Cosponsored by the Department of History
Monday, May 17, 2021
SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Abortion Case that May Overrule Roe by Challenging Viability as the Basis for Regulation
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider gutting the constitutional right to abortion, agreeing to hear Mississippi’s bid to ban the procedure in almost all cases after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The move suggests the court’s strengthened conservative wing may be ready to roll back, if not overturn, the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. The clash, which the court will hear in the nine-month term that starts in October, will be its first abortion case since Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed.
Mississippi’s appeal seeks to let states outlaw abortion even before a fetus becomes viable. That would eviscerate the core holding of the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling, which said states can’t impose significant restrictions before viability. The court in Casey didn’t pinpoint when viability occurs but suggested it was around 23 or 24 weeks at the time of the ruling.
In its appeal, Mississippi argued that viability is “not an appropriate standard for assessing the constitutionality of a law regulating abortion.” The state says its ban was designed to protect maternal health as well as the life of the fetus....
“In an unbroken line of decisions over the last fifty years, this court has held that the Constitution guarantees each person the right to decide whether to continue a pre-viability pregnancy,” the clinic argued in a brief that urged rejection of the appeal.
The Mississippi ban makes exceptions only in cases of severe fetal abnormality or major health risk to the woman. A federal district judge and then a federal appeals court said the ban was unconstitutional.
The case is Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Center (SCOTUSblog)
Monday, April 12, 2021
Reva Siegel, Why Restrict Abortion? Expanding the Frame on June Medical, 2020 SUP . CT. REV. (forthcoming 2021)
As the Supreme Court prepares to roll back protections for the abortion right, this Article analyzes the logic of pro-life constitutionalism in June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo.
I expand the frame on the admitting privileges law in June Medical to examine the logic of woman-protective health-justified restrictions on abortion. Do these laws protect women or the unborn—and how? By considering the history of the admitting privileges law at issue in June Medical and locating it in broader policy context, we can see how Louisiana legislators who restricted abortion to protect women’s health equated women’s health with motherhood; they supported laws that pushed women into motherhood while declining to enact laws that provided for the health of pregnant women and the children they might bear. Expanding the frame on Louisiana’s pro-woman pro-life law shows us sex-role stereotyping in action, and demonstrates the intersectional injuries it can inflict.
From this vantage point, we can see that judges who refuse to scrutinize pro-life law making—on the grounds that it would involve judges in politics—help legitimate the claims about protecting women’s health that supposedly justify the abortion restrictions, while revising the meaning of the Constitution’s liberty and equality guarantees. Reading the doctrinal debate in June Medical in this context identifies open and hidden efforts to roll back protections for the abortion right—and suggests how the Supreme Court that President Donald Trump helped fashion values women, health, life, truth, and democracy.
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Kyle Velte, The Nineteenth Amendment as a Generative Tool for Defeating LGBT Religious Exemptions, Minnesota L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In the summer of 1920, women gained the right to be free from discrimination in voting when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. One hundred years later, in the summer of 2020, LGBT people gained the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”) discrimination is sex discrimination under Title VII. Yet, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in many contexts, a prominent example of which is the national campaign by Christian business owners to obtain religious exemptions from state public accommodation laws. What does women’s suffrage have to do with today’s religious exemption debates? This Article contends that there is a through-line from a radical, antisubordination strand of the history of the Nineteenth Amendment to today’s fight over religious exemptions from SOGI antidiscrimination laws.
The antisubordination strand of Nineteenth Amendment history envisioned women’s suffrage as about more than just the right to cast a ballot. This capacious view of the Nineteenth Amendment—as a means of dismantling sex-based hierarchies and ensuring full citizenship rights regardless of sex—would allow women to engage in all aspects of life, both political and civic. Between the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and today’s battles over SOGI religious exemptions stands 100 years of sex discrimination law. That era saw state legislatures enact public accommodation laws prohibiting sex discrimination in the public square; these laws extended to women the right of civic engagement and thus full citizenship. This body of sex discrimination law included the Court’s 1984 decision in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, which involved a challenge to one such law. The Jaycees Court upheld a public accommodation law against a claim that enforcement of the law—which would compel the Jaycees organization to admit women as full members—would violate the Jaycees’ First Amendment free speech rights. The Court reasoned that states have a compelling interest in eradicating sex discrimination in public. Jaycees expands the reach of the equality-enhancing aspect of the suffrage movement. It embodies the antisubordination strand of the women’s suffrage movement and stiches it into the fabric of the legal doctrine governing sex discrimination.
