What the GOP’s Supreme Obstruction Means for Women

Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo on several crucial issues.

— by Martha Burk, OtherWords.org author
Martha BurkSenators, constitutional scholars may tell you, must “advise and consent” on the president’s Supreme Court nominees. But apparently the official GOP policy is to “refuse and obstruct.” They’ve vowed not even to give President Obama’s nominees a vote.

These Republicans claim that leaving the Supreme Court understaffed is no big deal. Well, it’s certainly a big deal for women. Pending cases on abortion, birth control, education, and public employee unions are all sitting before a divided court.

The scariest case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.

It’s a challenge to a Texas law that would close all but about 10 abortion clinics in the state — down from more than 40 — by requiring them to essentially become mini-hospitals. They’d have to employ only doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a regulation almost unheard of for safe and common procedures like abortion.

LaDawna Howard / Flickr
LaDawna Howard / Flickr

Since an appeals court upheld the requirements, a 4-4 deadlock on the Supreme Court would give Texas the green light to enforce them. And it would almost certainly encourage other states to enact similar laws.

On the birth control front, the court will consider Zubik v. Burwell. A successor to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s an argument over whether religiously affiliated institutions have to observe the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-provided health plans cover birth control.

These groups are allowed to avoid the requirement by filling out a form, in which case the government will arrange with their insurer to cover their employees. A few of these groups are claiming that still makes them complicit in sinful conduct.

A 4-4 tie at the Supreme Court would be a mixed bag, since most — but not all — appeals court decisions have upheld the accommodation as not burdensome to religious practice.

Meanwhile, established labor law is on the line in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where the court will consider whether public employees who choose not to join unions can still be required to pay fees for collective bargaining activities. A decision against the unions could mortally wound them.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women are the majority of the public sector workforce, and the wage gap with their male counterparts is smaller for public union women than non-union women. The lower court favored the unions, so a tie would stave off a major blow to their viability. But that’s still a lot to risk.

Women are now also the majority of college students, and women of color could be greatly affected by a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas. In that case, the court will decide whether the school’s race‑conscious admissions program violates the Constitution’s equal protection principles.

Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself. So if the Senate leaves Scalia’s seat unfilled, the case will be decided by seven justices — which means there can be no tie. Three judges — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito — oppose affirmative action, and a fourth, Anthony Kennedy, has previously expressed doubts about the University of Texas policy.

So what’s the score?

In four cases affecting women the most, two could go in women’s favor with tie votes. A third tie vote would go against women, and a 4-3 conservative majority would hurt them in the final case as well.

However you score it, Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo until a new justice is chosen and new cases can be brought. That could take years. Women — and the country — deserve better.


Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk.

Tagged: 
Advertisements

The Supreme Court Shamed The Most Anti-Abortion Court In The Country With Just 14 Words

— by Ian Millhiser

Credit: AP photo/Michael Dwyer

Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court handed down a very brief order allowing several Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen after a conservative federal appeals court forced them to shut down. Yet, while the Supreme Court’s order was very short — only slightly more than a paragraph long — it contained 14 more words than such an order normally would. And those 14 words appear to be a direct swipe at the appeals court that shut down Louisiana’s clinics in the first place.

To explain, the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has handed down a series of decisions that appear calculated to dismantle nearly all of Roe v. Wade within the three states (Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) overseen by that court. In 2015, for example, the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole gave states sweeping power to restrict abortion, so long as the restriction is dressed up as a health regulation. Among other things, this opinion blessed a provision of Texas law requiring abortion clinics to undergo expensive renovations in order to comply with regulations governing “ambulatory surgical centers,” even if the clinic does not actually perform any surgeries. Many Texas abortion clinics only offer medication abortions, which are induced by pills the woman takes orally.

An appeal of this Whole Woman’s Health decision is currently pending before the justices, and a majority of the Court appeared skeptical of the Fifth Circuit’s decision at oral arguments last Wednesday.

Just one week before the Supreme Court heard these arguments, however, the Fifth Circuit handed down another anti-abortion decision. In June Medical Services v. Gee, the Fifth Circuit granted an “emergency” motion reinstating a Louisiana law that was expected to shut down all but one of that state’s abortion clinics. The Louisiana law at issue in June Medical Services closely resembles a provision of the Texas law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health.

