Wal-Mart Extends Benefits to Employees’ Domestic Partners

Wal-Mart recently announced that the company will provide health insurance for their employees’ domestic partners including LGBT partners as part of an updated benefits package that also includes vision insurance, coverage for some surgeries, and incentives to quit smoking. Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer with a staff of 1.3 million people, more than half of whom rely on Wal-Mart’s health care plans.

The benefits will apply to unmarried partners living together in an ongoing committed relationship, who have been together for at least 12 months, and who plan to continue living together indefinitely. Whether they are a same sex or opposite sex couple does not matter. The benefits will take effect in all 50 states, regardless of each state’s definitions of marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union.

The benefits update is a “business decision” for the sake of keeping up with competitors and ensuring consistency across markets, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove.

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Fast Food Strikes Continue in US

Thousands of fast food and retail workers across the US plan to go on strike this Thursday, protesting the current hourly wage. The strikes by fast food and retail workers have been building over the past few months, originating with New York restaurant workers in November of 2012.

The workers planning to strike this week, in up to 35 cities or more, will demand a 15 dollar hourly wage, a large increase from the current hourly average of nine dollars and yearly average of $18,130. The typical worker has no benefits and an irregular schedule. The strikers are partnering with grassroots organizations and advocacy groups like Service Employees International Union.

Restaurant industry advocates are criticizing the action. “Restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins,” National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Cristin Fernandez said in a statement. “Significant additional labor costs can negatively impact a restaurant’s ability to hire or maintain jobs.”

Although strikers have not yet achieved their goals of raising wages and allowing them to unionize–important in cases where workers can be fired for participating in strikes–the strikes have helped raise awareness about the fact that many fast food workers are not parent-supported teenagers just making extra cash, but people who must survive on these dismal wages.

This is the largest labor movement in fast food industry history, and it shows no signs of stopping. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we’re going to make sure it happens somehow. They need to hear our voice. They need to hear about our struggles,” Jossura Dossantos, a KFC employee, told the Boston Globe.

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ACLU, Planned Parenthood File Federal Suit Against Indiana Anti-Abortion Law

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Indiana yesterday for a new law that singles-out one clinic for offering the abortion pill.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood Indiana and Kentucky, calls the new restrictions “unconstitutional” and singles out the sole clinic providing medication abortions for regulation. The law would require clinics offering Mifepristone, the non-surgical abortion-inducing pill, to adhere to the same requirements as surgical facilities.

One clinic in Indiana, located in Lafayette, would be affected by the mandate and pro-choice advocates say the law is specifically targeting that facility.

“Imposing requirements for such things as surgical scrub facilities and surgical recovery rooms, when there is no surgical procedure ever performed at the clinic, is not only unreasonable, it is utterly irrational,” the complaint says.

The legislation is set to take place Jan. 1, 2014.

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DOJ Files Lawsuit To Stop Texas Voter ID Law

The Department of Justice filed suit against the state of Texas Thursday for discriminating against minority voters when it passed a voter identification law.

The law, approved in 2011, requires voters to present state-issued photo identification to vote. Federal courts had ruled that Texas did not provide sufficient evidence that the law was not discriminatory. However, after the Supreme Court struck down the formula used to determine which municipalities must submit to preclearance and therefore nullified Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the court decision was undone.

The law requires a Texas driver’s license, personal ID card, or election identification certificate (EIC). However, many counties in Texas don’t have their own driver’s license office “[requiring] some voters to travel approximately 200 miles round trip in order to obtain an EIC” according the suit.

“We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which determines which districts have to submit changes in their voting practice and regulation regardless of size to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in accordance with Section 5 of the VRA, was unconstitutional. In doing so, the Court essentially nullified Section 5 requiring preclearance in voting regulation changes. Section 5 has been used to stop over 700 discriminatory laws from going into effect between 1982 and 2006.

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Naval Academy Will Integrate Sexual Assault Prevention into Curriculum

On Wednesday, the US Naval Academy announced that it will integrate sexual assault prevention into the academic program in an effort combat high rates of sexual assault in the military.