In today’s religious exemption cases, the Christian business owners argue that although the state has a compelling interest in eradicating race discrimination in the public square, it does not have a compelling interest in eradicating SOGI discrimination. This distinction, they argue, dictates that an exemption be granted vis-à-vis SOGI discrimination, even though such an exemption would be rejected vis-à-vis race discrimination. Bostock is the contemporary bridge that connects Jaycees to the SOGI religious exemption cases. Jaycees, in turn is the bridge back to the radical strand of the Nineteenth Amendment’s history: The Nineteenth Amendment was generative not simply of the right to vote, but of a commitment to full citizenship rights regardless of sex. That equality was formalized in state public accommodation laws, which Jaycees teaches serve a compelling state interest. Bostock, when coupled with Jaycees, directs the same conclusion for public accommodation laws that prohibit SOGI discrimination, namely that such laws serve a compelling state interest that defeats claims for religious exemptions.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Here’s what the case was about: Two Maryland women registered to vote a few months after the 19th Amendment passed. Oscar Leser, a judge, sued to have their names removed from the voting rolls, on the grounds that the Maryland constitution said only men could vote, and that Maryland had not ratified the new amendment to the federal constitution — and in fact, Leser argued, the new amendment wasn’t even part of the constitution at all. For one thing, he said, something that adds so many people to the electorate would have to be approved by the state; plus, some of the state legislatures that had ratified the amendment didn’t have the right to do so or had done so incorrectly.
The Supreme Court found that both arguments flopped: when suffrage had been granted to all male citizens regardless of race the Amendment had held up, despite the change to the electorate, and the ratification powers Leser questioned had in fact been granted by the Constitution. (And in a few states where things were iffy, it didn’t matter because enough other states had ratified.)
So, while the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, Leser made sure that the right could actually be used, even where the state constitution said otherwise. It’s not one of the more famous Supreme Court decisions in American history, but without it the electorate would be, well, lesser.
For scholarship on Leser v. Garnett, see Paula Monopoli, Constitutional Orphan: Gender Equality and the Nineteenth Amendment (Oxford Press 2020) and Reva Siegel, She the People: The Nineteenth Amendment, Sex Equality, Federalism and the Family, 115 Harvard L. Rev. 945 (2002).
Thursday, February 18, 2021
February 24, 2021 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pmLIVE ONLINE EVENTThe Past and Future of Reproductive ChoiceLinda Greenhouse, Senior Research Scholar, Yale Law SchoolReva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law, Yale Law SchoolSerena Mayeri, Professor of Law and History, University of PennsylvaniaAs the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court case legalizing women’s right to choose an abortion, hangs in the balance, legal scholars Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel talk with Serena Mayeri about the long history of the struggle for reproductive justice in the US. Among the topics they will consider are the past and present of what has been known since the 70s as the “pro-choice” position and how they see it faring both in the courts and in public opinion going forward.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
In Another Shadow Docket Order, SCOTUS Stays Abortion In-Person Medication Requirement During COVID Found Unconstitutional by District Court
In another shadow docket ruling, the Supreme Court stayed a district court's preliminary injunction enjoining the unconstitutional application of a Covid abortion requirement that women seeking medicated abortions appear in person.
The order is here, FDA v. American College of OB/GYNS (Jan. 12, 2021), with concurrence by Justice Roberts and dissent by Justice Sotomayor.
In the Supreme Court’s first ruling on abortion since the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the court on Tuesday reinstated a federal requirement that women seeking to end their pregnancies using medications pick up a pill in person from a hospital or medical office.
The court’s brief order was unsigned, and the three more liberal justices dissented. The only member of the majority to offer an explanation was Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who said the ruling was a limited one that deferred to the views of experts.
The question, he wrote, was not whether the requirement imposed “an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion as a general matter.” Instead, he wrote, it was whether a federal judge should have second-guessed the Food and Drug Administration’s determination “because of the court’s own evaluation of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Here as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic,” the chief justice wrote, quoting an earlier opinion, “my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence and expertise to assess public health.’”
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, said the majority was grievously wrong.
