Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

One of AAUW’s key issues is increased access to higher education, and in accordance with our member-adopted Public Policy Program, we support affirmative action programs that establish equal opportunity for women and minorities and improve gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in educational institutions.

via Flickr user Kaplan International CollegesEarlier this month, AAUW signed on to an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold racial preferences in college admissions. The court will hear the case, Fisher v. University of Texas, when the court reconvenes in October.

In 2008, Abigail Fisher applied for undergraduate admission to the University of Texas, Austin. UT’s undergraduate admissions policy automatically admits Texas high school seniors who graduate in the top 10 percent without any consideration of race or other factors. For applicants who are not in the top 10 percent, UT looks at several factors to make admissions decisions, including race, “personal achievement,” and “special circumstances.” Fisher was not in the top 10 percent of her high school class and was not admitted to UT. She went on to attend and graduate from another school.

However, Fisher filed a lawsuit against UT, arguing that since the university had already implemented a race-neutral policy to increase minority admissions, it should not have an additional race-conscious policy and that the race-conscious policy should be abolished. No court has sided with Fisher’s argument, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in its 2012–13 term.

The court’s decision to hear the case raises concerns that it is looking to overturn the race-conscious admissions policies that are allowed under its 2003 Grutter v. Bollingerdecision, which allowed public colleges and universities to consider race in admissions decisions. The Supreme Court ruled that while these schools could not use a point system to increase minority enrollment, they could take race into account in vaguer ways to ensure academic diversity. AAUW signed on to an amicus brief in Grutter that supported affirmative action in higher education.

Many legal experts believe the court’s current composition could lead it to reverse Grutter and rule against UT’s race-conscious admissions policy. AAUW would be disappointed with that decision, which is why we signed on to an amicus brief in support UT’s admissions policy.

AAUW believes that efforts to constrain or end affirmative action programs threaten the gains of women and minorities. We will continue to monitor the Supreme Court’s arguments and decision and to work to promote education for all.

Read more about AAUW’s position on affirmative action.

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Starting today, certain women’s preventive care services will be available without a co-pay to insured women. Although some women won’t have access to these benefits until their insurance-plan year begins on January 1, 2013, this coverage will benefit millions of women across the country. AAUW believes that everyone is entitled to health care that is high-quality, affordable, and easily accessible, and we believe preventive care coverage is a remarkable step in that direction.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Moon/Released)The two leading causes of death for women in America are heart disease and cancer — afflictions that can often be prevented if women have access to services such as screenings, immunizations, and educational materials. Beginning today, insurance companies must cover — without co-pays or cost-sharing — women’s preventive health care services such as screenings for cancer, domestic abuse, and gestational diabetes as well as well-woman visits and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive services. These services are in addition to the covered preventive care services for all adults, which became available without co-pay in 2010.

After controversy over the inclusion of contraceptives on the list of covered services, the Obama administration announced an accommodation for religiously affiliated universities and employers that allows insurers instead of employers and schools to pay for this coverage. Thankfully, women will still have access to contraception without co-pay no matter where they work or attend school.

Access to preventive services such as contraception, education, counseling, and expanded health screening will help women control, track, and better manage their lifelong health. These services are so critical to women’s health and well-being that they should be available to all women without exception. A number of provisions in the health care reform law improve access to health care so that more women can get coverage.

Americans cannot continue to refuel our economy as productive members of the workforce if we are sick, saddled with health care costs, or — in the case of women — blatantly discriminated against by our insurance providers. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act means that these gains won’t be rolled back, but it’s up to all of us to make our voices heard and keep pushing for a health care system that’s equitable to women.

AAUW is working to make sure that the voices of all women are heard on issues of health care and much more. The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign is making an unprecedented investment in turning out women voters. AAUW is educating, engaging, and registering millennial women voters — young adults ages 18–30 —across the country. Together, we’ll ensure that women understand what’s at stake in 2012 and know how to use their voices and their votes to influence the election and protect women’s health care gains!

To celebrate free preventive care services for women, AAUW is hosting a virtual party. Stop in throughout August, and tell us why you’re celebrating!

