Supreme court says no to Texas abortion restrictions

The Supreme Court has struck down abortion restrictions in Texas:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas abortion restrictions that have been widely duplicated in other states, a resounding win for abortion rights advocates in the court’s most important consideration of the controversial issue in 25 years.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the court’s liberals in the 5 to 3 decision, which said Texas’s arguments that the clinic restrictions were to protect women’s health were cover for making it more difficult to obtain an abortion.

The challenged Texas provisions required doctors who perform abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and said that clinics must meet hospital-like standards of surgical centers.

Similar restrictions have been passed in other states, and officials say they protect patients. But the court’s majority sided with abortion providers and medical associations who said the rules are unnecessary and so expensive or hard to satisfy that they force clinics to close.

“The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement. “Texas’ goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women.”

The Post has an article that looks at that last statement:

A key study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology estimated that the risk of a woman dying after childbirth was 10 times greater than after an abortion. The study estimated that between 1998 and 2005, one woman died in childbirth for every 11,000 babies born. That compares with one in 167,000 women who died of abortion complications. Doctors who perform abortions say the most common complications are not bladder issues or problems with reproductive organs — as some abortion opponents like to emphasize — but mild infection that can be easily treated.

So if Texas makes more women continue their pregnancy more women will die. Even if they just delay the abortion more women will die.

Let’s throw in some data (scroll down to tables 7 or 8):

Among the 38 areas that reported gestational age at the time of abortion for 2012 (Table 7), two-thirds (65.8%) of abortions were performed by ≤8 weeks’ gestation, and 91.4% were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation.

and according to here:

The risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from 0.3 for every 100,000 abortions at or before eight weeks to 6.7 per 100,000 at 18 weeks or later.

A first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and carries minimal risk—less than 0.05%—of major complications that might need hospital care.

The Supreme Court easily figured out that these laws were not about the safety of women and all about restricting abortion.

No racism here

This is pretty stupid work:

The case, Foster v. Chatman, arose from the 1987 trial of Timothy T. Foster, an African-American facing the death penalty for killing Queen Madge White, an elderly white woman, when he was 18.
In notes that did not surface until decades later, prosecutors marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B and highlighted those names in green. They circled the word “black” where potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires.

They ranked the black prospective jurors in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” as the prosecution’s investigator put it in a draft affidavit at the time. In the end, prosecutors struck all four black potential jurors.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the prosecutors had violated a 1986 decision, Batson v. Kentucky, in which the Supreme Court ruled that race discrimination in jury selection was unconstitutional and required lawyers accused of it to provide a nondiscriminatory explanation.

Lanier had offered a list of 11 reasons for striking Garrett, including that she was too young.

“Yet Garrett was 34,” Roberts wrote, “and the state declined to strike eight white prospective jurors under the age of 36. Two of those white jurors served on the jury; one of those two was only 21 years old.”

Lanier also said Garrett was unfit to serve because she was divorced. But, the chief justice wrote, Lanier “declined to strike three out of the four prospective white jurors who were also divorced.”

Lanier gave eight reasons for striking a second prospective juror, Hood, including that his son was the same age as the defendant and had been convicted of a crime that was, he said, “basically the same thing that this defendant is charged with.”

Roberts called this “nonsense.”

“Hood’s son had received a 12-month suspended sentence for stealing hubcaps from a car in a mall parking lot five years earlier,” he wrote. “Foster was charged with capital murder of a 79-year-old widow after a brutal sexual assault.”

And (via here):

Still, Georgia courts had consistently rejected Foster’s claims of discrimination, even after his lawyers obtained prosecutors’ notes that revealed their focus on the black people in the jury pool. In one example, a handwritten note headed “Definite No’s” listed six people, of whom five were the remaining black prospective jurors.

The sixth person on the list was a white woman who made clear she would never impose the death penalty, according to Bright. And yet even that woman ranked behind the black jurors, he said.

Governor upset that he might be blamed

It seems there were some problems with voting in Arizona:

Maricopa County voters woke up with an election hangover Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t pretty.

Complaints about waits in lines that topped five hours in some locations, a shortage of ballots and inadequate staffing at the county’s 60 polling locations stoked anger and drew condemnation from Gov. Doug Ducey, lawmakers and national groups.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch an investigation into what he called “a fiasco.”

That’s not good, is it Governor Ducey:

Ducey called Tuesday’s long lines “unacceptable” and laid the blame on elections officials.

As an aside, both the Governor and the election officials are Republicans (I’m sure this surprises you). Onward:

Ducey signed the state budget last year that cut the funding counties needed to conduct the election, over the protests of county officials.

The governor also called for opening the presidential primary to all voters, a factor that added to the confusion as independents showed up, only to have to argue to get a ballot. Many were given provisional ballots since they weren’t registered with a party; others said they were discouraged from getting a ballot.

Hmm, it sounds like this is really your fault Governor. Of course, it’s also the Supreme Court’s fault (via here):

Previously, Maricopa County would have needed to receive federal approval for reducing the number of polling sites, because Arizona was one of 16 states where jurisdictions with a long history of discrimination had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This type of change would very likely have been blocked since minorities make up 40 percent of Maricopa County’s population and reducing the number of polling places would have left minority voters worse off. Section 5 blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona since the state was covered under the VRA in 1975 for discriminating against Hispanic and Native American voters.

But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, Arizona could make election changes without federal oversight. The long lines in Maricopa County last night were the latest example of the disastrous consequences of that decision.

