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Vol. 1 JNo. 1
NOW challenges Stevens
"This is the Douglas seat and you
just don't give it to anybody."
That was the sentiment expressed
by NOW President Karen DeCrow,
herself a lawyer, when she learned in
late November that John Paul Stevens, a jurist who has consistently
failed in his legal opinions to recognize the issue of women's equal
rights, had been nominated by President Ford to replace Senior Justice
William O.Douglas on the U.S. Sup-,
Throughout his legal career Justice
Douglas, a liberal and nonconformist, had been an ally of
women's causes. He voted for an end
to anti-abortion laws. He opposed involuntary sterilization of welfare
mothers. He was a strong adversary
against sex discrimination.
As DeCrow said, this was the
Douglas seat and it could not be given
to just anybody. Douglas' seat was
given to a man who will likely join the
Nixon court in reversing the liberal
tide dating back to Earl Warren.
In the December Senate confirmation hearings, Stevens said he was
more concerned about discrimination
against Blacks than against women.
"NOW is disgusted at this blatant
example of the white male power
structure pitting women against
minority males and making us all
scramble for the crumbs of power,"
DeCrow said. "The NOW board is
profoundly shocked that President
Ford is not able to see the significance
not only of not appointing a woman to
the bench but of appointing a man who
is so against women's rights that he
does not even understand the issues of
civil rights for women in 1975."
Although he told the Senate he believed in "the equality of the sexes,"
Stevens has done his best to see that
the Equal Rights Amendment has a
rocky road to ratification. In Illinois,
he wrote an opinion in which he said
that that state could require a three-
fifths vote—rather than a simple
majority—of the Legislature to pass
the ERA. Stevens' ruling consequently made possible the defeat of
the ERA in Illinois.
In another anti-feminist decision,
Stevens dissented from the majority
opinion which held that United Air
Lines could not fire women flight at-
tendents simply because they got married.
In a case involving hair codes and
dress codes, Stevens wrote that students should know their styles may
offend their elders.
"That line of reasoning made me
Father given child custody
"Don't punish Mary Jo Risher because she is a homosexual and more
important, don't punish Richard
Risher because his mother is
The plea of attorney Frank Stenger
Two days before Christmas, a
Dallas domestic relations court jury
took Risher's nine-year-old son away
from her not because she is an unfit
mother, but because she is a lesbian.
Testimony from three psychiatrists
and the former husband of Risher's
lover did not sway the jury.
Psychiatrist Neville Murray said
the child did not know his mother is
homosexual and that to change his
custody for a reason unknown to him
would be injurious.
Dr. Robert Dian said the child
would suffer considerable disturbance if forced to leave his mother. He
added that the child would survive the
separation, but it was not a desirable
thing to impose on him.
Dr. Delores Dyer testified that the
child might encounter some problems
because his mother is homosexual;
however, she did not believe the problems would be any greater than if the
boy lived with his father.
Richard Foreman, the former husband of Risher's lover and the father
of a 10-year-old girl who lives with
the two women, testified he did not
think his daughter was being harmed
by living with her homosexual
The only psychiatrist to offer a different opinion was the court-
appointed analyst who told the jury he
believed the boy should be given to his
father "to insure he would grow into
normal, healthy manhood."
Risher's fight for the custody of her
son has been championed by NOW.
against because she is a woman'' said
Texas State Coordinator Martha Dickey. "The case is a feminist issue."
The Dallas-NOW office's fund-
raising drive to help fight the case will
be intensified for the appeal of the
A NOW resolution states "an
individual's affectional or sexual preference is not a valid basis on which to
deny or abridge full legal rights."
Counteracting the NOW efforts in
Houston is Jeanne Elliott, a defeated
Houston City Council candidate and
"chairman" of the Houston chapter
of Happiness of Womanhood
(HOW). Elliott and her group have
been raising money to help Richard
Risher fight for custody of his son.
