Supreme Court appears poised to support Oregon city’s measures against public sleeping

On Monday, April 22, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, marking one of the most significant cases on the issue of homelessness in years. This case comes amidst a record number of 650,000 people in 2023 reported as experiencing homelessness in the United States, a 12% increase from the previous year, highlighting the urgent need for reform and solutions to this crisis. The Supreme Court has elected to consider the moral question of “whether or not cities can punish people for sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking.”  

The City of Grants Pass v. Johnson case initially centered on Grants Pass, OR, a small city with a population of under 40,000, where individuals were fined $295 for sleeping outside despite rising living costs from 2013 to 2018. The plaintiff, Johnson, involuntarily homeless, was fined for sleeping in her van and camping in a public park. In response, the Oregon Law Center filed a suit in 2020, arguing that “unhoused people cannot be penalized for sleeping outside on public property without adequate alternatives.” The Medford Federal District Court agreed, citing violations of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause and Excessive Fines Clause due to the absence of low-barrier shelters or alternative accommodations.

As this case awaits the Supreme Court’s decision, justices have made notable comments. Justice Sotomayor remarked, “You don’t arrest people who are sleeping on the beach,” while Justice Kagan acknowledged, “sleeping is a biological necessity,” underscoring that basic human needs should not be criminalized. Homelessness, rooted in systemic issues such as capitalism, is fundamentally a human problem. However, conservative judges have complicated matters by framing homelessness, the right to rest, shelter, and opportunity in overly complex ways. Failing to address homelessness beyond fines and blame risks further harm to those already struggling involuntarily.

Beyond Oregon, California, with the highest homelessness rate, has also tackled this crisis. In Sacramento in 2022, voters passed the Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act, prohibiting camping on public property with a misdemeanor fine for noncompliance, contingent on available shelter accommodations. San Diego enacted the Unsafe Camping Ordinance with similar provisions. However, enforcement of these laws hinges on the availability of housing options. The prevailing view among lawmakers is the urgent need for safe accommodations for all.

As the Supreme Court deliberates, it is imperative to recognize that criminalizing human needs is not a viable solution. Addressing homelessness requires comprehensive, compassionate approaches that prioritize shelter, support, and dignity for all individuals.

Unpacking Trump’s Unprecedented Legal Saga

Former President Trump is currently embroiled in four criminal cases, facing a total of 91 felony counts. Among these cases, The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump is currently underway, garnering significant media coverage. This case, commonly referred to as the “Hush Money Case,” is the first of the criminal trials that the former president is facing as he gears up for the 2024 Presidential election. Trump’s indictment in March of last year marked a historic moment, as he became the first former President of the United States to face criminal charges.

The “Hush Money Case” revolves around allegations that Trump falsified business records after paying off former adult film actress Stormy Daniels to conceal an extramarital affair they had in 2006. To reduce the likelihood of political scandal during the 2016 election, the former president paid $130,000 in hush money to Daniels. Then, when Trump became president, he used funds from his business to pay his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. 

Recently, the trial for this case commenced, with nearly 100 prospective jurors initially summoned. However, approximately 50 were quickly dismissed due to concerns about impartiality. Outside the courthouse, anti-Trump protesters made their voices heard, reflecting the public interest in the case. 12 jurors have now been selected for the case.  

Apart from the “Hush Money Case,” Trump faces legal challenges in Georgia, Florida, and D.C. In Georgia, he is accused of interfering in the 2020 Presidential election by pressuring officials to “find 11,780 votes,” the margin he needed to surpass Biden’s vote count. While some charges in this case were dismissed, Trump and other defendants await trial for remaining felony offenses.

In D.C., Trump is charged with conspiracy-related offenses linked to his alleged interference in the 2020 election, including obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights. Similarly, in Florida, he faces charges related to hoarding classified documents without proper clearance. Despite attempts to dismiss some cases, Trump awaits his trials as the American people weigh these legal challenges alongside their electoral decisions in November.

Polling reveals young voters’ priorities in the upcoming election

As the election approaches, attention remains focused on young voter engagement. On April 18th, the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics unveiled its Bi-Annual Harvard Youth Poll. From March 14th to 21st, the survey reached 2,010 young individuals aged 18 to 29. The findings shed light on key concerns among young voters, with Harvard’s Institute of Politics Director Setti Warren noting their growing interest in issues like the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and climate. Warren remarked that young people nationwide are increasingly eager to make their voices heard at the ballot box come November.