The Fifth Circuit’s order in June Medical Services was surprising, largely because the Supreme Court had already dropped some pretty big clues that a majority of the justices disapprove of the Fifth Circuit’s decisions forcing abortion clinics to close. Among other things, the justices stayed the Fifth Circuit’s Whole Woman’s Health decision pending the Supreme Court’s own resolution of the case — effectively enabling many Texas abortion clinics to remain open that would be closed if the Fifth Circuit’s order were still in effect.

Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit decided not to take the hint that Texas-style attempts to shut down clinics should be placed on hold. Instead, the Fifth Circuit claimed in June Medical Services that it was free ignore this hint because, when the Supreme Court stayed Whole Woman’s Health, it did so in a brief order without explaining its reasoning. “No guidance can be gleaned from the Supreme Court’s vacating portions of the stay without explanation,” according to the lower court, “as we cannot discern the underlying reasoning from the one-paragraph order.”

Which brings us back to the 14 significant words in the Supreme Court’s most recent order. “Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole,” that order begins, the Fifth Circuit’s order reinstating the Louisiana law is vacated.

These 14 words are a subtle spanking, but they are a spanking nonetheless. They directly contradict the Fifth Circuit’s claim that it can ignore the Supreme Court’s previous stay orders if the lower court “cannot discern the underlying reasoning” behind those orders. And they rebut the Fifth Circuit’s logic on its own terms. Why shouldn’t lower courts allow Texas-style abortion restrictions to go into effect in the future? Because halting these laws is “consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.”

To be clear, it is normally a dangerous practice to read too much into a one-paragraph order like the one the Supreme Court handed down Friday. This order provides only a limited window into the Court’s thinking, and it deals only with a preliminary issue facing the Fifth Circuit in June Medical Services. The conservative appeals court will have another opportunity to hear this case, and that will give it another opportunity to make mischief for abortion providers.

But the Supreme Court is now signalling very loudly that a majority of the Court is not pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s efforts to pare Roe v. Wade down to near nothingness. If the lower court’s judges do decide to make more mischief, they will probably wind up on the receiving end of yet another judicial spanking.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

What is the President Looking for in his SCOTUS Nominee?

A Responsibility I Take Seriously
— by President Barack Obama

SCOTUS-ScaliaThe Constitution vests in the President the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.  It’s a duty that I take seriously, and one that I will fulfill in the weeks ahead.

It’s also one of the most important decisions that a President will make.  Rulings handed down by the Supreme Court directly affect our economy, our security, our rights, and our daily lives.

Needless to say, this isn’t something I take lightly.  It’s a decision to which I devote considerable time, deep reflection, careful deliberation, and serious consultation with legal experts, members of both political parties, and people across the political spectrum.  And with thanks to SCOTUSblog for allowing me to guest post today, I thought I’d share some spoiler-free insights into what I think about before appointing the person who will be our next Supreme Court Justice.

First and foremost, the person I appoint will be eminently qualified.  He or she will have an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence and integrity.  I’m looking for a mastery of the law, with an ability to hone in on the key issues before the Court, and provide clear answers to complex legal questions.

Second, the person I appoint will be someone who recognizes the limits of the judiciary’s role; who understands that a judge’s job is to interpret the law, not make the law.  I seek judges who approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand.

But I’m also mindful that there will be cases that reach the Supreme Court in which the law is not clear.  There will be cases in which a judge’s analysis necessarily will be shaped by his or her own perspective, ethics, and judgment.  That’s why the third quality I seek in a judge is a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.  It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.  That, I believe, is an essential element for arriving at just decisions and fair outcomes.

A sterling record.  A deep respect for the judiciary’s role.  An understanding of the way the world really works.  That’s what I’m considering as I fulfill my constitutional duty to appoint a judge to our highest court.  And as Senators prepare to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to consider the person I appoint, I hope they’ll move quickly to debate and then confirm this nominee so that the Court can continue to serve the American people at full strength.

