Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Women Justices Press Important Questions During Hobby Lobby Arguments

Crowds of activists and advocacy groups gathered outside while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc. case.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not shy away from asking difficult questions that demonstrate the broad implications this case could have. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan voiced concerns regarding the implications of a ruling for the first time in our nation’s history that for-profit corporations have religious rights. Both justices questioned whether this decision would allow companies to deny access to coverage of not only contraceptive methods, but also of other lifesaving procedures employers might object to on religious grounds—like blood transfusions or vaccines.

The Huffington Post quotes Justice Kagan as saying, “There are quite a number of medical treatments that could be religiously objected to… Everything would be piecemeal, nothing would be uniform.”

Pushing the issue further, Justice Sotomayor asked, “How are courts supposed to know whether a corporation holds a particular religious belief?”

Similarly, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

was a law that was passed overwhelmingly [by] both houses of Congress. People from all sides of the political spectrum voted for it. It seems strange that there would have been that tremendous uniformity if it means [corporations are covered].

She added…

[T]here was an effort to adopt a … specific conscience amendment in 2012, and the Senate rejected that… That amendment would have enabled secular employers and insurance providers to deny coverage on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions. It was specifically geared to secular employers and insurance providers. And that…was rejected.

Justice Kagan noted that RFRA was considered non-controversial when it passed, an unlikely reaction if it had been understood to open the door to employers citing religious objections to complying with laws relating to sex discrimination, minimum wage, family leave, or child labor.

Justice Kagan also noted that women are “quite tangibly harmed” when employers don’t provide contraceptive coverage. This decision, however, could have far-reaching implications beyond women’s reproductive rights since this case deals with some of the same core issues seen in “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s, as we pointed out yesterday morning.

PFAW Foundation

Justice Ginsburg Speaks Out Against Citizens United

With little over a month before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a money in politics case that some are calling the next Citizens United, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out this week on the damage that Citizens United v. FEC continues to cause to our democracy. 

Discussing the infamous 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to influence our elections, Ginsburg told Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News:

“You take the limits off and say, ‘You can spend as much as you want,’ and people will spend and spend,” she said. “People are appalled abroad. It’s a question I get asked all the time: Why should elections be determined by how much a candidate can spend and why should candidates spend most of their time these days raising the funds so that they will prevail in the next election?”

It’s a great question, and one with a clear answer – they shouldn’t.

Justice Ginsburg is not alone in her concerns about the damage done to our democratic system.  A 2012 Brennan Center national poll found that nearly seven in ten respondents agree that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.” 

And this is not the first time Justice Ginsburg has publicly commented on the Citizens United decision. Early last year, Justices Ginsburg and Breyer released a statement in conjunction with a Court order in a campaign finance case out of Montana stating that:

Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”  A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.

It is also not the first time she has commented on the Roberts Court more generally.  In an interview with the New York Times this weekend, Ginsburg called the current court “one of the most activist courts in history.”

In October, the high court will hear arguments in a case considering similar issues, McCutcheon v. FEC, for which People For the American Way Foundation submitted an amicus brief.  In this case, the Supreme Court could take the damage of Citizens United one step further by eliminating the caps on how much money an individual can contribute – in total – in each two-year campaign cycle.  It other words, the court would be striking down another protection against wealthy special interests overpowering our political system, allowing even more big money to flow into our elections.

Just what our democracy needs.  PFAW Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker noted last month:

Protecting the legitimacy of our political system, and restoring the faith of the American people in that system, is vital to a working democracy.

And as Justice Ginsburg highlighted this week, elections shouldn’t be determined by who has the biggest wallet.
 

PFAW Foundation

Inside the Supreme Court, Bearing Witness to History

Yesterday, I was privileged to have been able to get a seat at the Supreme Court and witness a historic moment for equality.
PFAW

Endorsements Cite Supreme Court

Overwhelming majority of endorsements cite the Supreme Court as an enormous contributing factor to keeping President Obama in office.
PFAW

Far Right Poised to Reverse a Century of Progress with Romney's Court

Far right scholars are eager for a Romney victory, because his Supreme Court would turn their cramped vision of the Constitution into reality.
PFAW

Roberts Court Pokes a Hole in the Family and Medical Leave Act

Conservatives close the courthouse door to certain Family and Medical Leave Act lawsuits against states.
PFAW Foundation

A Chance to Overrule Citizens United?

