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drugs used to end pregnancy in any manner that deviated from the FDA label, even though the FDA label was significantly outdated and best medical practices allowed for off-label uses.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.


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