SCOTUS Turns Back on Immigrants, Women & Communities of Color

By Rosa García, Tanya Goldman, and Madison Hardee

When we turn to the courts, the Supreme Court is often the last line of defense for striking down bad laws and upholding our civil and human rights. Last week, the Supreme Court issued three decisions that will have devastating impacts on women, immigrants, workers, and communities of color. With these decisions, the highest court in the country demonstrates the magnitude of what’s at stake as the Trump Administration remakes the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement last week.

Muslim Travel Ban

In Trump v. Hawaii, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court reinforced the President’s efforts to vilify travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries by upholding his blatantly discriminatory Muslim ban. The case concerned the President’s authority to restrict entry to individuals from certain countries. In upholding the ban, the Court turned its back on children and families who are fleeing violence and persecution to seek safety in the United States.

The Muslim ban runs contrary to American jurisprudence and religious plurality, eroding the federal government’s responsibility to uphold basic protections for immigrants, regardless of their national origin or religion. The court’s decision sets a dangerous precedent that will continue the prolonged separation of Muslim families who seek to reunite with their loved ones in the United States. Simply put, the decision legitimizes discriminatory executive actions and policies.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor referred to the Supreme Court’s previous discriminatory sanctioning of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II in Korematsu v. United States. Sotomayor correctly noted that the Court “redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu, and merely replaces one ‘gravely wrong’ decision with another.”

Public Sector Labor Unions

The court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ignored decades of precedent and will impact workers, particularly Black women, by striking at their opportunities for economic advancement. By eliminating “fair share” fees from workers who benefit from representation by public sector unions, the Court favors corporate interests over working people. Evidence shows that all workers – not just unionized workers – earn less in states that do not allow fair share provisions. The amicus brief that CLASP joined noted that women, and particularly Black women, are disproportionately employed in public sector professions.

It’s no coincidence that the decline in union membership has coincided with wage stagnation and the decline of the middle class. Unions boost workers’ wages, improve working conditions, and help tackle pervasive racial, gender, and LGBTQ inequality. Union representation reduces gender and race wage gaps and improves wages for immigrant workers. Public sector unions raise workplace standards and the quality of employee benefits for everyone, not just for members, and have created a path to the middle class for generations of firefighters, teachers, social workers, nurses, and others. Today, millions of workers already face the reality of jobs with low pay. The Court’s decision imposes more obstacles on the already difficult path out of poverty.

“Pregnancy Centers”

In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the Court made access to reproductive health more difficult by eliminating a critical California law that ensured women had accurate, reliable health care information. Without disclosure requirements, unlicensed pregnancy centers are not held to basic consumer protection standards and are legally permitted to confuse and misinform women trying to make time-sensitive health care decisions. By ruling against these protections, the Supreme Court has legalized deceptive and burdensome practices that will fall hardest on women of color and women working in low wage jobs, who already face unacceptable barriers to high-quality care.

More than one in eight women live in poverty, and poverty rates are particularly high for women of color. Women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and more likely than men to hold part-time positions without benefits and stable schedules. Furthermore, people of color are more likely to involuntarily work part time, earning substantially less than full-time workers. For women already struggling to make ends meet, it’s a heavy burden to take time off and arrange for child care to visit a health care provider. Having to schedule multiple absences to receive actual medical care is both an inconvenience and could literally put their jobs and livelihood at risk. Women of color also experience stark health disparities in family planning, unintended pregnancy and pregnancy-related complications. The root causes stem from a long history of racism and discrimination, including lack of access to high-quality, affordable health care.

Collectively, these decisions are not an aberration, but a signal of more dangerous decisions to come. CLASP will continue partnering with advocacy and legal organizations to protect the rights and wellbeing of immigrant families, people of color, workers, women, and LGBTQ individuals. We urge the White House to respect the country’s need for a new justice who will uphold hard-won rights and freedoms.