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer suggest that Citizens United should be revisited via a case from Montana, based on the past two years' experience.
PFAW Foundation

Justice Ginsburg Mourns Breakdown of Judicial Nominations Process

At a speech yesterday at Southern Methodist University, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg touched upon the depressing state of our nation's judicial nominations process. As reported by the Associated Press:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Monday that the confirmation process has become much more partisan and that she probably never would have made it to the high court under the current climate.

"I wish we could wave a magic wand and go back to the days when the process was bipartisan," Ginsburg told the crowd of about 2,000 as she spoke as part of a lecture series for Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.

While most of us cannot wave such a magic wand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can. With one word he could stop many of the GOP obstruction tactics against President Obama's judicial nominees. It was just such obstruction that prevented the Senate from voting to confirm twenty pending nominees before it left town several weeks ago, 17 of whom got through committee with no recorded opposition.

As ThinkProgress reported, Justice Ginsburg also noted the hostility felt by some senators toward the ACLU: "Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me."

Unfortunately, she may be right. Late last year, Senator Jeff Sessions – then the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – railed against judicial nominees who had worked with or been a member of the ACLU, specifically targeting William Martinez, Edward Chen, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell, Amy Totenberg, Robert Wilkins, and Michael Simon. He concluded his tirade with the following warning to President Obama:

I do believe the administration needs to understand that this is going to be a more contentious matter if we keep seeing the ACLU chromosome as part of this process.

Republican hostility to the ACLU – and to the constitutional rights it regularly protects – is extremely disturbing. At the same time, the blocking of even unopposed nominees suggests that the GOP's main problems with President Obama's nominees is that they are President Obama's nominees.

PFAW

Supreme Court Seems Likely to Throw Out Global Warming Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a high-profile global-warming case: American Electric Power v. Connecticut. At issue is whether and how courts can hold corporate polluters accountable for the planetary climate damage they are causing.

Several states have sued power producers on the basis that they are creating a public nuisance. Instead of being tied to a specific federal statute or regulation, their claim is based on the common law of nuisance, which has been part of our legal system for centuries. (Common law is law developed over time by the courts in the absence of specific legislation or executive rules.) The Second Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed on this theory, and the power companies appealed. However, as the Wall Street Journals reports:

The Supreme Court appeared deeply skeptical Tuesday about allowing states to sue electric utilities to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Both conservative and liberal justices questioned whether a federal judge could deal with the complex issue of global warming, a topic they suggested is better left to Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.

An additional factor arising since the lawsuit began several years ago is a change in the EPA’s stance. When the lawsuit began, the EPA claimed it lacked the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, having been corrected by the Supreme Court, the agency is deciding whether to adopt rules affecting facilities like the ones at issue in this case. Such regulations would, if adopted, trump the common law.

Why let the lawsuit go forward, when "the agency is engaged in it right now?" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The lawyer representing the states acknowledged that the case was before the high court at a "peculiar moment," but said the court should block the lawsuit only if the EPA actually issues regulations. ...

Lawyers for the companies and the administration focused on the enormity of the climate change issue to argue against the lawsuit.

"You have never heard a case like this before," Neal Katyal, the acting U.S. Solicitor General, said. The term global warming, Katyal said, "tells you all you need to know."

The Justices seem likely to rule that the legislative and executive branches should address the issues raised in this case. That will serve the interests of giant corporations with a financial stake in the status quo, who, due to Citizens United, have an undue and growing influence over who populates those branches.

PFAW

Justice Scalia and Sex Discrimination

Justice Antonin Scalia is in the news again, having pronounced yet again that the United States Constitution does not prohibit the government from discriminating against women. The Huffington Post reports on a newly-published interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer:

[Interviewer:] In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

[Scalia:] Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.