According to the survey results, President Joe Biden holds an eight-point lead over former President Trump among young voters. Notably, Biden leads by six points among men and thirty-three points among women. This is evidence of what Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, coined as the “gender gap” in the 1980s. The gender gap is the difference in how men and women vote. Smeal initially attributed this gap to the Republican party’s failure to ratify the ERA constitutionally, which remains a strong identifier in election polling and analysis today. The Harvard results show a clear divide, suggesting that young women are leaning further left than men.

Among college students, Biden maintains a 23-point lead over Trump and a 47-point lead among college graduates. Additionally, while a significant portion of young Americans believe that the United States has an immigration crisis, they also believe that immigrants contribute positively to American culture and are against building a border wall. Half of the respondents believe that immigrants actively work to enhance the country’s cultural fabric and 45% disagree with the notion that immigrants lead to increased crime. This perspective underscores a more progressive mindset among young voters, shaping their expectations for candidates in this election.

In 2023, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine, in partnership with Lake Research Partners, conducted a survey determining the most motivating issues for voters. The poll found that 74% of all voters support a person’s right to make their own reproductive decisions without government interference. Among these voters who support abortion rights, especially younger women, abortion and women’s rights combined are top issues that will determine their vote in November. 60% of voters identified as feminists, and 7 in 10 voters supported placing the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. Abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment are strong voter turnout issues separately but even more powerful when combined.  

Still, in Harvard’s poll, only nine percent of young people believe the country is heading in the right direction, reflecting a lack of confidence in the current administration. Approval ratings for President Biden and his administration stand at thirty-one percent, a slight dip from Fall 2023. While a majority support student debt relief, Biden’s other economic, foreign policy, and environmental initiatives received lower approval ratings. This dissatisfaction underscores a need for the administration to address concerns among young voters, especially as issues like reproductive justice and rights continue to divide the nation.

Georgetown Law hosts ERA conference to strategize for the future

Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) join moderators for a discussion on the ERA.

Last Friday, April 12th, Georgetown Law, in partnership with the ERA Project at Columbia Law, hosted an inspiring conference entitled, “The Present and Future of the Equal Rights Amendment,” bringing together distinguished legal scholars, members of Congress, and political organizers to discuss the critical need for the ERA. The Columbia ERA Project, established in 2021, has been working tirelessly to raise awareness about the need to develop gender-based policies and justice.

Keynote remarks from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) reminded us about the importance of the grassroots initiatives and the current strategies dedicated to enshrining the ERA into the Constitution, including the joint resolution in both the House and Senate to remove the timeline and the House discharge petition to bring the ERA to the floor for a vote. Rep. Jennifer McClellan (VA-04) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also both recorded video messages to share their personal commitments to the ERA. 

The unique circumstances surrounding the history of the ERA continue to make it the center of an extensive conversation in constitutional law and at the forefront of the fight for gender equality. The conference began with a panel of legal experts who explored the path the ERA has taken over the past 100 years and the ERA’s impact on our current democracy. The ERA is argued to have faced the most roadblocks as an amendment and yet has also received the most bipartisan support. As discussed in the panel, a proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38. The main legal disagreements surrounding the ERA have focused on the arbitrary timeline for ratification included in the preamble to the amendment when it passed Congress in 1972. Since the time limit was not included in the text of the amendment, the states did not vote on that language and it is not considered binding. Therefore, the ERA has met all requirements necessary to be a certified amendment to the US Constitution. 

What can you contribute to the movement: 

  • Sign the petition at SignERA: This is a petition dedicated to raising awareness and support for the importance of certifying the ERA as the 28th amendment. 
  • Campus organizing: Students can start their own Sign4ERA petition campaign on their college campus!
  • Reach out to your representatives: Rep. Pressley and Rep. Bush have both encouraged constituents to contact their elected officials to urge them to join the ERA Congressional Caucus. In addition, constituents can also inquire about where their representatives stand on the issue and if they have signed the discharge petition. 

Thank you to Victoria Nourse, a dedicated ERA activist, for hosting this event!

Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Archaic Abortion Law

On Tuesday, April 9, 2024, Arizona’s State Supreme Court upheld an 1864 abortion law that criminalizes abortions and imposes felony-time sentences on providers who perform them or assist women in obtaining them. Notably, the law does not provide exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but permits abortions solely to save a woman’s life. However, the court’s decision stipulates that the law will be enforced “prospectively.”

