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On Tuesday (3-26), Texas Attorney General Dan Morales announced he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision made last week by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that would wipe out affirmative action programs implemented to increase diversity at the University of Texas. Since the ruling could have dramatic effects on institutions of higher learning across the nation, Morales said he wants to work with the Supreme Court in developing an affirmative action policy that is workable. Stating that he believes that most Americans are not racist and do support the goals of diversity, Morales indicated that if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, he will seek a stay of last week’s ruling to allow admissions policies to go on as is custom at UT rather than having to conform to the 5th Circuit guidelines.
Pre-eminent constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe of Harvard University has agreed to help Texas prepare its appeal and to argue the case if the Supreme Court decides to hear it. The case would probably begin in the fall of 1996 with an opinion to follow no sooner than spring of 1997. The Justice Department has called the 5th Circuit ruling unconstitutional and has stated it will back the University of Texas in an appeal.
3/27/1996 - House to Send Abortion Ban Bill to Clinton
In the first move to ban any form of abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the House of Representatives was expected to pass legislation Wednesday (3-27) that would outlaw a rare form of late-term abortion used to save the life of the woman carrying the fetus. The procedure, technically referred to as intact dilation and evacuation, is used less than 500 times a year when necessary to protect the health of a woman facing severe health problems due to the pregnancy.
After much deliberation, President Clinton announced last month that he will veto the measure; supporters of the ban will likely not have enough votes to override the veto. On Monday (3-25), the National Council of Catholic Bishops placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post distorting the reasons for the procedure and urging President Clinton not to veto the ban. Abortion rights supporters denounced the ad and have stated their concern that outlawing this form of abortion could lead to further, more broad restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom.
Stating that same-sex unions may deserve legal recognition, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer vetoed a bill that would ban same-sex marriages. It is unlikely that state legislators will have enough votes to override the veto. The legislation is similar to bills in other states where measure supporters hope to exempt the state from recognizing gay marriages if they are legalized later this year in Hawaii, as is expected.
Colorado was boycotted after approval of a 1992 anti-gay rights measure to ban laws from protecting gays from bias in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The ballot measure was struck down by courts and never took effe
3/26/1996 - Barroom Rape Case Gets First Acquittal
Jurors in the New York state Supreme Court deliberated for four hours before finding Mark Hartle, 29, not guilty of first-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse. Hartle was accused of a gang rape in a restaurant bar in upstate New York the night of October 26, 1991 and had pled guilty to lesser charges in 1993 after admitting having sexual intercourse with the 22-year-old woman who was unconscious from alcohol. Fines and court costs for each of the four men pleading guilty amounted to $840 with no jail time, infuriating women's rights advocates. Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994 superseded the district attorney and appointed the state attorney general as special prosecutor. Dennis C. Vacco, successor to former attorney general G. Oliver Koppell, still wants to try the other defendants on felony charges.
California State Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) is authoring Assembly Bill 2204 to create an affirmative defense to California Penal Code Section 273a. Under statute 273a, it is either a felony or a misdemeanor if a parent or guardian fails to protect a child from abuse, but the section allows charges against a battered woman who is not able to protect even herself from abuse. Unintended consequences of this section could include punishing a victim of domestic violence who is incapable of acting to defend the child. Kuehl's bill would provide a defense for a woman who believes that acting to stop the abuse will lead to substantial bodily harm to herself or the child if the belief is considered reasonable under the circumstances.
3/26/1996 - Gay Couples Tie the Knot in San Francisco
Close to 200 couples participated in a ceremony Monday (3-25) to publicly acknowledge their status as domestic partners. Although the unions in the nation's first mass "gay marriage" ceremony are not recognized by state law, couples felt their gestures were symbolic to their relationships and also to members of the California Assembly where a bill is pending to outlaw same-sex marriages.
Some 3,000 couples, most same-sex, have registered as domestic partners under the city's 1991 ordinance which allows for visitation rights in hospitals, shared health plans for city employees, and bereavement leave for city workers when a partner dies. Mayor Willie Brown performed the Monday ceremony, approved by city supervisors in January, which featured a stage decorated with flowers and an American flag, and a 15-piece orchestra.