“This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Like many of those laws, maintaining the F.D.A.’s in-person requirements” for picking up the drug “during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational and unjustifiable undue burden on women seeking to exercise their right to choose.”
Thursday, November 19, 2020
But many people overlook other things that could flow from new U.S. jurisprudence on abortion — such as erasing the right to birth control that the court recognized in a 1965 case, Griswold v. Connecticut. During her confirmation hearings, Barrett specifically refused to say whether she felt Griswold was correctly decided.
That was a flashing red warning light for Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group that argues cases on abortion and contraception. Roe, Northup says, is part of a century of jurisprudence based on the idea that the U.S. Constitution protects the liberty of individuals.
"It began with cases about how one educates one's children," Northup says, and includes same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion. You can't just take Roe out and not unravel the whole fabric."
Yet from what Barrett has said and written about the Constitution, Northup says, "it's clear she doesn't believe it protects the right to personal liberty."
The 7-2 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut is viewed as the basis for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized a woman's right to abortion nationwide.
Instead of directly answering Coons' question about whether the Supreme Court made the appropriate ruling in Griswold, Barrett said she found it unlikely that decision would ever be overturned.
"It seems unthinkable that any legislature would pass such a law" taking away the right to buy or use contraception, she said. "I think the only reason that it's even worth asking that question is to lay a predicate for whether Roe was rightly decided."
"I think that Griswold is very, very, very, very, very, very unlikely to go anywhere," she added.
Monday, November 2, 2020
Podcast Discusses the Potential Implications and Impacts of the Appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett
I discuss the potential implications and impacts of the recent appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. Discussion includes the Court itself with shifting majorities and possibilities for court reform including court expansion, court reduction, term limits or retirement, or a bipartisan court. The discussion also delves into questions about potential substantive changes to the law of abortion, healthcare, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty.
Listen here: Women With Issues Podcast, Potential Impacts of The New Conservative Supreme Court
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Jordan Rubin, Supreme Court Considers Limits on Prosecuting Military Rape, Bloomberg
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case involving time limits on prosecuting rape in the military, as the justices wondered aloud how the U.S. Constitution impacts the armed forces’ separate justice system.
The government’s lawyer framed the stakes as whether three convicted rapists “go scot free.” Their lawyer said the service-members should receive the same protections that civilians do from cruel and unusual punishment.
Congress eliminated the statute of limitations for military rape in 2006. The high court is considering in this case whether a five-year limitations period applies to assaults committed earlier. The answer determines whether the rape convictions of Air Force members Michael Briggs, Richard Collins, and Humphrey Daniels are reinstated and whether other older cases can be prosecuted, too.***
In 1977, the Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment for the rape of an adult woman under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The military justice code separately prohibits such punishment. But even after that high court ruling, rape was “punishable by death” under military law and there’s no limitations period for prosecuting death-punishable crimes.
Questions from Chief Justice John Roberts during the telephone argument illustrated a potential tension in the case. He asked acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall why that 1977 ruling, Coker v. Georgia, doesn’t affect military prosecutions? But Roberts likewise asked the lawyer arguing for the men, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, why Congress would want to make it impossible to prosecute military rapes after five years, no matter how heinous.
The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces cited the Supreme Court’s prohibition on capital punishment in rape cases in 2018 when it said pre-2006 rapes couldn’t be tried outside a five-year statute of limitations. Following that ruling, the appeals court vacated the convictions of Briggs, Collins, and Daniels, who were all charged more than five years after their crimes, committed in 2005, 2000, and 1998.
The justices’ tough questions to both sides of the dispute left the outcome unclear. Arguments were heard before an eight-member court while confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett are underway. A tie vote would affirm the armed forces court’s ruling in favor of the men. A ruling is expected by late June.
Fighting to reinstate their convictions, the Trump administration cast its appeal against the backdrop of the military’s sexual assault problem. “It’s critical to be able to go after these crimes outside of what would otherwise be the five-year window in order to make progress on rape and sexual assault in the military,” Wall told the justices.
Responding to Justice Stephen Breyer’s query why Coker shouldn’t apply, Wall said the goals of criminal law “are served very differently in the military because of the military environment, the need to maintain trust and discipline, the need to achieve institutional equality, the need not to damage foreign relations.”
Monday, October 12, 2020
A review of my recent paper, Tracy Thomas, The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen: Challenging the Myth of Women Judging Differently, forthcoming, William & Mary J. Race, Gender & Social Justice.
Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog, New Paper Reexamines Judge Florence Allen, Sixth Circuit Trailblazer
An old clerk’s tale refers to the arrival of Florence Allen (1884-1996) to her Sixth Circuit chambers in 1934. “It’s a Girl!” read a banner in the courthouse where Judge Allen would henceforth sit as the first female appellate judge in the U.S. judiciary.
That was but one of many firsts for the late judge, whose remarkable career was capped with a twenty-five-year tenure on the Sixth Circuit. Among other feats, Judge Allen was the first woman in America appointed prosecutor (1919), elected to a general trial court (1920), elected to a state supreme court (1922), and shortlisted for nomination to the United States Supreme Court (1938).
Judge Allen’s place in history has recently come under reexamination in an academic paper by University of Akron law professor Tracy A. Thomas. Released via SSRN on July 28, the paper chronologically surveys the life of Judge Allen, from her upbringing in a progressive and anti-polygamist Utahn family to her leadership in the women’s suffrage movement and onto her career in public office, which also featured unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate (1926) and House (1932).
Thomas ultimately concludes that Judge Allen “became a token” for the women’s movement by choosing to assimilate to a male-centric legal world, rather than challenge its foundations. Inadvertently, the law professor argues, this approach may have slowed the advance of women in the legal profession.
“She . . . molded herself in the male norm to prove that women could ‘think like a man,’ which to her meant crafting clear, objective, authoritative decisions unencumbered by emotion or her former pro-woman idealism,” Thomas writes. The paper later states that “[a]t the end of the day, more than tokenism then is needed in diversifying the bench.” ***
In her jurisprudence, Judge Allen defied simple labels. She called herself “liberal conservative” and issued opinions that at times pleased unions and other times employers. In a case involving the film The Birth of a Nation, Judge Allen received plaudits from the NAACP. She then lost the group’s support over Weaver v. Board of Trustees of Ohio State University (1933), a case in which Judge Allen declined to dissent from a per curiam holding that discrimination laws did not reach roommate relations.
Judge Allen’s moderate approach on the bench elicits reproach from Thomas, who notes that the judge’s example did not pave the way for more female judges: a second female appellate judge would not be appointed until 1968, and not until 1979 on the Sixth Circuit. Perhaps Thomas is right that more “zealous advocacy” or a more gender-centric approach would have helped accelerate this process, but perhaps not.
Whatever the merits of Judge Allen’s jurisprudence and character, the paper serves as a useful reminder of her captivating and colorful contributions to the judiciary, as well as the Sixth Circuit’s exceptionalism. A judicial pioneer whose sole biography is out-of-print and autobiography unavailable on Amazon, Judge Allen—thanks to Thomas—once again gets her day in the sun.
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Erika Bachiochi, Amy Coney Barrett: A New Feminist Icon, Politico
National Review, Why Left Wing Feminists Hate Amy Coney Barrett
Amy Coney Barrett is Not a Feminist Icon, Huff Post
My own view is the same as that I explained years ago when asked similarly whether then-VP candidate Sarah Palin was a feminist. No. Feminism is not just girl power, or women doing things traditionally reserved for men. Individual achievement in a field or profession (sometimes called "I-feminism") whether Vice Presidential candidate or Supreme Court Justice is not feminism. But it is a consequence of feminism and the work it has done to eradicate barriers to women's achievement. Feminism is the understanding of the gendered hierarchies and stereotypes of law and society, a commitment to reforming those gender injustices, with the goal of women's full and equal autonomy, agency, and opportunity. Under this definition, Barrett is not a feminist.
Monday, July 20, 2020
Giving Gender Discrimination a Meaningful Remedy: Rewriting Justice Ginsburg's Opinion in Morales-Santana
I have just published: Tracy Thomas, Rewriting Sessions v. Morales-Santana, in Feminist Judgments: Family Law Opinions Rewritten (Rachel Rebouche ed., July 2020)
In Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. 1678 (2017), the Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg struck down a citizenship law that discriminated against children born abroad to US citizens based on whether the citizen was their father or their mother. The opinion was widely held to be a model of equal protection analysis, documenting the legal history of the Court's gender equal protection law and recognizing the masculinity side of gender discrimination against men.
