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Hobby LobbyAs reported in numerous places — click here for Ian Millhiser’s quick take at the for the Center for American Progress — the widely-dreaded Hobby Lobby decision came down today from the U.S. Supreme Court. In response, the good folks at Mother Jones posted the following article.

On Monday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a blistering dissent to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that the government can’t require certain employers to provide insurance coverage for methods of birth control and emergency contraception that conflict with their religious beliefs. Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Here are seven more key quotes from Ginsburg’s dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby: Read More

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Here are some of the important policy matters we’re watching at mid-week:

Wos Watch: Reporters Laura Leslie of WRAL, Joe Neff and Lynn Bonner of the News & Observer have the scoop on the latest wacky hire at the Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, Travis Fain of the Greensboro News & Record has compiled a list of what might be termed Aldona’s Greatest Hits (or Misses).

Greed and inequality watch: There’s another report out panning the so-called “Trans-Pacific Partnership.” According to researcher David Rosnick of the Center for Economic Policy Research, most U.S. workers would actually experience a net negative impact from the proposed trade deal that’s currently under negotiation And, of course, you can learn lots more about this critical but underreported story at next Thursday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon with global trade expert Lori Wallach of the group Public Citizen. Some seats still remain – click here for more info.

Greed and inequality watch – Part II: National Common Cause chairperson and veteran economic justice advocate Robert Reich appears to be garnering quite a bit of well-deserved attention for his new flick: “Inequality for All.” You can watch the official trailer here and an extended interview with Jon Stewart here.  

Knuckleheaded bigot watch: Read More

One of today’s most important “must reads” is reporter Sharon McCloskey’s story about a bill rammed through the General Assembly during the session’s waning hours to drastically alter the state’s system of handling complaints against judges.

“It started out as a simple bill allowing parties in family court to appeal rulings before their cases were finally resolved.

By the time it landed on the House floor for a final vote, one of the last bills on the last day of the long session, it had a new name, a new number and a new purpose: to give the justices of the state Supreme Court the sole authority to discipline judges — including themselves –and allow them to decide if, when and who to discipline in secret.

And the back story of the passage of the bill, H652 — including the rare public lobbying by Republican justices in favor of the bill and opposition from the Democratic Chief Justice — illustrates that, despite claims otherwise, money and politics may in fact be dividing the Court.”

Click here to read this important story and, hopefully, share it with folks you know.

Much of the coverage of today’s Supreme Court decisions will focus on the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, but as Ian Millhiser points out in this post, two 5-4 decisions in the workers’ rights area will actually have more of an impact on most Americans and should not be overlooked.

In Vance v. Ball State, the Court limited the definition of “supervisor”  to those who have the power to make a “significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

As Millhiser notes:

The problem with this definition of the word “supervisor” is that it cuts out many individuals who exercise significant power to direct fellow employees — potentially including the power to intimidate those employees against reporting their actions to their employer — just so long as those individuals don’t actually have the power to fire or demote anyone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion lists several examples of now-no-longer-supervisors under Vance. One of them is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into unwanted sex with him. At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan gave the example of a secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” Under today’s decision, the secretary’s boss is not her “supervisor” if the power to fire her rests with the “Head of Secretarial Services.” Don Draper can proposition his secretary with near impunity, so long as Joan Harris is the only one empowered to fire her.

In the second case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Court rejected “mixed motive” retaliation claims in which race or other improper reason was one of several motives for retaliation.

As Millhiser explains:

Mixed motive suits are important because they force an employer to reveal what they were actually thinking at the time that they fired or demoted an employee. Without this framework, employees are faced with the nearly-impossible task of proving that the sole thing on their boss’ mind was discrimination at the time that they decided to take action against a worker.

 

The Supreme Court punted today in the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, sending the case back to the Fifth Circuit — and possibly even the district court — for a reconsideration of the university’s affirmative action policy under a strict scrutiny standard.

In the 7-1 decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court said that “because the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect.”

“[S]trict scrutiny does require a court to examine with care, and not defer to, a university’s ‘serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives,’” Kennedy added.

Earlier in the term, the Court had already signaled that it would be revisiting its landmark 2003 decision validating affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger by agreeing to hear a new challenge, Schuette v. Coalition Against Affirmative Action, next term.

That means that the Court may render a decision on the merits of affirmative action policies next term even before the Fisher case makes its way again through the lower courts.

The composition of the Court has changed since Grutter, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote that opinion, retiring and the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito taking her place.