Commandant Captain Bill Byrne, who took over the academy this summer, wants to change the current Sexual Harassement and Assault Prevention Education initiative from after-class trainings to part of the classroom structure starting on “Day One.” The program discusses rape and its psychological effects, consent, dating, the effects of alcohol, and what bystanders can do to stop assault. It is expected to be made part of an introductory Navy leadership class during the spring semester and then incorporated into other classes.

In May, the Department of Defense issued an annual report that showed that sexual assault in the military rose by 35% from 2010 to 2012. The report found that 26,000 members of the military experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012 when answering an anonymous survey – a rate of approximately 70 assaults a day. That number is almost 7,000 instances higher than in 2010. In addition the report found only 3,374 reports of sexual assault were filed, according to the Pentagon. Of those cases filed, fewer than one in 10 ended with a court-martial conviction of sexual assault. In the majority of cases, the alleged attacker faced small administrative punishments or the case was dismissed.

“The leadership division and the faculty are figuring out exactly what it means to the student in the classroom, and we aren’t there yet,” Byrne told reporters. “But I feel good that everybody’s in agreement that it’s the right thing to do.”

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County in New Mexico Begins Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

The county of Dona Ana, New Mexico has begun to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the state Supreme Court referred a related case to lower courts.

Dona Ana Country Clerk Lynn Ellins announced on Wednesday that the County Clerk’s office would being to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “After careful review of New Mexico’s laws it is clear that the state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples,” Ellis wrote in a statement. “Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Dona Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry.” The County Clerk’s office issued 42 marriage licenses to same-sex couples by the end of the day.

Currently, there are two court cases in New Mexico challenging the denial of marriage certificates to same-sex couples. However, the New Mexico Supreme Court has refused to hear these cases before they go before a lower court. The ACLU of New Mexico had petitioned to expedite one case.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he would not try to stop the county from issuing licenses.

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Facebook CEO Endorses Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO and 29-year-old billionaire publically announced his support for comprehensive immigration reform in America at an event geared towards building momentum for immigration reform among members of the House of Representatives on Monday night. The event featured the debut screening of Undocumented, a documentary created by immigration reform activist Jose Antonia Vargas. Until last night, Zuckerburg had not made any public declarations regarding his political stance on the issue of immigration.

Zuckerburg’s reasons for supporting immigration reform stemmed from both his personal and professional experiences. He remarked, “someone did a study and it showed half of tech companies are founded by immigrants” to demonstrate Silicon Valley’s need for comprehensive reform. In addition, he narrated his experiences tutoring young students, “I asked the kids what they were worried about” said Zuckerburg, “One raised his hand and said ‘I’m not sure I can go to college because I’m undocumented,’ it touched me.”

Immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants currently living in America illegally has been an issue Zuckerburg has taken on personally through advocacy endeavors in the past, though never in the spotlight until now. The website FWD.us was co-created between Zuckerburg and his Harvard University roommate, Joe Green with the intentions of pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive reform.

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Rick Perry Signs Anti-Abortion Bill Into Law

Today Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) will sign a strict anti-abortion bill into law that will jeopardize 37 of the state’s 42 clinics.

Abortion rights organizations have vowed to challenge the law. Both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Action Fund are currently evaluating their legal options. Similar laws and provisions have been ruled unconstitutional by state and federal courts in Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Georgia, and Oklahoma. Many other states currently have stays or temporary injunctions against anti-abortions laws such as Wisconsin, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Kansas.

The Texas law, passed by the full state legislature late last week, requires all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, abortion providers to have transfer agreements with local hospitals no more than 30 miles away from the facility, and that providers remain in the room for the entirety of a procedure even when medication-induced. The legislation will also ban abortion after 20 weeks with no exception for rape or incest.

Recently, abortion rights advocate Sarah Slamen revealed that Perry’s older sister, Milla Perry Jones, could represent a conflict of interest for the governor regarding the legislation. Jones is currently a board member of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Society and vice-president of government affairs for United Surgical Partners International. Slamen and other critics believe that by forcing all abortion care to be provided in ambulatory surgical centers will financially benefit Jones and potentially Perry.

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Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Pledges Support to Sodomy Ban

Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial candidate, launched a website yesterday defending his state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law.

