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Round Up of Recent Historic Court Rulings

The news has been full of historic court rulings in the past few weeks. In case you missed any of them, WCSAP has rounded up a list of recent important rulings to help catch you up on issues affecting survivors.
 

STORMANS V. WIESMAN 

The plaintiffs in Stormans v. Wiesman asked the Supreme Court to review a unanimous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which affirmed that patients' rights—not pharmacists' religious beliefs—come first. This week the Supreme Court declined review, letting stand the strong decision from the Ninth Circuit and protecting patients’ access to emergency contraception – a victorious end to 11 years of advocacy for reproductive justice. 
 

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Important Step Forward in Case Seeking to Require the Federal Government to Provide Attorneys for All Children Facing Deportation

Federal Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle has just granted The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s request for class certification. The case has grown from around a dozen named plaintiffs, to a case involving thousands of children facing deportation without an attorney.  Although Judge Zilly did not grant the request for a nationwide class, he did extend the class to the Ninth Circuit, which is the largest in the country (and includes the states of Washington, California, and Arizona). A ruling in this western region could have a national impact.  
 

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VOISINE ET AL. v. UNITED STATES 

Federal law prohibits any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a firearm. 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(9). That phrase is defined to include any misdemeanor committed against a domestic relation that necessarily involves the “use . . . of physical force.” §921(a)(33)(A). The question presented here is whether misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted with knowing or intentional) conduct trigger the statutory firearms ban. The Supreme Court held that they do.
 

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WHOLE WOMAN’S HEALTH ET AL. v. HELLERSTEDT, COMMISSIONER, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICES, ET AL.

The Court concluded that there “exists” an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion, and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the “purpose or effect” of the provision “is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” The plurality added that “[un]necessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.” This ruling articulated how the “undue burden” test established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) should be calculated and may make it easier to overturn future restrictions on abortion. 
 

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DOLLAR GENERAL CORPORATION, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. MISSISSIPPI BAND OF CHOCTAW INDIANS, ET AL.

Due to a split decision by the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that upheld tribal court civil jurisdiction over non-Native people who sexually abuse Native children on tribal land stands. 
 
 

FISHER v. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN ET AL.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin reaffirms that diversity along various lines, including racial diversity, fosters significant educational benefits on college campuses. In its decision, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas admissions policy that uses race as a factor in a percentage of its admissions.  This is significant, since this case could have been a broader attack on the fundamental value of diversity. The findings in this case keep in place a legal framework on which universities across the country have relied, and by extension, many businesses that seek to hire a diverse workforce.
 
 

UNITED STATES, PETITIONER v. MICHAEL BRYANT, JR.

In 2005, Congress passed legislation that created a new federal crime, in response to an epidemic of domestic violence against Native American women. The law makes it a felony, punishable by up to five years, to commit domestic violence in Indian country if the perpetrator is a repeat offender who has already has been convicted of domestic violence at least twice in federal, state, or Indian tribal courts. 
 
The respondent in this case, Michael Bryant, Jr., has multiple tribal court convictions for domestic assault. Bryant tried to have the federal charges against him dismissed on the ground that he was not represented by a lawyer in any of the tribal court proceedings. The Sixth Amendment, which gives indigent defendants in state and federal criminal cases where a term of imprisonment is imposed the right to legal representation, does not apply in tribal court proceedings. The Supreme Court rejected the Bryant’s argument, holding unanimously that, because Bryant’s tribal court convictions were valid when they were entered, they could also be used to help convict him on federal charges without violating the Constitution. This judgment reinforces tribal sovereignty around violence against women cases as well as other crimes perpetrated in Indian Country.  
 

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Reviewed: March 21st, 2017