The Huffington Post notes:

Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, called the justice's comments "shocking" and said he was essentially saying that if the government sanctions discrimination against women, the judiciary offers no recourse.

Although you might not know it from what Scalia says, there is nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment that puts women outside its scope. The text is quite plain on that regard: "No state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (emphasis added). The last anyone checked, women are people.

Scalia has previously discussed with legal audiences his opposition to constitutional equality for women. In fact, he wrote a lone dissent 15 years ago in United States v. Virginia making his view clear: He believes that the landmark 1971 Supreme Court case ruling that the government cannot discriminate against women simply because they are women was wrongly decided. (Then-litigator Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped write the brief arguing for equality in that case.)

When it comes to the rights of women, Scalia’s Constitution is a stiff, brittle document, relegating women to the limited rights they were allowed to have in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted.

Interestingly, his approach is far more flexible for corporations, as we saw in Citizens United, when he concluded that mega-corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people for the purposes of election law.

Perhaps if a woman wants to have full constitutional protection from Justice Scalia, she needs to incorporate.

PFAW

Sessions Puts His Lab Coat Back On

Back in September, we wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ discovery of what he called the “ACLU chromosome”—according to the senator, a common genetic defect that disqualifies bearers from the federal judiciary.

Well, Dr. Sessions is back at it. TPM has this video of Sessions ranting yesterday about the supposed prevalence of the “ACLU chromosome” in President Obama’s judicial nominees:

As Sen. Mark Udall later pointed out on the Senate floor, it’s unlikely that Sen. Sessions would have a similar reaction to a “Federalist Society chromosome”. While a few of President Obama’s nominees have had a history working with the ACLU—for instance, Edward Chen of California who worked to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans—President Bush made a point of packing the courts with judges who belonged to the far-right Federalist Society.

It’s absurd arguments like Sessions’ that are keeping qualified, well-respected nominees like Chen from even receiving an up or down vote in the Senate. While reports say that the Senate GOP has finally agreed to vote on 19 judicial nominees who they have been stalling despite little or no opposition to their confirmations, four nominees, including Chen, will be left out to dry without even a vote.

And, for the record, the ACLU had this to say about Sessions’ rant:

"Senator Sessions' reference to 'ACLU DNA' in President Obama's judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle."

"There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them."

"If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool," she added.


 

PFAW

Joining the Club

Yesterday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar shot down her colleague Tom Coburn’s assertion that the American people are less free now than we were 30 years ago, offering up some powerful illustrations of the progress women have made since 1980. “I think about whether people were more free in 1980,” she said, “it's all in the eyes of the beholder.”

Kagan, who if confirmed would be the fourth female Justice in the history of the Supreme Court, responded, “I think that there's no question that women have greater opportunities now, although they could be made greater still.”

Today, the Pew Research Center released a survey of attitudes toward working women throughout the world. One finding stood out:

Indeed, the United States and Germany reported an especially strong gap between the sexes on whether enough has been done to give women equality. Of those who believe in equal rights, many more American and German men believe their nations have made the right amount of changes for women, while many more women than men in those countries think more action is required.

“When you’re left out of the club, you know it,” said Prof. Jacqui True, an expert in gender relations and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. “When you’re in the club, you don’t see what the problem is.”

This disparity in the perception of progress brings to mind Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fiery dissent to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. In that ruling, the Court’s majority ruled that Lilly Ledbetter couldn’t collect her fair share after decades of pay discrimination because, they said, she would have had to report the discrimination before she even knew that it was taking place. At the time, Ginsburg was the only female member of the Supreme Court, and she knew what it was like to be “left out of the club.”

Introducing her dissenting opinion, Ginsburg said, “In our view, the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

This isn’t to say that those who haven’t experienced discrimination can’t understand it. But it’s a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to have a diversity of voices, coming from a diversity of experiences, in positions of power.
 

PFAW

Jeff Sessions Gets Started

Senator Sessions pledged that Republicans would hold a respectful confirmation.