However, the opinion was problematic for its refusal to order a meaningful remedy for the petitioner. The Court did not grant the discrimination victim relief, but instead ordered the government to adopt formally equal rules going forward, and that those rules should be the more stringent rule for fathers. The Court was focused on restraining the government rather than redressing the individual's harm.
I have written about the remedial problem of so-called leveling down unequal treatment to deny the benefit. Tracy Thomas, Leveling Down Gender Equality, Harvard J. Law & Gender (2019).
In this book chapter, I apply these criticisms to rewrite the Court's opinion to properly award a meaningful remedy as required by due process. This book is part of the US Feminist Judgments Project rewriting key court decisions as if they had been informed by feminist theory.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
The U.S. Supreme Court decided Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania (July 8, 2020), in a split opinion, with the majority written by Justice Thomas. Justices Kagan and Breyer concurred in the judgment.
Justice Ginsburg strongly dissented,. recognizing the threat to not just women's healthcare, but women's equality.
In accommodating claims of religious freedom, this Court has taken a balanced approach, one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs. Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree. *** Destructive of the Women’s Health Amendment, this Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets. The Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause, all agree, does not call for that imbalanced result. Nor does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq., condone harm to third parties occasioned by entire disregard of their needs. I therefore dissent from the Court’s judgment, under which, as the Government estimates, between 70,500 and 126,400 women would immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Caroline Mala Corbin, June Medical is the New Casey
The atmosphere awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey felt similar to the one awaiting today’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo. At stake was whether the U.S. Constitution would continue to protect a woman’s right to abortion. Casey reaffirmed that right but lowered the level of protection. June Medical does the same. In fact, Casey is likely to be the controlling Supreme Court precedent on abortion once again.
To understand what this means, let me provide a brief background on abortion and the Supreme Court. As most people realize, the Supreme Court declared that the right to abortion was a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade. Roe also required strict scrutiny of any abortion regulation, where regulations of first trimester abortion (when the vast majority of abortions occur) were presumptively unconstitutional.
What many do not realize is that the Supreme Court subsequently dialed back the level of protection in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that abortion was still a constitutional right. However, the Court replaced the strict scrutiny test with the undue burden test, making abortion much easier to regulate. According to the Casey Court, as long as a law did not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion, it was fine. An undue burden occurs when the state places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman hoping to end her pregnancy. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court in Casey and subsequent cases made clear their view that very few regulations impose an undue burden. Waiting periods? No undue burden. Outlawing a safer procedure? No undue burden. Under the Casey regime, states were able to severely restrict access to abortion by passing laws ostensibly to protect women’s health, but in reality undermined it by making abortion more expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to obtain due to clinic closures.
Quite unexpectedly, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the Supreme Court strengthened the undue burden test, providing heightened protection for abortion rights. The analysis of whether a law imposed an undue burden now had two questions instead of one. As before, courts must consider whether a law created a substantial obstacle in the path of a women seeking an abortion. But in addition, the Court would consider the actual benefit of the law. If the stated goal was to improve women’s health, states must provide evidence to that effect. This is critical because, as mentioned above, states regularly passed laws which they claimed were to make abortion safer for women but were really designed to just make it harder.***
However, also similar to Casey, June Medical signals less protection for abortion rights going forward. Although Justice Breyer’s plurality opinion relied on the highly protective undue burden test as formulated by the Whole Woman’s Health majority, which requires examination of both the actual benefit of the law, as well as the burden imposed by the law, Chief Justice Roberts did not. Chief Justice Roberts, who provides the crucial fifth vote to reaffirm that abortion was a constitutionally protected right, repudiates the Whole Woman’s Health test. Instead, he wrote that “the only question for a court is whether a law has the ‘effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.’” In other words, the test for whether an abortion regulation violates the constitution is the Casey test with one question, not two. Thus, like Casey, June Medical reaffirms abortion is a constitutional right while cutting back protection for abortion.
Dahlia Lithwick, Women are Being Written Out of Abortion Jurisprudence
It was hard not to miss that there were six separate opinions filed in June Medical Services v. Russo, the major abortion litigation of this year’s Supreme Court term, and that every one of those six separate opinions was penned by a man. When Roe v. Wade was written in 1973, the majority opinion also came from the pen of a man, Justice Harry Blackmun, who was at pains to protect and shield the intimate and vital relationship between a doctor (“he”) and the pregnant women. Of course, there were no women on the Supreme Court in 1973, so one could hardly have expected a woman to write the decision, or even for a man to write it with the experience of women at front of mind. Oddly, almost half a century later, none of the three women on the high court wrote a word in June Medical.
