Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Oklahoma Judge Backs Religious Schools’ Suit Against Obamacare Birth Control Coverage

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

And, in U.S. Supreme Court decisions past and future, a ruling last week may affect #MeToo claims, and why another upcoming labor case will test if conservatives can actually practice what they preach.

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

A federal district court judge in Oklahoma ruled in favor of four Christian schools in the state—Mid-America Christian University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and Southern Nazarene University. The colleges and universities had sued the government claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which requires most private health insurance plans to provide coverage of prescription contraceptives, is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A Virginia doctor who spiked his girlfriend’s drink in order to induce an abortion pleaded guilty to fetal homicide, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison (with all but three of those years suspended), lost his medical license, and could be deported after serving time. His girlfriend, who was then 17 weeks pregnant, miscarried. 

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is pretty cozy with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)a legitimate hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—so much so that the legitimate hate group paid Schimel’s expenses for the ADF Summit on Religious Liberty. It’s bad enough that Schimel attended an event sponsored by a legitimate hate group and got paid to participate in a panel on states’ rights, but he charged Wisconsin taxpayers about a grand for one of his top lawyers to attend a legitimate hate group’s event. Schimel faces a re-election campaign this year. You might consider voting accordingly. Because I’m not sure if we mentioned it, but ADF is a legitimate hate group.

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More than two years after Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. gunned down three people after declaring he was a “warrior for the babies,” Dear remains unfit to stand trial, according to the trial judge presiding over his case. Dear will remain confined to a mental health institute in Colorado.

Robert Bruno, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of labor and employment relations, writes in the Chicago Tribune that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor plaintiff Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, a case that will test whether or not fees that support collective bargaining efforts by labor unions like the AFSCME are political speech. If the Court does so, Bruno says it would be “an extraordinary act of judicial lawmaking irreconcilable with conservative principles that publicly shame ‘judicial activism.’”

Leah Fessler explains in Quartz how last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that employers can force their employees to arbitrate complaints—thus denying employees the opportunity to resolve their grievances through class action lawsuits—will negatively affect the #MeToo movement and the ongoing fight for gender equality and against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is expanding public access to its proceedings; Chief Judge Merrick Garland (lolsob) announced that the appeals court would be livestreaming all arguments.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California filed a lawsuit demanding a response to Freedom of Information Act requests that the Trump administration seems to be dodging. The civil liberties organization sent FOIA requests to Immigration Customs and Enforcement seeking information on the access it has to a nationwide network of license plate readers, which can photograph thousands of license plates per minute. The ACLU says it requires the information to inform the public about the federal government is surveilling motorists.

A federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum and that his blocking of Twitter users is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

In another victory for trans rights, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the claims of a handful of students that the Boyertown, Pennsylvania, school district’s policy of permitting transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity infringed on the plaintiffs’ right to “bodily privacy.”

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