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“AAUW representatives supporting the healthcare law. Although most Americans’ attention is on arguments about the law, the Court has made several important decisions.”

Although all eyes are turned to this week’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing about the health care law, the court has already made several other important decisions so far this term. Three of these decisions will significantly impact key AAUW issues.

In Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, the court decided that state employees cannot sue in federal court under the “self-care” provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The plurality opinion in this 5–4 decision distinguished this case from an earlier one that held that state employees could bring FMLA claims based on the “family-care” provisions to federal court.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito reasoned that Congress did not pass FMLA to counter sex discrimination in granting leave due to an employee’s own illness or incapacitation. Therefore, they argued, the right to sue a state should not extend to the self-care provision. These justices also specifically said that the fact that single parents — who are predominantly women — would be more negatively impacted by the gender-neutral policies is not enough to make the self-care provision discriminatory. The family-care provisions retain the special right that FMLA grants to sue states.

The troubling analysis used by the plurality of the court prompted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to read her dissenting opinion from the bench. She said that the majority decision would make it hard for women “to live balanced lives, at home and in gainful employment.” AAUW led the advocacy charge that resulted in the enactment of FMLA and agrees with Ginsburg’s analysis. AAUW will continue to work to strengthen FMLA, especially in light of this unfortunate decision.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court was asked to determine if employees of religious institutions are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. In this case, Cheryl Perich was fired from her job as a teacher at a religious school when she tried to assert her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school claimed that federal anti-discrimination laws did not apply because of the “ministerial exception” — a court-made interpretation of the First Amendment intended to protect freedom of religion. In its 9–0 decision, the court found for the first time that the ministerial exception applies to employment discrimination laws. AAUW was disappointed in this ruling, as we oppose all forms of discrimination and support constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals.

The third case offered a small slice of good news. The court’s decision not to hear Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter v. Charles B. Reed  — a challenge to the anti-bias rules that San Diego State University uses to deny recognition to student groups that refuse membership to certain people because of the groups’ religious beliefs — means that the court’s 2010 ruling on this issue still stands. In that ruling, the court upheld the rules of the University of California Hastings College of Law despite a religious student group’s argument that the anti-bias policies were inconsistent with their beliefs. AAUW supported the Hastings decision and applauds the court’s decision to let that precedent stand.

AAUW firmly supports a fair, balanced, and independent judiciary because so many of our fundamental rights and liberties have been established and are protected by the federal courts and Supreme Court precedents. To learn more about AAUW’s work on these issues, please visit our position page.

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The Affordable Care Act prevents health insurance companies from denying me coverage or charging me higher rates because I happen to be a woman. I am grateful for this, and you should be too. Vocalize your appreciation for the ACA on Tuesday, March 27, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, where oral arguments regarding the law will be heard. Come show the media and the world that you support the ACA and its benefits, which are already improving the lives of millions of Americans.

Thanks to the ACA, earning valuable internship experience and maintaining my health care coverage are not mutually exclusive. Under a provision of the law, I’ve maintained health insurance coverage through my mother’s plan and can continue to do so until I turn 26. Having health insurance has enabled me to accept low-paying internships — amazing learning opportunities that would be financially beyond my reach if I were among the millions of uninsured Americans struggling under the burden of their health care costs. Under my mom’s plan, my prescriptions remain covered, and I can see my doctor without facing exorbitant walk-in rates or co-pays. Those savings help me manage other expenses like groceries, rent, and student loan payments.

Americans around the country are doing fantastic work to educate our citizens about the benefits they’re now entitled to under the Affordable Care Act. I was lucky enough to attend the White House Champions of Change event, where 10 inspiring individuals from the medical, nursing, social services, advocacy, and faith communities were honored for going above and beyond to ensure that Americans understand how the ACA helps them manage their health care needs.

As implementation of the ACA continues, the law’s champions recognize the critical need for America’s medical professionals, nurses, public servants, and community leaders to educate their patients, colleagues, families, and friends about the numerous consumer protections and benefits that the law provides. Sharing personal stories about the law’s benefits — like I have above — helps strengthen public understanding of how the ACA already has and will continue to save and improve the lives of American citizens.