In the interest of being perfectly clear, I herein lay my cards on the table: I’m not a huge fan of this kind of essentializing and almost four years ago to the day I did a little touchdown dance when the opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Texas abortion ruling with facts virtually identical to those from this year’s, was assigned to Justice Stephen Breyer. At the time I found myself moved by the fact that, as I wrote then, there was “something about Breyer, the court’s sometimes underappreciated fourth feminist, reading patiently from his opinion about the eye-glazing standards that Texas would have required in constructing an ‘ambulatory surgical center,’ that makes the announcement of Whole Woman’s Health just fractionally more perfect. This isn’t just a women’s case about women’s rights and women’s health. ***
There are no women in the plurality opinion in June Medical. There are a lot of physicians (mostly male) seeking admitting privileges at hospitals, and there are a lot of judges (mostly male) substituting their own judgment for the women who desire to terminate a pregnancy. And now there are a whole lot of Supreme Court justices, every last one of them male, substituting their judgment for doctors who tried to get admitting privileges and for the judgment of the other men who have myriad and complicated feelings about women who seek to terminate a pregnancy. While the dissenters are voluble about bits of fetal tissue (Justice Neil Gorsuch) and concern for women as victims of greedy abortionists (Justice Samuel Alito), their complete and utter silence about actual women and their actual choices and their lived lives and their hardship is impossible to escape. All these years later, they are being read out of a theoretical dialogue about which kind of balancing tests the men prefer to administer. It is into this woman-shaped silence that Ginsburg has poured out her own life experience, in cases about wage discrimination, contraception, and harassment, in so many other cases over her career. But it is into this woman-shaped silence that we will now fight the next abortion battles, over a constitutional right—as laid out in Roe, reaffirmed in Casey, strengthened in Whole Woman’s Health—which now comes down to a sort of elaborate agency review of whether clinics and physicians acted “in good faith” to comply with laws whose efficacy doesn’t much matter. And one cannot escape the feeling that we have not come a very long way from Blackmun’s deep regard for the wisdom of the male physicians in Roe, and Justice Anthony Kennedy’s deep regard for the wisdom of male Supreme Court justices in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart, as we limp toward a celebration of Roberts’ deep regard for precedent and process. The regard for a woman’s right to choose itself? That doesn’t even register as material.
Monday, June 29, 2020
Today the US Supreme Court decided June Medical Services v. Russo striking down Louisiana's anti-abortion admitting privileges law.
The majority opinion by Justice Breyer reaffirms the legal standard of Whole Women's Health. It is a process-heavy decision about third-party standing and a painfully detailed discussion of the district court findings.
Chief Justice Roberts joins the liberal justices in the majority on grounds of stare decisis. This was essentially the same case as Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstadt (2016). He also rejects the cost-benefit balancing test of Whole Women's Health, leaving only a plurality of the Court endorsing that standard and returning to the core undue burden standard of Casey.
There are multiple dissenting opinions by the remaining four justices. Much of the debate devolves into a tangential discussion about deference to district court findings and as applied challenges.
No woman justice wrote any opinion. Every male justice wrote an opinion expressing his views.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
The Causation Problem of "Because of Sex" in the Trio of Supreme Court Cases on Title VII, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, and a Proposed Solution
Shirley Lin, Aimee Stephens and Preserving Our Broader Understandings of Sex, JURIST
Just last week, we were saddened by the loss of Aimee Stephens at age 59. Ms. Stephens was a Detroit funeral director who, in 2013, announced a gender transition that exposed her employer’s deep intolerance toward transgender people. For seven years, she challenged the harsh dismissal and loss of livelihood that followed the announcement. Although she will not hear the Supreme Court’s decision in her case, Ms. Stephens’ unwavering commitment to workplace dignity made history in 2018 in her landmark victory before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in one of the most nuanced examinations of sex discrimination ever issued.
The decision in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. is best understood as a doctrinal correction to the current ideological drift in causation theory in discrimination law. Since 1989, a segment of the Court has pursued approaches that needlessly narrow the effectiveness of Title VII through causation analysis and anti-classification.
