices heard.” Watch it here, or below the jump.

    The “battle” for voting rights though is one that we will likely drag on. The Supreme Court has given corporations greater power drown out individual voices and there remain too many state efforts to make voting difficult.