Legal Wrap: How Can We Hold Our Institutions Accountable?


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

Swarthmore College is in the spotlight for the way it has mishandled sexual assault complaints by students, but it’s not alone. Annamarya Scaccia has an in-depth look at the persistent problem of school administrators failing to take seriously the effect of sexual assault on campus life and what lawmakers and students are doing to try and change that.

One of the first clear signals the Roberts Court was going to be unabashedly pro-corporate rights at the expense of workers came in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision, which struck down the largest gender discrimination class-action lawsuit in history. Despite this ruling, a smaller group of women are still trying to hold the retailer accountable for corporate practices that discriminate against women in pay and promotions, and two years later the courts are still blocking their efforts.

In Ohio, the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) was blocked from running an ad that claimed a former representative supported taxpayer-funded abortions because he was in favor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since federal law already prohibits funding abortion services, and ACA doesn’t change that, the ad was blocked by the state’s “truth in political advertising” law. Now the SBA List wants the Supreme Court to rule that such laws are an unconstitutional violation of its First Amendment right to lie to the public.

Last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin blocked that state’s admitting privileges law in a strongly worded opinion that accused lawmakers of legislating in bad faith by either not understanding the proposed law or by not being straightforward about the motivations behind it. Attorneys for the state have appealed the order and are asking for a delay in the start of the trial on the constitutionality of the law while the appeals work their way through the federal court.

In Oklahoma, a lawsuit challenges state-level emergency contraception restrictions that are in conflict with new federal regulations.

The battle over the contraception mandate dialed back up as nonprofit colleges are starting to renew legal challenges to the mandate now that the final rule on religious accommodations is in place.

Conservatives want the U.S. public to believe the Obama administration is hostile toward religious beliefs and communities, but a recent Supreme Court filing in support of legislative prayer suggests otherwise.

Following on the heels of news of a plea deal in the Bei Bei Shuai case, prosecutors in Virginia announced they had dropped “illegal abortion” charges against Virginia women there.

We’re just starting to see the fallout from the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decisions, including a rash of lawsuits at the state level to sort out the ultimate question of whether or not states must recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states.

LGBTQ equality is also under the international spotlight, thanks in part to Russia’s inhumane discrimination against LGBTQ people and statements that they plan on arresting any LGBTQ athletes at the upcoming winter Olympics. Martha Kempner takes a look at the protests targeting widespread discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in Russia and links that back to some U.S. states with similar laws as a reminder that we’ve got a long way to go toward true equality.

In terms of advancing the rights of sex workers, 2013 has been a mixed bag of progress.

Finally, some good news! A federal judge in New York ruled Monday morning the city’s stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go. The decision is a major win for civil rights advocates who have been critical of the New York Police Department’s policy from its inception.

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