Women's rights

  • 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.”

  • January 24, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated on constitutional grounds a state law banning abortion, large swaths of the public may be more supportive of a woman’s right to make decisions regarding health, but state and federal lawmakers remain obsessed with limiting reproductive rights. The ongoing challenges to protect liberty of women were the focus of a recent ACS panel discussion at Georgetown University Law Center.

    The Jan. 23 panel discussion kicked off with opening remarks by ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, who talked about how Roe v. Wade sadly marked the high-water point of reproductive rights, because ever since then federal and state lawmakers have been chipping away at it. One of the first efforts to erode liberty started with passage of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prevents the federal government from funding abortions through Medicaid – the primary source of health insurance for millions of low income women, and continue to fall with the myriad restrictions on abortion that serve no purpose but to harass women. (See video of panel discussion here.)

    Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger followed Fredrickson, and maintained that Roe was not about choice -- it was about the right to an abortion. He also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, noting that if the government really wanted to curb late-term abortions, it should stop obstructing abortion early in pregnancy. Dellinger was followed by Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, who discussed the mounting legislative attacks on abortion. In the last two years, she said, there have been 162 new abortion restrictions passed by the states. Things have gotten so onerous that in some states, like Mississippi, there’s only a single abortion provider left in the entire state. That clinic is under continuing threat, as the state is requiring doctors at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – a burden that makes running a clinic financially impossible.

  • January 22, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Jacob Remes, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History, State University of New York, Empire State College. Prossor Remes is also David Carliner’s grandson.

    The problem I see for younger activists is that today it’s harder to get a good job. It’s harder to make the money you need. I mean, we lived so simply. I watch my students and the tuition is so much higher and they’re working two or three jobs trying to support themselves. I think it is harder for people to have the time to be able to do the kinds of work we did, just because we didn’t have as many other demands on us as people who are of college age and a little bit older do. – Sarah Weddington to Time magazine, January, 2013

    In June 1969, when Norma McCorvey needed a lawyer to demand her constitutional right to an abortion, she eventually found her way to two very young lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington had graduated from law school in 1967; Coffee received her law degree in February 1968. When the Supreme Court handed them their victory in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, Weddington and Coffee were only six and five years out of law school.

    As progressive lawyers, reproductive rights activists, and others celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe, it’s worth listening to Weddington’s concern about whether the work she did in her early 20s would be possible today. Both undergraduate and law school tuition have skyrocketed since the 1960s, and progressive lawyers faced increased pressure to enter higher-paying jobs instead of work for the movement.

    Progressive lawyering is difficult and poorly rewarded. ACS’s David Carliner Public Interest Award seeks to make it somewhat better rewarded. Each year, the Carliner Award’s all-star panel of judges gives a $10,000 prize to a rising star in civil rights, civil liberties, international human rights, or immigration law. Winners are between seven and twelve years out of law school (this year, that means having graduated between May 2001 and May 2006) -- long enough that they have racked up some victories and other accomplishments, but young enough that they are beginning to worry about buying a house and affording their children’s tuition all while still paying off their own student loans. The $10,000 prize isn’t enough to solve all their financial problems, but it can provide a much-needed help, and it gives recognition to lawyers who receive all too little of it.