Roundups Law and Policy

Legal Wrap: Progressive Groups Increase Pressure on Judicial Nominations

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Will Senate Democrats respond to calls to block the nomination of Michael Boggs to the federal bench?

Legal Wrap is a weekly round-up of key legal reproductive rights and justice news.

It’s easy for conservatives’ state-level attacks on reproductive rights and the social safety net to monopolize our attention, but legislatures are only one front in that battle. The courts matter, and right now they matter a lot. That’s why the campaign to oppose Michael Boggs for the federal bench is important. Adele Stan has the latest on the coalition of progressive organizations leading this fight, and I explain here how the Boggs nomination has even advanced this far.

Cynthia Greenlee has this must-read piece on Darrin Manning and reproductive justice for young men of color.

An evangelical couple in Maine has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a recently passed buffer zone law in Portland.

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A Pennsylvania woman is facing prosecution after ordering her daughter abortion-inducing pills online.

In Montana, a popular softball coach at a Catholic high school lost her contract because she also works at Planned Parenthood.

A new bill proposed in Iowa would allow women to sue their doctors for emotional distress if they later come to regret their abortion.

Since 2011, South Dakota lawmakers have spent about $170,000 in taxpayer money defending just one of the many anti-choice laws in the state.

Virginia officials will appeal a lower court’s ruling bringing marriage equality to the state. That’s despite the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder told state attorneys general that they have no obligation to defend same-sex marriage bans in their states.

Despite the fact that he says nothing from the bench, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may be one of the most influential legal minds in the country. And that’s scary.

Here’s some better Supreme Court news: The Court turned away two separate requests by the National Rifle Association to loosen gun laws that restrict anyone under 21 from buying or carrying a handgun.

The Court also turned away Arizona’s Planned Parenthood funding ban, which means the Roberts Court has now twice let stand an appellate court decision blocking states’ attempts to strip the women’s health-care provider from Medicaid programs.

Good news! Massachusetts just enacted emergency regulations prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, lawmakers introduced a statewide Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Anti-contraception forces at the University of Notre Dame lost at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week as the court refused to overturn an order shielding the university from complying with the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Imani Gandy has this excellent piece on the legal challenges to the mandate. She asks the simple, yet so far ellusive, question: Where are the women in these cases?

Speaking of the University of Notre Dame, Rewire launched a new legal podcast this month, and the inaugural episode takes a look at Notre Dame’s legal challenge to the contraception mandate and the argument that corporations have religious rights. The podcast will run monthly and discuss the legal ins and outs of reproductive rights and justice issues, with a dash of commentary from me and Imani Gandy. Check it out!

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”