Tag Archives: supreme court

Key Cases Coming to the Attention of the Supreme Court

A new term has just started for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). AAUW is watching closely, because many of our fundamental rights and liberties are protected by Supreme Court decisions, and are often the last, best hope for women who have experienced discrimination in education, employment and health care.


The Supreme Court — nine justices appointed by the President and ratified by Congress — hears appeals from Federal Circuit Courts or State Supreme Courts, and their decisions are final.  AAUW supports the appointment of judges who will uphold our Constitutional values of liberty, equality and justice for all. We closely monitor their decisions with the concern that the clock is not turned back on decades of progress for women and girls.


Several of the cases the SCOTUS may hear this term are related to AAUW’s public policy priorities regarding Affirmative Action, reproductive rights, and the separation of church and state.  For some of these, AAUW joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief arguing the ruling’s constitutionality. Here are some of the key cases:


McCullen v. Coakley:

Anti-choice activists challenged a Massachusetts law designed to protect patients at reproductive healthcare clinics from intimidation and harassment.  They argue that the law, which creates a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive healthcare clinics, violates their free-speech rights. The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Massachusetts law, but the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case on appeal.  AAUW joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief arguing that the law is constitutional.


Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice:

In 2011, Oklahoma passed a law that prevented doctors from administering drugs used to end pregnancy in any manner that deviated from the FDA label, even though the FDA label was significantly outdated and best medical practices allowed for off-label uses.

Reproductive justice activists feel that this is just another law purporting to be about “good health care,” but is really intended to make it as difficult as possible for clinics and doctors to perform a legal procedure. The Oklahoma Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional. This case is on hold pending more information. But, since AAUW strongly supports rights and access to care, we will be watching its progress.


Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action: 

Anti-affirmative action advocates in Michigan proposed a ballot initiative (Proposal 2) that would ban Affirmative Action in the state.  The ballot initiative passed and created Section 26 of the Michigan constitution, which bars any consideration of race, ethnicity, or gender in public university admissions. Unlike previous cases, which concerned a challenge to the constitutionality of a particular university’s Affirmative Action program, the question in Schuette is whether a state may amend its constitution to ban Affirmative Action altogether. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the ban unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on October 15 and is in deliberation. AAUW signed on to an amicus brief urging the Court to declare the amendment unconstitutional.


Town of Greece v. Galloway: In this case, the Supreme Court will take up the question of legislative prayer for the first time in thirty years.  Although the Court has declared legislative prayer constitutional in previous cases, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals declared the legislative prayers at issue in Galloway to be unconstitutional because they were largely Christian prayers presided over by Christian clergy.


Contraceptive Coverage:  Across the country, a number of for-profit business owners filed lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employee health insurance plans cover reproductive healthcare, including contraception. The business owners argue that they are morally or religiously opposed to the use of contraception and that therefore the ACA violates their constitutional right to freedom of religion or, in some of the suits, their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Supreme Court has not yet agreed to hear any of the cases, but it is currently considering several appeals and is likely to hear at least one of them this term because the Federal Courts of Appeal are split over the question. AAUW signed several amicus briefs in different circuits, arguing that for-profit business owners should not be exempt from providing healthcare coverage to their female employees.


For more information about SCOTUS, visit: http://www.supremecourt.gov/


To follow cases related to AAUW public policy priorities, go to: http://www.aauw.org/2013/11/01/scotus-preview/

September Update

The Family & Medical Leave Act turns 20. On August 5, we celebrated another national milestone. Twenty years ago on that day, and for the first time ever, parents, spouses, sons and daughters were guaranteed access to unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In the last two decades, FMLA has been used more than 100 million times, and has changed the culture of our nation and its workplaces, working to ensure that people can meet the demands of both job and family. The FMLA was always intended as a first step. But today, 40 percent of the workforce still isn’t covered by its protections and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it guarantees. Too many people risk losing essential income — or even their jobs — when they need to care for their health or the health of their families. Women, who so often are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families, are hit especially hard. Tell your reps in Congress that it’s time for a national paid leave program.

House of Representatives Passes Student Loan Bill on July 31. The Smarter Solutions for Students Act (H.R. 1911) passed with bipartisan support and a vote of 392-31, and is now headed to the President’s desk. The act keeps current student loan interest rates low at the expense of a future increase. However, AAUW opposed HR 1911, citing it as shortsighted, and pledges to work with Congress to improve terms for students before rates increase.

House Democrats Launch Women’s Economic Agenda.  In early July, following a meeting with AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman & VP of Government Relations Lisa Maatz, CAE, and leaders of several other women’s groups, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other House Democrats launched a new Women’s Economic Agenda outlining their policy priorities for improving women’s lives. The agenda’s approach is three-pronged: improving wages and pay, expanding paid leave and other work/life balance policies, and increasing access to and affordability of child care. Check out AAUW’s Facebook page for pictures from that launch event.

The US Supreme Court was abuzz in June. The Court issued several decisions concerning AAUW priority issues. Here is a recap of the major ones:

  • Fisher v. The University of Texas: The Court upheld use of race and ethnicity as one of many considerations 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 SC returned the case to the lower court and ordered the judges to re-hear the case using a stricter standard. Nationwide, the decision has no overall effect on affirmative action policies.
  • U.S. v. Windsor: The Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which only recognizes spouses of the opposite sex — unconstitutional. The ruling has already positively impactedavailability of medical and housing benefits to same-sex couples in the military, and is expected to have broader implications for all couples and their families down the road.
  • Hollingsworth v. Perry: In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that petitioners 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 again be legal in California. How this ruling will apply to other states with similar bans is still unclear.
  • 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 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.

Learn more about pending legislation, add your voice to the conversation, and help shape the current public policy decisions that impact women and their families. Visit the Two-Minute Activist tool.