The law’s plain language prohibits discrimination against any individual “because of such individual’s…sex.” An employer generally cannot use an employee’s protected trait — here, her sex — to harm or otherwise disadvantage her. Under a different provision, the causation element of proving discrimination against an employee is a factual question due to other reasons employers may point to as the genuine, non-discriminatory reason for its action against the employee. In other words, it is a separate element from the trait element. Thus, “because of…sex” has been interpreted to encompass not only claims regarding women being passed over for men because they are women, but also contextual subordination that relies upon our sex trait, including gender stereotyping, sexual assault, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and hostile work environment. No less than race or religion, sex is a protected trait from which we infer meaning, and experience harm, based upon variable circumstances of time and place.
Thus, the Sixth Circuit unanimously held that “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based upon that employee’s status” as a transgender person or lesbian employee “without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” But the panel took the farther step of affirming the non-binary sex spectrum. ***
However, buried in the Second Circuit’s en banc opinion in Zarda v. Altitude Express (also pending within the Title VII trio of cases the Court heard with Ms. Stephens’s case) was an outlier within the groundswell of courts seeking to course-correct causation analysis. There, a plurality ventured that a gay man’s status was the “but-for cause” of his dismissal, because if he had been a heterosexual woman married to a man, rather than a gay man, his status was determinative of the outcome. This theory, raised on appeal among other theories, conflates the social trait and causation elements of disparate treatment claims and thus competes with the approach of examining the social context of the sex trait. If misapplied to future sex and other trait discrimination cases, but-for causation could flatten existing sex discrimination analysis at a time when society has made significant strides toward recognizing intersex, non-binary, and gender-fluid people.
Shirley Lin, Dehumanization "Because of Sex": The Multiaxial Approach to the Title VII of Sexual Minorities, Lewis & Clark L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Although Title VII prohibits discrimination against any individual “because of such individual’s . . . sex,” legal commentators have not yet accurately appraised Title VII’s trait and causation requirements embodied in that phrase. Since 2015, however, many courts have read “sex” in Title VII as a socially defined trait and evaluate social construction of a protected trait before identifying causation when a court detects subordination. This Article builds on this judicial consensus by introducing “multiaxial analysis,” a framework with which judges and stakeholders identify the role of Title VII’s protected traits as socially constructed along four axes: the aggrieved individual’s self-identification, the defendant-employer, society, and the state. This context-sensitive approach to subordination gives fuller effect to Title VII’s provisions and purposes as compared to sex stereotyping theory or the “but-for causation” method recently raised with the Supreme Court in the Title VII suits brought by gay and transgender plaintiffs. Uncoupling causation from the sex trait analysis will realize the statute’s civil rights protections as localities increasingly recognize the scope of sex beyond a fixed binary.
Monday, May 11, 2020
Conservatives have been trying to unwind the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for nearly a decade now, and the women justices on the U.S Supreme Court are over it.
That much was apparent during oral arguments Wednesday in Trump v. Pennsylvania and its companion case, Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.
It’s the third time the Court has heard a challenge to the birth control benefit, which guarantees access to FDA-approved contraception methods at no additional cost or co-pay in most employer-sponsored health plans. But this case is the most absurd and dangerous challenge yet
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drove that point home from the hospital, where she was recovering from a gallbladder procedure while defending the rights of hundreds of thousands of employees the Trump administration is trying to “toss to the winds entirely,” to use her words. Justice Sonia Sotomayor reminded Solicitor General Noel Francisco that should the Court side with the Trump administration, the benefits of around a hundred thousand employees (by even the most conservative estimate) would be in jeopardy. And Justice Elena Kagan appeared to be searching for a compromise she could get the chief justice to sign onto.
At its core is the same central question: Can your boss deny you health insurance coverage for contraception based on a religious objection? But these cases take that question and, like everything in the Trump years, extend it to absurd lengths by asking if your boss can deny you those same benefits based on a moral objection as well.
The moral exemption to the birth control benefit is a toxic addition inserted by the Trump administration three years ago after conservative efforts to upend the benefit in court fell flat. Trump announced the exemption in a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by the Little Sisters of the Poor, the nuns who would continue on as the face of the administration’s efforts to undermine the benefit. It was the kind of reality-TV spectacle that has come to define this administration—full of pomp, empty on substance, but with the potential to unleash an unfathomable amount of chaos in its wake.
