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NCJW Courts Updates

Week of 4/5

SCOTUS declines to hear workplace religious accommodations case

The US Supreme Court declined to hear two cases in which employees accused companies of violating federal anti-discrimination law by insufficiently accommodating requests for time off to meet religious obligations. The cases involve two men, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tennessee and a Seventh-day Adventist from Florida, both of whom sued in federal court alleging religious discrimination in violation of Title VII. The lower courts rejected each claim of illegal religious bias. Currently, federal law requires workplaces to make accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs as long as it doesn’t present an “undue hardship.” However, the Court has interpreted this to mean any accommodation that requires more than minimal effort is an “undue hardship” for employers. NCJW supports protecting the free exercise of religion and religious minorities and endorses the Do No Harm Act to restore the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to its original intent of protecting the freedom of and from religion.

Week of 3/29

Trump-appointed judge: Professor has First Amendment right to misgender transgender students

In Meriwether v. Hartop, a professor at Shawnee State University challenged the school’s policy on requiring professors to use students’ correct pronouns. The professor had consistently misgendered a transgender woman in his class and ultimately called the student a sexist epithet. After the student complained, the school launched a Title IX investigation, concluded he violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy and issued a warning in his file. In response, the professor sued the school, alleging that its policy violated his First Amendment rights of speech and religion. The District Court dismissed the suit, but a panel of two Trump-appointed judges and one Bush-appointed judge reversed this decision and sent the case back down to the lower court. In his opinion, the Trump appointee wrote that any nondiscrimination policy, “could force a person to endorse views incompatible with his religious convictions.” NCJW is committed to ending discrimination against LGBTQ students, opposing attempts to use “religious liberty” as a smokescreen for discrimination, and supporting full and equal rights for all

SCOTUS grants review in procedural case involving anti-abortion law

In Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, a clinic challenged Kentucky’s procedure ban effectively prohibiting nearly all abortions after 15 weeks. Kentucky’s health secretary had initially defended the state’s law until it was struck down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron then requested to join the case and defend the abhorrent law in his place, but the Sixth Circuit refused. Cameron appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted his request to decide whether he should have been allowed to intervene in the case. Notably, the Justices will not weigh in on the constitutionality of the bill or whether the Sixth Circuit must reconsider its decision to strike down the law. NCJW opposes all measures that restrict access to abortion, shutter clinics and prevent people from accessing care.

Week of 3/22

DC Circuit Dismisses Appeal of Decision that Invalidated Trump Administration’s Limits on Food Assistance Eligibility.

Since 1996, unemployed able-bodied people without dependents are generally not able to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for more than three months in any three-year period when they aren’t employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week. However, states have had the discretion to waive this rule if there were not enough jobs for SNAP recipients. Under the Trump Administration, in November 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture sought to limit states’ ability to waive this rule, which would have cost approximately 700,000 Americans their SNAP benefits. In response, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City sued to overturn this policy and in October 2020, the DC District Court struck it down. Under Trump, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had appealed the decision, but under Biden, the DOJ requested for the appeal to be dismissed. Accordingly, the DC Circuit Court dismissed the appeal on March 24. NCJW submitted a comment opposing this harmful rule and applauds the Biden administration for ensuring nutrition assistance for those in need.

9th Circuit Holds States Can Restrict Open Carry of Firearms.

On March 24, in Young v. Hawaii, the 9th Circuit Court upheld Hawaii’s limits on openly carrying firearms in public.  Hawaii’s law bans residents from openly carrying firearms unless they have a license to do so. To obtain a license, a person must prove they need a firearm because of “reason to fear injury” to “person or property.” In the opinion, the court states, “There is no right to carry arms openly in public; nor is any such right within the scope of the Second Amendment.” Thus, the court holds that states can restrict the open carry of firearms. This case will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court. NCJW welcomes this decision that will prevent senseless gun violence and keep our communities safe.

Week of 3/1

Court strikes down CDC eviction moratorium during global pandemic

On February 25, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ruled that the moratorium on evictions put in place by the CDC during the pandemic is unconstitutional, temporarily halting the moratorium nationwide. This case was brought forward by landlords and property owners, arguing the policy encroached on their landlords’ rights under state law.  In a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on people’s physical, mental, and economic health, the court’s decision to place landlord’s pocketbooks above tenants’ livelihoods is abhorrent.

Likewise, on February 24, the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas indefinitely stopped the deportation freeze that President Biden put into place for the first 100 days of his administration. This decision is a crushing blow to immigrants’ rights, meaning “that families will be torn apart and that people who have the opportunity to seek relief in the United States will be returned to danger.” Notably, both of the judges who issued these decisions were Trump appointees. NCJW supports the CDC’s eviction moratorium; comprehensive, humane, and equitable immigration, refugee, and asylum laws, policies, and practices; and a fair, independent, qualified, and diverse federal judiciary.