In the next breath he slammed Kagan’s legal experience, then moved on to attacking her college thesis, complaining about her support of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, misrepresenting her opposition to DADT (and claiming she was anti-military), and distorting her argument in Citizens United. Just for good measure, he smeared Justice Thurgood Marshall for being too activist, and then demanded that the Supreme Court engage in activism to limit “unprecedented government power” (by which he seems to mean stimulus and health care reform.)

You stay classy, GOP.

PFAW

Happy Constitution Day!

At People For, our mission is to promote and defend constitutional values, so September 17th, Constitution Day, has a special place in our heart. Senator Robert Byrd passed legislation to create Constitution Day in 2004, and we wanted to celebrate this year by sharing clips from some of our Constitution reading events from years past.

In 2009 Senator Byrd reads the Preamble:

In 2006 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reads Article 3:

In 2004 Richard Gere reads Article 1, Section 3:

and Article 5 and 6:

In 2004, Betty Friedan reads the 19th Amendment:

In 2009, Ana Marie Cox reads the 18th Amendment:

and the 21st Amendment:

In 2009 Michael York reads the 25th Amendment:

PFAW

Restoring Justice, Step by Step

On Monday, Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General. Big news ... and good news for Americans who depend on the Justice Department to defend their rights. A bit more under the radar, Monday also saw another important piece of news at the DOJ. Leslie Hagen, a Justice Department attorney who was fired by Monica Goodling because of rumors that she was a lesbian, was rehired to her previous job at the Department.

This is just one step in cleaning up the appalling mess at the DOJ left by egregious politicization during the Bush administration. Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was by all objective standards unqualified for such a high post. Her only "qualifications" -- the only ones that mattered in the Gonzales DOJ -- were that she was a partisan ideologue who graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School and was committed to reshaping the Justice Department to operate on a right-wing agenda.

Even though the politicization of the DOJ under President Bush was shameful (and possibly criminal), some senators apparently think it should continue and are taking their marching orders from the Radical Right. The next targets of their witch hunt? Three more of the president's eminently qualified DOJ nominees: David Ogden, Thomas Perrelli and Dawn Johnsen.

Dawn Johnson, for example, has been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- the office that, under the Bush administration, produced the memos that served as its guidelines for detainee treatment and executive overreaching. Johnsen has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's legal justifications for its policies. And, in her extremely impressive legal career, she spent several years at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Already some senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama -- who earlier this week assailed the Johnsen nomination on the Senate floor -- are suggesting that, in their view, pro-choice bona fides should be an instant disqualifier.

Quickly confirming the rest of President Obama's Justice Department team will be one more important step, but there's still much more to be done to repair what was so damaged during the Bush years.

Let's look back at just a few of the disasters born out of DOJ's right-wing politicization:

  • political firings of U.S. attorneys;
  • political firings of staff attorneys, especially in the Civil Rights Division;
  • refusal to properly enforce civil rights laws, particularly those protecting voting rights;
  • Department approval and justification of unconstitutional policies from warrantless domestic spying to the denial of habeas corpus and torture.

People For the American Way will be pushing for investigations into these wrongdoings. I know how important this issue is to our activists -- you've pitched in time and again over the last eight years as we've pushed for accountability and the rule of law at the DOJ, and hundreds of you wrote me impassioned emails last week about just how critical it is to keep pushing.

Karl Rove and others who are subpoenaed to testify or provide documents must comply and cooperate not just with Justice Department probes into these matters, but also with any and all congressional investigations. Congressional action is what's needed to get to the bottom of what happened, hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar abuses of power from happening in the future.

Making sure investigations happen and proceed effectively and making sure President Obama's other Justice Department nominees are confirmed smoothly are just two things we'll be working hard for in the coming weeks, and there will be much more.

I'd also like to take a moment to ackowledge Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. She's a true defender of our constitutional values and I know you'll join me and the rest of the staff of People For in wishing her a speedy recovery.

PFAW

Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.

PFAW