3/26/1996 - Justice Department Intervenes in Rape Case
A woman using the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act to sue Virginia Tech and two football players on rape charges will get support from the Justice Department. The Department decided to intervene in the $10 million case; one of the defendants has challenged the constitutionality of the law which allows victims of sexual assaults to contend their civil rights were violated and to seek civil damages.
Claiming that the harassing and physically abusive actions of Lance Cpl. W.H. Beckwith do not merit federal charges, federal officials announced they will not pursue charges of civil rights violations for Beckwith's conduct on January 8. When Beckwith turned on the sirens of his unmarked car and began following motorist Susan Antor or Miami, his patrol car video recorder automatically turned on and recorded Beckwith dragging the woman out of her car, shouting obscenities, and pushing her face down on the road. FBI agents viewed the tape and decided not to pursue charges, although Beckwith still faces an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division.
Antor's lawyers indicate they might file suit against the white South Carolina state trooper. Antor, who is black, maintains the attack was racially motivated. Beckwith was fired after Antor complained to authorities about the incident.
3/25/1996 - Tomb of the Unknowns Gets First Female Guard
A military police officer from California took her place in Army history Friday as the first woman to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Guarding the tomb is an honor bestowed upon the best of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Army's oldest and one of its most elite units.
Sgt. Heather Johnsen joined the Army in August 1992 and was a personnel administrative assistant before coming on active duty. She has served in Korea and at Fort Monmouth, N.J. After receiving the prestigious tomb guard badge, Johnsen began a 24-hour shift with other volunteer guards who walk back and forth in a regimented pattern and have an intricate changing of the guard ceremony.
On Tuesday (3-25), voters in Oakland, California will vote on a city charter amendment that supporters call a "pre-emptive strike" against the anti-affirmative action "California Civil Rights Initiative" on the November ballot to amend the state constitution. Measure G in Oakland would require the city to adjust its race-based and gender-based contracting and hiring programs every two years to ensure equitable policies. Oakland wants to retain and expand affirmative action programs in public contracting but worries about efforts to legally protect the programs amid efforts to tear them down. Although the San Francisco Chronicle article only illustrated inequities in contracting with regard to race, Measure G appears to apply to gender inequities as well.
Having supported the deceptively title "California Civil Rights Initiative" to ban affirmative action programs for months, presidential candidate Bob Dole announced his position publicly for the first time. At a rally sponsored by supporters of the initiative -- including Gov. Pete Wilson and businessman and University of California Regent Ward Connerly -- Dole announced his support for the measure Sunday (3-24) in what is called a "direct challenge to President Clinton" who has denounced the CCRI.
The announcement reiterated the strong role affirmative action will likely play in the November presidential elections. A recent poll showed that California voters still favor the CCRI, but that its support wanes when people realize that it will not only outlaw affirmative action programs for women and people of color, but will also gut sex discrimination law in the state where such laws are strongest and where many of the largest cases have been won against discriminating companies. Dole has introduced one of the many anti-affirmative action bills currently in Congress, and there are similar measures circulating in 17 other states.
