TPM Cafe: Opinion

During the 2013-2014 Term, the Supreme Court will review several cases that concern legal rights of importance to women--including access to abortion, equal opportunity in education, protection against housing discrimination, and the ability to use the Equal Protection Clause to challenge discrimination in public employment. In addition, the Court will review an important case involving the President's ability to fill vacancies on a body that protects workers. Finally, the Court may decide whether for-profit businesses can refuse to provide employee insurance coverage for contraceptives based on asserted religious objections. The decisions in these cases may have a significant impact on women's rights in all of these important arenas.

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For decades, debates over the Constitution divided along familiar lines. Progressives professed faith in a "living Constitution," while conservatives claimed fidelity to originalism. In recent Terms, however, this dynamic has changed. The Court's progressive wing - led first by Justice John Paul Stevens and, since his retirement, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and aided by leading academics and practitioners - have begun to stake their own claim to the Constitution's text and history.

Just last Term, in Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Ginsburg used the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment to chastise the Court's conservatives for ignoring the Constitution, second-guessing Congress, and gutting the Voting Rights Act. Similarly, in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) case a year earlier, Justice Ginsburg drew upon the Constitution's text and history to defend Congress's power to enact the ACA, explaining that the Founders gathered in Philadelphia to create a national government with sufficient power to address genuinely national problems like the health care crisis. It is with good cause, then, that Justice Ginsburg recently declared, "I count myself an originalist too."

There are a number of themes that unite the cases on the docket for the Court's upcoming term. For example, commentators are right to highlight the aggressive calls by conservative legal activists to overturn longstanding Court precedent. But there's another important theme that ties together many of this Term's biggest cases - the growing left/right battle over the Constitution's original meaning.

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Full disclosure: my wife works at CMS (and this post is entirely my views, not hers), I worked on the president's re-election campaign, and politically, I wish to see the PPACA law in general and the new marketplaces specifically succeed.

This has been an important week in the history of health care in the United States and for technology professionals working in government and on related services. Here are some thoughts on healthcare.gov and the state-based marketplace websites from my perspective as someone who was been developing and deploying web-based software applications for many years and who has experience with large systems and high-traffic sites.

As I write this there is a weird mixture of angst, elation, anticipation, control-freakery, sympathetic embarrassment, hope, and generalized anxiety about healthcare.gov and the state-based marketplace sites among supporters of Obamacare and also among left-leaning technologists. On the one hand, affordable health insurance is now available to any American; on the other, availability doesn't necessarily mean you can get it, due to errors during the sign-up process on healthcare.gov and the state-based marketplace sites which have been widely reported. There is a sense that, while this is primarily a technology problem to be fixed, the political problem is larger and may risk the implementation and success of the overall law--if enough people perceive the marketplace sites to be broken, support for the law--already tenuous according to some polls--will erode, and the law's opponents' argument that implementation needs to be delayed or even defunded will be persuasive.

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To many, the words "Gay Christian" are, at best, in tension with each other. For others, particularly those on the political right, those two words are mutually exclusive: being gay or supporting LGBT rights is utterly inconsistent with being Christian. But, as the recent viral video of outgoing Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd demonstrates, it is quite possible for Christians to embrace same-sex marriage and welcome gays and lesbians into their congregations. Pope Francis himself said this month that gays and lesbians "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." Many gays and lesbians themselves are Christians. Yet somehow, in American political discourse, a group of religious politicians have managed to co-opt the term "Christian" and to use "Christian values" as a euphemism for policies that deny gays and lesbians their civil rights.

To suggest that one cannot be a member of the gay and lesbian community, or support their inclusion and legal rights, and be Christian is simply false. A number of Christian churches have expressed their support for inclusion and even the right for same-sex couples to be married, not only in the eyes of the state but also within their own religious congregations. The Episcopal church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Church in Christ all permit the blessing of same-sex unions. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that over half of Roman Catholics and white mainline Protestants support marriage equality. These persons of faith do not think of their support for gay rights as excluding them from the status of "Christian."

Part of the perception problem is the use of "Christian" as some monolithic, uniform viewpoint. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are nearly 247 million practicing Christians in America; diversity of opinion is inevitable. Imagining that all Christians feel the same way about gays and lesbians also risks alienating gays and lesbians who are themselves persons of faith. For many, the process of accepting their sexual orientation is a complex, confusing process through which someone must risk family and friends to be true to themselves.

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Over last weekend, Anita Perry--the wife of Texas governor Rick Perry--told a reporter that abortion was a "woman's right, just like it's a man's right if he wants to have some kind of procedure. But I don't agree with it and it's not my view." About women that chose to have abortions, Mrs. Perry also said that "If they want to do that, that is their decision; they have to live with that decision."