My guess is that Republicans will eventually blame it all on the federal government since they didn’t step in to stop the Republicans from doing something that turned out really bad (see Flint).

Does this apply to anything?

President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to fill the open Supreme Court position. Let’s see what Republicans have to say:

“The American people may well elect a President who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next president may also nominate someone very different,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday. “Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he fully supports that stand. “We should let the American people decide the direction of the court,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“I continue to believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the people have spoken by electing a new president,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a statement.

“After the election, I look forward to considering the nominee of our new president,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Whether the American people elect a Republican or a Democrat, I will judge his or her nominee on the merits, as I always have.”

“The right thing to do is to give the American people a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Coats said in a statement Wednesday. “The next president, with input from voters in the upcoming election, should fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.”

I have two questions here:

  1. How long can a President appoint a Supreme Court Justice for? If a Justice either resigns or dies in the first year of their presidency, is the President allowed to appoint their successor or does that have to wait until the next election also? Perhaps we should amend the Constitution so that there is a special election to vote on any nomination.
  2. Does this apply to any other areas? If the US is attacked, should a President wait until after the next election to respond?

The ACA endures

Well looky there, the Supreme Court ruled that subsidies to the state for the ACA are fine. It’s amazing:

Several portions of the law indicate that consumers can claim tax credits no matter where they live. No member of Congress said that subsidies would be limited, and several states said in a separate brief to the court that they had no inkling they had to set up their own exchange for their residents to get tax credits.

So, sure, the overall bill overwhelmingly implies that people should be able to get subsidies even if their state doesn’t set up their own exchange, but:

The challenge devised by die-hard opponents of the law relied on four words — ‘‘established by the state’’ — in the more than 900-page law.

So one mention perhaps implies that states without exchanges won’t get the subsidies and multiple mentions that they will (reinforced by the recollection of everyone who worked on the bill and all the states that worked with the federal government) leads Republicans to conclude the former. They must have been great students–sure I mentioned 20 times that a topic was going to be on the test, but once I forgot so it’s unfair that it was on the test.

Narrow ruling gets wider

Well, that was quick. The Hobby Lobby ruling was supposed to be narrow, but the next day the Supreme Court clarified that the decision was wider than they implied:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling.

The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings in favor of businesses that object to covering all 20 methods of government-approved contraception.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc. and a Pennsylvania furniture maker won their court challenges Monday in which they refused to pay for two emergency contraceptive pills and two intrauterine devices.

Tuesday’s orders apply to companies owned by Catholics who oppose all contraception. Cases involving Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc. were awaiting action pending resolution of the Hobby Lobby case.

And then yesterday, we learn (via here) that a group of faith leaders thinks it should have an even wider reach:

“We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need,” the letter states.

The Hobby Lobby decision has been welcomed by religious-right groups who accuse Obama of waging a war on religion. But Tuesday’s letter is different: It comes from a group of faith leaders who are generally friendly to the administration, many of whom have closely advised the White House on issues like immigration reform. The letter was organized by Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House and directed faith outreach for the president’s 2012 campaign. Signers include two members of Catholics for Obama and three former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“This is not an antagonistic letter by any means,” Wear told me. But in the wake of Hobby Lobby, he said, “the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues.”

Here’s more from the letter:

As religious and civic leaders who seek to advance the common good, we write to urge you to include a religious exemption in your planned executive order addressing federal contractors and LGBT employment policies.

We have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you. With respect to the proposed executive order, we agree that  banning discrimination is a good thing. We believe that all persons are created in the divine image of the creator, and are worthy of respect and love, without exception. Even so, it still may not be possible for all sides to reach a consensus on every issue. That is why we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.

Americans have always disagreed on important issues, but our ability to live with our diversity is part of what makes this country great, and it continues to be essential even in this 21st-century. This ability is essential in light of our national conversation on political and cultural issues related to sexuality. We have and will continue to communicate on these broader issues to our congregations, our policymakers and our nation, but we focus here on the importance of a religious exemption in your planned executive order disqualifying organizations that do not hire LGBT Americans from receiving federal contracts. This religious exemption would be comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote.

Without a robust religious exemption, like the provisions in the Senate-passed ENDA, this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.

I see, the common good dictates that certain groups need to be able to discriminate. Oh, and guys, if you liked the language in ENDA perhaps you should have pushed harder to pass it or at least not opposed it:

In a letter sent to legislators, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) argued that while workplace discrimination is wrong, ENDA goes beyond mere anti-discrimination.

“ENDA’s definition of ‘gender identity’ lends force of law to a tendency to view ‘gender’ as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality, which a person may choose at variance from his or her biological sex. This provision also fails to account for the privacy interests of others,” wrote the USCCB.

Update: And look at that, the ruling gets even wider.

When will corporations be allowed to vote?

So, it seems the Supreme Court now believes that at least some corporations can exercise religion using this clause in a bill passed by Congress:

In order to ensure broad protection for religious liberty, RFRA provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

The five justices that ruled for Hobby Lobby and the others assume that person here includes corporations–in other words, they assume corporations can practice religion.

They also rule that we should have single-payer:

The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.

I agree. Now if we can only get Congress to pass such an act, –I’m sure it will be passed any time now.

Also, the court says this doesn’t apply to much else but with a wink:

In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.

Notice that little may: “Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported …”. Thus, this court is saying that it’s possible that a corporation may be able to drop an immunization requirement if they can make a good argument (an argument that these five justices agree with really). I wonder what other things we’ll later find do not have to be supplied.

 

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