Learn about how your state is implementing the ACA, recognize its benefits in your life, and rally in support of the Affordable Care Act outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 27, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Julie Seger.

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March 23 marks the two-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And on Monday, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the law’s constitutionality. As these significant dates draw nearer and as critics continue to call the law’s value into question, it’s worth reminding ourselves just what the ACA has already done for millions of young Americans — and how it will help so many more when it is fully implemented.

The law

  • Requires group health plans and insurers to make dependent coverage available for young adults until they turn 26, regardless of student status or financial support from their parents. As a result, 1.1 million young adults ages 19–25 were extended coverage under their parents’ benefits from 2009 to 2010.
  • Expands Medicaid to cover more people. The upcoming expansion in Medicaid will cover millions more Americans living just above the poverty line who find health insurance prohibitively expensive.

Research demonstrates how the odds of having access to insurance coverage are especially stacked against young women. Women benefit tremendously from the ACA. Through several of its provisions, the law

  • Covers preventive treatments with no co-pays. Many women forego preventive treatments such as breast cancer screenings or Pap smear tests because of the costs of these procedures. The law will also grant women access to contraceptives without co-pays or cost-sharing.
  • Prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. For women, that could include being pregnant, having given birth via cesarean section, or being a survivor of domestic violence and receiving treatment for the abuse.

Americans cannot continue to refuel our economy as productive members of the workforce if they are sick, saddled with health care costs, or — in the case of young women — blatantly discriminated against by their insurance providers. As we mark the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, it’s important to recall the law’s remarkable progress in fixing a broken health care system that, for too long, has cost too much and served too few.

As the Supreme Court case and other implementation decisions unfold, women and young people should agree that making sure the ACA reaches its full potential is something that is worth fighting for.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Julie Seger.

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Today is the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, but it’s not a very happy birthday. Over the last year, we’ve seen unprecedented attempts to limit women’s control over their own bodies. States passed 83 laws restricting access to abortion, nearly four times as many as the 23 laws passed in 2010. Five states banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation; seven now require an ultrasound, or the offer of one, prior to the procedure; and eight will no longer allow private insurance plans to cover the procedure. Several states are fighting to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from receiving government funds even for the nonabortion services they provide, and the House of Representatives has voted to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding.

So the fight continues. AAUW has made the protection of full reproductive rights a policy principle since 1977 and strongly supports the right of every woman to safe, accessible, affordable, and comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services. Study after study has shown that women and their families do better when women are able to plan their pregnancies. For example, the expense of unintended pregnancy leads to economic insecurity for women and their families. Every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs, and no politician should insert herself or himself when it comes to this personal decision.

Make sure women’s priorities, including reproductive freedom, are addressed in the upcoming election by joining the AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard, a nationwide voter education and turnout campaign. Women wield great power in America, and our voices will be heard in 2012. More than ever before, women are registering to vote and casting ballots in greater numbers and with more consistency than men. We are a powerful and influential bloc of voters, and our support of women’s right to control their own bodies will be heard.

Join us in defending Roe and this critical right!

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“No botox, no detox. My name is Loretta Ford, and I approve this message.”

So ended the speech of 91-year-old Ford as she accepted her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame along with 10 others last weekend in Seneca Falls, New York.

The tone of her remarks was unexpected, yet they captured the essence of the ceremony — the spirit, excitement, and passion of women who have changed the world and aren’t done yet.

Sitting in a room with these women who have shaped — indeed, are shaping — major areas of our lives was enthralling, and AAUW was proud to be there to celebrate the role four of them have played in our mission.

First, there was Helen Murray Free, a national member of AAUW who was honored for her contributions to medicine. Echoing many of the honorees’ sentiments, Free said she hadn’t set out to change people’s lives — it was a serendipitous accident.

“In September 1941, I was going to the College of Wooster to be a Latin and English teacher. Then Pearl Harbor happened in December, and the fellas all left to join the Navy and the Air Force,” Free said. “One night, the house mother came in and said, ‘Helen, you’re taking chemistry and getting good grades … why don’t you switch?’ And I just said OK. I fell in love with chemistry, and it was wonderful.”

