Federal Judicial Issues
For more information: AAUW Fact Sheets and Position Papers on Affirmative Action, Athletics, Education, Managed Care Reform, Reproductive Rights, and Social Security Reform.
Updated: November 18, 2014
- Quoting Hobby Lobby, Federal Appeals Court Hands Down Big Victory For Birth Control - A federal appeals court in Washington, DC handed down a decision on Friday that could neutralize some of the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby if it is upheld on appeal. Hobby Lobby held that employers with religious objections to birth control have broad immunity from federal rules requiring them to include birth control in their employer-provided health plan. Judge Nina Pillard's decision in Priests For Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, however, indicates that there are limits to an employer's ability to deny birth control coverage to their employees. The Court suggested that it might be possible for the government to accommodate religious objectors while still ensuring that birth control was widely available to women in the workplace.
- 5 Issues to Watch in the Supreme Court This Year
- Do You Care About Reproductive Rights or Marriage Equality? Then You Should Care About State Judge Elections - State judges make decisions about child custody arrangements, restraining orders, and sentencing for people found guilty of a crime. Judges rule on the validity of employment discrimination laws, restrictions on reproductive health care access, and same-sex marriage bans under state constitutions.
- How Sonia Sotomayor Is Transforming the Supreme Court - While many Americans may still not have much of a feel for Justice Sotomayor, journalist and author Joan Biskupic's new biography, 'Breaking In: The Rise of Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Justice,' makes a persuasive case that the Court's first Latina is already having great influence.
- The Supreme Court Just Quietly Made Marriage Equality The Law Of The Land In Many States - The Supreme Court just cleared the way for gay marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
- Four Cases for Educators to Watch in the New U.S. Supreme Court Term
Ohio v. Clark (Case No. 13-1352) - Just last week, the justices added to their docket a case involving laws which require teachers, medical professionals, and others to report suspected child abuse to authorities. A key issue in the case is whether such laws turn teachers and other mandatory reporters into agents of law enforcement when prosecutors seek to use statements made by children to them. It will be argued in January or February.
Elonis v. United States (No. 13-983) - The justices will consider threats made on social media as they take up the case of a Pennsylvania man convicted of a federal crime for putting threats and rants on Facebook, including rap music-style musings about shooting up a school. The case likely holds implications for how school administrators and police deal with student threats on social media. It will be argued Dec. 1.
Young v. United Parcel Service Inc. (No. 12-1226) - This case examines alleged pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, as a pregnant UPS worker was denied a disability accommodation that the company routinely provides to non-pregnant employees with work limitations. The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the worker's side, saying they back a broad reading of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Pregnant women were once routinely forced from their jobs in teaching until the Supreme Court, in the 1974 decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, struck down a district's mandatory maternity leave rule. The case will be argued Dec. 3.
Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association (No. 13-1041) - An underlying dispute about whether mortgage loan officers are entitled to overtime pay under the federal fair-labor standards law may hold implications for policy decisions of the U.S. Department of Education. The case asks whether federal agencies must go through full notice and comment rulemaking procedures when it changes the interpretations of one of its own rules. Some critics say the Education Department has made significant changes to federal regulations by issuing new interpretations of its own rules. The case is set for argument on Dec. 1.
- Justices Take Cases on Bias, Redistricting and Judicial Elections - The Supreme Court on Thursday added 11 cases to its docket, including ones on redistricting, judicial elections and discrimination in housing and employment.
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Discusses Future of Roe v. Wade, Much More in New Republic Interview — In a wide-ranging interview with the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains why she believes Roe v. Wade will remain "the law of the land," her thoughts on states' increasing restrictions on abortion rights and her dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, among other topics.
- Religious Not-for-Profits Likely To Petition Supreme Court Over Contraceptive Coverage - September 18, 2014 - The Supreme Court this fall will likely receive petitions from religiously affiliated not-for-profits that continue to oppose a federal rule designed to ensure that enrollees in their health plans have access to contraceptive coverage.