An Historic Attempt To Kill Roe v. Wade May Backfire Spectacularly On The Anti-Choice Right

CREDIT: DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES VIA AP, POOL

It was supposed to be an epic battle over the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Next week, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to Texas’s ambitious anti-abortion law HB2. If this law is upheld — a very real possibility in a conservative Supreme Court — Roe v. Wade would have most likely remained alive in name only. States would gain sweeping new power to shut down abortion clinics, so long as they dressed up the laws they enacted to end access to abortion as health regulations.

Except that opponents of abortion no longer have the fifth vote they need to gut Roe. Justice Antonin Scalia’s death means that Roe shall live at least another year. Whether it survives past next year, however, could very well be decided by whoever gets to fill Scalia’s seat.

The Masterminds

HB2 is the brainchild of the sophisticated anti-abortion group Americans United for Life (AUL). The law imposes expensive architectural and other requirements on abortion clinics, as well as often-difficult-to-obtain credentialing requirements on abortion providers. If the Supreme Court allows the law to take full effect, at least 32 of the 40 abortion clinics that existed in Texas before it was enacted are expected to shut down.

AUL, moreover, does not hide its goal in pushing such legislation — as ThinkProgress’ Erica Hellerstein reported, AUL functions as a “legislation mill” producing anti-abortion bills that can be copied and enacted in many states. The anti-abortion group brags on their website that they work “through the law and legislative process to one end: Achieving comprehensive legal protection for human life from conception to natural death.” Overruling Roe v. Wade, according to AUL, “can be accomplished through deliberate, legal strategies that accumulate victories, build momentum, and restore a culture of life.”

Just over one week ago, Whole Woman’s Health appeared poised to become AUL’s crowning achievement. Under the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, states may not enact laws that place an “undue burden” a woman’s right to choose abortion — a vague standard that’s proved quite malleable in the hands of abortion opponents. At the same time, states may legitimately regulate all medical clinics, including those that provide abortions, to protect the health of individuals who seek treatment from those clinics. Whole Woman’s Health asks what happens when a state enacts abortion restrictions disguised as health regulations.

The clinic regulations and credentialing requirements at issue in this case will do little, if anything, to advance women’s health. But they make it a whole lot harder to obtain an abortion. Thus, a decision upholding HB2 could potentially return women to a world much like the one that existed prior to Roe. States may not actually be allowed to openly ban abortion after such a decision, but they’d have broad authority to restrict abortion just so long as they are clever enough to devise anti-abortion laws that look like health laws. And if state lawmakers proved inept at this task, groups like AUL would be more than happy to give them a hand.

Now, however, with Scalia’s seat vacant and the Court evenly divided between Democratic and Republican appointees, the likelihood HB2 will be upheld outright is vanishingly small.

No Longer The Man in the Middle

Before Scalia’s unexpected death, all eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy, the closest thing the Roberts Court has to a swing vote on abortion. As a general rule, if your plan of attack against an abortion restriction depends on winning Kennedy’s approval, you need a better plan. Prior to HB2, Justice Kennedy considered 21 abortion restrictions as a member of the Supreme Court andallowed 20 of them to take effect. In one case, Kennedy justified an abortion restriction in part because he thought that “it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”

(It also seems unexceptionable to conclude that some people come to regret their choice to bring a dangerous firearm into their home, yet this insight has not animated Kennedy’s votes in Second Amendment cases.)

Yet, while Kennedy’s opinions reveal an almost visceral revulsion towards abortion, he’s also proved unwilling to overrule Roe outright. Kennedy co-authored the Casey opinion, which limited abortion rights, but which also purported to hold that “the essential holding of Roe v. Wade should be retained and once again reaffirmed.”

Thus, before conservatives lost their majority on the Supreme Court, the most important question in Whole Woman’s Health was likely to be which Justice Kennedy shows up to work next week — the one that consistently upholds abortion restrictions or the one that is unwilling to invalidate Roe in its entirety. Kennedy, moreover, gave hope to Team Choice when he cast the fifth vote to stay a lower court order upholding nearly all of HB2.

