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Flurry of Regulatory, Judicial Rulings Block Regressive Efforts, Show Progress

It’s been a pretty good day for the regulatory state. In addition to the Justice Department’s effort to block the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, they also held up South Carolina’s new voter ID law, on the grounds that it would disenfranchise voters:

In a letter to the attorney general, the voting rights chief asked questions including how many registered voters don’t have a state driver’s license or ID and how they will be notified of the new law’s requirements, what types of evidence will be accepted to prove a voter’s identity and how those who can’t reasonably secure an ID will still be allowed to vote.

This law in South Carolina is part of the GOP’s war on voting, which has ramped up in state legislatures this year. The bill is an ALEC special, and versions have gone across the country. So if DoJ won’t pre-clear South Carolina’s, they should intervene in every state where the Voting Rights Act gives them jurisdiction and these onerous, disenfranchising voter suppression bills are being passed. Democratic senators have been demanding an investigation along these lines, and DoJ is taking the first steps.

But that’s not all. Women have much to thank for two key judicial rulings, the first in Texas:

A federal judge today found that the Texas “sonogram law” violates the First Amendment and blocked enforcement of important provisions of the statute. This law would have forced women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo a medically unnecessary and intrusive transvaginal sonogram. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which brought the case, the was certified against the law as a class action, and a preliminary injunction was granted until those areas of the case can be resolved. The Center filed a class action lawsuit against the new ultrasound requirements on June 13 on behalf of Texas medical providers performing abortions and their patients.

Judge Sam Sparks ruled that doctors cannot be penalized if they do not show a woman seeking an abortion the sonogram images, describe those images to her or play the sound of the fetal heart, if the woman declines this information.

And the second in Kansas:

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Kansas to restore federal family planning funds to Planned Parenthood as the case is appealed.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten ruled that the funding should be provided to Planned Parenthood on a quarterly basis, not the monthly allocation sought by the state.

Planned Parenthood had threatened to close its Hays, Kan., clinic on Friday unless it learned by then that its federal family planning funds would start flowing again.

AND, the NLRB, moving toward a deadline when the appointment of Craig Becker expires and the agency will not have a quorum for rulings, just made it easier for nursing homes to unionize, among others:

It is the latest in a flurry of moves favorable to unions that the board completed before the term of its chairwoman, Wilma B. Liebman, expired on Sunday. The board released two other pro-union decisions on Tuesday, both reversing decisions issued under President George W. Bush.

In the nursing home decision, the board ruled that the union, the United Steelworkers, could organize just the 53 certified nursing assistants at a nursing home in Mobile, Ala., as part of one bargaining unit, without including the home’s 33 other nonprofessional workers, including janitors, cooks and file clerks […]

One of the two other decisions reversed a board ruling from 2007, when the Bush administration was in power. That ruling allowed workers opposed to a union to seek a decertification vote immediately after an employer granted recognition to a union after showing that a majority of employees had signed cards supporting a union. (Typically 30 percent of employees need to petition to hold such a vote.) The majority wrote that henceforth workers must wait “a reasonable period” — likely six months to a year — after a union gains recognition to hold a decertification vote.

The third ruling reversed a 2002 board decision, also during the Bush era, that created an immediate window for a decertification vote after there was a change of ownership at a unionized company. Under the new ruling, the union relationship would be protected for at least six months before a decertification vote could be held.

The rulings and actions today show the importance of the separation of powers, to provide oversight, fairness and equality over state and federal decisions. It also shows how regulatory agencies acting in the public interest and consistent with their mandates can both block regressive attempts and make forward strides.

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David Dayen

David Dayen