It happens rarely, but occasionally we come across some good news. The Washington Post reported on new findings on child wellness in the United States, which was released Friday by the Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Considering many factors as indicators of child wellness, the report found that the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is at an all time low. Compared to previous years, fewer high school students are having sex and more are using condoms.
Compiled from statistics and studies at 22 federal agencies, and covering 38 key indicators—including infant mortality, academic achievement rates and the number of children living in poverty—the report is an assessment of the well-being of the nation's children.
Below are some encouraging stats about teen sexual activity from the report:
Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent, about 9 million, used condoms. That's up from 46 percent in 1991.
The teen birth rate was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15-17 in 2005—an all-time low. It was down from 39 births per 1,000 teens in 1991.
The birth rate in the 15-19 age group was 40 per 1,000 in 2005, also down sharply from the previous decade.
James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth offered an explanation for the improved numbers on teen sex, condoms and adolescent births, "I think the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the efforts in the '80s and '90s had a lot to do with that … We need to encourage young teens to delay sexual initiation and we need to make sure they get all the information they need about condoms and birth control."
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
And now for the not-so-good news: while the Post reported the improvements in child wellness regarding teen pregnancy, they failed to draw attention to the fact that the rosy picture and health and wellness improvements are often drastically different across the factors of race and class. Note the following stats also from the report:
On race and poverty: In 2005, 18 percent of all children ages 0-17 lived in poverty, unchanged from 2004. The poverty rate was higher for Black children and for Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children. In 2005, 10 percent of White, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 35 percent of Black children and 28 percent of Hispanic children.
On environmental issues: Children living in families with incomes below poverty generally had greater blood lead levels than children in families at or above poverty.
On healthcare: The percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly. In 2005, 89 percent of children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year, down from 90 percent the previous year.
On infant mortality: Substantial racial and ethnic disparities continue. Black, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native infants have consistently had a higher infant mortality rate than that of other racial or ethnic groups. For example, in 2004, the Black, non-Hispanic infant mortality rate was 13.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and the American Indian/Alaska Native rate was 8.4, both higher than the rates among White, non-Hispanic (5.7), Hispanic (5.5), and Asian/Pacific Islander (4.7) infants.
While certain wellness indicators certainly point to progress over the last few years, we would be doing a great disservice to those children and young people in poverty if we were to ignore some of the challenges that remain. In this, a high-stakes election season, we find the perfect opportunity to press policymakers on ensuring all the young people in this nation grow up with access to the resources and education that make for a life of health and wellness.
In his quest to secure conservative votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has embraced extremists across the country, many of whom have well-documented histories of anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and racist rhetoric. As more moderate Republicans flock to Cruz in a push to block Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, Cruz’s support of these extremists sheds light on his future policy making, should he be elected president.
Though hardly an exhaustive list of the radicals with whom Cruz has aligned, here are some of the most reactionary characters in his playbook.
Cruz and activist Troy Newman, head of theradical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, have spent months on the campaign trail praising each other’s extreme stances on abortion.
Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2002 to continue its campaign to intimidate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, whom it had nicknamed “Tiller the Killer.” Before Newman came on as president, the group had previously targeted Tiller as part of its 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” when it led protesters to physically block and verbally intimidate those entering abortion clinics in Wichita, holding signs that, among other things, read “Tiller’s Slaughter House.”
Although Newman issued a statement on behalf of Operation Rescue condemning Scott Roeder when he murdered Tiller in 2009, a 2010 Ms. investigation reported that, according to Roeder, Newman had once told him that “it wouldn’t upset” him if an abortion provider was killed. (Newman denied meeting Roeder.) Roeder also had the phone number of Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger on a note on the dashboard of his car when he murdered Tiller. Sullenger, the senior vice president of the group, had been sentenced to prison time in 1988 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic.
Newman co-founded anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013, whose widely discredited videos alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations. Multiple ensuinginvestigations at both the state and federal level produced no evidence of wrongdoing, and one of the group’s other founders, David Daleiden, was later indicted in connection to the videos. Newman later separated from the group.