Uncertain Process

Now that the Court is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, Kennedy no longer has the power to drive a nail in Roe‘s coffin, but he could still have the power to do considerable damage to the right to choose. The ordinary rule when the Court splits 4-4 is that the lower court’s decision is affirmed and the justices’ decision does not have any precedential value. Because the court of appeals largely upheld HB2, a 4-4 decision in Whole Woman’s Health would allow the Texas law to almost entirely remain in effect — at least until a fifth justice is confirmed to the Court and another abortion case reaches the justices.

Thus, as Cosmopolitan’s Jill Filipovic notes, Scalia’s death may actually make it more likely that Justice Kennedy votes to uphold HB2. “If Scalia were still alive, Kennedy might be choosing between overturning Roe and invalidating the Texas law,” Filipovic writes. Now, however, he doesn’t have to choose between two options that he’s likely to view as undesirable. Rather, if he sides with the conservatives he will leave lower court’s opinion in place without creating a precedent he may later come to regret. “For this particular justice, who seems to find abortion troubling but may not want to see it outlawed wholesale,” Filipovic notes, “that may be a desirable outcome.”

There is, however, some uncertainty about whether Kennedy will have this option. As SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein notes, the Court’s past practice when a vacancy opened in the middle of a term was to hold cases where the justices split over until the next term, when the open seat presumably would be filled. Given the extraordinary obstructionism Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already planned against anyone President Obama sends up to fill this seat, it remains to be seen whether the justices will decide to hold over split decisions until next term or simply affirm the case by an evenly divided vote and be done with it.

Which process they choose could matter a great deal in Whole Woman’s Health. Recall that Kennedy provided the fifth vote to stay the lower court’s decision upholding HB2. That order provides that the stay shall last until “the issuance of the judgment of this Court.” Thus, if the Court holds the case over for reargument next term, the stay remains in effect until the Court decides the case, and HB2 does not go into effect. If the Court affirms the lower court by an evenly divided vote, by contrast, that counts as a “judgment” of the Supreme Court, so the clinics most impacted by HB2 will close.

The choice whether to hold the case over could also matter for an entirely different reason. If President Obama (or a similarly minded president) manages to fill Justice Scalia’s seat, one of the first matters taken up by the Court’s new liberal majority would be a major abortion case. That would not only give them the opportunity to strike down HB2, it would also give them the chance to expand a right to choose that has been gradually chipped away after decades of conservative decisions. The vague “undue burden” standard that now controls abortion cases was pushed by abortion opponents including the Reagan Justice Department and AUL itself before it was ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court. A more liberal Court could scrap this standard altogether or, at the very least, clarify it in a way that does not permit anti-abortion judges to take advantage of its vagueness.

Rather than becoming AUL’s crowning achievement, in other words, Whole Woman’s Health could be their most demoralizing defeat.

Yet that outcome depends entirely on who gets to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. If the next justice is more like Scalia, Whole Woman’s Health could still become AUL’s greatest triumph.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

The Abortion Case That Could Overturn Roe v. Wade Has A Lot Of Opponents

— by Alex Zielinski, a health reporter at Think Progress

CREDIT: AP PHOTO, PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

US Capitol police officers line-up in front of pro-abortion rights demonstrators on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, at the Supreme Court in Washington.

A looming Supreme Court case that could severely undermine the right to an abortion has attracted an unprecedented amount of opposition from across the country.

A slew of organizations and individuals filed 45 legal briefs in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, each brief examining the case through a unique lens and each coming to the same conclusion: State laws that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional.

The case will examine the validity of a Texas law, known as HB2, that places burdensome, unnecessary guidelines on the state’s dwindling abortion clinics. These regulations, while framed as improvements to safeguard “women’s health,” ultimately have nothing to do with patient safety — and were instead created by anti-abortion legislators to impose additional, costly red tape on clinic staff. So far, it’s been successful. HB2 has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close, thus cutting Texas’ abortion providers in half.

The Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, won’t only decide if Texas’ law is constitutional. Depending how the court rules, the decision could also give legal cover to all states seeking to enact laws that appear to function as health regulations, but that actually exist to restrict access to abortion. The oral arguments for the case begin in March.

Reproductive rights advocates have been outspoken since HB2 passed in 2013, but since the Supreme Court’s  November decision to hear the case, the diversity of opponents has grown. The 45 briefs were filed by a variety of petitioners, including physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself.

“Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders…stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

Among the briefs were voices of actual women who’ve been affected by the lack of abortion access in the past — a voice some say is forgotten in the high-level case.

“The Supreme Court justices need to hear the real effects of restrictive abortion laws on women like this one in Texas,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a group helping young people access comprehensive sexual health education. Hauser shared her personal experience with abortion in her organization’s brief.

“What is missing from this issue are our personal stories. The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.”

Many of those women shared their stories in another brief submitted Tuesday, representing 110 law professionals who’ve had abortions. Some noted how they would have never had the chance to become a lawyer if they hadn’t had an abortion when they did.

“[Our] experiences demonstrate the real world effects of abortion access on the lives and careers of women attorneys, and underscore the truth of the court’s observation that reproductive choice facilitates women’s ability ‘to participate in the economic and social life of the nation,’” the brief reads.

According to Northup, the briefs represent the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the Supreme Court level. In the legal brief filed by a large collection of different religious leaders, the petitioners stress their support of abortion access — despite efforts from more radical religious organizations to say otherwise.

“As religious leaders and pastoral counselors, [we] provide spiritual guidance to women facing this decision and believe that this complex decision is ultimately a moral one,” the brief reads. “While various religious groups in this country hold differing views on abortion, there is substantial agreement that women have a moral right to make their own decisions on the issue.”

A group of 40 prominent scientists also submitted a brief Tuesday, hoping to overrule the “flawed pseudoscience” that will be used in testimony to support the case.

“We hope the court is able to put abortion politics aside and focus on the illegitimacy of the medical claims propping up the restrictions,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. “When science claims are used to infringe a constitutional right they had better be valid, but that’s not the case here.”

A Tuesday press call drew a variety of opponents together, including Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator who led an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to defeat HB2, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, to further illustrate the severity of this case. Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also spoke on the call, representing the women already harmed the most by the current Texas law.

“For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course,” she said. “Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”

Since HB2 was enacted, at least 100,000 Texan women have tried to induce their own abortion, due to the cost driving to a distant abortion clinic, taking time off work to do so, and other frustrating roadblocks to make it difficult for them to legally end a pregnancy.

The legal briefs filed, which represent more than 1,000 opponents in total, may shine more light on the broader impact the pending case could have on women across the country — an impact that has already left Texas in a health crisis.

“These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas’ sham law has,” concluded Northup. “It will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down.”


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ them on Twitter

Republican Presidential Candidates Want You To Know They Are Against LGBT Rights

— by Zack Ford Dec 8, 2015 4:20 PM

Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz at the Presidential Family Forum in Iowa last month.

Over the past few weeks, several Republican presidential candidates have served up attacks on LGBT people, recommitting themselves to persecution by rolling back gains for equality and enshrining the right to discriminate into law. The comments all seem to be popping up as the candidates have stayed relatively mum on issues like abortion, gun control violence, and Islamophobia, despite recent tragedies spotlighting those issues in the media.

Here are some of the recent anti-LGBT highlights from the Republican primary.

Marco Rubio
In an interview this weekend with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Marco Rubio outlined outlined extensive plans for enabling discrimination against LGBT people in the name of religious liberty. As president, Rubio said he would do the following:

  • Rescind President Obama’s executive order protecting the LGBT employees of federal contractors.
  • Only appoint Supreme Court Justices committed to undoing marriage equality and a woman’s right to an abortion.
  • Protect religious organizations that wish to refuse service to same-sex couples.

Rubio seemed to imply that employing and serving LGBT people were themselves sinful actions. “There are many government contractors and small companies who provide services to the government who are faith-based people, and they are being compelled to sin by government in their business conduct,” he said. “That is not something we should be supporting.”

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz recently sat down with National Organization for Marriage founder Robert George for an interview on EWTN, a Catholic television network. In one segment, Cruz agreed with George that the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision was “profoundly wrong,” “fundamentally illegitimate,” “lawless,” and “not based on the Constitution.”

