Legal Wrap: The Battle Over EC Winds Down, Big Pharma Declared Winner


Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news.

The legal battle over emergency contraception is limping toward conclusion. Last week a federal judge approved the Obama administration’s proposed plan to make one form of emergency contraception available over-the-counter and without age restrictions, despite the fact that the plan does not comply with an early court order to make all emergency contraception widely available. The proposal is a step in the right direction for the administration, which has been playing politics with emergency contraception access from the beginning. But it’s also an enormous give-away to the pharmaceutical industry and blocks generics and other forms of emergency contraception from being widely available for at least the next three years.

Legal representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed suit last week to block an Alabama law designed to close most of the clinics in the state.

The Supreme Court has let stand a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that bars protesters with graphic anti-abortion signs from protesting outside of a Denver-area church and in the presence of children.

The attention President Obama has paid to the federal judiciary may be a disappointment to some, but there is no denying that under his watch the federal bench has grown more diverse. In fact, President Obama has successfully appointed a greater percentage of women to federal judgeships than any other president in history.

In case it wasn’t clear just how much judicial appointments matter, consider the case of Edith Jones, the federal appeals court judge who gleefully ruled Texas’ forced ultrasound law constitutional and who has a bit of a race problem.

The transgender community got a significant victory last week when the Social Security Administration announced it would be much easier for transgender people to change their gender identity on Social Security records. It may not be apparent, since Social Security cards don’t display gender, but that information must match other data for individuals seeking benefits under programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.

Meanwhile, in Maine, the state’s supreme court is set to decide whether public schools can forbid transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Nicole Maines, a 15-year-old transgender girl, did not have an easy time in high school. In addition to the harassment she faced from other kids, Maines met intolerance from school officials, who refused to allow her to use the girls’ bathroom. Her parents eventually sued the school, claiming their daughter’s treatment was a violation of the state’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. After an investigation, Maine’s Human Rights Commission held that the transgender girl was entitled to use the girls’ bathroom, but a state court judge disagreed. The Maine supreme court will now settle the dispute.

In Wisconsin, the state supreme court has decided to hear a challenge to the state’s domestic partner registry, which grants same-sex couples a handful of basic legal rights. Members of the fundamentalist Christian, pro-corporate group Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit claiming the registry violates a 2006 state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.

A fight in Kansas over the future of the state judicial system shows anti-choice conservatives want control at every level of government and are prepared to stop at nothing to get it.

The future of affirmative-action programs in this country may be in doubt, but in New York five women who claim gender discrimination prevented them from advancing beyond the rank of lieutenant or captain in New York’s Emergency Medical Service has settled a lawsuit with the city for more than $1.25 million.

According to ThinkProgress, a new study that looks at campaign contributions from big business to state supreme court rulings in more than 2,000 cases from 2010 to 2012 concludes that “a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.” The correlation  between significant campaign contributions and pro-corporate verdicts was strongest in the handful of states like Texas with partisan high court elections. Not surprisingly, Republican judges receive much more funding from big business interests and are more likely to vote in favor of corporate litigants than their Democratic counterparts.

Last week a federal district court in Georgia dismissed religious discrimination claims brought by a Baptist nursing supervisor against a hospital that disciplined her for proselytizing to a co-worker. The woman was accused of giving a lesbian nurse she sometimes supervised a pamphlet and sending her an email emphasizing the sinfulness of homosexuality. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the disciplinary action against her violated Title VII, the equal protection clause, and her First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights, noting that the Constitution does not create license to harass coworkers in the name of religious conversion.

Finally, in Ohio, a Catholic school teacher was fired for using in vitro fertilization. Bridgette Dunlap explains why the local archdiocese argued the computer science teacher was still considered a minister of the Catholic Church, and why a jury awarded the woman $171,000 in response.

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