• April 9, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    On “mommy blogs” across the Internet, pregnant women lament that perfect strangers feel entitled to pat their bellies, offer unsolicited diet and parenting advice, and ask intrusive questions about their personal health.  For most women, such invasions are at most a temporary social annoyance.  But it should come as no surprise that in this culture of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, legislation that effectively strips pregnant women of their privacy and autonomy is widespread and, in many instances, has resulted in incarceration and forced intervention by the state.

    The ceaseless barrage of measures restricting the liberty of pregnant women takes many forms.  First, there are laws that place medically unnecessary (and sometimes irrational) mandates on abortion procedures: waiting periods, crisis pregnancy center counseling, ultrasounds, physician scripts, ambulatory surgical center requirements, hospital admitting privileges, hospital transfer agreements, procedure-specific bans, parental consent laws, restrictions on private insurance coverage, and the list goes on.

    In Texas – a state where judges are elected – a bill is being considered that would publicize the names of judges who give minors permission to obtain an abortion.  The Ohio House last week passed a bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected – possibly before a woman even knows she is pregnant – and provide for doctors who violate the ban to be imprisoned.  A new Arizona law requires doctors to tell patients, contrary to medical evidence, that drug-induced abortions can be reversed.  And on Tuesday, Kansas became the first state to ban dilation and evacuation as an abortion method.

    Such restrictions and state-sanctioned intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship are alarming, but they are not the end of the story.  At least 38 states have enacted “fetal homicide” laws, the majority of which apply to even the earliest stages of gestation.  These laws, which were originally sold to the public as tools to prosecute abusive boyfriends and others who may harm pregnant women, are increasingly being used to prosecute pregnant women themselves.

  • April 9, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Matt Apuzzo and Timothy Williams report on how the video of the Walter Scott shooting has reinvigorated the national debate on police tactics.

    Robinson Meyer applauds the courage of citizens who record police abuses in a piece at The Atlantic.

    In the Los Angeles Times, Scott Martelle argues that the criminal justice system fails to support those who are exonerated.

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Tomas Lopez explains the opportunity Maryland has to restore voting rights to 40,000 people.

    Katha Pollit argues in Salon that CEOs should stand up for their pregnant and potentially pregnant employees in the new abortion battles.

    Scott Bauer of the Associated Press (via the Wisconsin State Journal) that the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court filed a federal lawsuit over a voter-approved amendment that will likely result in her demotion. 

  • April 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nashwa Gewaily, Fellow at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

    On the evening of March 27, an apparent shootout left a police officer critically wounded and a man dead on the streets of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. As word of the incident spread, divergent narratives emerged and questions abounded across social media and news sites. In the aftermath, the Boston Police Department and its commissioner were widely praised in traditional media outlets for quickly sharing with select community figures an unbiased account of what had transpired: video footage from a nearby business that captured critical moments of the encounter.

    In the wake of a number of high-profile fatal police encounters, followed by community outrage and mass demonstrations, one could easily anticipate the heavy cloud of tension over Boston had nothing been produced to clear the air.  This incident is one of tragic many that reveal the benefits of capturing police encounters on video.

    Yet, it comes at a time when states are scrambling to make it much more difficult for police incident footage – specifically, police encounters recorded by body-worn cameras – to see the light of day. Citing privacy concerns, legislators in at least 15 states have introduced bills that would exempt from public records law or otherwise limit the disclosure of police-civilian encounter footage obtained from body cameras.  While there is certainly an obvious need to protect the privacy of anyone videotaped by police, the over breadth of many of the proposed rules only serve to undermine the transparency that is sorely needed to bring accountability to police departments.

  • April 8, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Mark Berman, Wesley Lowery and Kimberly Kindy report for The Washington Post on the South Carolina police officer charged with murder for shooting a man during a traffic stop.

    In the Journal Sentinel, Patrick Marley writes that judicial elections in Wisconsin are becoming more political as voters approve a new Chief Justice selection amendment. 

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Janai Nelson writes that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alabama redistricting cases “preserved an important nuance of Section 5 that will enable the [Voting Rights Act] to operate effectively.”

    Grace Garces Bordallo reports for the Associated Press that Guam has rejected a lesbian couple’s marriage license application.

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak discusses two amicus briefs in the Supreme Court same-sex marriage case that provide perspectives from abroad.

    At Salon, Jenny Kutner writes that a new anti-abortion law in North Carolina could dramatically reduce the availability of competent abortion providers in the state.

    Jason A. Schwartz argues at The Hill that the ability of the EPA to carry out life-saving regulation “may hinge on whether the Supreme Court Justices understand that fractions can’t be calculated without knowing the denominator.”

  • April 7, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Mark S. Kende, James Madison Chair Professor of Law and Director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center, and Bryan Ingram, Notes Editor of the Drake Law Review

    In 2009, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board (DMVB) rejected a controversial license plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a Texas non-profit group.  The plate features a confederate battle flag surrounded by the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896,” a faint confederate flag design in the background, an outline of the state in the upper-right-hand corner, the words “Texas” at the top of the plate, and the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans” at the bottom. 

    The DMVB’s action triggered a First Amendment battle between the state and the SCV, which is presently before the Supreme Court.  After the recent oral arguments, many believe the issue will hinge on whether the design constitutes government or private speech.  The question of whether such a plate contains racist hate speech is also relevant.  Most foreign nations ban racist hate speech.  The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has said racist hate speech is protected.  Some have called this American free speech exceptionalism, but the SCV says they are just committed to preserving the history and legacy of confederate veterans.