In a 4-2 majority opinion, the court declared, “Physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” overturning a previous appellate court decision based on a 15-week gestational period interpretation. The court argued that since there are no state or federal prohibitions against the ban, it should be allowed to stand, following the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. In 2022, the appellate court ruled in favor of medically trained and certified doctors performing legal abortions, while non-physicians were subject to penalties under the 1864 ban. However, the court’s loose definition of safety continues to jeopardize women’s health.

The 1864 ban predates Arizona’s statehood and reflects an era when women lacked rights during the Civil War. Arizona’s Democratic Attorney General, Kris Mayes, denounced the ruling as a “stain on our state,” affirming that women and doctors will not be prosecuted under the ban. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider, will continue to offer abortion care until the law takes effect in 45 days.

Arizona’s situation mirrors recent developments in Florida, where the Supreme Court has banned abortions and is set to enforce a six-week ban soon. Arizona, grappling with fluctuating abortion rights, remains a battleground state for the upcoming November elections, with abortion rights garnering significant attention and support, evidenced by 500,000 signatures on related ballots.

The ongoing neglect of women’s protection, rights, and safety underscores the urgency for action. As reproductive rights and health dominate discussions leading up to the election, activists are called upon to advocate fiercely. It’s time to fight for meaningful change.

Department of Justice awards $4.14 million settlement to UMBC student-athletes

*Trigger Warning* This article contains sensitive information and subjects of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault that may be triggering for some readers. 

Student-athletes are finally being heard after undergoing years of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination from the late Head Swimming and Diving Team Coach, Chad Cradock. On Wednesday, April 3rd, the Department of Justice released a $4.14 million settlement agreement with the University of Maryland at Baltimore County after the conclusion of an investigation that the university and coach did commit numerous Title IX violations. The Justice Department hopes that this agreement sends “a resounding message” to other institutions about the fact that sexual abuse and harassment will no longer be ignored.

Cradock was also a former UMBC student, which allowed much of his behavior to go unnoticed and without consequence. Survivors of his harassment and abuse recalled that Chadrock “kissed male student-athlete’s necks, hugged them from behind, traced his fingers down their bare stomachs from their belly buttons toward their genitals, and massaged their bare skin.” The students also made clear that many times, the abuse took place within earshot of other members of the Athletics Department, and nothing was done to help the students. 

Students were explicitly reporting the abuse for many years. In 2015, however, a UMBC athletics staff member received a letter detailing their discomfort after a camera was used to film male students in the showers. The call for help only resulted in a flawed police investigation, where the Head Coach was given warning and was able to cover up evidence. Students continued to feel fearful about reporting these incidents, as whistleblowing could result in loss of scholarship or coaching as well as isolation from the team. 

Young women on the team recall their open sexual discrimination and intimate abuse encouraged by the head coach’s behavior. Cradock reportedly “generally disfavored” the young women on the team and often blamed them for the abuse they were enduring. In light of hypersexualization and sexual abuse from fellow men on the team, Cradock encouraged a culture of silencing of the young women on the team. They shared that “male student-athletes had sexually assaulted them, stalked them, and subjected them to dating violence.” 

Cradock even encouraged in-team dating, calling it “Swincest,” and was intimately involved in the athletes’ sex lives and relationships. When reports were made about the dating violence to the university administration, Title IX protocol was not followed. Instead, the head coach led biased mediation sessions, again highlighting another shortcoming of the University’s Title IX compliance efforts. 

After the Department of Justice’s investigation, the coach was banned, forced to retire, and would later on take his own life. The DOJ, under Title IX, has been able to reach a settlement agreement where the University of Maryland at Baltimore County will pay $4.14 million to the survivors, provide full-time support to those who have been victims of sexual violence and abuse, provide additional resources for the Title IX compliance program equipped with a coordinator, enforce clear guidelines for coaching staff, administer surveys to student-athletes on cases like this, and improve the process of reporting and investing sexual violence and abuse.

Although there is a road for reparations at UMBC, stories like this continue to happen across campus throughout the United States. Sexual violence and abuse continue to plague college students, and too many times, they are overlooked and silenced. As we intentionally take the time to talk about issues like this in April, it is essential to remember that there is still more to achieve in this fight. 

Florida Supreme Court’s ruling triggers DeSantis’ 6 week abortion ban

On April 1st, the conservative Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to uphold the state’s 15-week abortion ban. As a result, the ruling has triggered Gov. Ron DeSantis’ extreme 6-week abortion ban, which is set to take effect in just 30 days. The state Supreme Court’s decision rests on the notion that the state constitution’s privacy clause has no basis to invalidate the 15-week ban abortion statute, following the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court when Roe was overturned. This has, ultimately, ended Florida’s status as a “safe haven” for Southern patients seeking abortion care from other states with even more restrictive legislation. 