Whether deliberately or not, Mrs. Perry's comments contained a strong echo of Pope Francis's recent statements about homosexuality, an acknowledgement that it's not right for one person to tell another what personal decisions they should make in their lives. And while she has declined to make any additional public statements following last weekend's remarks, her husband has: "From time to time we'll stick the wrong word in the wrong place, and you pounce upon it," Governor Perry told reporters earlier this week. Of course, just what "wrong word" went in what "wrong place" remains unclear; and exactly why reporters shouldn't take note when the partner of a staunchly anti-choice politician indicates that she might have other thoughts about abortion is also unclear.

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In 2010, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach poetry in Hyderabad, India. The honor was a mark of distinction for Tufts as well as a thrilling opportunity for me.

To my surprise, accepting the Fulbright resulted in my being technically terminated from my job as poetry lecturer. I expected to return to Tufts - however, as a non-tenured instructor who works on a yearly contract, being in India for a semester meant that I was no longer an employee.

My Tufts medical and dental benefits evaporated. My fellow tenured-faculty Fulbright recipients from Tufts did not experience this treatment.

Just last week, I joined my colleagues at Tufts University in voting to form a union with Adjunct Action, a project of the Service Employees International Union.

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Happy birthday, income tax. One hundred years ago, on Oct. 3, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the federal income tax that Congress had passed with bipartisan support. Our Congress is celebrating the anniversary with a purely partisan government shutdown to block implementation of a health care law because it slightly increases taxes on rich people.

There is one good thing about the shutdown: it is a reminder of why we needed progressive taxation in the first place.

The original purpose of a progressive tax was to prevent a small minority of super-rich people from holding democratically elected governments hostage to their whims. The first American to argue for progressive taxation, Thomas Paine--yes, that Thomas Paine--thought that democracy could not survive without it. Paine recognized that a king was nothing more than a rich man who inherited enough land and money to buy a whole government. He thought that was reason enough to support a progressive tax on inherited wealth. The Declaration of Independence was a good start, but it was not enough just to declare your independence from the king once. You also had to keep the next would-be king from getting that much richer than everyone else. Otherwise, you would find yourself under the thumb of a new despot.

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According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time are paid only 77 cents to the dollar their male counterparts are paid. Over the last decade, the gender pay gap has held steady at 23 percent, and it shows no sign of budging. Women and their families can't afford that loss. We need fair pay not just for women, but for our nation's economic vitality.

Part of the pay gap is explained by the types of jobs in which women typically work, the number of hours they work, and the gaps in labor force participation that occur when family issues take women out of the workforce. But the entire pay gap cannot be explained away by these factors. A recent AAUW analysis found that among full-time workers one year after college graduation--well before most men and women start having children--women were paid, on average, just 82 percent of what their male peers were paid. After controlling for hours, occupation, college major, and other factors that affect pay, the gap shrank but did not disappear. An unexplained pay gap of 7 cents remained, and it is likely that bias accounts for at least some of this disparity.

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Progressives cheered when California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation last week raising the state's minimum wage from $8 to $10, effective beginning in 2016. While it's a step in the right direction -- and one that the federal government should follow suit in -- California's wage hike only scratches the surface of what state and federal policymakers should be doing to improve conditions for low-wage workers. And given that women make up two-thirds of all minimum wage workers, there is a deeper need for policymakers to address the multiple economic challenges women face.

Raising the minimum wage by a small margin of $2 more per hour still puts many women and families at risk of living in poverty -- especially in California, where the cost of living is among the highest in the nation. True, some argue that increasing the minimum wage can lower the number of available jobs for all workers. However this has not been the case in many low wage sectors such as care work and restaurant work -- sectors that have been growing steadily in California and throughout the country. Instead, such minor increases to the minimum wage do not keep pace with inflation and can still make basic expenses a challenge for workers.

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Amid the frenzied posturing of the last 72 hours before the shutdown, a bill claiming to ensure that active-duty military would receive the pay and support they need to continue to provide for our national security zipped rapidly and uncontroversially through both houses and the President's pen. The bill seemed to meet Senator Ted Cruz's call for the House to pass "mini-CRs" [continuing resolutions] to fund aspects of government it liked - Pentagon, FAA, pandacam - while letting the rest close.

This willful blindness about how government actually works - indeed, how large corporations, technology and just about everything functions in our age of complexity - meets its full irresponsibility in understanding what it takes to support the men and women who have volunteered to take a bullet in the name of each of us, our Constitution, and yes, our democratically-elected government, each and every miserable one of them. These are just a few examples:

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