Cuccinelli’s new website, www.vachildpredators.com, equates sodomy and oral sex with pedophilia, claiming that 90 child sex offenders — found guilty under Virginia’s anti-sodomy Crimes Against Nature law — will be released if the Supreme Court does not restore the legislation. The Crimes Against Nature law bans oral and anal sexual acts, even between married, heterosexual consenting adults acting in the privacy of their own home.

The Supreme Court deemed Virginia’s law unconstitutional in 2003, following the Lawrence v. Texas ruling against anti-sodomy legislation. Virginia’s law has stayed on the books and Cuccinelli used it to charge a 47-year-old man for soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old in March.

A federal appeals court rejected the sodomy charge, but Cuccinelli filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, in hopes of overturning Lawrence v. Texas.

Cuccinelli is using the website to attack his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Terry McAuliffe, saying he is “playing politics” instead of “protecting our children.” McAuliffe said Cuccinelli’s anti-sodomy stance is another example of the Attorney General’s extreme, anti-gay social agenda.

Cuccinelli is one of the only U.S. elected officials to believe homosexuality should be punishable by law and should result in jail time. He told the Virginian-Pilot in 2009 that homosexual acts are “intrinsically wrong.”

Cuccinelli, along with the attorney general of Indiana, wrote an amicus brief opposing gay marriage in the recent California Proposition 8 case, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in June

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House Votes to Delay Key Obamacare Provisions

House Votes to Delay Key Obamacare Provisions The US House of Representatives voted yesterday to delay two key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — marking the 38th and 39th times the House has voted to repeal or amend all or some of President Obama’s landmark legislation.

Wednesday, the House voted for a one-year delay on the requirement that most Americans insurance by 2014.

Legislators also voted to delay the requirement that employers with 50 employees or more to provide health coverage, even though Obama already announced that implementation of this provision will be delayed one year.

The senate does not plan to vote on either piece of legislation. Democrats are calling the votes another attempt by Republicans to weaken the Affordable Care Act and waste time.

Today, Obama will discuss the health care law in a speech at the White House, focusing specifically on a provision that will require insurance providers to refund customers when they spend less than 80% of premiums on medical care. Obama said the provision will result in 8.5 million Americans receiving $500 million in refunds this summer.

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Bipartisan Filibuster Compromise Hails Promising End to Senate Gridlock

A compromise Tuesday between Senate Democrats and Republicans will, at least temporarily, reduce the gridlock of executive appointments. Republicans agreed to move several confirmations through in exchange for Democrats halting their plans to dramatically alter the rules of the Senate, especially the filibuster.

The compromise allowed the appointment of Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to move through the Senate with a vote of 66 to 34 immediately after it was announced. The Senate also approved the appointment of Tom Perez as the Secretary of Labor, who has been supportive Several other nominations are expected to be confirmed soon, including the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues and positions in the Environmental Protection Agency.

In exchange, Democrats withdrew two nominations made by President Obama to the National Labor Relations Board that Republicans contested were illegally made during recess and bypassed the Senate. President Obama has announced two new nominations for the positions that Republicans have said will be confirmed.

Fix the Senate Now, a coalition that “advocates for sensible change to the rules governing the U.S. Senate,” said that this was an important step but that there is still a lot of work to be done to streamline the legislative process. “Until the Senate raises the costs of obstruction to make gridlock for gridlock’s sake a less viable strategy, we will continue to work to fix the broken Senate,” they said.

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House Legislators Cut Food Stamps for 48 Million Americans

On Thursday afternoon, the US House of Representatives passed a severely reduced version of The Farm Bill. This version of the bill eliminated the food stamp program and the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP). The bill passed in a close vote of 216 to 208 along stark party lines.

In 2013, 48 million Americans, approximately 1 in 7, utilized the Food Stamp program. Between April of 2012 and April of 2013, 39 states and the District of Columbia saw an increase of SNAP beneficiaries, with Maryland, Illinois, and Wyoming recording SNAP caseload increases of 8% or higher.

The food stamp provision was originally added to the farm bill 50 years ago in an effort to bring partisan support to legislation for farm subsidies during an era when rural congressional members were decreasing in numbers. Since that time the amount of spending within the farm bill for SNAP benefits account for 80% of the bill.

