Bending Toward Justice: The latest lawsuits filed against the Trump administration

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We dedicated last week to a five-part series on the legal and political landscape around abortion rights on the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and didn't have a chance to write about several important legal challenges to some of the Trump administration's policies. Perhaps you missed them, too. Here's our roundup of those newly-filed lawsuits.

Survjustice, Inc. v. Betsy DeVos

A coalition of women’s rights organizations sued the United States Department of Education and its Secretary Betsy DeVos over significant changes to the department’s policy guidance to colleges and universities on handling sexual assaults on campus. The department’s new policy, announced last September, rolls back protections for sexual assault survivors that were put in place by the Obama administration. Those protections implemented regulations created by the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and are rooted in the language of Title IX, the federal statute that ensures equal access and protection for women and girls in higher education.

For example, the complaint alleges that DOE’s new policy allows schools to give those accused of sexual violence the right to appeal an unfavorable investigative outcome, but deny survivors of sexual assaults that same right; allows schools not to issue interim measures – like moving out of a residence or changing class schedules – to protect victims of sexual misconduct from further harassment or violence during campus proceedings; and eliminates the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual violence, allowing cases to drag on without limit.

The complaint, filed in U.S. district court in San Francisco, alleges that DeVos and Candice Jackson, the Director of DOE’s Office of Civil Rights, have expressed negative and biased opinions about women who say they have been sexually assaulted, and relied on these biased beliefs for the new policy. This is a common — and often successful — tactic used in litigation against the Trump administration, particularly where there was very little done to gather facts and build an administrative record to support the policy change.

Two of the plaintiffs — Survjustice, Inc. and Victims Rights Law Center — are organizations that advocate for and provide services to sexual assault survivors. The other plaintiff — Equal Rights Advocates — pushes for gender equality throughout society.

NAACP v. Department of Homeland Security

Represented by its Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP sued the Department of Homeland Security last week over the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Temporary Protected Status from nearly 60,000 Haitians who have been living in the U.S. since a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2010. The NAACP claims that the decision was motivated by racial animus against black people and Haitians, as evidenced by President Donald Trump’s public statements. In June 2017, Trump is reported to have said that Haitians “all have AIDS.” Earlier this month, in an Oval Office meeting to discuss immigration policy, Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and Africa as “shithole countries.”

DHS offers Temporary Protected Status to people from countries that are unsafe to return to. ABC News reported there are currently about 435,000 people with protected status in the U.S. from 10 countries — South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria, Haiti, Nepal and Yemen. Protected status for beneficiaries from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan has also been terminated.

The NAACP’s complaint was filed in a U.S. district court in Maryland.

Stewart v. Hagan

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 15 Kentucky residents against the Department of Health and Human Services over the agency’s decision that granted Kentucky a waiver to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The day after HHS granted the waiver, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed an executive order to carry out the Medicaid changes. Ten other states are also eyeing waivers from HHS to pare down their Medicaid programs.

The complaint alleges that HHS’s Medicaid waiver for Kentucky will result in a substantial decrease in coverage for the state’s residents, and therefore violates the Social Security Act that created the Medicaid program.

“The President lacks the authority to rewrite congressional statutes or to direct federal officers or agencies to effectively amend the statutes he is constitutionally required to execute,” the lawsuit says.

The National Health Law Center and Kentucky Equal Justice Center are co-counsel on the case with SPLC. The complaint was filed in U.S. district court in Washington, D.C.

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