On Tuesday the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court upheld most of Texas’ stringent anti-abortion law, which could leave as few as seven clinics open in the nation’s second largest state. The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked these restrictions in October; however, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling allows the law to stand, ushering in a likely wave of clinic closings for the Lone Star State.
The Associated Press explains how the law works:
The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows Texas to enforce Republican-backed restrictions that require abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards, a checklist that includes rules on minimum room sizes, staffing levels and air ventilation systems.
This decision represents an endorsement of a long series of right-wing initiatives to chip away at the rights protected by Roe v. Wade. By pushing unnecessary laws targeting abortion facilities, the Right can mandate costly renovations that create a needless economic strain on clinics. For example, the Texas law requires abortion clinics to abide by the same standards as hospital surgical centers, despite the fact that many clinics solely provide medical abortions, which do not involve surgery. The Supreme Court has said that states may not pass laws with the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But the court yesterday turned a blind eye to the obvious in order to further the Right’s anti-choice agenda.
A panel of three judges, all appointed by George W. Bush, delivered the decision, which will force facilities across the state to shut their doors and leave women hundreds of miles away from a licensed abortion provider. Verdicts from the ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit bench, like the decision in October letting Texas enforce strict voter ID laws, highlight the importance of who sits on our nation’s courts. Although Fifth Circuit has two longstanding vacancies, Republican obstruction has prevented the filling of these seats. Tuesday’s decision further exemplifies the critical need for fair and just courts, particularly as right-wing legislators continue their relentless attack on the rights established by Roe.
Although the case hasn’t gotten as much mainstream press attention as the forthcoming blockbuster rulings on marriage and on the ACA, the Supreme Court will be issuing a crucial decision on fair housing in the next few weeks in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. A bad decision would reverse decades of positive decisions and progress in fair housing.
As our nation learned during the riots of the 1960s, and is tragically re-learning today, segregation in housing is both a major cause and effect of our urban problems and inequality. Partly in response, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968, with the explicit purpose to “provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.” For almost four decades, every appellate court that has considered the issue and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under both Republican and Democratic administrations have interpreted the Act to prohibit conduct that has a discriminatory effect based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, or familial status without a good justification. The issue in Texas Department is whether the Court will overturn that standard and rule that you don’t have a case under the Fair Housing Act unless you can prove specific intent to discriminate.
Why is this important? On a practical level, requiring proof of intent will make fair housing enforcement much more difficult; as one court noted, “clever men may easily conceal their motivations.” More broadly, discrimination and segregation often result from policies that may not be motivated by specific bad intent but that build on historic and systemic patterns of discrimination and lock out racial and other minorities. The “disparate impact” test, which is the legal term for the standard based on unjustified discriminatory effects, has helped combat that problem.
For example, in one case a building policy that imposed a limit of two people per bedroom resulted in the effective eviction from a one-bedroom apartment of a young couple who had just had a child. The policy was challenged based on disparate impact. It turned out there was no good business justification for the policy, and 150 units were opened up for families with children as a result. Similar challenges to policies that excluded disabled veterans by requiring residents to have full-time jobs or zoning restrictions that excluded racial minorities by requiring large lot sizes have helped break down long-entrenched problems of discrimination and exclusion.
All eleven federal courts of appeal that have considered this issue since the 1970s have approved the disparate impact standard. As explained in a brief to the Supreme Court by former Republican and Democratic HUD appointees, HUD has also followed this standard for decades. As a former HUD official and career-long civil rights attorney, I know the importance of the disparate impact test. As I wrote in a law review article more than 35 years ago, “only by concentrating on effect can the issue of discrimination be realistically addressed at all.”
If the Supreme Court overturns the long-accepted disparate impact standard, the continuing problems of discrimination and segregation in our country will only get worse in the years to come. The outcome of this case will have an enormous impact on millions of people throughout America, and on the nature of who we are as a nation.
In an interview with CNS News published over the weekend, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore warned that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality would “literally cause the destruction of our country”:
“What [the court is] doing is they’re toying with something that’s like dynamite and will destroy our country,” Justice Roy Moore told CNSNews.com in an exclusive interview last week during the Family Research Council’s annual pastor’s retreat in Washington, D.C.
Moore said a favorable ruling would mean Americans would be forced to accept homosexual marriage and support it through goods and services for those ceremonies.
“I think there’s an attempt to destroy the institution of marriage and I think it will cause, literally cause the destruction of our country or lead to the destruction of our country over the long run,” Moore said. “And I think there are people who would like to see this country destroyed.”
“I’m not saying that everyone who’s homosexual wants to see the country destroyed,” Moore said. “I’m not saying that. I’m saying there’s a push for it.”
CNS News posted an audio clip of part of the interview:
However, Concerns over Buying Influence Apply to All Elected Officials
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision today in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar which upheld Florida’s ban on judicial candidates directly soliciting campaign funds, People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“The Supreme Court came to the right decision today when it took a step to protect the integrity of our judicial process. Chief Justice Roberts was correct to note that the public can lose confidence in a judge if 'he comes to office by asking for favors.' The same concerns apply to all of our elected officials.
“Just as Americans want judges to be impartial rather than beholden to wealthy donors, we also want our elected officials to be working for the people rather than for their billionaire and corporate backers. In all branches of government, our democracy doesn’t work when it’s auctioned off to the highest bidder.
“The Supreme Court needs to understand what everyday Americans already do: that buying influence undermines our democracy no matter what type of election it is.”
One of the words being bandied about at this morning's oral arguments in the marriage cases was "millennia." One of the anti-equality side's main talking points is that equality proponents are asking the Justices to "redefine marriage," as if marriage has been static in nature for time immemorial. Justice Kennedy raised this issue early in oral arguments. As reported in the Washington Post:
10:06 a.m.: Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is believed to be the deciding vote in this case, quickly jumped in with a question about the long-standing view of marriage as between two members of the opposite sex. "The word that keeps coming back to me is ‘millennia,' " he said.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in the United States for only about a decade, since Massachusetts legalized it in 2006, Kennedy said. "I don't even know how to count the decimals," he said. "This definition has been with us for millennia."
Perhaps no one is better qualified to tackle this aspect of the case than Justice Ginsburg. As live-blogged by SCOTUSBlog:
One seemingly striking moment came when Justice Ginsburg spoke of how it was recent changes to the institution of marriage that made it appropriate for gay and lesbian couples -- in particular, it becoming an egalitarian institution rather than one dominated by the male partners who determined where and how the couple would live.
Indeed, the idea of marriage as the voluntary union of two lawful equals is hardly one that goes back millennia, or even to our nation's founding. For much of American history, women who got married actually lost their civil identities as individuals, being seen in the eyes of the law only as the wives of their husbands, who had all the legal rights. In the 19th century, it was considered a major reform to allow a woman to keep her own property in her own name after she married, rather than having it automatically transfer to her husband. A more recent reform is that a wife is not automatically considered to have given consent to her husband for sexual intercourse.
Marriage as it is practiced in our country is hardly millennia old. Much of what defined marriage in U.S. history would today be struck down as violating the rights of women under the 14th Amendment. When a New York court in the 1980s struck down that state's rape exemption that allowed men to rape their wives, the judge opened his opinion with quotation from John Stuart Mill's 1869 essay The Subjection of Women: "Marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house."
But the court that struck down the spousal rape exemption more than a century after that was written was not engaged in an illegitimate "redefinition" of marriage. It was simply enforcing the 14th Amendment, as the Supreme Court is being asked to do today.