In just under three weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby LobbyStores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. These two cases ask whether private corporations have ability to exercise religious freedom, and if so, whether the contraception mandate enacted by the Affordable Care Act violates the religious freedom of those corporations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). If you want to read more about the details of the case, and to learn more about the Reform Movement’s position on the contraception mandate, check out this blog.
Since amici briefs were due to the Court on January 28th, the waiting game has begun. The opportunity to influence the justices came with the amici briefs, and will come again with oral argument on March 25th.
As these cases have the potential to change the way we interpret religious liberty and the right to make choices about and access health care, the “waiting game” has given rise to much writing, predicting and debate over these cases.
In a landmark speech this January, President Obama outlined his concerns, goals and plans for reform of the National Security Agency. A month later, there continue to be developments on the right-to-privacy front. On February 6th, the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, announced two changes the NSA metadata program. Section 215, the “bulk telephony metadata program,” will no longer exist in its current form. It will transition to a new system that addresses national security needs without keep these large amounts of information
“As a first step in that transition, the President directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to ensure that, absent a true emergency, the telephony metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”
Last week, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United “celebrated” its fourth anniversary, and the flood of both undisclosed and independent spending in political campaigns continues to grow.
Citizens United struck down a longstanding ban on corporation and union spending in elections—and since the decision four years ago, money has flowed into elections through political action committees (PACs), which contribute money to candidates’ election campaigns. It is estimated that outside groups spent over $1 billion in the 2012 presidential election. More money was spent by outside organizations, often keeping their donor lists secret, than by either candidates’ own campaign. While the total amount of money spent by candidates increased only marginally from 2008, the amount from outside groups quadrupled – thanks largely to the doors opened by Citizens United.
Of this new money pouring into federal elections, over a third of it is undisclosed, meaning that the donors only know the name of the organization funding an ad, but not the donors behind it. Financial disclosure is the cornerstone of any law intended to prevent abuse of public office for personal financial gain. Additionally, disclosure is the one form of campaign finance regulation that the Supreme Court emphatically said does not violate the First Amendment but efforts to expand disclosure have stalled in Congress.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems poised to strike down another campaign finance limit. On October 9, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which concerns the “aggregate limit,”—or total amount of money—one person can donate to candidates for federal office and any political parties in one election cycle. The limit is currently set at $46,000 for individual candidates and $70,000 for political parties per cycle. If struck down, this law would provide another avenue for the wealthy to influence our politics and will further drown out the voices of millions of Americans who donate small amounts to their chosen candidates and causes.
Jewish tradition recognizes the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. Deuteronomy 16:19 commands, ”You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.” In a modern democracy, it is necessary for elected officials to be accountable to all citizens, not just wealthy and powerful moneyed interests. Please take a moment to tell your Members of Congress to support publically funded elections!
We’re nearly halfway through a busy Supreme Court term in which many important cases ranging from affirmative action to recess appointments and from campaign finance to buffer zones at abortion clinics have been heard by the nine justices. More than ever, this term affirms the importance of the Supreme Court in adjudicating the most important social, political (and of course, constitutional!) issues of today.
Today we reflect on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects the right to choose to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment. This landmark decision guaranteed every woman in the United States self-determination and agency over her health choices and her own body and affirmed that women could make their own decisions in consultation with her conscience and her faith, without fear of the imposition of another faith or of an individual’s opinion she chooses not to include.
In 1973, the Roe ruling was cause for celebration–and it still is today. However, we must also remember that for many women, the rights afforded by Roe are not a reality. From restrictive laws passed in Congress, state houses and city halls, reproductive freedom is at risk. Today, we look back on 41 stories from the past year of successes, struggles and new insights to help illustrate the importance of the fight for full reproductive rights at home and around the world.
- 4 Voices on the 40th: Roe v. Wade Anniversary, WRJblog – by RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser!
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley, a case coming out of Massachusetts that questions the constitutionality of “buffer zones” around abortion clinics.
In 2009, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law that instituted a 35-foot protester-free area around the driveways and entranceways of clinics that perform abortions. Such legislation protects the safety of the clinic workers and their patients, because these sites are typically targets of anti-choice (and sometimes pro-choice) rallies. In other circumstances, protesters outside these reproductive health care facilities gather to chant, hold signs and shout at the people entering and exiting the building, amounting to harassment; some protestors actively attempt to dissuade women from having an abortion, such as the petitioners in this case.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the law enacting these protestor-free zones is constitutional because although it places restrictions on the time, manner and place of the speech, the restrictions are neutral in regards to content, and permits alternate forms of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled on this matter: they held in Hill v. Colorado (2000) that buffer zones of 100 feet were constitutional.
The Court will consider whether the Massachusetts law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and if the precedent set in Hill v. Colorado applies to this case—and if so, whether the ruling in Hill should be limited or upheld.
Check back with RACblog to stay up-to-date on all the happenings at the Supreme Court.