People wearing masks on bus.

Flaws in the Textualist Argument Against the CDC Mask Mandate

By Stefan Th. Gries, Michael Kranzlein, Nathan Schneider, Brian Slocum, and Kevin Tobia

In Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. v. Biden, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s transit mask order, which was issued to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2, exceeds the agency’s statutory authority, and struck down the mandate through a nation-wide injunction.

The district court’s reasoning exemplifies modern textualism. It focuses on the text of the 1944 Public Health Services Act (PHSA), which the Biden Administration claims authorizes the CDC’s transit mask order. The court relied heavily on the statute’s “ordinary meaning” and especially one word: “sanitation.”

Does the evidence support the court’s linguistic conclusions? Our team — of linguists, social scientists, philosophers of language, and lawyers — took a second look. We conclude that the district court’s approach fails on its own textualist terms. It gives the impression of selective reading of the linguistic record, rather than the careful investigation of meaning that textualism claims to champion.

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Brooklyn, New York, United States - JUNE 13 2021: Protest in Brooklyn, NY for trans youth rights.

Misleading, Coercive Language in Bills Barring Trans Youth Access to Gender Affirming Care

By Arisa R. Marshall

On Friday, a federal judge temporarily enjoined part of a new Alabama law that would make it a felony for physicians to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. The law had been in effect for less than a week.

This is only the most recent development relating to a raft of anti-trans legislation sweeping the country. More than twenty bills that would impose life-changing healthcare restrictions on transgender children have been introduced in statehouses nationwide over the past two years, threatening the wellbeing of transgender youth and communities. Most of these bills aim to entirely ban gender-affirming medical care for minors, including surgeries, prescription puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapies.

These laws are detrimental to the mental, physical, and social health of children. They are dismissive of the experiences of transgender children and teenagers, misleading, and manipulative.

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woman with iv in her hand in hospital. Labor and delivery preparation. Intravenious therapy infusion. shallow depth of field. selective focus

A Birthmother Reflects: The Perpetuation of Adoption Myths

By Angie Swanson-Kyriaco

During opening remarks for Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on December 1, 2021, Justice Amy Coney Barrett stated that the “obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy” and the “burden” of parenting are eliminated through adoption.

It is no surprise that a conservative, anti-abortion, adoptive parent would have an over-simplified opinion about adoption, expectant parents, and birth parents. In her remarks, Justice Coney Barrett demonstrated a common lack of understanding about the complexities of adoption, and a blithe unawareness about adoption ethics and the need for adoption reform.

As someone who worked for over a decade in the field of reproductive health and rights, and now as the executive director of one of the only nonprofit organizations in the country that exclusively serves first/birth mothers who have relinquished infants for adoption, I know both how detrimental the lack of access to abortion can be, and how significant the lifelong impact of an adoption can prove.

And, as a first/birthmother, I have a deep personal understanding of the significant trauma of placing my own child for adoption, and the lifelong grief and ambiguous loss that follows relinquishment. 

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Lexington, Kentucky / United States - 06 28 2020: Fire Station 22 in Lexington, Kentucky in the early morning idle hours.

Safe Haven Laws and Anti-Abortion Politics

By Laury Oaks

During the Supreme Court oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, Justice Amy Coney Barrett acknowledged that previous cases addressing abortion rights relied on a consideration of the burden of parenting and forced motherhood. For Justice Coney Barrett, this consideration was a non sequitur: “Why don’t safe haven laws take care of that problem?”

The so-called “safe haven” laws to which Justice Coney Barrett was referring were passed in every state from 1999 to 2009, to designate places where or people to whom an unharmed baby may be legally and anonymously relinquished and then adopted. A Florida safe haven advocacy group argues, “Safe Haven babies are given a chance for a future. A Safe Haven baby might become the President of the United States, a Supreme Court Justice, a scientist finding a cure for cancer or most important, a great mom or dad to their children.”

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WASHINGTON D.C., USA - SEPTEMBER 27, 2020: A Protestor carries a sign that says "Our Vote, Our Voice, Our Choice," at a protest against the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

The False Choice: Adoptee Voices in the Fight for Reproductive Freedom 

By Michele Merritt

As legal scholars have predicted since the current composition of the United States Supreme Court became apparent, abortion restrictions are increasing; if Roe v. Wade is overturned with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision this coming June, over half of the states in the country will likely ban abortion entirely

During the Dobbs oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested that adoption is a viable alternative to abortion. Her defense of overturning Roe, in other words, amounted to a belief that it’s not a violation of women’s rights to increasingly restrict access to abortion because adoption is always an option. 

But adoption is not a viable alternative to abortion. This is why several adoptees and I founded Adoptees for Choice, a coalition of adoptees speaking into the reproductive rights debate and rejecting the appropriation of our lived experiences without our consent. 

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Judge's gavel, handcuffs and scales on grey background, flat lay with space for text. Criminal law concept.

The Reproductive Violence of Family Policing & Separation

By Dorothy E. Roberts

In the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett presented parental relinquishment as an alternative to abortion access. In the leaked Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Alito referred to this idea approvingly.

We asked Professor Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights at the University of Pennsylvania, to highlight some of the problems with that claim. 

Drawing on her recently published book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families – and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World (Basic Books, 2022), Roberts explains in the conversation below how the child welfare system uses family separation (or the threat thereof) as a means of policing Black families (as well as Native families, other non-white families, and poor families). This, she adds, is a result of the state’s failure to invest in families in fundamental ways, and is a clear manifestation of reproductive violence.

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CABA, Buenos Aires / Argentina; March 9, 2020: international women's day. Women shouting slogans in favor of the approval of the law of legal, safe and free abortion.

Lessons from Latin America as the U.S. Regresses on Reproductive Rights

By Alma Beltrán y Puga

As the Supreme Court of the United States moves closer to overturning Roe and Casey, looking south to Latin America highlights the egregiousness of these developments.

Recently, Mexico and Colombia have provided landmark decisions that recognize a woman’s freedom to choose over her body is a fundamental right. Both rulings use strong arguments to frame abortion as protected under a constitutional umbrella that enshrines the right to equality and non-discrimination, and to health and reproductive freedom, as fundamental liberties.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Long COVID and Physical Reductionism

By Leslie Francis and Michael Ashley Stein

Like plaintiffs with other conditions lacking definitive physiological markers, long COVID plaintiffs seeking disability anti-discrimination law protections have confronted courts suspicious of their reports of symptoms and insistent on medical evidence in order for them to qualify as “disabled” and entitled to statutory protection.

We call this “physical reductionism” in disability determinations. Such physical reductionism is misguided for many reasons, including its failure to understand disability socially.

Ironically, these problems for plaintiffs may be traced to amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that were intended to expand coverage for plaintiffs claiming disability discrimination. Three provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) are appearing especially problematic for long COVID patients in the courts.

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American Soldiers Salute. US Army.

Vaccine Mandates in the Military: Litigation Over Religious Exemptions

By Kaitlynn Milvert

In August 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) put in place requirements for service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Litigation has since ensued over the military branches’ restrictive approach to religious exemptions to vaccination.

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed into one such case: the Court granted the government’s request for a partial stay to allow the Navy to continue to use vaccination status in making deployment and assignment decisions while the litigation proceeds.

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