- Justice Ginsburg: America Has A 'Real Racial Problem' - The Supreme Court was "once a leader in the world" in combating racial discrimination, according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "What's amazing," she added, "is how things have changed."
- Justices' Rulings Advance Gays; Women Less S - Gay men and lesbians still have a long way to go before they achieve the formal legal equality that women have long enjoyed. But they have made stunning progress at the Supreme Court over the last decade, gaining legal protection for sexual intimacy and unconventional families with stirring language unimaginable a generation ago.
- Amid calls to retire, Justice Ginsburg says she's catching her second wind - "All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while," she said. In the past, Ginsburg has said she had a role model in Justice Louis Brandeis, who retired at 82. Now, she says, she'll take it year by year and stay "as long as I can do it full steam."
- 10 Supreme Court Rulings That Turned Corporations Into People - Last week's decision is the latest in a 200-year-long line of rulings giving businesses the same rights as humans.
- Tribes write President asking for American Indian woman on Supreme Court - At the end of June, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe sent a letter to President Obama asking him to consider naming a Native American woman to fill the next Supreme Court vacancy.
- Appeals Court Backs Use of Race in U. of Texas Admissions - A federal appeals court today upheld the University of Texas at Austin's consideration of race in admissions. The ruling came in a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that public colleges could consider race in admissions, but only under strict conditions.
- AAUW Blog: What Does the Hobby Lobby Decision Mean? - Not only did the Supreme Court get it wrong again, but they also singled out a huge portion of the population — women — for discrimination.
- Birth Control Order Deepens Divide Among Justices - In a decision that drew an unusually fierce dissent from the three female justices, the Supreme Court sided Thursday with religiously affiliated nonprofit groups in a clash between religious freedom and women's rights. The decision temporarily exempts a Christian college from part of the regulations that provide contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
- Supreme Court To Hear Pregnancy Discrimination Case - The Supreme Court has agreed to review a pregnancy discrimination claim involving a UPS employee who was denied a light-duty assignment that would have allowed her to continue working during her pregnancy. Young in her appeal to the Supreme Court argued that PDA requires employers to accommodate pregnant workers' needs in the same way that they would accommodate workers with comparable "ability or inability to work," regardless of the origin of a worker's condition.
- Pandora's Box Opens: Religious Groups Ask Obama for Exemptions To Discriminate Against LGBT Persons - Religious leaders say that a non-discrimination order violates their religious freedoms.
- Hobby Lobby Is Only the Beginning - The statute in question, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, states that the government "shall not substantially burden" the exercise of religion without satisfying a demanding legal test. It is worth noting that the act was championed by President Bill Clinton and passed in 1993, with near unanimity, by a Democrat-controlled Congress.
- Obama judges confirm numbers way up in "post-nuclear" world - Since Harry Reid launched the "nuclear option" in November limiting filibusters, the number of judicial confirmations has dramatically increased.
- Cuomo signs bill to add 20 family court judges - Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation today to add another 25 family-court judges in New York. One each would be elected this November in the following counties: Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Franklin, Nassau, Oneida, Oswego, Schenectady, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester counties. They would take office Jan. 1. Under the bill, others would be elected in 2015 in Delaware, Dutchess, Erie, Monroe, and Warren counties. They would take office on Jan. 1, 2016.
- Historic Day for Our Judiciary - The Senate confirmed Staci Yandle to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, making her the first African-American and openly gay lifetime-appointed Federal judge in Illinois. With this confirmation, President Barack Obama exceeded the record previously set by President Bill Clinton for most female judges appointed.
- 10 Supreme Court Game-Changers Looming - The Supreme Court faces another historic June, with at least 10 major case decisions to be announced. Here is your brief guide to these cases, some major decisions already announced, and resources about the decisions.
- Sotomayor Finds Her Voice Among Justices - In opinions concerning human rights abuses, the death penalty and, most notably, affirmative action, Justice Sotomayor has found her voice. "She's setting a public agenda," said Cristina Rodriguez, a law professor at Yale. "She's looking for her moments. And her willingness to talk about how biography informs judgments challenges a lot of people's notions about what the law is supposed to do."
