27 June 2016

An Interesting Day for Women's Rights

Two stories related to women's issues dominate the news here in the US this morning, or at least should. I haven't had caffeine yet, so in an isolationist sense I'll pretend that stuff going on in Europe over Brexit isn't happening. There's a whole ocean between us, so it can't hurt me, right?

The most influential figure in twentieth century women's sport might have died between the time I write this and the time you read this. Pat Summitt turned women's basketball from an artifact of Title IX into a competitive sport with far more intellectual honesty than the men's college game ("one and done"? really?). Without stooping to any of the chicanery of the men's game... or some of her male competitor-coaches. Alzheimer's took her off the court a few years ago, but that doesn't change matters. Until Pat Summitt made it clear that women could consistently, competitively, and entertainingly play team sport under the same conditions as men, women's sport was marked by occasional bright spots and exhibitions of individual talent. Even women's soccer owes her a debt.

And then there's the other thing, the probable impetus for Texit. In a 5—3 vote, the Court struck down Texas's improper, religiously motivated attempt to eliminate (or at least unduly restrict) abortion clinics (PDF).

Well, I wish that's how the opinion had read. As it actually issued, it concerned technical matters of "undue burden" and standards of review and the importance of post hoc rationalizations masquerading as deceptive policy concerns in a state government that is incidentally dominated by theocrats. Many of those theocrats were elected under circumstances that we would consider outrageous in an "emerging democracy" such as the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. (Comparison to Brexit and the histories of Northern Ireland and Scotland requires more footnotes, nuance, and consideration than I'm ready for on Monday morning.) The Court utterly failed to engage with the context, however, limiting itself to what in a criminal matter would be dismissed by law-and-order-and-fascism-on-the-side advocates as "mere technicalities" — questions of civil procedure, admissibility of expert evidence, and weight of the evidence.

At some point, there's a moral imperative to stop relying on weaseling and stomp on the muskelid's owner. I believe that point is long past with theocracy in general and abortion restrictions (among other issues) in particular. There's a disturbing parallel to the history of how slavery matters were actually litigated from the 1820s on, and that's somewhere I don't want to go again. Yes, the Court has limited power... but some of that power is to explicitly warn that improper motivation matters, and it diminishes its credibility by not objecting to context.

Theocrats won't see any of this. They'll see an attempt by nontheocrats to restrict their privilege of imposing their beliefs on everyone else. I'd almost say "let them," but Texit would be at least as difficult as Brexit... and, frankly, far less likely to achieve a damned thing.