What I Did Over My Summer Vacation: SCOTUS Edition

The Supreme Court of the United States is officially on summer vacation, after issuing a number of rulings (and non-rulings), that have social, economic and health implications for Mainers and for the country. A few of these are of particular interest to the Reproductive Justice movement.

So what happened this week, and what does it mean?

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8

This one goes to the very core of folks’ right to create their own families.  The Court held that the federal government cannot deny recognition or benefits to legally valid marriages, but declined to rule on Proposition 8, the California bill that would ban gay marriage.  

So what does the court’s ruling on DOMA – and non-ruling on Prop 8 – mean?

The court did NOT establish a constitutional right to marriage. It’s still up to individual states to legalize gay marriage, but in the thirteen states (and D.C.) where it IS legal, federal benefits attached to marriage must now be available to everyone. However, according to this ACLU article, “Until same-sex couples can marry in every state in the nation, there will be uncertainty about the extent to which same-sex spouses will receive federal marital-based protections nationwide.”

While it will likely take some time for federal agencies to work out changes in policies, procedures, forms and other systems, one thing is immediately clear: the federal government and highest court in the land now recognizes the validity of all marriages, regardless of spouses’ gender.  Of course, there’s still plenty of work to be done to advance the rights and health of LGBTQ folks, but the FPA is thrilled to celebrate this big step forward for equality!

The Voting Rights Act

In a 5 to 4 vote, SCOTUS overturned the civil rights-era Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA required that – in those states where there is evidence of a pattern of disenfranchising voters based on race and/or language – voting laws must be approved by the federal government.  This week’s ruling lifted that requirement.

At this point in time, states are free to push voting laws through without federal approval, and several states, including Texas, are likely to implement laws that could limit the ability of many citizens to vote.

Why is this a big deal?  The RIGHT to vote – regardless of race, gender, language, ability, or any other human characteristic – is only meaningful if everyone is afforded the ABILITY to vote, and the ability to vote ensures that everyone gets a say in how we run things.

For more information on this ruling, check out this post from RH Reality Check.

The “Anti-Prostitution Pledge” and International HIV/AIDS Funding

In 2003, Congress created a program of preventive, educational and treatment programs in order to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS globally, providing billions of dollars to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working internationally.  The money came with a condition – funded agencies were required to sign a policy statement “explicitly opposing prostitution and sex-trafficking.”  

Many organizations found that a public denouncement of sex work and trafficking limited their ability to work with those people MOST at risk of HIV/AIDS. Many NGOs preferred to remain neutral on the issue but they were forced to either espouse a policy stance contrary to their own values or go (federally) unfunded.

In a 6-2 ruling, SCOTUS agreed that requiring such a “pledge” is a violation of the First Amendment.  This is great news for those working to advance HIV/AIDS work and reproductive health globally.

For more on this ruling and its implications for reproductive health around the world, check out this post from The Nation.

Wait, there’s MORE?!

In what has been an historic week of Supreme Court rulings, there are several more decisions (and non-decisions) with serious implications.  Check out the links below to learn more.

    In a case referred to as Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, the court issued a ruling that could compromise Tribal Sovereignty. 

    SCOTUS ruled on two cases related to employers and the workplace, one of which could make it more difficult for victims of sexual (and other) harassment to hold their employers accountable.

    Finally, the court declined to rule in the Texas University Affirmative Action case. 

We’ll be keeping an eye on what Congress, the lower courts and state legislatures decide to do going forward – and we hope you will too! 

In the meantime, we’d love to remind Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that Maine is a lovely place to spend summer vacation! 

 ~ Jennifer Thibodeau, Outreach & Marketing Coordinator


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