- High Court ruling upholds sectarian prayer at town hall meetings - In its ruling, the nation's highest court ruled the town of Greece was not in violation of the first amendment's clause prohibiting establishment of religion in government affairs, as long as town residents of all faith were allowed to participate in prayer.
- AAUW Blog: Defending Women’s Health Care at the Supreme Court
- OpEd: The Supreme Court Just Destroyed Our Democracy in Favor of the Plutocrats
- In the News: What Does The McCutcheon Ruling Mean For New York? - Good-government advocates fear this morning Supreme Court ruling could have wide-reaching effects for New York's own aggregate limits on campaign contributions in a given election cycle.
- In the News: Justices Strike Down Overall Political Donation Limit - The Supreme Court's decision let stand familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, but it said that overall limits for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment.
- In the News: Supreme Court Rejects Catholic Groups' Contraceptive Coverage Appeals - The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not review appeals of lower courts' decisions to uphold the federal contraceptive rules in two cases involving the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C.; Catholic University; and other Catholic not-for-profits.
- In the News: Jeffrey Toobin: Women Justices Rock the Hobby Lobby Argument - There were two lessons from Tuesday's argument in the Hobby Lobby case in the Supreme Court. First, it's very important that there are now three women Justices. Second, it's even more important that it takes five votes to win."
- In the News: Supreme Court divided as it hears argument on contraceptive coverage - A divided Supreme Court seemed sympathetic Tuesday to the views of business owners who say their religious objections protect them from a requirement in President Obama's Affordable Care Act that health insurance plans cover all types of contraceptives.
- OpEd: Crying Wolf on Religious Liberty - This week, the owners of two secular, for-profit corporations will ask the Supreme Court to take a radical turn and allow them to impose their religious views on their employees - by refusing to permit them contraceptive coverage as required under the Affordable Care Act.
- In the News: SCOTUS Ruled in Favor of the Nation's Top Corporate Interest Group in 7 of 8 Cases This Term - So far this term, the Supreme Court handed down eight cases where the United States Chamber of Commerce filed a brief - and a majority of the justices sided with the Chamber in all but one of these decisions.
- In the News: Supreme court declines to hear 'I (heart sign) boobies' case - The U.S Supreme Court declined to hear a case on student free speech. High school students had sued for the right to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets bearing the message "I (heart sign) boobies.” The Supreme Court's decision means that the lower court ruling upholding the students' free speech rights will stand.
- 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: Post-Filibuster, Obama Faces New Anger Over Judicial Choices - Democrats and progressive groups are trying to stop two of the president's latest nominees to the federal bench on the grounds that they are too conservative.
- In the News: Supreme Court Extends Nuns' Injunction in Contraceptive Coverage Case - The Supreme Court on Friday extended a temporary injunction barring the government from enforcing the federal contraceptive rules for an order of nuns and nearly 400 other organizations that use the same health benefits provider.
- In the News: Sexual Orientation Is No Basis for Jury Exclusion, a Federal Appeals Court RulesIn the News: Blue-Slip Blues Keep Female Judges Stuck at 30% - The Senate's anti-filibuster vote in November does not guarantee that Obama will be able to appoint well-qualified women and minority men to the bench. Obstructionists are still up to their tricks and every bit of citizen involvement is needed.
- In the News: President Obama's Judicial Nominees More Diverse Than Predecessors' - The Senate's confirmation of Robert Wilkins to a federal appeals court this week continues President Obama's legacy of appointing more African-American, Asian, female, Latino and openly gay judges than any other president.
- 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: Supreme Court Declines 20-Week Abortion Ban Case; Lower Court's Ruling Stands - The Supreme Court's decision means that the lower court's ruling invalidating the law will stand, and it adds to uncertainty about the legality of several similar abortion bans in about a dozen other states.
- In the News: Battle over presidential recess appointments heads to Supreme Court - The Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a politically charged dispute between President Obama and Senate Republicans over the president's power to temporarily fill high-level positions.
- 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.
Branch Homepage - Public Policy Issues to Watch