Fast forward six years later, and Free had a degree chemistry, a job at Miles Laboratories, and a husband who would become her partner in changing lives. The Frees soon became a powerhouse in medical diagnostics — their research led to the first dip-and-read diagnostic test strips.

And that was just one inspiring AAUW story.

Donna Shalala, who under President Bill Clinton became the longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services, was also inducted. Early in her career, AAUW gave her a young scholar award.

“It was critical money and a critical award and a critical trajectory,” Shalala remembered. “I loved the fact that they intervened in my career, and it made a real difference. AAUW helped me network. I met amazing people as a result.”

Thrillingly, Lilly Ledbetter was also among the inductees. A close friend to AAUW and a newly published author, Ledbetter has been a crucial figure in the fair pay campaign, from her Supreme Court case to the bill named in her honor to the lingering Paycheck Fairness Act.

“When I set out in my career in 1979, it wasn’t part of my grand plan to someday have my name in the Supreme Court or on an act of Congress. I simply wanted to work hard and support my family. The rest, I believed, would take care of itself,” she said during her acceptance speech.

Fellow inductee Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a critical ally to Ledbetter and AAUW in the fair pay struggle, spoke to me before the ceremony about change-making women.

“It’s a great honor to be picked and join [more than] 240 other women who made a difference in science, politics, civil rights, medicine,” she said. “Every one lived in their time and seized the power that is now. When Rosa Parks sat down, the whole world stood up. It’s carpe diem.”

Mikulski believes AAUW plays an important role in making that happen. “Young people need someone to believe in them,” she said. “Some people have family that will believe in them. Not everyone has that supportive adult that tells you, ‘You can do it, and I can help you.’ It makes a difference to do that in young people’s lives. AAUW today is making that difference.”

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The Supreme Court begins its 2011–12 term today, its second full one with three women justices. This term should be a busy one for the court, as it’s expected to hear a wide range of cases that set far-reaching precedents, including three cases of interest to AAUW.

The health care reform case will likely dominate because of public interest and political impact. This case, officially known as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida, will examine whether the legal requirement that all Americans have health insurance is constitutional. If the court overturns this provision, it could leave the remainder of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act standing or strike down the entire act as unconstitutional. Throwing out the entire law could have serious implications for the provisions that AAUW supports, such as requiring insurers to cover preexisting conditions, ending insurers’ practice of charging women more for coverage than men, and covering preventive care without co-pays or cost sharing.

In Daniel Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, the court will determine whether state employees can sue in federal court if their employers unlawfully deny Family Medical Leave Act requests. In 2007, Maryland state employee Daniel Coleman was fired after his doctor put him on bed rest and he requested medical leave under FMLA. Coleman filed a lawsuit under the self-care provision of FMLA, which guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave each year to recover from a serious health condition. Lower courts concluded that the State of Maryland is immune to federal lawsuits based on the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits federal lawsuits against an unconsenting state unless Congress has unequivocally “abrogated” (revoked) the immunity. Coleman argues that by passing FMLA, Congress clearly intended the federal courts would be able to apply FMLA equally to both private and state employers. AAUW led the advocacy charge that resulted in the enactment of FMLA and will continue to work to ensure this act is protected from all threats.

The third case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will determine which employees of religious institutions will be allowed the protection of federal anti-discrimination laws when facing illegal employment discrimination. In this case, Cheryl Perich was fired from her job as a teacher from the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School when she tried to assert her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school claimed that federal anti-discrimination laws did not apply because of the “ministerial exemption” — a court-made interpretation of the First Amendment intended to protect freedom of religion. The school’s position is that this exemption means the federal government cannot enforce anti-discrimination laws for employees of religious institutions, even those who are engaged primarily in secular duties. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the scope and application of the exception and whether religious employers should be exempt from all anti-discrimination laws. AAUW opposes all forms of discrimination and supports constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals.

