The Supreme Court’s term just came to a close, and thank goodness. A quick look back at the term provides a chilling picture of a new Court that is all too willing to eviscerate important constitutional rights and statutory protections for women. First, there was Gonazales v. Carhart, in which the Court allowed a nationwide ban on a medically approved abortion procedure even though there was no exception permitting the procedure when necessary for a woman’s health, in direct contravention of Roe v. Wade. Then, women in the workplace took a major hit when the Court issued Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., holding that a victim of continuing pay discrimination cannot get into court if she doesn’t complain almost immediately after the discrimination – even if she continues to receive paychecks that are discriminatorily reduced. In a one-two punch, the Court next upheld a Department of Labor regulation that exempted certain home-care providers – a predominantly female and especially minority female workforce – from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s wage and overtime protections in Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke. And then, going out with one final bang, the Court yesterday struck down the Seattle and Louisville school districts’ racial integration plans, in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, putting new limits on the methods schools can use to ensure diversity.
It’s pretty clear that we face this devastating cutback of women’s rights because of the recent changes on the Supreme Court. The Carhart, Ledbetter and Parents Involved in Community Schools cases were all decided by one-vote margins. Justice O’Connor, as the Court’s swing vote until her retirement, had frequently cast her vote to protect women’s rights – siding against an abortion ban without a health exception in 2000, finding diversity to be a compelling interest in education in 2003, and recognizing that school employees, among others, are protected from retaliation for protesting sex discrimination in 2005 – whereas her replacement, Justice Alito, was a consistent member of the conservative bloc that ruled the opposite way on the almost identical issues this term. His record, along with that of the new Chief Justice, should serve as a call to action to be sure that no new Justice follows their pattern. Insisting that each vacancy on the federal courts be filled by a nominee who will respect women’s rights is critical for ensuring the preservation of those rights. So while the end of the term and the summer recess of the Court offer a temporary respite from the torrent of horrendous Supreme Court decisions, the work of monitoring the nominations process must continue with renewed vigor.