Supporters of abortion rights groups and right-to-die groups have been threatened with excommunication by a Roman Catholic Bishop in Lincoln, Nebraska. Members of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz' Lincoln diocese must drop their membership in 12 groups by May 15 or they will no longer be able to receive Holy Communion and will be excommunicated one month later. The targeted groups include Catholics for a Free Choice and Planned Parenthood; one member of the latter called the warning "totally ridiculous" and indicated a court battle might ensue if the bishop tries to enforce it. A spokesperson for Bruskewitz said only the pope can overturn the decision
3/22/1996 - War Crimes Indictments Issued by Tribunal
The first indictments for war crimes allegedly committed against Bosnian Serbs were issued Friday (3-22) by an international tribunal. Three of the four indicted are Bosnian Muslims. The indictment details accounts of murder, torture, and repeated rapes of women at a prison camp in central Bosnia
3/22/1996 - Privacy Fight Poses Threat to Rape Victims
Nassrine Farhoody runs the Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts and has vowed to keep clients’ rape counseling records confidential even if it puts her in contempt of court. After a judge had ordered her to turn the records over by Wednesday afternoon (3-20), appeals Judge Raya S. Dreben ruled Thursday (3-21) that Farhoody could stay out of jail until April 4 when her appeal will be heard by the full Appeals Court or by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
Rape crisis agencies say the case could scare rape victims out of counseling and could jeopardize agencies’ image as a refuge for victims. Lawyers for David Fuller, 36, a man accused of rape, requested the disclosure of the files hoping to find discrepancies in the woman’s story that could clear Fuller of the crime. The defense argues that if the victim had indicated feelings or shame or humiliation while in counseling, she must have consented to the act; Farhoody says that logic amounts to blaming the victim. Farhoody’s lawyer hopes the eventual appeals will help establish a constitutional privacy right for such records. Currently, only Pennsylvania and a few other states have significant restrictions against allowing such records in court.
A top Justice Department official said Thursday that the Department is considering joining an appeal against a federal appeals court decision that ruled a University of Texas affirmative action program was unconstitutional. Calling the ruling "wrong" and an "incorrect decision," Associate Attorney General John Schmidt said it is likely the Justice Department will back the University if it appeals to the full court of appeals or to the Supreme Court. The University of Texas stands by its affirmative action program which it says is necessary to maintain a diverse student body. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a 2-1 decision on Monday (3-19) that could affect all institutions of higher education unless overturned by a higher court.
The Human Right Campaign and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) staged a rally on Capitol Hill to ask Congress for a federal law making it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in the workplace. Some two hundred parents and friends of gays and lesbians attended the event to make the statement that "discrimination against gay people is a family issue," according to Human Rights Campaign communications director David Smith.
In 1994, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the measure that would bar employers from taking sexual orientation into account when hiring, firing, or promoting workers. The bill has 21 supporters in the Senate and 131 in the House. Elizabeth Birch, president of the Human Rights Campaign, urged the rally attendees to be persistent in the fight, noting it took 38 years of lobbying for women to win the right to vote.
3/21/1996 - Discrimination Persists in Boy Scouts
A judge denied a 12-year-old girl’s plea to be allowed to join the Boy Scouts while her legal case against the group process. Katrina Yeaw of California applied to the Boy Scouts in April 1995 because she, like her twin brother, wanted to learn canoeing, camping, and other outdoor skills. She was upset to be rejected solely because she was a girl, and has since sued the group for violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. Sacramento Superior Court Judge John Lewis rejected the motion Wednesday and said the law did not apply to a non-business organization such as the Boy Scouts.
Yeaw’s lawyers plan to appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals and hope to win a change in the national policy of the Boy Scouts of America. They are also seeking damages.
On January 8, 1996, Sandra Antoine Antor was stopped, pulled from her car and abused by South Carolina state trooper Lance Cpl. W.H. Beckwith. A black woman from Miami, Antor says a white woman would not have been treated in the same manner by the white Beckwith, and her lawyers say they expect to file a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations. Beckwith was fired after the incident and has since apologized.
Stating "we know women love to clean," Gen. Yuri Glazkov predicted that female astronaut American Shannon Lucid will clean up and brighten up the Russian space station Mir during her five month stay expected to begin Saturday (3-22). Speaking at a NASA news conference, Glazkov, deputy commander of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, then stated that women can be better workers and that he wasn’t worried about there being any "curtains on the windows" due to a female presence, but was glad to "anticipate that the fans will be taken of in a more timely manner."
Though Lucid says she has never experienced discrimination during the past year at the cosmonaut training center, other women astronauts working with Russians in space have reported receiving an apron and being told that space fight is "hard work, not a women’s work." When a French woman arrives on Mir in July, it will be the first time two women live on the station at the same time.
