A Term of Victories
Courts matter. If we had any doubt about that, this year’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions confirmed it. Victories on a range of issues important to AAUW members made this term particularly significant for supporters of equality. Read on for a summary of this year’s most important decisions. You can also listen to a recording of our Supreme Court wrap-up call.
A Win for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act: Young v. UPS
Young v. UPS went to the heart of one of the most important workplace protection laws: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
The plaintiff in this case, Peggy Young, worked for UPS and had requested temporary light-duty work as a result of pregnancy complications. Even though UPS provided light-duty work to other drivers with similar restrictions who were not pregnant, the company refused to provide the same accommodation to Young. As a result, she was forced to leave her job. She eventually filed suit under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but two lower courts threw out Young’s lawsuit before she had any chance to make her case.
After a long battle, the Supreme Court finally agreed to hear Young’s appeal. This spring, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of Young, which means that she will be able to present her case to the lower court for a ruling on the merits. Had the court sided with UPS, it could have weakened the PDA’s protection for pregnant workers.
Women’s Health Care Protected: King v. Burwell
King v. Burwell was yet another challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
The challengers focused their entire argument on four words of the law’s regulations: “established by the state.” The law’s regulations say that the subsidies or credits are available to people who purchase insurance through an exchange that is “established by the state.” The challengers argued that the federal government isn’t a state, so the subsidies shouldn’t be available to anyone who purchased insurance through a federal exchange.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court rejected the challengers’ argument. Because the goal of the law was expressly to help ensure that people can access health care, it would be untenable to read the word “state” in isolation and deny millions of people that access, Roberts wrote. The subsidies are crucial to the viability of the health care exchanges, and Congress could not have intended a narrow reading that would destroy the ability of the exchanges to function. Thanks to this ruling, millions of women will be able to afford their health insurance.
Voting Rights: Victories and Questions
With a major election cycle gearing up, voting rights are on our minds.
After the 2010 census, the Alabama legislature redrew the state’s voting districts. The resulting district plan packed more African American voters into fewer districts, diluting the voting power of African American communities. The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and Alabama Democratic Conference challenged the constitutionality of the plan in court, arguing that it amounted to racial gerrymandering. The court of appeals sided with the state. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed, sending the plan back to the lower court for a district-by-district review. Although the court did not rule on the constitutionality of the plan, it indicated that a majority of justices believed that at least some of the districts were drawn unconstitutionally. The court’s decision doesn’t ensure that the plan will be declared unconstitutional by the lower court, but it offers a chance for the challengers to make a case.
The court’s decision highlighted the serious threats that voting restrictions and redistricting pose all over the country. In addition to the Alabama cases, which are not over yet, voters and civil rights groups have challenged new restrictions and redistricting in several states. As we approach the 2016 election next year, these challenges will be front and center.
At Last, Marriage Equality Prevails
Though all of the court’s decisions are significant, this term will be remembered for one particular case: Obergefell v. Hodges.
Finally, last year, several of those cases reached the Supreme Court, ensuring that it would decide the question of marriage equality once and for all.
The result was a resounding victory for equality. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that states must allow same-sex couples to marry and must recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, relied on earlier cases that had established the right to marry as a fundamental right. Of the same-sex couples seeking to marry, he wrote, “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Stay tuned to LAF Express for updates on the continuing cases and information on next year’s Supreme Court term. Sign up for LAF Express today.