Cruz then referenced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s recent comments that a public official that can not follow the decision, like Kim Davis, should resign. During his remarks, Kennedy alluded to the fact that very few judges resigned from the Nazi German government. Thus, Cruz claimed, he was comparing the Supreme Court to Nazis. “This isn’t me calling them the Nazis,” Cruz explained, “this is Justice Kennedy calling the court on which he serves, calling the opinion that he wrote — analogizing that to the Nazi decrees that we must obey. That is an arrogance, it is an elitism, it is being out of touch with our nation.”

In another segment, Cruz fielded a question about accommodations for transgender students in public schools. He condemned such policies as “ridiculous” decisions made by “zealots.” “I don’t want my daughters taking showers with little boys; I don’t want them when they’re in junior high or high school. And it’s absurd. No parents do.”

Cruz pledged to end Common Core and abolish the Department of Education entirely, so there would be no federal agency to enforce Title IX to protect transgender students.

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee also talked to Robert George for an hour late last month and offered his own renditions on many of the same points. Huckabee would “absolutely decline” to enforce the marriage equality decision, because “it’s a matter of saving our republic.” He’d also ensure that he had an attorney general who “would protect in every way the rights of those citizens who joined in disagreeing.”

As such, Huckabee would pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) in his first 100 days. The bill would prohibit the federal government from acting against any organization that discriminates against same-sex couples, creating a widespread license to discriminate. Citing examples of wedding vendors who would refuse to serve same-sex couples or schools that would refuse to recognize their marriages, he pledged the federal government under his leadership would side with them if a state is trying to enforce a nondiscrimination law.

Huckabee also chimed in on transgender school protections, calling it a “ludicrous notion” that someone “can just wake up one day and say, ‘You know, I know I have the biological makeup of a male and I have the gene — I’m genetically male, but I kind of feel feminine today,’ or ‘I’m going to feel feminine for the next year or the rest of my life.’”

He described it as “most baffling” than anyone could thoughtfully “defend the notion that it is normal — that it is perfectly legitimate — for a person just to declare oneself to be a different gender. It borders on laughable, and I know to say it’s laughable would bring great contempt because people would say you’re being insensitive. I’m not being insensitive. I’m exercising just a little bit of common sense.”

Huckabee similarly exercised his little bit of common sense earlier this year when he joked that he wished transgender protections existed when he was a kid, because he would’ve found his “feminine side” so he could “shower with the girls.”

Ben Carson
Over the weekend, Ben Carson said at a town hall event that he misses “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that discriminated against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the military. “Why do you have to go around flaunting your sexuality?” he asked. “It’s not necessary. You don’t need to talk about that. We need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy.”

He also opposed allowing transgender people to serve, worrying that the military is being used as “a laboratory for social experimentation.” “Deal with the transgender thing somewhere else,” he said. Last month, Carson similarly said that trans people don’t deserve “extra rights,” like equal access to safely use the bathroom. The ban on transgender military service will be lifted this spring.

At a recent debate, Carson took umbrage at the notion that he might be described as a “homophobe” for his frequent anti-LGBT comments. When he apologized earlier this year for suggesting that homosexuality is a choice because prison turns people gay, he announced that he wasn’t going to talk about “gay rights” issues anymore.

That hasn’t proven to be the case for him or any of his fellow candidates.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

Legally Married and Legally Fired

— by CAP Action War Room

The Fight For Equal Rights For LGBT Americans Does Not End At Marriage

We’ve been talking a lot about a certain Supreme Court case over the past month, with the Affordable Care Act under attack for a second time. Next up, the Supreme Court will hear another important case in April on whether to legalize marriage for committed same-sex couples throughout the country. While proponents of equality are hopeful for a historic decision to finally ensure marriage equality nationwide, regardless of the outcome, the fight for LGBT equal rights will not end in June. One aspect of that fight is securing basic non-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

While the fundamental right to marry the one you love has been extended to Americans in over thirty states, we still have a ways to go in enacting meaningful anti-discrimination laws across the country. As the graphic below demonstrates, LGBT Americans are still vulnerable to discrimination in many other ways. And click here to learn more about all the protections that LGBT Americans don’t have.