And that’s precisely why the administration brought the nuns along. Someone has to sell this pile of garbage to the Roberts Court, and the nuns have proven more than willing to play along.
There is no world in which the nuns would have to provide contraception coverage for their employees. None. Not a single one. They are covered by exemptions, court orders, and a provision of employee benefits law that guarantees the federal government mostly stay out of their business. So when Paul Clement, the attorney representing the Little Sisters, suggested that the nuns would stop providing care to the elderly and poor should they have to simply fill out a form noting their objection to the benefit, I was glad to be covering the arguments from home. Had I been at the Court, I definitely would have been ejected for the spontaneous, “OH COME THE FUCK ON, PAUL” that response requires.
Turns out, I’m as fed up with these cases as the women justices of the Court.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Historic First SCOTUS Phone Arguments Involve Two Women Attorneys, Bringing Brief Gender Equality to the Judicial Forum
And with that, the Supreme Court made history Monday, hearing arguments by telephone and allowing the world to listen in live, both for the first time.
The arguments were essentially a high-profile phone discussion with the nine justices and two arguing lawyers. The session went remarkably smoothly, notable for a high court that prizes tradition and only reluctantly changes the way it operates.***
The court chose a somewhat obscure case about whether the travel website Booking.com can trademark its name for its first foray into remote arguments. The more high-profile arguments come next week.***
Roberts asked the first questions of government attorney Erica Ross, who was arguing that Booking.com should not be allowed to trademark its name because it is a generic term followed by “.com.” The justices then asked questions in order of seniority instead of the usual free-for-all, rapid-fire style that questions are asked in the courtroom. That meant Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the court in 2018, went last.
One mild surprise came early in the arguments when Roberts passed the questioning to Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went 10 years between questions and has said he thinks his colleagues pepper lawyers with too many. But in this format, Thomas spoke up, asking questions of both lawyers. It was the first time in more than a year that he had asked a question.***
Several justices said “good morning” to the lawyers, a telephone nicety not often heard in the courtroom. And Roberts occasionally interjected to keep things moving, saying, “Thank you, counsel,” when he wanted Ross or Booking.com’s lawyer Lisa Blatt to stop talking so he could move to the next justice.
“It is a fundamental principle of trademark law that no party can obtain a trademark for a generic term like ‘wine,’ ‘cotton,’ or ‘grain,’” Ross told the justices, pointing them to an 1888 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled that adding a word like ”Company” or “Inc.” to a generic term doesn’t make it eligible to be trademarked.
Some of the exchanges were playful, as happens from time to time in the courtroom. Breyer used pizza.com and cookies.com as examples of websites and discussed with Blatt searching on the internet for toilet paper.
The first oral argument of the Supreme Court’s new term this month delivered something so rare as to be practically nonexistent: g ender equality.
Debating an obscure question about the constitutional principle of double jeopardy were five men, all justices of the Supreme Court, and five women: the three female justices and the two female lawyers who took turns at the lectern for their respective clients.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Robin Dembroff, Issa Kohler-Hausmann & Elise Sugarman, What Taylor Swift and Beyoncé Teach Us About Sex and Causes, U. Penn. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In the consolidated cases Altitude Express v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the parties disagree as to the appropriate formulation of a but-for test to determine whether or not there was a discriminatory outcome, all parties do agree to the use of such a test, which asks “whether the evidence shows ‘treatment of a person in a manner which but for that person’s sex would be different.’” City of Los Angeles, Dep’t. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 711 (1978). However, but-for tests confuse more than they clarify the inquiry; a discriminatory outcome cannot be explained by appeal to just a discrete characteristic of a particular person. Individuals are not discriminated against because of these characteristics per se. Rather, they are discriminated against because of the social meanings and expectations that attach to these characteristics. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift illustrate the difference between individual-level causation and social explanation in two separate songs, “If I Were a Boy” and “The Man.” The explanation for why the counterfactual ‘male’ Beyoncé and Swift are evaluated differently than their current ‘female’ versions does not lie in individual-level features considered apart from the social world, but in social-level roles and expectations associated with those features. For this reason, a social explanation test—one that asks whether the social meanings of sex characteristics, rather than the characteristics per se, explain the outcome in question—is more suitable for determining whether or not Title VII has been violated.