3/21/1996 - Probe Finds No Discrimination Against Whites at UC Berkeley; Texas Universities Worry About Diversity on Campus
On Wednesday (3-20), the University of California Berekley released a report stating that a federal investigation cleared the school of seven-year-old charges that its admissions policies discriminated against whites. The probe also found that academic performance improved under the campus’ affirmative action program, and did not decline, as alleged by critics.
The report came two days after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the University of Texas could not pursue affirmative action strategies to increase diversity on campus. UT administrators said that black and Hispanic admissions might drop by half or more if the university has to conform to the ruling. Supporters of affirmative action programs hope the Supreme Court will hear the case and rule differently.
"Obviously, if this is upheld, all selective universities will have difficulty in trying to achieve the goal of a diverse student body," said UT president Robert Berdahl. "These are the kind of institutions that produce the leaders for their states and the country, and for their students to be educated in predominantly white, segregated environments, is not, I think, in the best interests of the students."
3/20/1996 - Court Rules Against Texas Diversity Policy
On Monday (3-19), the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a University of Texas admissions policy is unconstitutional and that public universities may not justify affirmative action programs based on the benefits of racial diversity. The decision will affect virtually all institutions of higher education taking racial diversity in account in admissions.
The court ruled for the plaintiffs, four white students who argued that they were unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas law school. The university defended its admissions practices that were implemented to achieve goals of racial diversity and compensation for past discrimination, while the Court maintained one could not assume that racial diversity was indicative of diversity of experience and opinions. The article in the Washington Postmade no mention of affirmative action programs benefitting women. Three of the four plaintiffs were male.
In a 3-2 decision Tuesday (3-19), the state Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that the military cannot recruit at the University of Connecticut Law School because its "don't ask, don't tell" policy violates a state anti-discrimination law. Citing the military's "current discrimination against gay men and lesbians," the ruling upheld a 1994 Superior Court judge's ruling that barred the school from violating a 1991 anti-discrimination law that prohibits state agencies from opening their facilities to discriminatory employers. The state had appealed the ruling in October 1995, but did not attempt to make an argument that the military's policy toward gays is not discriminatory.
3/20/1996 - Anglea Davis Rebukes Connerly's Public Attack
University of California Santa Cruz professor Angela Davis called "outrageous" claims made by UC regent and California businessman Ward Connerly. In a letter mailed to Davis and faxed to reporters, Connerly, also chair of the self-titled "California Civil Rights Initiative" to ban affirmative action in the state, accused Davis of using her position at the university to defeat the CCRI. Connerly insinuated that Davis had encouraged students to harass Connerly at a recent Board of Regents meeting.
Davis, who was told of the letter before receiving it, said that Connerly's claims did not merit response and that she was "shocked he would release a letter of this sort that has so much misinformation." Commenting on Connerly's implication that Davis used "her perch as a member of the women of color research cluster," to organize students to defeat Connerly's bill, Davis said, "I have never in my entire career attempted to incite any student to violence, but I have encouraged students and workers to organize, which I think is a democratic right. It's quite obvious that (Connerly) is using his position as a member of the board of regents to promote this very dangerous and conservative assault on the rights of the people of this state."
3/19/1996 - New Contraception Hotline Reaches Thousands
Inaugurated February 14, 1996, the Emergency Contraception Hotline had received over 6000 calls in its first three week, according to a March 8 update by its sponsors. The hotline provides callers with information about emergency contraception and the names and telephone numbers of health care providers who can prescribe it. Operated by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, the hotline is available nationwide 24 hours a day in English and Spanish. The number is 1-800-584-9911, and a directory of providers can also be accessed on their Web site at http://opr.princeton.edu/ec/ec.html.
3/19/1996 - Supreme Court Rules on Reproductive Rights
The Supreme Court decided Monday (3-18) to Review Limits on Anti- Abortion Protests. The Court also sent a case back to a federal appeals court in which Arkansas officials attempted to deny Medicaid-funded abortions for women impregnated by rape or incest. The 8th Circuit Court had wrongly invalidated all of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution instead of only invalidating the abortion provision. The Supreme Court has rejected similar appeals from state officials in Nebraska, Colorado, and Pennsylvania in the past three months.