Richard Wolf

Richard Wolf writes for USA Today

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Supreme Court May Wade Back Into Abortion Debate

by Richard Wolf 11-13-2015

Image via Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock / RNS

Nearly a quarter-century after its last major ruling on abortion created a fragile balance between women’s rights and government restrictions, the Supreme Court appears ready for a rematch.

And like the last time, the debate would unfold in the midst of a presidential election.

The first act could play out as early as Nov. 13, when the justices may decide whether to hear a challenge to tough new limits placed on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas. The restrictions — forcing doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to measure up to outpatient surgery centers — threaten to leave the state with just 10 clinics clustered in four population centers and along the Mexican border.

Obamacare's 'Contraceptive Mandate' Faces New Challenge in Supreme Court

by Richard Wolf 10-30-2015

Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS 

Sixteen months after ruling narrowly that companies with religious objections cannot be forced to pay for employees’ contraceptives, the court faces a chorus of cries from religious charities, schools, and hospitals seeking to get out of the birth control business altogether.

The justices are scheduled to review several petitions Friday asking them to overturn federal appeals court decisions that would force the non-profit groups to opt out of the “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act, rather than receiving the blanket exclusion granted churches and other solely religious institutions.

If they agree to hear one or more of the cases, it will mark the fourth time in five years that President Obama’s prized health care law has come before the high court. And it will put the battle between religious freedom and reproductive rights front-and-center in next year’s presidential race.

Supreme Court Says Kentucky Clerk Can't Deny Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

by Richard Wolf 09-01-2015

Image via Mike Wynn / The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal / RNS

The Supreme Court refused Aug. 31 to let a Kentucky county clerk deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of what she said were her religious beliefs.

The ruling, made without comment or any apparent dissents, is an early indication that while some pushback against gay marriage on religious grounds may be upheld, the justices won’t tolerate it from public officials.

Supreme Court: U.S. Passports Must Say ‘Jerusalem’ Not ‘Israel’

by Richard Wolf 06-09-2015
Photo courtesy of Shai Halevi / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Shai Halevi / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

The Supreme Court on June 8 declined to insert itself into the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian issue by second-guessing U.S. policy on Jerusalem.

Ruling just a few months after a feud between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the justices refused to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to have their passports changed to reflect Israel as their birthplace, as Congress demanded more than a decade ago.

In denying the challenge waged by the Jewish parents of a 12-year-old almost since his birth in 2002, a majority of justices heeded the State Department’s warning that a simple passport alteration could “provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world.”

Supreme Court Boosts Workers Who Claim Religious Bias

by Richard Wolf 06-01-2015
Photo via Emily Hardman, Becket Fund / RNS

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2015. Photo via Emily Hardman, Becket Fund / RNS

The Supreme Court ruled June 1 that companies cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees for religious reasons, even if an accommodation is not requested.

The decision was a defeat for preppy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, which refused to hire a Muslim girl in 2008 because she was wearing a black hijab, or head scarf. It could benefit job applicants and employees who need time off for religious observances as well as those who adhere to strict dress codes.



Lessons from Massachusetts on Gay Marriage — and Divorce

by Richard Wolf 05-19-2015
Photo via Mary Schwalm / USA Today / RNS

Hillary Goodridge, right, and Julie Goodridge talk about their hope for the future. Photo via Mary Schwalm / USA Today / RNS

Same-­sex marriage is so last decade in Massachusetts. These days, the earliest pioneers in gay and lesbian matrimony are demonstrating how to raise kids, retire — even divorce.

As the Supreme Court wrestles with what Chief Justice John Roberts last month labeled a redefinition of marriage, the couples who successfully challenged the Bay State’s ban on gay marriage in 2003 are juggling work and retirement, raising kids who turn down Ivy League colleges, and holding joyful family reunions.

Gay Marriage Fight Centers on What’s Best for the Kids

by Richard Wolf 04-23-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Mark Makela / RNS

A boy holds up a sign during a rally by gay rights supporters in Harrisburg, Pa. in 2014. Photo via REUTERS / Mark Makela / RNS

It is perhaps the most controversial component of the national debate over same-sex marriage: Who should raise children?

The judge who wrote the decision upholding gay marriage bans in four Midwest states gave at least some same-sex couples a shoutout last fall, even while ruling against them. His ruling is being appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments April 28.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s words have done little to quell the war of statistics and academic studies that has raged for years over the relative child-rearing skills of gay and straight parents.