Despite the extremism of Newman’s groups, Cruz lauded the anti-choice activist upon receiving his endorsement in November, saying in a statement, “We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”
Cruz announced in late January that Newman would co-chair his coalition of anti-choice advisers, “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” listing Newman’s book co-authored with Sullenger, Their Blood Cries Out, among his accomplishments. As Right Wing Watch noted, however, the text argues women who have abortions should be treated like murderers, and that abortion doctors should be executed. The book, now out of print, read: “[T]he United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt [sic] from the land and people,” according toMother Jones.
Troy Newman isn’t the only radical in “Pro-Lifers for Cruz”—the group’s chair, Tony Perkins, is an anti-LGBTQ activist with a history of aiding extremist anti-choice groups.
Since 2003, Perkins has led the Family Research Council (FRC), classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” for its anti-LGBTQ record.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
Recounting Perkins’ biography, the SPLC noted that although he claimed to have left a police force position over a disagreement about containing an anti-choice protest, “the reality is quite different.” The SPLC pointed to a report from the Nation finding that Perkins “failed to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion activists” Operation Rescue during the group’s 1992 “Summer of Purpose,” while he worked dual roles as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge and reporting for a conservative television station:
According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.
In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain-link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief. Then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by anti-abortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, he failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force.
Cruz’s list of national security advisers, meanwhile, includes Frank Gaffney Jr. Even in the face of criticism, Cruz has defended his pick, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadists, fighting jihadism across the globe.”
Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). In this year’s Intelligence Report, which documents extremist groups, the SPLC categorized CSP as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The CSP’s primary focus in recent years “has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security” by promoting conspiracy theories, according to SPLC. The Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,featured Gaffney as a key player in promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, writing that he often “makes unsubstantiated claims about ‘stealth jihad,’ the ‘imposition of Sharia law,’ and the proliferation of ‘radical mosques.'”
Cruz announced in early April that his Colorado Leadership Team included state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), asserting he was “honored” to have the support of the politician and 24 other conservatives from the the state.
The previous week, Klingenschmitt had made headlines for claiming transgender people are “confused about their own identity” during an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Klingenschmitt had been previously stripped of his position on the Colorado House of Representatives’ House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in early 2015 after claiming on his television program that a violent attack on a pregnant woman in the state was the result of “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”
“Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open,” claimed Klingenschmitt at the time before going on to pray for an “end to the holocaust which is abortion in America.”
In the wake of the deadly shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in November 2015, Klingenschmitt claimed that “Planned Parenthood executives” have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr.
Earlier in 2015, the Colorado state representativesaid that Planned Parenthood executives have “demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.” That June, he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for signing a measure forcing those seeking abortions to receive medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds, claiming that the law didn’t go far in enough because it didn’t ban abortion entirely
. James Dobson
Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the aforementioned Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.
Dobson’s own personalrhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,
Conservative radio host Steve Deace, a member of the Cruz campaign’s Iowa leadership team, is “virulently anti-LGBT, having repeatedly attacked supporters of LGBT equality as being part of a ‘Rainbow Jihad,'” according to media watchdog organization Media Matters for America.
In October Cruz announced he was “thrilled” to receive the endorsement of Sandy Rios, a conservative radio host and official at the American Family Association-yet another organization classified by the SPLC as a hate group. Rios gained notoriety during the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphiaafter claiming the conductor’s sexuality may have played a role in the accident.
Cruz and several other Republican presidential candidates spoke alongside far-right, anti-LGBTQ pastor and Christian radio host Kevin Swanson in November at the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is featured in GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project, which highlights figures who “represent extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.”
A&E’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been a fierce Cruz supporter, and in February the presidential candidate pitched the idea of making him an ambassador to the United Nations should he be elected. Just weeks earlier, Robertson had called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally. This statement came as little surprise given the reality television star’s previous comments condemning homosexuality and linking it to bestiality.
Cruz was also “thrilled” in March to win an endorsement from “Ohio’s top conservative leaders”—a list that included activist Linda Harvey, who once wrote that LGBTQ youth may be possessed by “demonic spirits.”
We need more justices with deeper roots in different communities and a broader worldview than white male candidates from Yale or Harvard, ones who are not devoted to the inevitable blind spots of a group of men who lived more than 200 years ago.
To fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the death last weekend of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, President Obama will nominate a new justice. That nominee should be a woman of color.
The thought that Obama will pick another justice has sent the GOP into a tizzy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and others in the party are ignoring history and the Constitution to argue vehementlythat Obama doesn’t have the authority to nominate anyone because it’s an election year. Instead, they say, that nomination should be left to the next president, a claim Obama has rightly swatted away.
This fight is, in reality, reflective of broad conservative efforts to hold onto a power structure set up two centuries ago by white males who didn’t just ignore, but had no concept of the rights of women or people of color. We need judges with broader perspectives, ones that are not unthinkingly devoted to a concept of America or of rights written by men who, no matter how otherwise brilliant, were not considering “all the people” when they wrote the Constitution.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
The battle over this nomination is part of a longer-running struggle between the GOP and Obama. In January, long before Scalia died, the GOP-controlled Senate, egged on by the Heritage Institute, declared a blockade of sorts—a Senate work stoppage if you will—on confirmations of Obama’s judicial nominees. Under McConnell’s rein, the approval rate of federal judges has been slower than any period since 1969.
This political jockeying is also rooted in two long-running and intertwined debates about how the Constitution should be viewed and who gets to interpret it.
On one hand are the proponents of so-called originalism, the argument that the Constitution is a fixed document subject only to the most literal interpretation. On the other are those who see it as a living document,through which American jurisprudence, concerned as it must be with issues not previously foreseen and the rights of those not previously recognized, is built and sustained by the values on which the Constitution was based.
This is a false dichotomy that, I believe, hides a deeper struggle being waged by a white male establishment aligned with the wealthy and with corporate interests that, despite their collective power, are nonetheless threatened by rapidly changing demographics and a resurgence of collective organizing by progressive movements.
Originalists—often synonymous with conservatives—claim they want judges who won’t “legislate” from the bench. But all judges interpret the law; it’s what judges do. They have one job, and they inevitably bring with them their views of the law, its interpretation, and what came before it. What conservatives really want are judges who will decide cases favoring an outcome aligned with their own interpretation of a given issue, especially with regard to elevating corporate personhood, delegitimizing female personhood, and allowing restrictions on voting rights.
In fact, conservatives’ most revered hero, Justice Scalia, was among the most activist of activist justices. As Adam Cohen, a lawyer and former assistant editorial page editor of the New York Times,wrote in 2005:
The idea that liberal judges are advocates and partisans while judges like Justice Scalia are not is being touted everywhere these days, and it is pure myth. Justice Scalia has been more than willing to ignore the Constitution’s plain language, and he has a knack for coming out on the conservative side in cases with an ideological bent. The conservative partisans leading the war on activist judges are just as inconsistent: they like judicial activism just fine when it advances their own agendas.
Justices are not immune to bias either. We’ve already seen the most self-proclaimed “originalists” make up their own facts and use their own lenses through which to see and interpret the law. Scalia famously—but erroneously and shockingly—claimed that Black college students “couldn’t make it” in competitive universities. This was not based on fact, data, or personal experience; nor on an understanding of race, poverty, and the educational system. He likely arrived at his assertion through an amalgam of conservative talking points, internal bias, and intellectual laziness about the realities faced by people outside his circles and ideologies.
Similarly, Justice Anthony Kennedy either decided on his own, or is so taken with the mythology of the far right, that he wrote an opinion in a reproductive rights case proclaiming that most women have regrets about abortion, a statement that is not only right out of the anti-choice movement’s playbook, but has been widely refuted by scientific evidence.
So even while decrying “bias” and “empathy,” the right knows—and, indeed, depends on the fact—that judges’ thinking can be influenced by ideology and unproven claims. Otherwise, there would not be a years-long effort underway to influence Kennedy’s thinking on abortion leading up to cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The GOP is disgruntled not so much about literalists versus activists, but that a president they’ve worked for eight years to discredit gets to nominate another justice—one who is more likely than not to be someone the president feels will interpret the law fairly and with real people in mind. That’s why McConnell is holding up all the other appointments as well.