However, voters could potentially overturn the amendment via a ballot initiative in November as long as the measure receives 60% of the votes. The ballot initiative, Amendment 4, would establish a constitutional right to abortion “before fetal viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health.” Viability is generally estimated to be around 24 weeks. 

In 2022, after the Dobbs Supreme Court decision, Ron DeSantis signed HB-5, the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act. This bill “prohibits an abortion after an unborn child has reached 15 weeks of gestation.” DeSantis then signed SB-300 in 2023, the Heartbeat Protection Act, which is said to protect “innocent, unborn life by prohibiting abortions after six weeks gestation.” These two pieces of legislation have been argued as going “far beyond where most Floridians would land on the issue,” exacerbating the discontent of constituents. 

It is clear that abortion rights will be front and center in November’s election as Florida joins at least 8 other states with ballot referendums centered around reproductive rights.

Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘GUTS’ tour spotlights reproductive justice amidst controversy

Reproductive rights have been a central focus of singer Olivia Rodrigo’s latest tour for her album, ‘GUTS.’ Early this year, Rodrigo launched her global non-profit, Fund 4 Good, dedicated to achieving an equitable world for women and girls, ending gender-based violence, and supporting people seeking reproductive healthcare. Proceeds from ticket sales from the tour have been used to support the cause. 

To continue to raise awareness of injustices against reproductive rights, Rodrigo has partnered with local chapters of the National Network of Abortion Funds. Most recently, on her tour in Missouri, a fan reported that they received Plan B, condoms, and information for an abortion hotline from the abortion fund workers. However, this raised concerns among many anti-abortion extremists, who believed that because children were at the concert, this was inappropriate. In addition, a Missouri State Senator responded, “As the father of a daughter, I am horrified by this,” and that Rodrigo “should be ashamed.” Rodrigo’s team announced they would no longer distribute emergency contraception at her shows.

Missouri is one of the 14 states where nearly all abortions are illegal. The law makes no exception for rape or incest; the only exceptions are for medical emergencies that threaten the life of the pregnant person. Yet still, Plan B, an over-the-counter emergency contraceptive, is available in pharmacies with no age requirement. However in certain states, pharmacists are able to refuse to fill prescriptions, because of a “conscience clause.” A conscience clause allows healthcare professionals to deny medical care and assistance based on personal beliefs. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many states have implemented clauses like this to further restrict reproductive rights. 

Access and awareness of contraceptives should not be something that young people are shielded from. Too often, state-by-state decisions prevent accessibility to reproductive care. It is time to have the “GUTS” to fight back. 

Alabama Governor protects IVF access

In early March, Republican Governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Senate bill SB159, which protects IVF from “civil and criminal immunity for death or damage to an embryo provided to persons.” This bipartisan bill was proposed in the wake of the recent state Supreme Court ruling that decided frozen embryos are protected by the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act of 1872, suggesting that “it applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.” 

After the Court’s ruling, three major IVF clinics in the state paused treatment and patients immediately expressed their frustration. In response, Alabama state lawmakers proposed immunity for the IVF clinics to alleviate the risks from the court’s ruling. Governor Ivey, after signing, said, “I am pleased to sign this important, short-term measure into law so that couples in Alabama hoping and praying to be parents can grow their families through IVF.” Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution for a more significant issue of embryos being seen as “children.” 

At the state level, embryonic personhood has been left undefined. Although passing this immunity bill protects against criminal charges, it is still not enough when considering that there is no confirmed consensus regarding the status of embryos, which can potentially lead to more legal issues going forward. 

The ERA Discharge Petition: Moving Forward

Elvert Barnes, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

In January of 2023, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) introduced H.J.Res.25 in the House to remove the arbitrary deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The resolution has 209 co-sponsors. At the same time, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced an identical resolution in the Senate, S.J.Res.4, with 53 co-sponsors. 

In order to force H.J.Res.25 to a vote, Rep. Pressley launched a discharge petition for the bill. Once a majority of the House, 218 members, have signed the discharge petition, “it must immediately be brought before the full chamber for a vote,” bypassing the Republican Speaker of the House. The discharge petition currently has 206 signers. Reps. Ed Case (HI-01) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) are the most recent signers, adding their names on February 15th, 2024. Only 12 more members need to sign on to bring it to a vote.  

