Roundups Law and Policy

Legal Wrap: The Roberts Court Makes a Mess of Just About Everything

Jessica Mason Pieklo

It was a bad week for equality and social justice at the Supreme Court.

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

What a mess we’ve got thanks to the Roberts Court. Predictably and sadly, the Court upheld a Michigan ballot initiative that bans affirmative action programs at the state’s public universities. Then it made it harder for victims of child pornography to collect damages against those who possessed illegal materials containing their images. And now it looks like the Court is about to endorse lying in political ads without consequence, because who needs facts when you have free speech?

The Marissa Alexander case is an excellent example of the damage and destruction U.S. policies that criminalize pregnant women and mothers bring. Unfortunately, the message is getting lost.

Conservative lawmakers in Louisiana are pushing a bill that would prevent the removal of mechanical support from pregnant women, looking to repeat the Marlise Munoz tragedy in the Bayou State.

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Meanwhile, Florida passed a fetal homicide bill, which will make it a crime to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development during an attack on a pregnant woman.

Alaska lawmakers sent a strong message to poor women that it’s the state and not doctors who are in charge of medical care, by limiting which abortions can be considered “medically necessary.”

In Oklahoma, anti-choice lawmakers passed new restrictions on medication abortions after previous restrictions were found to be unconstitutional.

Mississippi has a new abortion ban. This one outlaws the procedure after 18 weeks’ gestation.

Well, this stinks: Under pressure from the Denver Archbishop, Colorado lawmakers withdraw their Reproductive Health Freedom Act, which would have proactively stopped local government bodies from interfering in reproductive health care.

Arizona lawmakers passed a law that allows for warrantless, surprise inspections of abortion clinics, because who needs the Fourth Amendment anyway?

Tara Murtha reports on a series of complaints filed by the Women’s Law Project with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education against nine of 14 members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, claiming that the colleges have discriminated against female athletes.

Sheila Bapat has this great piece on the Cecily McMillan trial and why it matters.

Andrea Grimes reports on the plight of two North Texas doctors who had their hospital admitting privileges unlawfully revoked because they provide legal abortion care.

Elsewhere, there’s this historic lawsuit alleging that doctors and social workers violated the civil rights of a child born with an intersex condition by assigning him a biological sex shortly after birth and without consent.

Federal courts are increasingly recognizing Title VII protects against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I explain here why that means a broad ruling in the Hobby Lobby case could be especially devastating.

Believe it or not, there’s a strategy to the lawsuits across the country challenging the contraception coverage requirement.

Texas and the Department of Justice are squaring off over voting rights again.

We can all agree that if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is running for president of the United States in 2016, he’ll do so as the moderate in his party now that he’s linked being anti-abortion with being pro-drug treatment, right?

I love these change-of-heart stories—I just wish they happened before causing so much pain and wasted money in litigation fees.

The American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit detailing how Arizona’s restrictions on medication abortion hurt patient safety and violate the standards of care.

Good news! The Florida Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 that the state’s anti-discrimination law covers pregnant workers who face on-the-job discrimination.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.