The separation of the Food Stamps program from the Farm Bill was protested formally by a collection of 532 farming organizations that drafted a letter to House representatives stating their desire for the two pieces of legislation to remain together.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) stated that the House would try to draft a separate bill for the Food Stamp program. Earlier this year, both the House and Senate passed other versions of the Farm Bill with the SNAP program intact, but with significant reductions.

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Duke University to Expel Students Disciplined for Sexual Assault

Yesterday, Duke University announced that the “preferred sanction” for attackers in cases of sexual assault will now be expulsion. The previous precedent for sexual assault was suspension for three to six semesters. However, this change does not mean that every student found guilty of sexual misconduct will be expelled because the University does not have any minimum sanction requirements.”

President of Duke Student Government Stefani Jones, who helped change the sanction policy, noted that “In the past, the average sanction for similar offenses has been three to four semesters” including summer “which was really insufficient, considering the severity of the violation,” and “What this does, though, is set the standard for the discussion so that expulsion is essentially the rule and suspension is the exception, rather than the other way around.”

This change comes less than a year after Duke agreed to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault misconduct. Until October of 2012, there was a one-year statute of limitations on cases of sexual misconduct.

These changes are also part of a larger movement in higher education to change sexual assault policies to address growing concerns about rape culture on campuses in light of recent legal challenges to universities across the country. The Duke policy decision comes shortly after it was announced that University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be facing a third investigation into allegations of retaliating against sexual assault survivors.

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Texas Anti-Abortion Bill Advances

On Tuesday, the Texas House of Representatives tentatively passed restrictive abortion bill HB2 in the second special session, two weeks after Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster on SB5. With this vote of 98 to 42, the House approved HB2 which includes multiple abortion restrictions such as a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The ban does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest, as was proposed in an amendment by Representative Senfronia Thompson.

HB2 also imposes stricter safety regulations on clinics providing abortions, even if they only perform medication abortions. These restrictions would force the closure of all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics due to such requirements as admitting privileges for doctors providing abortions to a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and regulations that force clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers. The new requirements are in addition to already-present Texan laws for abortion, including parental consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a mandatory ultrasound that must be shown and described to the person seeking an abortion.

HB2 will come to a final House vote on Wednesday, and then move to the Senate if it passes. The bill has considerable support in the Senate and from Texas Governor Rick Perry.

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Governor Scott Walker Signs Anti-Abortion Bills into Law

On Friday, Governor Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin signed into law a bill that would require all abortion providers to attain hospital admitting privileges. In addition, the law will now require women seeking an abortion to first receive an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure. The law is scheduled to take effect July 8.

The regulations for abortion clinics outlined in the law will decrease access to abortions, closing all clinics in Wisconsin north of Madison, and eliminating access to abortion after 19 weeks throughout the entire state.In addition, women seeking an abortion will be forced to “view an ultrasound” and have a physician or ultrasound technician describe the fetus and its stage of development in detail. For women who are early in a pregnancy, this could mean having to go through a “transvaginal ultrasound“to even view the fetus. There are no provisions in the bill about funding for the mandatory ultrasounds, creating an additional barrier for some women. Supporters of the bill argue that women can find clinics that offer free ultrasounds before their procedures. Many of these clinics are Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) which use medically inaccurate information and religious ideology to pressure women to carry their pregnancies to term.

In response to this newly passed legislation, Wisconsin clinics that currently offer abortion services have filed a lawsuit in federal court against all members of the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board. They are challenging the law as unconstitutional by arguing that doctors providing abortion services (which have been decried as legal medical procedures by the Supreme Court) will now lack the guarantee of due process within the state.

According to the Guttmacher Institute (http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_TRAP.pdf), Wisconsin is the 8th state to pass hospital admitting laws for abortion clinics. Guttmacher also found that in the first six months of 2013, state legislatures enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health, 43 of which restricted access to abortion as many as were passed in all of 2012.

