In the News: Supreme Court Cases Highlight Science Behind Contraception Debate - Two businesses' legal challenge to the federal contraceptive rules spotlights an ongoing debate about whether certain forms of emergency contraception only work by preventing fertilization or also have the ability to block a fertilized egg from implanting.
In the News: Massachusetts court says 'upskirt' photos are legal - Massachusetts' highest court ruled Wednesday that it is not illegal to secretly photograph underneath a person's clothing -- a practice known as "upskirting" -- prompting one prosecutor to call for a revision of state law.
In the News: Senate confirms previously blocked Obama judicial nominee - U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins won Senate confirmation to a key federal appeals court on Monday, two months after Republicans initially blocked President Barack Obama's nomination of the Harvard-educated jurist.
In the News: Presidential Nominations Sent to the Senate - On Monday, President Obama re-nominated 54 people to serve as federal judges. Last year, these nominees were blocked by filibusters or other Senate obstruction preventing an up-or-down vote.
In the News: Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages in Utah pending appeal - This week, the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold a ruling that allowed same-sex marriages in Utah, thus suspending same-sex marriages in that state. On Friday, the Department of Justice announced that same-sex marriages in Utah will be considered legal under federal law and are eligible for all federal benefits until further court action. In other Supreme Court news, national education groups urged the Court to take up a student free speech case that began in 2010 when two female students challenged the ban on breast cancer awareness bracelets.
In the News: Senate Confirms Georgetown Law Professor to Powerful Appeals Court - The Senate confirmed Cornelia T.?L. Pillard to the country's most powerful appeals court in an early-morning vote on Thursday, installing her over the objections of Republicans who, despite their inability to filibuster the nomination, are loudly protesting the way Democrats have stifled opposition.
In the News: Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations - The Supreme Court would have to assess the limits of a principle recognized in its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which said corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment. The question now is whether corporations also have the right to religious liberty.
In the News: Custody Battle Raises Questions About the Rights of Women - "Especially with current political pressures to recognize separate legal rights for fetuses, there will be increasing calls on the courts to fault a pregnant woman for moving, to restrain women from living their lives because they're pregnant," said Sarah E. Burns, the head of the Reproductive Justice Clinic at the New York University law school.
In the News: Alabama Judges Retain the Right to Override Juries in Capital Sentencing - The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a challenge to an unusual Alabama capital-sentencing practice that has sent 95 defendants to death row despite jury determinations calling for life sentences. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined for the most part by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, issued a 17-page dissent of the court’s refusal to hear the case. Alabama now stands alone, she said, in routinely allowing judges to override determinations from capital juries calling for leniency.
In the News: Texas abortion law left in effect - On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court split 5-4 in refusing to block a Texas abortion law. One of the provisions of the law mandates that doctors preforming abortions must have hospital privileges within 30 miles of the site where the abortion takes place. Dissenting Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that the law “seriously disrupts” the status quo in Texas and that women will suffer permanent harm while the case continues to make its way through the appeals court system.
In the News: SCOTUS Dismisses Appeal of OK Abortion Law - On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course and announced it would not hear an appeal challenging the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling in Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. The Oklahoma Supreme Court had previously struck down a state law that effectively bans nearly all medication abortions in the state, and the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed in June to hear an appeal of that decision, pending clarification of the state Supreme Court's ruling. After receiving a response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week, the U.S. Supreme Court justices announced on Monday that it would not hear an appeal of the lower court ruling. As a result, the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional will stand.
In the News: Before the Supreme Court: A Prayer in the Town Hall - On Wednesday, for the first time in 30 years, the Supreme Court will reconsider the contours of that relationship in the legislative setting when it hears oral argument in Town of Greece v. Galloway. While the court has previously upheld prayers before legislative sessions, the details of the current case differ in important ways.
In the News: Senate Fails to Consider Yet Another Judicial Nominee - On Thursday, a procedural vote to consider the nomination of Patricia Millett for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit failed by 55-38 margin (60 votes were required to proceed with a yes-or-no confirmation vote). Thursday's vote was the second time this year that the Senate has failed to give a confirmation vote to a nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court, which currently has only eight judges instead of the full 11.
AAUW Blog: What’s At Stake in the Supreme Court this Term? - Federal courts are sometimes the last, best hope for women who have experienced discrimination in education, employment, or health care. This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a number of cases that will significantly impact the rights of women and girls.
In the News: Case Explores Rights of Fetus Versus Mother - Wisconsin is one of four states, along with Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, with laws specifically granting authorities the power to confine pregnant women for substance abuse. But many other states use civil-confinement, child-protection or assorted criminal laws to force women into treatment programs or punish them for taking drugs.
Amid a slew of actions on the first day of its 2014 term, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand two appeals court rulings that raised free speech issues on college campuses. In one, Crystal Dixon v. University of Toledo, the justices declined to hear a challenge to a 2012 decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Toledo's firing of a former human resources administrator who had made comments some viewed as anti-gay. The Sixth Circuit panel ruled that Dixon was a policy maker who engaged in speech on a policy issue related to her position, and that the university’s interests in upholding its equal opportunity polices outweighed her interests in commenting on a matter of public concern.
