Although the short session has been fascinating, a legislative update wouldn’t be complete without including the 3 monumentally disastrous Supreme Court cases that were decided within a week (Jun 26, 2014 to June 30, 2014), all of which hurt women.
First, the Supreme Court ruled on the abortion clinic buffer zone case, McCullen v. Coakley. On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in which protest was forbidden is a violation of the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, which held that the law was unconstitutional because it blocked peaceful protest on public streets. The case was brought up by a grandma. Now, anyone who has escorted at abortion clinics knows that grandma is not the main danger there (although older ladies can be dangerous too). But dangerous and threatening people there are, just as there are people who plan to shoot (and have shot) patients, doctors and staff.
The ruling will make it difficult for states to justify laws that establish buffer zones for abortion clinics.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which was originally titled Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, was decided on Monday, Jun 30, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that for-profit employers can decide whether or not to cover their employees’ birth control and contraception. Strictly speaking, the conservative majority ruled that for-profit corporations with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
This staggering decision puts corporations above women. Four years after the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have free speech rights in its controversial Citizens United decision (Jan 21, 2010), this Supreme Court granted religious rights to for-profit corporations! It opens the door for corporations to opt out of other laws, now that corporations have new standing. The 5 conservatives voted this way. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an excellent 35 page dissent on the decision.
Then the Supreme Court followed up 3 days later with an even more stunning order granting a temporary injunction to Wheaton College, which objects to signing forms that certify its eligibility for exemption from the “contraceptive mandate.”
Also on Jun 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against unions and against home-care workers (90% of whom are women and minorities) in Harris v. Quinn. The case arose over the fact that non-union workers covered by union contracts must pay “fair share fees” to help cover the union’s cost associated with guaranteeing benefit, including higher wages, to all workers covered by those contracts.
Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Justice Samuel Alito cut home healthcare workers paid via Medicaid out of the picture. The Court said these “partial public employees” cannot be required to contribute union bargaining fees. More on Harris v. Quinn at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/06/30/1310618/-Unions-leaders-others-respond-to-Harris-v-Union-Supreme-Court-ruling-on-home-health-care-workers.
Many articles talk about each one of these cases, but my current favorite article covers all of them. See “After Hobby Lobby: The Supreme Court term wrapped up nice and neat last week. Unless you are a woman.” By Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Find it at
The Hobby Lobby decision is already reaching beyond women to hurt other communities. Article “How Hobby Lobby will reverberate throughout the LGBT community”, 7/10/14, is at http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/hobby-lobby-reverberate-throughout-lgbt-community
As NOW President Terry O’Neill said on CNN, this and other terrible rulings “would not be possible if we had women’s equality enshrined in the constitution.” Women need an Equal Rights Amendment now more than ever!