LGBT-Discrimination

BOTTOM LINE: While the Supreme Court may soon rightly decide that marriage equality is constitutional, the fight for fairness and full equality will not be over this summer. Congress and the States need to act to ensure equal protections for LGBT Americans.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.  Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

The President Just Announced This —

Our immigration system has been broken for decades. And every day we wait to act, millions of undocumented immigrants are living in the shadows: Those who want to pay taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else have no way to live right by the law. That is why President Obama is using his executive authority to address as much of the problem as he can, and why he’ll continue to work with Congress to pass comprehensive reform.

ImmigrationPlan

Related Articles: 

Fixing the Voting Rights Act — HR3899

Fix the Voting Rights Act

Nearly 50 years ago, with Martin Luther King Jr. standing beside him, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law to protect African-Americans and other minorities from racist policies that made it harder for them to register to vote and participate in the political process.

But last summer, the right-wing ideologues on the United States Supreme Court, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, gutted the Voting Rights Act, ending 40 years of protection for minorities against discriminatory and unfair attempts to limit voting based on one’s race.

Fortunately, Representatives John Conyers, John Lewis and others have now introduced legislation that would restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act for the 21st century. We need to stop Republicans in states around the country from enacting racist voter ID and voter suppression laws. Passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act now is the best way to do it.

“The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed and is vital to our commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in our electoral process.  It began a healing process that ameliorated decades of discrimination and helped distinguish a democracy that serves as an example for the world. Free, fair, and accessible elections are sacrosanct, and the right of every legal voter to cast their ballot must be unassailable. The VRA broke from past attempts to end voter discrimination by requiring federal preclearance of changes to voting laws in areas with documented histories of discrimination. There is no acceptable remedy for an unfair election after the fact.  Section 5 of the VRA was the only federal remedy that could stop discriminatory practices before they affected elections.

Shelby County vs. Holder severely weakened the election protections that both parties have fought to maintain.  The Court disregarded years of work by Congress.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court eliminated the VRA’s formula for determining which areas are covered by section 5. The result is that the pre-clearance requirement remains, but it no longer applies anywhere except in the handful of locations currently subject to a court order. By striking down Section 4, the Court presented Congress with both a challenge and a historic opportunity.  We are again called to restore the critical protections of the act by crafting a new formula that will cover jurisdictions with recent evidence of discrimination.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act is bipartisan, bicameral, and compliant with the Supreme Court’s ruling.  I am confident that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can work together to ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected. Voter discrimination still exists, and our progress toward equality should not be mistaken for a final victory.”  — Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner

Bill Text
Section-by-Section Analysis
House Cosponsors

While the Supreme Court did not invalidate Section 5, a key part of the Voting Rights Act was thrown out. They threw out the basic formula that has been in use since the bill’s passage in 1965. That formula determines when the Justice Department must review local election rules, that might suppress the votes of African-American and Latino citizens, before they could be put into effect. Voter suppression rules can still be challenged by the Department of Justice after the fact, but this often happens too late to prevent minority voters from being blocked from the polls. The court’s decision effectively guts the Voting Rights Act, rendering it useless until Congress updates the coverage formula for Section 5.

Republicans didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of this ruling for electoral gain. Within hours of Supreme Court’s decision, several states in the South immediately announced that they would pursue onerous new voter ID laws that were clearly designed to make it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to vote.

It’s the same old story of using the irrational fear of voter “fraud” as cover while they work to disenfranchise eligible voters. The truth is, voter fraud is exceedingly rare. More Americans are struck by lightning than commit voter fraud. The real problem, the one that can adversely impact election results if we’re not vigilant, is voter suppression.

Tell Congress to fight voter suppression and pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act now.

TakeAction

For decades the Voting Rights Act protected voters in pockets of the country with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices. In 2012, it allowed the Justice Department to block attempts by Texas, South Carolina and Florida to implement discriminatory voting rules. But until Congress restores the Voting Rights Act, right-wing efforts to make it harder for African-Americans and Latino citizens to vote will run completely amok.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act would fix Section 5, our strongest tool for fighting voter suppression efforts, by updating the formula for determining which states and municipalities need pre-approval from the Department of Justice to change their voting laws. We need to show Congress massive public support for this crucial bill. Let’s put the extreme right-wing Republicans in Congress on the hook for not going on the record against efforts in the states to make it harder for African-Americans and Latinos to vote.