And that is the second part of the struggle underway: representation on the Court, and whether there is value, as Obama has asserted, in a judiciary that “looks like America.” Obama, and others, have argued that empathy and real-world experience are important qualifications in a judge, and that the courts should play a role as a “bastion of equality and justice for [all] U.S. citizens.” And while this administration waited far too long to begin nominating judges, to date, those nominated and confirmed have indeed made the judiciary look more “like America” than ever before.
In a 2014 New Yorker article, Jeffrey Toobin wrote:
Obama’s judicial nominees look different from their predecessors. In an interview in the Oval Office, the President told me, “I think there are some particular groups that historically have been underrepresented—like Latinos and Asian-Americans—that represent a larger and larger portion of the population. And so for them to be able to see folks in robes that look like them is going to be important. When I came into office, I think there was one openly gay judge who had been appointed. We’ve appointed ten.”
Toobin further noted that 42 percent of Obama’s judgeships have gone to women, compared with 22 percent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 percent of Bill Clinton’s. Thirty-six percent of President Obama’s judges have been people of color, compared with 18 percent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton.
This, I believe, is what the right most fears: Judges who represent a greater diversity of experiences and views, and who have roots in different communities, will interpret laws with a greater understanding of their effects on real people. And that would threaten the very foundation of the house that white men built, upon which the claims of originalism appear to be based.
History provides a sense of what is at stake. Well over 200 years ago, from May through September 1787, an esteemed group of men meeting in Philadelphia collaborated on writing the Constitution of the United States. The majority of the 55 men attending the Constitutional Convention became signatories to the document, and the thinking and writing of many others contributed to its development, some of whom, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, are considered the Founding Fathers of this country.
Two years later, the U.S. Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, thereby fulfilling Article III of the Constitution, which placed the judicial power of the new federal government in “one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts” as Congress deemed necessary. The first Supreme Court was composed of six justices, a number later expanded to nine justices to accommodate a growing federal judicial system.
Apart from their shared role in history and the fact they were men, the signatories to the Constitution also had other things in common: They were all white Protestants.
From the beginning, the Judiciary Act and the judiciary that resulted did indeed reflect a certain America: the one seen by the men in power. In laying out the roles and responsibilities of justices of the courts, the word “he” appears 23 times. This is no accident. The U.S. Constitution was written by white Protestant men for white Protestant men, albeit whilerecognizing the religious freedom of other white men.
These documents were written at a time when white men were still killing and taking over the lands of Native Americans, and when slavery was the foundation of the U.S. economy. At least some Founding Fathers were slave owners, and the notion of basic human rights for Black people or other persons of color simply did not exist.
Women were not counted as people either, at least not in any political sense. As wealthy white men wrote declarations and constitutions, their wives were meant to bear and raise the children of, run households for, and support any and all needs of their husbands and fathers. They could not vote, rarely owned property, and were dependent on men for status and income.
By and large, and until recently, this type of “originalism”—white Christian male as the normative standard—has remained largely unchallenged. The vast majority of justices have been white Christian males, predominantly Protestant with a few Catholics sprinkled in. As the slideshow below makes clear, that did not change even slightly for well over 100 years.
The first Catholic justice, Roger B. Taney, was appointed in 1836. It took until 1916 before the Court had its first Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis, another 50 years to nominate Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice, in 1967, and 14 more years from that to nominate Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice. The second Black justice, Clarence Thomas, was not nominated until 1991.
Today, nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population is female, a majority demographic. And the non-Hispanic white population, as traditionally defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, is an increasingly small share of the population. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court is now comprised of four white men and one Black man, all of whom range in age from their early 60s to late 70s, and three women justices, two of whom are also white. Only four justices in 112 have been women.
The Supreme Court has therefore never been representative of the broader population of the country. In general, it has continued to represent the “original America” as seen by its authors—which, again, was itself never a true picture of the United States.
Given this history, it’s also fairly clear why there is a huge chasm between constitutional originalists and those who view the Constitution as a living document, one with consistent values that nonetheless have to be applied to new and different norms and questions. If you are a man or a person of wealth whose needs, rights, and economic interests fit comfortably under that original interpretation of law, you don’t need to reflect on the meanings or implications for other people of your judgments and decisions.