Given the court’s recent disappointing ruling in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case last term, AAUW will closely monitor the court’s actions and the impact of its decisions. AAUW firmly supports a fair, balanced, and independent judiciary because so many of our fundamental rights and liberties have been established and are protected by the federal courts and Supreme Court precedents. To learn more about AAUW’s work on this issue, please visit our position page.

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Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a staunch advocate for transparency in government, once said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” As we approach the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a different light shines to reveal gender inequity in high school athletics — the light from a computer monitor.

Girls ages 15–17 from five Chicago high schools are investigating and reporting publicly whether their schools are complying with Title IX’s athletic equity requirements by publishing their findings online. “We are youth investigating whether or not our schools and communities are treating girls fairly when it comes to sports,” proclaims the website Fair Shot. These students understand that transparency can lead to social action to cure gender discrimination in education. Their efforts are quite similar to those promoted in AAUW’s Title IX Compliance: Know the Score Program in a Box.

Community action is needed because many schools still fail to comply with Title IX. In November 2010, a complaint was filed against 12 school districts with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Chicago Public Schools was one of the districts named in the complaint, which alleged that the total number of girls’ sports teams decreased from 830 in 2004 to 132 in 2006.

To shed more light on these numbers, AAUW supports the passage of the High School Athletics Accountability Act (H.R. 458) and the High School Data Transparency Act (S. 1269), which would require all high schools to publicly report data on girls’ and boys’ athletic opportunities, resources, and funding. Although colleges and universities already report this kind of data to the Department of Education, no such reporting requirement exists to help enforce Title IX in high schools. Requiring schools to publicly report data is a proactive way to assist communities in organizing to enforce Title IX standards outside of the courtroom.

In the meantime, Chicago students are taking the matter into their own hands. This is just the type of activism I believe Brandeis envisioned would change the world for the better.

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It’s been two months since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case prevented the women of Wal-Mart from taking on the nation’s largest employer as a nationwide, class-action group. But gender discrimination doesn’t take a day off, and neither does AAUW. AAUW continues to stand behind the women of Wal-Mart because we firmly believe in protecting the rights of Americans to bring class-action suits against discriminatory employers. That’s why I asked former civil rights lawyer and 1993–94 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow Suzette Malveaux her professional opinion on Wal-Mart v. Dukes.

Malveaux earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard University, and with the help of her AAUW fellowship, she completed her law degree at New York University. “I was very fortunate to get a fellowship from AAUW to go toward my legal education,” she said. “At the time, I was wrestling with whether I wanted to go to law school. It was organizations like AAUW that really made a difference in terms of giving me the financial confidence to make that decision and pursue a career as a civil rights lawyer.” Malveaux said the AAUW fellowship gave her the freedom and flexibility to work at a nonprofit after graduating, enabling her to carry out her commitment to social justice.

Malveaux began working on class-action litigation with the law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld, and Toll. During her career, she worked to secure assets for survivors of the Holocaust and represented victims of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot before federal courts and the House of Representatives. Eight years ago, she was an attorney for the plaintiffs in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and helped draft the initial class certification motion. She reminded me of the time, resources, and courage required to bring a class-action suit against an employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. “I find the women of Wal-Mart inspiring. They have been in the trenches for the last decade.”

Malveaux now teaches civil rights and fair employment law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 2006, she co-authored Class Actions and Other Multi-Party Litigation, and in March of this year she published “Class Actions at the Crossroads: An Answer to Wal-Mart v. Dukes in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. Referring to the Supreme Court’s decision, she said, “I share AAUW’s disappointment. The case has made it more difficult for employees and for women who are trying to challenge systemic gender discrimination to do that in large numbers. The class action is so important because it really does level the playing field between giant corporations and employees with little resources to challenge discrimination.”

Despite these setbacks, Malveaux believes we have a lot to learn from Wal-Mart v. Dukes, not only in terms of how discrimination works but also about what it takes to achieve justice. “I would take courage and inspiration from the women who have had the audacity to challenge Wal-Mart. It’s a great example of how together, we as women can do extraordinary things.”

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Melissa Rogers.

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