Resources:

1. “‘Shelby County’: One Year Later,” Brennan Center for Justice, June 24, 2014
2. “H.R. 3899: The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner
3. “Voting Rights in the Post-Shelby county Era,” American Constitution Society, June 20, 2014

The Supreme Court Just Blew A Gaping Hole In The Wall Of Separation Between Church And State

— by IAN MILLHISER

wall hole

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Town of Greece v. Galloway is the case that proponents of the separation of church and state have feared ever since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor left the Supreme Court in 2006. It strikes at the heart of the constitutional prohibition on government endorsement of religious doctrine or belief. And it brings religious conservatives within inches of a victory they have sought for more than two decades. For the sort of people who believe America should be a “Christian nation,” today is a today to celebrate.

To explain, Justice O’Connor was the Court’s leading supporter of the view that government may not endorse a particular religious belief or take any action that could convey such a “message of endorsement to the reasonable observer.” This view placed her sharply at odds with the four other conservatives on the Rehnquist Court. Thus, when O’Connor was replaced with the much more conservative Justice Samuel Alito, most Court watchers expected this prohibition on government endorsements of religion to fall in short order. The most surprising thing about the Town of Greece decision isn’t that begins the process of doing so — it is that it took the Roberts Court this long to reach such a decision.

Though Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Town of Greece does not explicitly eliminate the ban on government endorsements of religion, it strongly suggests that the end of this ban is nigh. As Kennedy explains, this ban derives from a case called County of Allegheny v. ACLU, which “held that a crèche placed on the steps of a county courthouse to celebrate the Christmas season violated the Establish­ment Clause because it had ‘the effect of endorsing a patently Christian message.’” Four dissenters, according to Kennedy, “disputed that endorsement could be the proper test, as it likely would condemn a host of traditional practices that recognize the role religion plays in our society.” One of those dissenters was Kennedy.

Town of Greece is a case about legislative prayer — that is, it is about whether lawmaking bodies can open their session with a prayer that is often, if not always, explicitly Christian. On the surface, Kennedy limits his treatment of the ban on government endorsements of religion to the context of legislative prayer, writing that there was no suggestion in a key precedent “that the constitutionality of legislative prayer turns on the neutrality of its content.” That key precedent is a case known as Marsh v. Chambers, which gave legislative prayers special immunity from the Constitution’s ban on establishments of religion.

Given the fact that legislative prayer already enjoyed special constitutional status even before Town of Greece, supporters of a robust separation of church and state are likely to argue that the ban on government endorsements of religion still exists outside of the context of legislative prayer. They are unlikely to succeed, however, in the long run. There may have been four justices who opposed that ban when County of Allegheny was decided. But there are almost certainly five right now.

The later part of Kennedy’s opinion, which is joined only by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Alito, focuses on a weaker limit on government efforts to advance religious faith that Kennedy has supported in the past. Twenty-two years ago, Kennedy wrote for the Court that “government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” He reiterates that holding today, but he adds that the legislative prayer at issue in this case does not constitute religious coercion. “The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers,” Kennedy writes, or if they “singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity.” Similarly, “[a] practice that classified citizens based on their religious views would violate the Constitution, but that is not the case before this Court.”

This final portion of Kennedy’s analysis is joined by just three justices because Justice Antonin Scalia joins an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas calling for the Court to go even further. To Scalia and Thomas, the only kind of religious coercion banned by the Constitution is “coercion of religious orthodoxy and of financial support by force of law and threat of penalty” (emphasis in original). So unless the government threatens to jail or fine you for failing to pray, lawmakers can more or less do whatever they want. (Indeed, Thomas would go even further than that. In a section of his opinion that Scalia declines to join, Thomas writes that the “Establishment Clause is ‘best understood as a federalism provision.’” This means that Thomas believes that the separation of church and state applies to the federal government only.)

The upshot of today’s opinion is that Kennedy and his fellow conservatives have finally begun a project they were expected to begin the day O’Connor retired. By the time this project finishes, it is unlikely that many limits will remain on overt government endorsements of religious faith.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.