Analysis Law and Policy

Affirmative Action, Marriage Equality, and Voting Rights: A Look at the New Supreme Court Term

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Last year's Supreme Court term may have been historic, but in many ways it was just a warm-up.

Last year’s historic decisions upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and striking as unconstitutional most of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law set the tone for what promises to be an even more exciting and historic 2012-2103 term at the high court.

The term, which begins today, Monday, October 1, already promises a handful of marquee cases, including a direct challenge to affirmative action in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in two separate but parallel cases—Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger—that universities have a compelling interest in creating a diverse student body and that they may consider race as one factor, among many, in deciding which students to admit. In 2005, after those cases were decided and in an effort to increase diversity of its student body, the University of Texas adopted an admissions program that was modeled in part on the Michigan program the Supreme Court had upheld in those decisions and as a supplement to its Ten Percent Plan—which automatically admitted the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class. The shift was based on the assumption that, de facto, most Texas schools are still segregated.

Abigail Fisher, a white student who was not in the top ten percent of her class, was denied admission to the school and challenged the policy by arguing that the court erred in looking at race as a factor in her admission decision. Now the Roberts Court will decide the case, a fact that makes many affirmative-action defenders anxious since the Chief Justice is on record as opposing any kind of policy that is not “race neutral” across the board.

The other sure-thing case before the Court is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case the Court will hear on the first day of arguments. In that case the Court will consider whether Congress intended the Alien Tort Statute, a law that says non-citizens can sue American corporations in American courts for conduct of those corporations abroad, to also hold American corporations accountable for human rights abuses committed abroad. The Kiobel challenge gets to the very heart of the law by questioning whether individuals who suffered severe human rights abuses abroad can sue those responsible for the abuses in the United States or whether those individuals are stuck with the laws and jurisdiction of where the abuses took place. If there’s been one consistent theme from the Roberts Court it is the expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual rights and Kiobel looks to be another case that may cement that theme at a time when corporate accountability abroad is needed now more than ever.

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There are two other big issues likely to come before the Court this term: marriage equality and a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. The question is how they get before the Court because that answer will tell a lot about how the Court will likely rule.

E.J. Graff has a great overview on the various challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) working their way up to the Court, as well as the challenge to California’s Prop 8. Which case the Court decides to hear will make all the difference in outcome, because Supreme Court law all depends on the way an issue is framed. There are five challenges to DOMA from which the Court could chose; each are limited in their scope and framing and each places the issue of same-sex marriage in the context of federal power. Specifically, the DOMA challenges ask: Does the federal government have the right to pick and choose which state marriages it recognizes without violating the equal protection guarantees of the Constitution?

In many ways that’s an easier question to frame for a conservative-leaning court than the question at the heart of the Proposition 8 challenge: Do same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Constitution? The Roberts Court has been outright hostile to the idea of any kind of fundamental rights, and would undoubtedly see this as an expansion of constitutional access, something the most strident of its justices have made a career trying to prevent. If the Court decides to hear Perry v. Brown in an effort to answer this question it could spell bad news for marriage equality.

Similar to marriage equality the Court has several avenues to attack the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). First is the possibility of the Court agreeing to review Shelby County v. Holder, a case where the Department of Justice objected to changes in Alabama voting law on which the DOJ has since backed off, or through several other challenges to the VRA in the appellate courts from Florida and Texas.

Each of the possible challenges question Section 5 of the VRA which requires the federal government to “pre-clear” any changes to election laws in certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination. In an earlier voting rights challenge Chief Justice Roberts questioned the constitutionality of Section 5 but did not rule on it outright. This term may give him a chance to strike one of the most important achievements of the modern civil rights statutes.

There are a handful of other important questions the Court will also answer with regard to the rights of criminal defendants, and with a future challenge to Roe v. Wade only a year or two away at most, history may look at the Roberts Court as the conservative response to the great progressive days of the Warren Court. At least that’s how it is shaping up right now.

Analysis Abortion

Legislators Have Introduced 445 Provisions to Restrict Abortion So Far This Year

Elizabeth Nash & Rachel Benson Gold

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35 percent (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions.

Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

Mid year state restrictions

 

Signs of Progress

The first half of the year ended on a high note, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down the most significant abortion decision in a generation. The Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down abortion restrictions in Texas requiring abortion facilities in the state to convert to the equivalent of ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital; these two restrictions had greatly diminished access to services throughout the state (see Lessons from Texas: Widespread Consequences of Assaults on Abortion Access). Five other states (Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) have similar facility requirements, and the Texas decision makes it less likely that these laws would be able to withstand judicial scrutiny (see Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Nineteen other states have abortion facility requirements that are less onerous than the ones in Texas; the fate of these laws in the wake of the Court’s decision remains unclear. 

