Last week, Americans United’s office was abuzz, thanks in large part to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the high court came down with disappointing rulings in Trump v. Hawaii, the legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, and NIFLA v. Becerra, a case challenging a California law that prevented fake women’s health centers from using religiously motivated, deceptive tactics to trick women into believing they’re receiving comprehensive medical care. That day AU and allies also filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration and the University of Notre Dame for conspiring to use religious beliefs to deny countless women access to contraception.
Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he plans to retire from the Supreme Court, handing Trump an opportunity to appoint a justice would could have a troubling record on church-state separation.
AU’s summer interns were there to see – and protest – it all. We marched with members of NARAL Pro-Choice America outside the Supreme Court to protest the NIFLA ruling, joined the Justice for Muslims Collective for the “We Will Not Be Banned” rally and sprung into action to research the judges on Trump’s short list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Here are some of our reflections from the past week:
Amy Fallaw, Advocacy Intern: Last Tuesday during the rally at the Supreme Court to protest Trump’s Muslim ban, something clicked for me. I realized just how much the ban is harming thousands of real people. It took hearing the stories of real Muslim Americans in person for me to understand the individual magnitude of what is happening.
Until then, I felt as though I had no connections to the Muslim community. But on Tuesday I learned that could not be further from the truth. I’m a queer, Mexican-American woman. I live in fear because there’s a chance that my birth control won’t be covered under my insurance anymore, that I’ll never be able to see my Mexican family members again and that when I want to get married and have kids, it’ll be more of a legal battle than a union of love. Latin Americans and Muslims share the same fear: We stay awake at night because we are scared for the unity of our families. The Trump administration is trying to divide the nation. All Americans must remain united and not forget that we are all deserving of every right.
Rebecca Fate, Legal Intern: After last week, many people are disheartened, and rightly so in the wake of so many blows to some of our most fundamental ideals. The truth is, however, that the events leading up to this week were a long time coming – the result of long-standing efforts to demonize others for their beliefs, to break down the wall of separation between church and state and to push an agenda that strips away people’s most personal and fundamental choices.
But I find solace because while it may seem like our battle is taking an increasingly steep upward turn, it is still the same battle, and our weapons in that battle should remain the same: kindness and compassion for one another and strict vigilance against hate, discrimination and oppression in all its forms. I, like Americans United, plan to keep fighting.
Emily Midyette, Communications Intern: I was deeply disturbed by the Supreme Court’s opinion in Trump v. Hawaii. Trump’s Islamophobic statements, such as calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” cannot be ignored when reviewing the Muslim ban. Refusing people entry to America because of their religious identity is wrong.
I was moved by Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, which called out the majority’s rule for what it was: “dangerous.” While at the We Will Not Be Banned rally, many of the speakers – including members of Congress – recognized the same. I am grateful to have been at the rally and here in D.C. during this pivotal moment in America’s history. I will continue to work hard – in hand with Americans United – to ensure that members of all religions are welcome here in America.
AU interns Mackenzie Price, Nicole You and Amy Fallow (second, third and fourth from left) join AU staff members outside the Supreme Court to protest the Muslim ban.
Mackenzie Price, Legal Intern: AU’s lawsuit against Notre Dame, filed last Tuesday, hit a personal chord with me. As someone who uses birth control for medical reasons and simultaneously studies at a religious university, I was alarmed to hear that Notre Dame had conspired with the Trump administration to deny its students and staff birth control coverage. I immediately thought of the potential repercussions: other religiously-affiliated organizations, like the university I attend, could follow suit, and in doing so completely disregard our reproductive rights and health needs. AU’s filing against Notre Dame and the Trump administration gave me great relief.
Though this week’s events – in particular the NIFLA decision and Kennedy’s retirement – showed that the battle for reproductive rights is ongoing, it was reassuring to know that organizations like AU continue to fight for all women’s health, equality and religious freedom.
Alexandra Willingham, Legal Intern: I’m very interested in using the courts to effect social change and protect existing victories. But last week highlighted the key flaws with this strategy, as the Supreme Court handed down rulings denying people fundamental freedoms. Now the court is poised to become even more conservative, moving it that much further away from the majority of Americans’ values. I still believe in progressive lawyers fighting for our values, but I’m reminded of the critical value of AU’s work lobbying legislatures and in field campaigns. Without electoral participation and holding our representatives accountable, we won’t have good law or favorable courts.
I was inspired by the coalition of groups that came together to protest on the steps of the court last week; the unity and energy were palpable. As for AU’s lawyers, not even filing a new case that day stopped them from turning out to exercise their rights and duties as citizens and advocates for similar causes. I may have come to law school to use the law to fight for issues I care about, but true cause lawyering now, more than ever, means expanding our work beyond the courts.
Nicole You, Advocacy Intern: After witnessing the events of the past week unfold, from the NIFLA decision to the Muslim Ban being upheld to the resignation of Kennedy, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. Some of the basic freedoms that I previously thought would never be threatened are now under attack while the powers of the president only continue to expand.
But the more I reflect, I do not feel fearful nor demoralized; I am resolutely hopeful for the future. I have seen all of the activism that has emerged out of these dark times and I can sense that this emboldened spirit of activism is not going anywhere anytime soon. There are more rallies and marches being held, more women and persons of color running for office, more young people showing up and speaking out than ever before. So all we can do is continue to fight for what’s right: continue to march, to rally, to protest, to speak out, to fight back. These are abnormal times, and it’s our duty to make sure they do not become the norm, to ensure that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice.
(Top photo: AU Attorney Claire Hillan, center, joins AU interns Nicole You, Amy Fallow, Rebecca Fate, Mackenzie Price, Alexandra Willingham and Emily Midyette, from left, to protest the NIFLA ruling outside the Supreme Court.)