SCOTUS again jeopardizes public health in the name of “religious freedom”

On February 26, the Supreme Court blocked Santa Clara’s policy barring indoor gatherings, including church services, in a 6-3 decision. The Court cited last month’s ruling in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom as the sole authority for deciding this case, which is strange given that there was no majority opinion in that case and that Santa Clara’s policy differs from the statewide policy that was previously struck down. Indeed, the Court’s continued use of a skewed view of “religious freedom” to override state and local officials’ emergency response efforts is alarming. NCJW knows that, in Judaism, pikuach nefesh (saving lives) takes precedence over pretty much everything else we might do. And, right now, that means choosing not to come together — including for religious services — so we avoid harm to anyone, especially those at most risk.

SCOTUS hears major voting rights case

On March 2, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. In this case, the Democratic Party challenged two Arizona policies for creating discriminatory barriers to voting in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The first prevents Arizona officials from counting votes accidentally cast in the wrong precinct, and the other bars community organizations from assisting voters by returning sealed ballots. During Tuesday’s oral arguments, the six conservative justices appeared likely to uphold the two Arizona laws but unwilling to completely gut Section 2.

Our vote is our vote and our democracy is at its strongest when every voice is heard. As such, voter suppression and discrimination is a dire threat to the heart of our American democracy. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court discarded Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states and localities with a history of discrimination to secure approval from the Department of Justice before enacting voting laws. Since Shelby, Section 2, which prohibits discriminatory voting policies, is our only tool to break down barriers for voters and it must remain intact. NCJW is watching this case closely and is deeply concerned about the steady erosion of the Voting Rights Act by state legislatures and the courts.

Week of 2/22

SCOTUS to hear challenge to Title X domestic gag rule

On February 22, the Supreme Court announced that the Justices will hear a trio of cases challenging the Title X domestic gag rule next term. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. Due to the previous administration’s domestic gag rule, clinics funded through Title X can no longer refer patients for abortion care and are forced to maintain “clear physical and financial separation” between services funded by the government and any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions. What’s more, providers are prohibited from discussing the full range of pregnancy options and are required to refer all pregnant patients for prenatal care.

Make no mistake: the previous administration’s dismantling of Title X threatens the health of 4 million women, children, and families, particularly people with low incomes, people of color, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals who primarily rely on the program. While President Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services to review eliminating the domestic gag rule, there is no timeline for when this decision will be made; particularly during a global health crisis, Title X patients cannot afford to wait for these cases to play out in the Court and need the Biden-Harris administration to take immediate action. NCJW supports the complete restoration of the Title X program.

SCOTUS to hear challenge to public charge rule

On February 22, the Supreme Court also announced that it will hear a case challenging the Trump administration’s expansion of the public charge rule. A federal judge previously blocked this expansion in 2019, and the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.

The rule, which allows the US government to deny permanent residency to anyone deemed likely to be a “public charge” (i.e. dependent on the government), is not new. Until 2019, government assistance under this rule only encompassed cash benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income. However, the public charge rule under the Trump administration radically expanded the list of programs that are considered in the government’s determination to include food assistance, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and beyond. If deemed a public charge, immigrants can be prevented from entering the US, receiving a green card, or sponsoring family members. NCJW advocates wrote hundreds of comments opposing the rule, which is especially cruel during a pandemic when all people, regardless of their immigration status, may need additional health or economic assistance.

Week of 2/8

SCOTUS continues to prioritize “religious freedom” over public health

On February 5, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a California law banning indoor religious services in the state’s counties hardest hit by the pandemic while allowing the state to continue banning singing at such services and limiting attendance to 25 percent capacity. The majority was splintered, with four separate opinions filed amongst the six conservative justices. However, they all agreed that the right to worship indoors outweighed the tremendous public health risks.

Disturbingly, the conservative justices supplanted the expertise of epidemiologists with their own beliefs on what restrictions are necessary to curb this year-long, deadly pandemic, ignoring expert testimony showing that indoor religious services pose a significant risk to spreading the virus. As Justice Kagan so aptly wrote in her dissent, joined by Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor, “[i]n the worst public health crisis in a century, this foray into armchair epidemiology cannot end well.” NCJW knows that, in Judaism, pikuach nefesh (saving lives) takes precedence over pretty much everything else we might do. And, right now, that means choosing not to come together — including for religious services — so we avoid harm to anyone, especially those at most risk.

Texas temporarily blocked from kicking Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

On February 3, a Texas state district judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of a Texas law barring Medicaid coverage of health care services received from Planned Parenthood. Previously, Medicaid patients were given until February 3 to find new doctors after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Texas officials’ decision to exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid program. In response, Planned Parenthood filed suit asking for a six-month delay on the policy to grant patients time to do so amidst a global pandemic. Notably, this reflects a trend amongst conservative states attempting to block Medicaid enrollees from receiving services from providers like Planned Parenthood that also perform abortions. On October 13, 2020, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case surrounding a 2018 executive order from South Carolina’s governor doing exactly this, permanently blocking the policy. Other lower federal courts have affirmed that Medicaid enrollees have a right to seek care from any qualified provider they choose. NCJW opposes all policies that restrict access to abortion and reproductive health care providers, shutter clinics and prevent people from receiving care.

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