Risher's lawyer argued that the
child would be better off in the ' Tine
Christian family atmosphere" of the
Risher household despite the fact that
Risher had been found guilty of a
criminal offense, DWI.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: In the next
issue of Breakthrough, Susan
Caudill, the former Houston Post
reporter who is now with KERA-
TY\ Dallas, will have an in-depth
article on the landmark Risher
very nervous for feminists," DeCrow
said. In her opinion, practically every
women's issue that will go before the
Supreme Court will "offend the elders, will offend somebody's idea of
behavior for women and men
NOW criticizes Stevens' legal
opinions on women's issues because
they are based on apparent personal
philosophy—not on the facts and laws
of the cases before him. The White
House, however, praises Stevens for
being a legal conservative and for
being "strongly bound by precedent."
One would question anyone who
is "strongly bound by precedent."
There was once a precedent to deny
women the right to vote; there was
once a precedent for legal slavery
and lynchings; there was once a
precedent for segregation; there was
once a precedent against abortion;
and, without the ERA, there is still
a precedent against equal rights
The Supreme Court Justice is
perhaps the most powerful public servant. That person has the duty of interpreting the Constitution and, while
presidents are limited to two terms in
office, Supreme Court justices are
appointed for life. History has demonstrated that one out of every four
justices appointed to the court serves
at least two decades—a generation.
Stevens, who is 55 years old, can
expect to stay on the court from 20 to
Despite his conservative opinions,
Stevens, an admitted strict constructionist, had only minimal opposition
to his nomination from citizens'
groups. The Senate confirmed his
The strongest protest to his confirmation came from NOW. The following is a portion of the NOW testimony
before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
My name is Margaret Drachsler
speaking for the National Organization for Women (NOW), an organization of 60,000 women, with over 700
chapters throughout the country.
I am here to express my grave concern regarding both the nomination of
John Paul Stevens to the Supreme
Court and the manner in which it was
accomplished. This appointment was
made by a President who has not been
elected to the Presidency and who was
never elected to any office by a constituency larger than a Congressional
District. Each member of this Committee has a statewide constituency.
At the outset, NOW wishes to ex-.
press the feelings of millions of
women and men today: it is time to
have women on the Supreme Court.
After 200 years of living under laws
written, interpreted, and enforced exclusively by men, we have a right to be
judged by a court representative of all
people—more than half of whom are
women. The President owes us a duty
to begin to eliminate the 200 years of
Continued on page 12
Film grant offered
In the December issue of Houston Town & Country magazine
writer Harla Kaplan quotes filmmaker Janice Blue as saying:
"Film is a social tool. There is a real need for women filmmakers
now that we have demystified the technology of films and the
mystery of the camera. We have a responsibility to use those tools
to document our lives — if women don't, no one else will."
To break down one of the barriers to women becoming filmmakers BREAKTHROUGH in collaboration with the Rice Media
Center will ofTer a tuition ($250) plus film (up to $200) scholarship
to the Media Center's evening Community Film Workshop course
to a woman who presents the best documentary project dealing with
the changing role of women in society today. It may be a portrait of
one woman, a project examining a group of women, or one on the
relationships of women to men, other women, their families or
You do not need to send a resume, or show a portfolio of photographs or bring a film in hand. All you need is a serious commitment to communicate via film what is happening to women in the
dramatic social changes of the 1970's. This may be done in a 1-3
page project description.
In collaborating with the editors of BREAKTHROUGH on this
project, James Blue, co-director of the Rice Media Center said, "I
think it's very important that women, minorities, and other interest
groups have access to the tools of communication and use them.
The Community Film Workshop course is designed to give a practical introduction and instruction on the use of those tools."
The evening course will begin in mid-February and will run
throughout the semester. Students will work in Super-8 and l 2"
Women interested in the film scholarship should send a project
description to BREAKTHROUGH by February 4. The editorial
staff of the newspaper will make the decision based on the written
material submitted by the applicant. The film student and project
will be reported on in the March issue.