Sources: Guttmacher Institute 7/8/2013, 7/1/2013; Journal Sentinel 7/5/2013; Feminist Newswire 6/13/2013; Senate Bill 206

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New Report Exposes VA Crisis Pregnancy Center Tactics

An investigative study conducted by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has found that Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in Virginia purposefully use inaccurate medical information and emotional manipulation to dissuade women from receiving abortion care (see study). The study, which was conducted undercover over the course of a year, details the methods used by Virginia’s 58 CPCs to block women from receiving proper medical services, including a two-part sub-report that specifically outlines the medically-inaccurate information given to the pregnant women who receive “treatment” at any of the CPCs.

The study enlisted and trained volunteers who conducted the research both over the phone and with in-person visits. Volunteers learned of common strategies used by CPCs to attract pregnant women, including the use of mainstream review services [PDF] and websites that allowed the CPCs to masquerade as abortion providers. The CPCs avoided any mention of what services are or are not provided in the way of reproductive care on these mediums, and did the same when phoned. CPCs also purposefully establish themselves near university campuses and in urban centers [PDF]. Once a woman enters a center, the CPC volunteers take care to “outlin[e] conception in non-medical and emotional terms,” mislead women about the length of their pregnancies, and place strong emphasis on disproven facts about abortion, such as breast cancer and loss of fertility [PDF].

In addition, the report discusses how recent anti-choice legislation requiring any woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound 24 hours [PDF] before the procedure drives women to seek out care at CPCs which often advertise free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. In a press release, Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said “No matter how a person feels about abortion, everyone can agree that women should never be misled when seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion, or sexually transmitted infections. Yet not only is this happening in CPCs across the Commonwealth, but the Virginia Department of Health is actually endorsing this dangerous practice. These centers are a threat to women’s health and they must be treated as such “not legitimized by the highest medical institution in the Commonwealth.” NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia offers policy recommendations [PDF] in the study, such as requiring CPCs to obtain pre-certification by the Virginia Department of Health in order to confirm that only medically-accurate information is being given to patients.

For more information on actions you can take to expose CPCS, visit Feminist Campus’ Campaign to Expose Fake Clinics.

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Ohio Budget Includes Severe Anti-Abortion Provisions, Heads to Governor

Yesterday the Ohio state legislature passed a $62 billion budget that includes multiple anti-abortion provisions that could all but eliminate abortion access in the state.

The budget strips $2 million in family planning funds from Planned Parenthood. The budget then redirects family planning funds toward deceptive crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs are often owned and operated by churches or anti-abortion groups that pose as legitimate health centers. CPCs are not required to provide medically accurate information and often convey religious beliefs in an attempt to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term. The Ohio budget also includes a provision that would deny federal funding to rape crisis centers who provide information on abortion to rape victims.

Another provision of the Ohio budget as passed by the Senate could potentially close multiple abortion clinics throughout the state. The provision prohibits abortion clinics from having transfer agreements with public hospitals in cases where a patient needs additional care. However, in order for ambulatory surgical centers to be licensed by the state, they are required to have such transfer agreements in place. If a clinic is unable to locate or receive an agreement with a private hospital they will be forced to shut down.

Republican legislatures also added an ultrasound amendment late in the debate yesterday requiring doctors to determine if there is a fetal heartbeat and inform the woman of the likelihood it will survive to full term. The language used in the amendment reflects language from an unsuccessful attempt to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The budget passed on mostly party lines in both the state House and Senate. In the House, seven Republicans joined the Democrats in voting against the bill, but it was passed in a 53 to 44 vote. In the Senate only one Republican joined the Democrats in the voting no. It was passed 21 to 11, with three lawmakers who did not vote.

The only person who can change the budget now is Governor John Kasich (R), who must sign the budget by 11:59pm on Sunday. Kasich has not said whether he will do a line item veto on any of the abortion provisions. “I think the Legislature has a right to stick things in budgets and put policy in budgets,” Kasich told reporters. “I’ll look at the language, keeping in mind that I’m pro-life.”

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Senate Passes Immigration Reform, House Will Not Consider

On Thursday, the United States Senate passed an overhaul to the immigration system with bipartisan support. The piece of legislation includes a pathway to citizenship, but also requires militarization of the US-Mexico border.