Dozens of briefs submitted to the court cite scores of scientific studies on the subject. Some show that children raised in same-sex households fare no worse than those raised by mothers and fathers. Others say the differences are stark in areas ranging from emotional development to high school graduation rates and success at work.

The judge who looked most closely at the two sides’ arguments wasn’t Sutton but U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who conducted a two-week trial last year to consider April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse’s lawsuit against Michigan’s gay marriage ban. He came down firmly on the side of studies showing no difference between gay and heterosexual child-rearing.

Researchers claiming negative outcomes for children of same-sex couples “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields,” Friedman wrote.

While rejecting the “fringe” label, some conservatives acknowledge that sufficient research has not been done to show that same-sex parenting harms children’s development. They contend the question remains open to debate.

5 Arguments to Watch as the Supreme Court Considers Gay Marriage

by Richard Wolf 04-20-2015
Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

A man holds a gay pride flag in front of the Supreme Court. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

State bans on same-sex marriage have been justified based on judicial precedent, states’ rights, regulating procreation, optimal child-rearing, and centuries-old tradition. Those reasons also have been loudly debunked.

When it convenes April 28 for one of the most historic oral arguments in its 226-year history, the Supreme Court will hear all of those arguments and more from five lawyers representing gays and lesbians on one side, and the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee on the other. But the justices also will have read what dozens of federal trial and appeals court judges have written.

Here’s a look at five major arguments cited by those appeals court judges in their rulings. In addition to the four Midwest states whose bans were upheld, the circuit courts struck down similar bans in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

1. Judicial Precedent

The first hurdle in the gay marriage debate facing lower court judges has been what to make of a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that denied marriage rights to a gay couple in Minnesota.

The one-line summary decision in Baker v. Nelson upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage “for want of a substantial federal question.” At the time, marriage was seen as the exclusive purview of the states.

Because of the wealth of judicial rulings that have come in the following four decades, most federal judges have reasoned that Baker does not tie their hands.

“Since Baker, the court has meaningfully altered the way it views both sex and sexual orientation through the equal protection lens,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in the Virginia case, Bostic v. Schaefer. The panel’s majority noted that the justices did not even mention the 1972 case when they struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges now before the Supreme Court, however, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit differed with all the previous rulings.

“This type of summary decision, it is true, does not bind the Supreme Court in later cases,” he wrote for his panel’s 2-1 majority.

“But it does confine lower federal courts in later cases.”

2. State's Rights

Lonely Widower Takes Lead in Landmark Gay Marriage Case

by Richard Wolf 04-14-2015
Photo via The Enquirer / Carrie Cochran / USA Today / RNS

Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. Photo via The Enquirer / Carrie Cochran / USA Today / RNS

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur spent more than two decades living quietly together. They were never gay rights activists. Most of their friends weren’t even gay.

“John and I always joked that we were bad gays,” Obergefell recalled, “because the vast majority of our friends are straight couples.”

But when the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013, that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, two new activists suddenly were born — one of whom now stands at the threshold of legal history.

Fifteen days after the high court’s ruling — with Arthur in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease — the couple flew to Maryland on a medically equipped jet to be legally married on the tarmac. Then they flew back home and learned their marriage would not be recognized in Ohio.

“All I thought was, ‘This isn’t right. I’m p—ed off,'” Obergefell, 48, says now, sitting in the silence of his art-filled condominium in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine district.

Republicans, Religious Groups Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Gay Marriage Bans

by Richard Wolf 04-07-2015
Photo via Mark Fischer / Flickr / RNS

Photo via Mark Fischer / Flickr / RNS

Republican officials and religious organizations dominate a growing list of more than 60 groups urging the Supreme Court to uphold state bans against same-sex marriage.

The flood of “friend of the court” briefs arriving at the court by last week’s deadline easily made the upcoming case the most heavily lobbied in the court’s recent history. Earlier this month, more than 70 briefs were filed by proponents of gay marriage, including one signed by more than 200,000 people.

Sixteen states led by Republican governors were among those calling for the bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to be upheld. Among them were nine states where same-sex marriage bans have been struck down by federal courts — an indication that the battle there and elsewhere will be renewed if the justices uphold the bans.

“How much better for this issue to play out, state-by-state, with citizens locked in urgent conversation,” one of the briefs says.