Ten states in addition to Texas had adopted hospital admitting privileges requirements. The day after handing down the Texas decision, the Court declined to review lower court decisions that have kept such requirements in Mississippi and Wisconsin from going into effect, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced that he would not enforce the state’s law. As a result of separate litigation, enforcement of admitting privileges requirements in Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma is currently blocked. That leaves admitting privileges in effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah; as with facility requirements, the Texas decision will clearly make it harder for these laws to survive if challenged.

More broadly, the Court’s decision clarified the legal standard for evaluating abortion restrictions. In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had said that abortion restrictions could not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court stressed the importance of using evidence to evaluate the extent to which an abortion restriction imposes a burden on women, and made clear that a restriction’s burdens cannot outweigh its benefits, an analysis that will give the Texas decision a reach well beyond the specific restrictions at issue in the case.

As important as the Whole Woman’s Health decision is and will be going forward, it is far from the only good news so far this year. Legislators in 19 states introduced a bevy of measures aimed at expanding insurance coverage for contraceptive services. In 13 of these states, the proposed measures seek to bolster the existing federal contraceptive coverage requirement by, for example, requiring coverage of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methods and banning the use of techniques such as medical management and prior authorization, through which insurers may limit coverage. But some proposals go further and plow new ground by mandating coverage of sterilization (generally for both men and women), allowing a woman to obtain an extended supply of her contraceptive method (generally up to 12 months), and/or requiring that insurance cover over-the-counter contraceptive methods. By July 1, both Maryland and Vermont had enacted comprehensive measures, and similar legislation was pending before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). And, in early July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a measure into law allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of their contraceptive method.

071midyearstatecoveragetable

But the Assault Continues

Even as these positive developments unfolded, the long-standing assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights continued apace. Much of this attention focused on the release a year ago of a string of deceptively edited videos designed to discredit Planned Parenthood. The campaign these videos spawned initially focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and has grown into an effort to defund family planning providers more broadly, especially those who have any connection to abortion services. Since last July, 24 states have moved to restrict eligibility for funding in several ways:

  • Seventeen states have moved to limit family planning providers’ eligibility for reimbursement under Medicaid, the program that accounts for about three-fourths of all public dollars spent on family planning. In some cases, states have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood entirely from such funding. These attacks have come via both administrative and legislative means. For instance, the Florida legislature included a defunding provision in an omnibus abortion bill passed in March. As the controversy grew, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicaid, sent a letter to state officials reiterating that federal law prohibits them from discriminating against family planning providers because they either offer abortion services or are affiliated with an abortion provider (see CMS Provides New Clarity For Family Planning Under Medicaid). Most of these state attempts have been blocked through legal challenges. However, a funding ban went into effect in Mississippi on July 1, and similar measures are awaiting implementation in three other states.
  • Fourteen states have moved to restrict family planning funds controlled by the state, with laws enacted in four states. The law in Kansas limits funding to publicly run programs, while the law in Louisiana bars funding to providers who are associated with abortion services. A law enacted in Wisconsin directs the state to apply for federal Title X funding and specifies that if this funding is obtained, it may not be distributed to family planning providers affiliated with abortion services. (In 2015, New Hampshire moved to deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood affiliates; the state reversed the decision in 2016.) Finally, the budget adopted in Michigan reenacts a provision that bars the allocation of family planning funds to organizations associated with abortion. Notably, however, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a similar measure.
  • Ten states have attempted to bar family planning providers’ eligibility for related funding, including monies for sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, prevention of interpersonal violence, and prevention of breast and cervical cancer. In three of these states, the bans are the result of legislative action; in Utah, the ban resulted from action by the governor. Such a ban is in effect in North Carolina; the Louisiana measure is set to go into effect in August. Implementation of bans in Ohio and Utah has been blocked as a result of legal action.

071midyearstateeligibilitytable

The first half of 2016 was also noteworthy for a raft of attempts to ban some or all abortions. These measures fell into four distinct categories:

  • By the end of June, four states enacted legislation to ban the most common method used to perform abortions during the second trimester. The Mississippi and West Virginia laws are in effect; the other two have been challenged in court. (Similar provisions enacted last year in Kansas and Oklahoma are also blocked pending legal action.)
  • South Carolina and North Dakota both enacted measures banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. This brings to 16 the number of states with these laws in effect (see State Policies on Later Abortions).
  • Indiana and Louisiana adopted provisions banning abortions under specific circumstances. The Louisiana law banned abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization in cases of diagnosed genetic anomaly; the law is slated to go into effect on August 1. Indiana adopted a groundbreaking measure to ban abortion for purposes of race or sex selection, in cases of a genetic anomaly, or because of the fetus’ “color, national origin, or ancestry”; enforcement of the measure is blocked pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
  • Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a sweeping measure that would have banned all abortions except those necessary to protect the woman’s life.

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In addition, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) enacted other types of abortion restrictions during the first half of the year, including measures to impose or extend waiting periods, restrict access to medication abortion, and establish regulations on abortion clinics.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.