The Supreme Court also declined to hear Ed Ray v. OSU Student Alliance, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year ruled that student journalists at Oregon State University had provided sufficient evidence to prove a free speech violation by administrators who signed off on the seizure of a conservative publication's distribution bins, but were prevented from presenting it because the lower court judge erred in not letting them amend their lawsuit.
In the News: The Supreme Court Returns - The Supreme Court begins a new term on Monday, even as the landmark rulings of last term continue to reverberate. The court has agreed to hear more than 50 cases so far on disputes both familiar and fresh: from affirmative action and freedom of speech, to campaign finance and the president’s power to make recess appointments.
In the News: The Impact and Echoes of the Walmart Discrimination Case - When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes in June 2011, no one needed a Richter scale to know it was a Big One. In throwing out a mammoth lawsuit by women employees who claimed that they’d been systematically underpaid and underpromoted by the world’s biggest corporation, the ruling upended decades of employment discrimination law and raised serious barriers to future large-scale discrimination cases of every kind.
In the News: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an inspiring review of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s contributions to the Supreme Court and the nation.
'A woman's voice may do some good'
Senate confirms highest-ranking openly gay judge in the U.S. Tuesday - The Senate approved Todd M. Hughes' nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, making him the first openly gay federal circuit judge. Hughes' addition to the bench is significant not only for its history-making but also because it represents rare progress on confirming judicial nominations.
In the News: New Guidance Supports Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Higher Education - Department of Education released new guidance reiterating that college and universities can use affirmative action to achieve diversity. The guidance seeks to clarify policy in the wake of the Supreme Court's June ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which upheld the use of affirmative action in higher education. AAUW signed onto an amicus brief supporting the university’s affirmative action policy.
In the News: Gov. Signs Bill Into Law Requiring Schools To Address Contraception, STIs in Sex Education - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has signed into law a measure (HB 2675) requiring that public school students be taught about contraception and sexually transmitted infections in sex education classes.
In the News: Lawyers, Courts Go Easy on Gender-Based Crimes - The recent murder of Amy Lord in Massachusetts and Ariel Castro's sexual enslavement of three young women in Ohio expose serious lapses in the way crimes targeting women are handled.
Obama Administration Files Brief Supporting Prayer in Local Government Meetings - The Obama administration has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that local governments have a constitutional right to begin meetings with a public prayer. Two residents of Greece, NY, contend that because the opening prayers are always led by Christian ministers, the town is endorsing religion in violation of the First Amendment. The administration’s brief supports the town’s appeal, which the Court will hear next year.
The Court issued several decisions concerning AAUW priority issues. In the cases dealing with affirmative action and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), AAUW filed amicus briefs urging the Court to uphold affirmative action and strike down the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages, respectively. Below is a recap of the major decisions released this week:
Fisher v. The University of Texas: The Court upheld the use of race and ethnicity as one of many considerations that may be appropriate in school admissions, but only when that policy is carefully crafted and narrowly tailored to meet the school's interest in a diverse student body. The Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court and ordered the judges to re-hear the case using a stricter standard – in short, the decision has no overall effect on affirmative action policies nationwide.
U.S. v. Windsor: The Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which only recognizes spouses of the opposite sex, unconstitutional. The ruling has already impacted the availability of medical and housing benefits to same-sex couples in the military and is expected to have broader implications for all couples down the road.
Hollingsworth v. Perry: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the petitioners who were seeking to uphold California's ban on same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal the case. The court's decision means that the lower court's decision stands, and same-sex marriage will soon be legal again in California. It's not yet clear how this ruling will apply to other states with bans on same-sex marriage.
Vance v. Ball State University: The court redefined the meaning of "supervisor" in a way that frees employers from responsibility for sexual harassment committed by employees who do not have the power to hire or fire.
Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder: The Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that enables the federal government to monitor states with a history of voter discrimination more closely than other states.
With regards to the last two cases in particular, AAUW will work to ensure Congress develops bipartisan responses to protect the rights of employees and voters.
Supreme Court refuses to hear Planned Parenthood cases - The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an Indiana court's decision to strike down the state's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. The Supreme Court's denial to hear the case means Planned Parenthood will remain eligible for Medicaid funding in Indiana.
President Obama Plans to Nominate Three Federal Judges - Sources say President Obama plans to nominate three candidates to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is often referred to as the country's second most important court —outranked only by the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the reported nominees are two women, Georgetown Law Center Professor Cornelia T.L. Pillard and veteran appellate attorney Patricia Ann Millet. Judicial vacancies, due to the president's slow pace in making nominations and a breakdown in the Senate confirmation process, have been a problem nationwide, but even more so for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which until last week had not had a nominee confirmed since 2006.