68 senators – 54 Democrats and 14 Republicans – voted to approve immigration reform based on the proposal of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators charged with overhauling the immigration system. A key victory for progressives is the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people currently living in the United States without proper documentation. However, before that path can be made open to those 11 million people, five conditions must be met, including doubling the amount of agents at the US-Mexico border, adding an addition 750 miles of fencing, and establishing an E-verify system for determining a person’s visa status. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Gang of Eight and a staunch conservative, remarked “This border-security measure blows my mind. We’ve practically militarized the border.”

President Obama applauded the Senate’s bipartisan efforts, saying in a statement “Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all… The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.” He continued, “Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality. We cannot let that happen. If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress. Tell them to do the right thing.” Graham also applauded the Senate’s efforts, saying “This is as good as it gets in the Senate.”

However, the bill appears dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. In a released statement prior to the debate, Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “Immigration reform must – I mean must – be grounded in real border security. That’s what the American people believe, and it’s a principle that this House majority will insist upon.” He elaborated with reporters, “I issued a statement that I thought was pretty clear, but apparently some haven’t gotten the message: the House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill.”

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Department of Education Releases Guidelines Protecting Pregnant Students

Earlier this week, the Department of Education (DOE) released new guidance on how to assist pregnant and parenting students in their academic career.

The guidelines, in the form of a Dear Colleague letter and accompanying pamphlet, details how schools should handle the needs of pregnant and parenting students in accordance with Title IX. In the pamphlet, the DOE clarifies that any school cannot require pregnant or parenting students to complete or any paperwork or courses that are not required of other students who take hospital leave. In addition, the pamphlet dictates that schools make reasonable accommodations to pregnant students such as larger desks and elevator use in the same capacity as accommodations made to other students with medical conditions. Though the pamphlet is aimed at secondary schools, the DOE states that the legal principles behind the guidelines also apply to higher education.

Lisa Maatz of American Association of University Women commented on the changes, “Pregnant and parenting students have always been protected under Title IX, but this guidance provides much-needed clarification and concrete steps schools must take to support these students… AAUW is pleased that the Department of Education has made it abundantly clear that schools may not deny mothers and fathers educational opportunities that are provided to other students.”

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Supreme Court Rejects Statute of Voting Rights Act

Today the Supreme Court ruled that a statute requiring preclearance for changing voting guidelines is unconstitutional.

In a five to four decision with the opinion written [PDF] by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which determines which districts have to submit changes in their voting practice and regulation regardless of size to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in accordance with Section 5 of the VRA, is unconstitutional. In doing so, the Court essentially nullified Section 5 requiring preclearance in voting regulation changes. Section 5 has been used to stop over 700 discriminatory laws from going into effect between 1982 and 2006.

Roberts and the majority opinion argued that the formula determining which state and local governments must submit their changes is outdated [PDF] and therefore can no longer be used to require preclearance. While this decision subsequently voids the preclearance process, the majority did not rule preclearance requirement in Section 5 unconstitutional. Instead, the Court gave Congress the responsibility to create a new formula to determine who must comply with preclearance requirements. In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he would have urged the Court to also overturn Section 5.

In a dissenting opinion [PDF], Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer joined Ruth Bader Ginsburg in arguing that since Congress determined the formula in Section 4 was still accurate there was a demonstrated need to retain it. Ginsburg lays out the history of the Voting Rights Act and the various challenges and reauthorizations it has faced. Ginsburg, et al., also argue that Congress is aware that the formula may need to be revised in the future based on the time frame Congress determined for reauthorization.

In her dissent, Ginsburg writes [PDF] “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective… In truth, the evolution of voting discrimination into more subtle second-generation barriers is powerful evidence that a remedy as effective as preclearance remains vital to protect minority voting rights and prevent backsliding.” She continues, “For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”

In conclusion, Ginsburg writes “After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support… In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.” Civil rights advocates around the country have denounced the decision.

President Obama said in a statement, “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous decried, “This decision is outrageous. The Court’s majority put politics over decades of precedent and the rights of voters.” Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, said “The fundamental responsibility of the Supreme Court is to protect minority rights, especially the most basic right in a democracy, the right to vote. The Court has failed in this responsibility.”

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