One of the pillars of the United States model of government is that of checks and balances. Each of the three branches of government has discrete, clear powers that complement and control the powers of the other branches. (Well…ideally, anyway.) Given the many attacks on individual rights pursued by far-right legislatures citizen groups — especially directed at women and other minorities — the role of the courts to restrict that over-reach is critical to a functioning democracy.
This week we have good news in two different cases, both related to the War on Women. Courts in Oklahoma and Texas — the bright red Southwest — have blocked two right-wing actions that were clearly unconstitutional or in violation of Federal law.
In Oklahoma, the issue was the so-called “personhood” movement that would give every fertilized egg all the rights of a person under state law. Even though this effort has so far failed everywhere it’s been tried (even in Mississippi), anti-choice forces still pursue it as a favorite tactic to restrict women’s choices. These misogynists were attempting to put a personhood amendment to the Oklahoma constitution before voters. On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously shot down initiative, declaring the effort to be a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. Referring to a twenty-year-old Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the justices rejected this absurd effort in very clear language:
The mandate of Casey is as binding on this Court today as it was twenty years ago. Initiative Petition No. 395 conflicts with Casey and is void on its face and it is hereby ordered stricken.
Also on Monday, a Federal judge in Texas blocked implementation of a recently signed rule that targeted funding for Planned Parenthood. The Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner implemented the rule which said that the Texas Women’s Health Program (which uses Federal Medicaid money), would not fund services at Planned Parenthood or any other “affiliates of abortion providers.” So, even though the services being funded are NOT abortions and are critical health services for low-income women (over 130,000 in Texas!), the Texas government wants to block service to punish one provider. Lovely. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel was just as clear and succinct as his colleagues in Oklahoma:
Medicaid law is very clear; a state may not restrict patients’ choice of providers of services like mammograms and other cancer screenings, if those providers are qualified to deliver care covered by Medicaid.
Getting typically whiny, Texas officials are now threatening to cancel the entire health program rather than follow Federal law and support the health of the citizens they were elected to serve.
It should just be a few days before the Insupportable Rage Machine (TM) on the right starts screaming “activist judges!” The Oklahoma justices may even face an orchestrated attack like the one mounted against the Iowa Supreme Court for simply doing their jobs. We should thank all these officers of the court for doing what they were elected and appointed to do: uphold the law. Now let’s hope the Fecal Five can avoid making the wrong decision about the Affordable Care Act…