If, on the other hand, you recognize that there are historical injustices that were never even seen as injustices, and therefore never contemplated at the time of the writing of the Constitution, you probably believe some interpretation is necessary. If you thought a woman’s role was to bear children and be a homemaker, you didn’t need to protect or interpret her rights in a constitution. The freedoms, needs, aspirations, and rights of non-white, non-male persons simply were not considerations in that original document. Securing the rights of women and people of color, among other groups, therefore requires interpreting the values that underlie the Constitution to support them.
To be sure, there are some people of color who themselves are aligned with ultra-conservatives and the claims of originalism except when it doesn’t suit their purposes. One of them is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But as Michael Eric Dyson noted on NPR’s Morning Edition:
[W]e have, for instance, on the court now Judge Clarence Thomas, an African-American man to be sure but not committed to the fundamental practices as they have been historically adjudicated and put forth by civil rights communities and other African-American people. So the first qualification is a profound legal commitment to practices of justice. But certainly, that does make a difference in terms of the identity of the person who’s being chosen for that spot.
The current composition of the Court is unacceptable if only based on sheer demographics and the fact that there are many eminently qualified candidates of color for the bench. But it is especially so given the reality that every single decision under consideration by the Supreme Court now, in the recent past, and in the near future has disproportionate implications for women and people of color.
Profound questions are being asked. For example: Who can vote, under what conditions, and facing what kinds of obstacles placed in their way by those who’d rather stifle their voices and de-legitimize their votes? What is “religious freedom” and how freely should this ill-defined and vague notion be used as a means of denying people health care and the rights of women as persons?
Do the people whose bodies contain reproductive organs have a fundamental right to self-determination or are their bodies simply vessels for the production of other bodies even when against their will? Who gets to decide the meaning of “undue burden” in exercising a right, whether that means accessing reproductive health care or exercising the right to vote? (And in all honesty, what would Justice Kennedy know about undue burdens in any case?)
What exactly is “discrimination,” and how hard do you have to work for how many years to prove it? Whogets paid for what, when, and under what conditions? Do government agencies charged with protecting our health and the environment on which we all depend have the authority to actually protect our health and environment? Is reproductive health care actually health care? Is a corporation (or soon a robot?) a person with rights equal to or superseding those who are living, breathing individuals?
This is the real fight. We need more justices with deeper roots in different communities and a broader worldview than white male candidates from Yale or Harvard, ones who are not devoted to the inevitable blind spots of a group of men who lived more than 200 years ago. We need justices who offer perspectives on the facts and realities of people of color and women. And yes, the extent to which they can empathize with people and experiences outside of themselves matters a great deal.
There are more than a few female candidates of color, each of whom are more than capable and qualified to be Supreme Court nominees. Among them are Kamala Harris, attorney general of California, Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General, Melissa Murray, a professor at UC Berkeley, and Jacqueline Nguyen, a judge on the Ninth Circuit.
Moreover, we should not stop there. Since women now make up the majority of this country’s population, we really need, for the very first time in history, to have a majority of women on the Court. Period. This is not about quotas, it’s not about litmus tests. It’s about fundamental human rights, fairness, and the ability to see the world as it really is, and not just from a cloistered building protected from protest.
The right will be aghast at this idea. And truth be told, so will more than a few self-declared liberal men. When you perceive yourself as righteous in every way and the center of the universe, you don’t tend to think of other universes. Because their own needs were reflected in the documents, I am guessing none of the founders lay awake at night thinking about the future implications of the Constitution for women and people of color. I am guessing reproductive and sexual justice, and expanded voting rights for all people, were not of immediate concern and that existential threats like climate change were not remotely in the realm of possibility given that cross-state pollution and fossil fuels came much later. For these and other more expediently political reasons, I don’t think that the four “conservative” justices on the Court lay awake thinking of these things either.
We need people who do think of these things and who can apply core values laid out by the Constitution, using thoughtful and considered judgment, to the issues of the day.
The next nominee—in fact, the next two—should be women of color. Because original intent or no, there are a majority of people out there who do not look like—think, live, or enjoy the privileges of— the Founding Fathers. They have the most at stake in the coming years, and they deserve, finally, to see a court that looks more and more like this America.