News from the US Supreme Court
by Chloe Holowczenko, WREN Policy & Programs Assistant on Jul 16, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t make an exception for anyone, which includes the highest court in all the land. The Supreme Court wrapped up their decisions on Thursday, July 9, which is unusually late this year; a day where they would have typically cleared out the docket for the season.
Already, the justices broke tradition in May by holding oral arguments over the phone and broadcasting them live as much of the country was under lockdown. Being able to hear oral arguments from the Justices over the phone during the pandemic, has opened up access to SCOTUS in a new way.
Days after celebrating victories over LGBTQ equality, abortion access, and the protection of DREAMers, the Supreme Court reminded us to never get our hopes up with their future decisions. The three positive rulings were followed by disappointing decisions relating to private employers opting out of no-cost contraception coverage if they have religious or moral objections and nondiscrimination statutes could not be applied to employees at religious institutions.
Below are summaries of the five recent SCOTUS rulings.
On June 15th a 6-3 decision by SCOTUS held that firing an employee for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.
The decision is an important step in crafting real legal protections for LGBTQ employees and for extending those protections beyond the workplace.
- Never forget that the LGBT movement started with a riot against police brutality led by Black and Brown transgender women.
- While we celebrate this decision, we cannot forget that LGBTQ individuals still face significant hurdles when trying to access comprehensive and compassionate healthcare.
On June 18th in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court protected DREAMers.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s decision to end the DACA program abruptly in 2017 was “arbitrary and capricious.” This decision affirms that DACA recipients are valued members of our community and deserve to be protected by law.
- This ruling illustrates the power of a collaborative alliance of single voices rising in a chorus of unity to strengthen the future of our country.
On June 29th a 5-4 decision by SCOTUS on June Medical Services v. Russo.
For decades, legislators have been working overtime to destroy access to abortion, state by state, law by law. The Louisiana law is one part of a coordinated effort to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion inaccessible to everyone.
The right to abortion is not real if you cannot access care.
- People living on low-incomes, people of color, young people, LGBT individuals, immigrant communities, and rural communities are the most affected by abortion restrictions. They already face the greatest obstacle in accessing health care.
As of 2017, 93% of South Carolina counties — where 71% of South Carolinians reside — had no clinics that provided abortions.
Even South Carolinians who can reach an abortion provider may be unable to afford the care they need because the state withholds insurance coverage from those who have decided to have an abortion. Our state denies abortion coverage to those enrolled in the state Medicaid program, and politicians have enacted a law prohibiting health plans offered in the private health care marketplace for covering abortion. Another law similarily restricts insurance policies for public employees providing abortion coverage.
On June 8th in a 7-2 decision by SCOTUS held that religious institutions like churches and schools are shielded from employment discrimination lawsuits.
This ruling expands the “ministerial exception,” a First Amendment doctrine that insulates religious employers from discrimination suits brought on by workers who are considered ministers due to the religious nature of their work.
The court blocked two teachers from pursuing lawsuits accusing the two Catholic elementary schools in California of discrimination based upon age and disability.
The decision means religious institutions who wish to fire or refuse to hire school teachers or other staff based on age, race, sexual orientation, or other discriminatory factors, now have legal protections for doing so.
- This exception is recognized by the Supreme Court in a 2012 unanimous decision case that bars ministers or people in similar roles from suing religious institutions for workplace bias.
- The ruling could strip more than 300,000 lay teachers working in religious schools of employment law protections and could impact industries including nurses in Catholic hospitals.
- The decision comes a week after the court ruled that religious schools cannot be excluded from state-backed private school scholarship programs.
On June 8th a 7-2 decision from SCOTUS ruled that employers can deny birth control coverage.
The court upheld a Trump administration regulation that lets employers with religious or moral objections deny no-cost birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
- The ACA mandate has previously been challenged twice in the Supreme Court.
- As a consequence of the ruling, about 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose contraceptive coverage from their employers, according to government estimates.
- When the ACA was initially passed, churches, synagogues, and mosques were exempt from the contraceptive coverage requirement. The Obama administration also created a way by which religiously affiliated organizations including hospitals, universities, and charities could opt out of paying for contraception, but women on their health plans would still receive no-cost birth control.
- The Affordable Care Act guaranteed that over 900,000 South Carolina women have critical insurance coverage of birth control without out-of-pocket costs.
Birth control improves individuals’ ability to control whether and when women have a child, a critical factor in helping all people participate equally in education and the workforce. And birth control is good for health, including for the management of health conditions like endometriosis and fibroids that are more common among Black and Brown people.
What does it mean for South Carolina?
These Supreme Court decisions do have policy and activist implications. Because WREN is a policy advocacy nonprofit organization, seeing any sort of court decision shows us where we need to fight for our fundamental values. The rulings show us who this is going to influence at the state legislature and how the people we are trying to serve will be most affected.
Though members of the LGBTQ community are protected via Title VII, protections for LGBTQ individuals are on shaky grounds; we need to ensure that people aren’t left behind in South Carolina. Our state statute doesn’t grant all individuals protections in the workplace. The South Carolina General Assembly should affirm this decision with an SC workplace protection law for LGBTQ individuals.
In January 2020, WREN conducted a poll that showed 78% of South Carolina voters say that laws protecting LGBTQ voters are important. 1,450 South Carolina women of various sexual orientations and LGBTQ people representing a range of gender identities who are likely to vote in the 2020 election were polled by WREN in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center and Change Research. Learn more about Our Voice 2020 here.
While SCOTUS protected DREAMers, there is still pushing that needs to be done to make sure DACA recipients can legally work in our state. We need to support pieces of legislation and encourage state legislatures to sponsor bills that continue to protect DREAMers. H3404 would provide immigrant youth legally residing in South Carolina access to in-state tuition rates, certain South Carolina merit-based scholarships and professional licenses.
You can learn more about the story of a DREAMer in our community and take action here.
Although the June Medical Service ruling didn’t change anything, the Chief Justice did lay the groundwork for other future cases and the court will continue to hear abortion cases in the next term. We know that anti-abortion politicians are constantly pushing legislation to go before the court and that the abortion discussion is not finished.
We have to constantly be fighting for what our community needs because the court will not give us what they have promised. With the recent Little Sisters of the Poor and the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home ruling, it dismisses the Hobby Lobby decision from 2014; contraception coverage was protected and now it is at risk.
Ensuring workplace rights, freedom from discrimination, safe access to abortion, and affordable access to reproductive care are always things we will continue to fight to protect. We cannot rely on the courts to save us and trust that they will continue to uphold precedent.
We have to be resolute in fighting for these fundamental rights that our community needs.
WREN will continue to fight and demand more for what people need in our community. We need to continue to build along with the good arguments that the court gave us and to support these wins. Our network will continue to affirm the fundamental values every person in South Carolina should receive.