Legal Wrap: Just How Many Big Cases Will the Roberts Court Take?


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

With two petitions for review asking the Roberts Court to answer whether or not secular, for-profit corporations have religious exercise rights, conservatives are shifting ground a little in their strategy challenging the contraception benefit in Obamacare to focus on religiously affiliated employers.

Among the other issues the Supreme Court is considering taking up this term is whether, and when, employers must accommodate pregnant workers on the job. It’s an important issue, especially for low-wage workers who are most often the workers to face on-the-job pregnancy discrimination. But with the fate of employment protections for pregnant workers in the hands of the Roberts Court, now is a good time to renew calls for Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Arizona also asked the Roberts Court to take up the legal challenge to its 20-week ban, arguing that Roe v. Wade is wrong and that states should be able to ban abortions pre-viability if they want.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is notorious for its ultra-conservative judges and opinions upholding everything from forced ultrasounds to laws designed to make it impossible for abortion practitioners to obtain medical malpractice insurance. Is it any wonder, then, that the appeals court declined to recuse U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes from a civil rights case after the plaintiff complained about “biased and bigoted statements” related to swastikas and campus diversity directors during a pre-trial conference?

Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health advocates filed suit in federal court in Texas challenging part of the massive anti-abortion bill Texas legislators rammed through over the course of two special sessions. But among the provisions not challenged by the groups is the 20-week ban passed by Texas legislators. Could the Fifth Circuit’s notoriously conservative reputation be part of the reason why?

In New York, a family court judge sparked outrage when, during a high-profile custody hearing, she allowed attorneys for a Texas banker to question his ex-wife about her abortion, arguing the information was relevant because the couple’s children were in her care the weekend when she had the abortion.

Retail giant Wal-Mart continues to evade responsibility for its destructive employment practices, as a federal judge in Miami rejected another gender discrimination lawsuit against the business, saying the women plaintiffs were improperly “piggybacking” on a national class-action suit rejected earlier by the Roberts Court.

Fetal “personhood” may be back on the ballot in 2014 in Colorado.

In Arkansas, school officials have demanded to know the HIV status of three siblings before they can return to school, arguing they pose a risk to students and staff. Martha Kempner has the details here.

Ending on some good news, the Senate made history last week confirming the first openly gay judge for the federal circuit. The Senate can take that one step further and also confirm the nomination of Diane Humetewa to the federal bench in Arizona. If confirmed, Humetewa would be the only active member of a Native American tribe to serve as a federal judge.

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