In 2023, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine commissioned Lake Research Partners to conduct a survey to determine the influence of abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in turning out the vote. The polling shows that the ERA will be one of driving forces in the 2024 election. Abortion and the ERA are both strong issues that increase voter turnout separately, but are even more powerful when combined. Messaging that includes both abortion access and the ERA is incredibly motivating in mobilizing voters, especially young women. 

The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with the ERA Coalition and its partners — which include the League of Women Voters, AAUW, YWCA, and more — have been working tirelessly to secure the signatures on the discharge petition and are very close to reaching a majority. FMF and the coalition intend to make this a top issue for the 2024 elections.

Background on the Equal Rights Amendment

The ERA “guarantees equality of rights under the law for all persons regardless of sex.” Simply put, the ERA would work to eradicate the second-class citizenship of women in America. After passing the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave American women the right to vote, women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman drafted the original ERA to codify the rights for gender equality. The amendment was active in Congress from 1923 forward and was introduced in every session of Congress.

Rep. Shirley Chislom (D-NY) and Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI) helped lead the efforts in Congress that resulted in the ERA’s passing. In March 1972, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who had initially refused to hold a hearing discussing the ERA, gave the necessary room for both the House and Senate to pass “identical” bills to support making the ERA an official constitutional amendment. 

Although this was a tremendous win, Congress gave a seven-year deadline for three-fourths of states to ratify the ERA. In 1978, however, only 35 states had done so, rather than the 38 required. In 1977, Congress extended the deadline for ratification by three years, but the necessary 38 was not reached. Although there was much pushback, the salience of the ERA grew to the extent that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued “for a jurisprudence of gender equality under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.” The ERA became something people could no longer ignore. 

Where is it now? 

Since the twentieth century, women’s rights activists have continued to keep the ERA in the national conversation. Now more than ever, the codification of this amendment has become vital in establishing a more equally representative democracy, made clear by Rep. Pressley’s passionate discharge petition fight in Congress. Sign4ERA, founded by former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, has started a petition campaign to mobilize individuals across the nation to voice their support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and urge Congress to act. You can add your name to the petition here.

Implications of the ERA 

The ERA would “affirm gender equality in our Constitution, enshrining the principle of equality and an explicit prohibition against sex discrimination in the nation’s foundational document.” The ERA is not simply granting equal rights in a superficial sense. Instead, it would “advance equality in the fields of workforce and pay, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and violence, reproductive autonomy, and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals,” especially with reproductive rights being a primary concern in the election. Put simply, the ERA represents the culmination of the longstanding struggle for equal treatment and rights that many Americans have ardently advocated for. Its significance should transcend the limitations of state-by-state recognition. As Congresswoman Pressley has passionately stated, “there should be no deadline on equality.”

Kamala Harris’ speaking tour highlights the significance of abortion in the election

Gage Skidmore, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

On January 22, 2024, Vice President Kamala Harris began her nationwide Reproductive Freedoms Tour on what should have been the 51st anniversary of the passing of Roe V. Wade. Arguably, the Vice President’s decision to start the tour on the anniversary is a testament to the important role that reproductive rights will play in the election, especially in the battleground state of Wisconsin, where the tour commenced. In Wisconsin, upon the Supreme Court’s overturning, abortion in the state was deemed illegal for 15 months

Historically, reproductive rights have been a polarizing issue for the American people. This visible contention is due to the pro-choice and pro-life dichotomy birthed out of the fight for rights, which inevitably rethought the civil liberties of all people. This sentiment has been at the heart of the tour’s mission, especially as the Vice President stated, “Every time reproductive freedom has been on the ballot, the people of America have voted for freedom.”  It is not that reproductive rights have become merely a rallying issue for women, but a call to action for all Americans. 

As the Vice President stands on the battlefield where reproductive rights continue to be targeted, the American people are being called into action to make a decision not in the name of choice but in the name of freedom. Thus, in this prime moment, Vice President Harris finds herself persuading voters to consider how the overturning of Roe has led to drastic changes that challenge the liberties and freedom that our founders fought for. 

For the Biden-Harris administration, the civil rights of the American people have been at the core of the administration’s interest, especially when considering their predecessor, who has been associated with the loss of these freedoms. As the Biden-Harris campaign continues to rally its base around reproductive rights, the campaign has released a new campaign ad entitled “Forced,” where an OBGYN personally reflects on her need for abortion and reaffirms that this issue could have been avoided had it not been for the previous administration.

Overturning Roe v. Wade has gone beyond the right for a woman to choose, but has also critically refashioned the freedoms and civil liberties for which our democracy has become an icon. It will inevitably play a significant role in November’s election.

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