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Say it Louder The judge who told the truth about the Mississippi abortion ban
Of all the arguments that animate the anti-abortion cause, two stand out as particularly far-fetched: that banning abortion protects women’s health and shields African Americans from genocide. Yet for years, these arguments have driven debates over state laws, served as justifications for court decisions upholding those laws, and even appeared on billboards warning women in predominantly Black communities not to kill their babies. Three years ago, Mississippi lawmakers prohibited almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy to save women, they said, from serious “medical, emotional, and psychological” damage.
It has taken a federal judge to call out these claims for what they surely are: “pure gaslighting.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, likely the most consequential abortion case in three decades. The case began as a challenge to the Mississippi abortion ban, and in 2018 landed before Carlton Reeves, an African American judge whose legal opinions—especially this one—are rich in history and disarmingly honest. Reeves struck down the law, as precedents like the 1973 landmark abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, compelled him to do, but then lambasted the Mississippi legislature for trying to justify the ban with reasons that he believed were transparently dishonest.
“Its leaders are proud to challenge Roe,” he wrote, “but choose not to lift a finger to address the tragedies lurking on the other side of the delivery room.” I spoke with Reeves recently, and his opinions out of court are as candid as the ones he delivers from chambers and the bench. “Judges are heroes,” he told me. “But for them I would not be in the position that I am or had the experiences that I did. They have the capacity to breathe life into our rights.”
Read the story on The Atlantic
More of This Meet the lawyer trying to save Roe v. Wade
To prepare for the most consequential abortion case the U.S. has seen in 30 years, Julie Rikelman began keeping two large white binders in her office, each about 3 ½ inches thick, stuffed with court papers. The veteran litigator has spent much of the fall poring over those binders, mastering the case law, and narrowing her focus to the most relevant documents. Now, a few days before she’s set to appear in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, she’s down to a single binder, 2 inches thick.
Her mastery of that material could shape the future of abortion rights in the U.S. On Dec. 1, Rikelman will argue a case that will determine the fate of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling establishing a constitutional right to an abortion. “I try not to be a ball of anxiety, but it’s definitely stressful,” says Rikelman, 49, from her home in Brookline, Mass. “I will do everything I humanly can.”
The case centers on a Mississippi law passed in 2018 prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi’s attorney general has called on the Supreme Court to uphold the ban and abolish protections established under Roe, which would end abortion access in large swaths of the country. Rikelman and a small team of lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group, are representing the only clinic left in Mississippi, which sued to stop the law from going into effect.
Rikelman has faced this kind of pressure once before. Last year she argued the first abortion case to reach the Supreme Court since the appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who’d shifted the court’s ideological balance to the right. Rikelman was challenging a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—a restriction the Supreme Court had deemed unconstitutional in Texas a few years earlier. “This case is about respect for the court’s precedent,” she declared in her opening statement. Chief Justice John Roberts felt bound by the earlier ruling, and his vote tilted the court’s decision 5-4 in Rikelman’s favor.
Read the story on Bloomberg News
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Less of This This lawyer could end abortion rights
Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, Attorney General Lynn Fitch took a meeting with her communications team. As Mississippi’s top lawyer, she would be the face of the law that could bring down Roe v. Wade, responsible for crafting and publicizing arguments on behalf of the state. That day in July, they’d gathered to discuss their promotion strategy.
Presented with several slogans designed to capture their approach to the case, the attorney general immediately selected a winner.
“Empower Women. Promote Life.”
The motto got right to the crux of Fitch’s argument, while alluding to a belief that has shaped her 12-year political career: Empower women, and they will help themselves.
In the amicus brief she submitted in July, Fitch asked the Supreme Court to use Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade. She argued that abortion prevents women from reaching their full potential.
Read the story on The Lily
Speaking Of… A newly radicalized Supreme Court will reshape our lives
Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., the Eisenhower appointee who became the liberal lion of the Warren Court, had a tradition for introducing every new batch of law clerks to the realities of the institution.
“Brennan liked to greet his new clerks each fall by asking them what they thought was the most important thing they needed to know as they began their work in his chambers,” Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel write in “Liberal Champion,” their Brennan biography. “The … stumped novices would watch quizzically as Brennan held up five fingers. Brennan then explained that with five votes, you could accomplish anything.”
Brennan, master vote-counter and vote-cajoler, was right — but there is an important corollary to his famous Rule of Five, one powerfully at work in the current Supreme Court. That is the Rule of Six. A five-justice majority is inherently fragile. It necessitates compromise and discourages overreach. Five justices tend to proceed with baby steps.
A six-justice majority is a different animal. A six-justice majority, such as the one now firmly in control, is the judicial equivalent of the monarchy’s “heir and a spare.” The pathways to victory are enlarged. The overall impact is far greater than the single-digit difference suggests.
Read the story on Washington Post
One-woman show by activist lawyer now streaming
Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?, by lawyer Irma Herrera, is a work of creative nonfiction that has been enthusiastically received by audiences around the country. The hour-long show is a mashup of personal narrative, lessons in American history, and the importance of respecting people’s names, even when they don't sound and look like “real” American names.
Watch here >
Stop the Hate Program Funding
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), in partnership with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA), is pleased to announce the availability of $20 million in Fiscal Year 2021-22 for the Stop the Hate Program.
Apply here >
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