On the Hill Updates: Friday, June 18, 2021
Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice
Senate Committee considers Women’s Health Protection Act
On June 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA, HR 3755/S 1975). During the hearing — “Protecting Roe: Why We Need the Women’s Health Protection Act,” which you can watch here — expert witnesses Professor Michele Goodwin (University of California Irvine School of Law), Dr. Jamila Perritt (Physicians for Reproductive Health), and storyteller Tohan explained how abortion bans and restrictions disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and are a painful example of how systemic racism permeates our federal laws and regulations. Professor Goodwin noted that “[e]nacting WHPA will be a substantial improvement in the wake of unrelenting attacks on reproductive health and rights. The challenges to reproductive health, rights, and justice in the US are longstanding and manifold. Forced and coerced sterilization, lack of sex education in high schools, criminal prosecutions and sanctions against poor pregnant women, and high maternal mortality are part of our landscape and history.” NCJW was proud to submit to the record a letter signed by 101 national and state faith-based and civil rights organizations, a letter signed by over 300 Jewish clergy, and NCJW organizational testimony supporting this critical bill.
Upcoming For the People Act vote
The For the People Act (S1), which passed the House of Representatives in March, is heading for a vote in the Senate next week, following a possible softening toward the bill by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key vote. This transformational democracy bill would strengthen and restore voting rights, offer new protections for voters, end the dominance of big money in politics, and implement anti-corruption, pro-ethics measures to clean up government.
- Take Action! Call your senators and tell them you support the For the People Act.
- Go further! Click here to find how you can plug in near you (this resource will be updated with new opportunities on an ongoing basis).
SCOTUS upholds ACA for the third time
On June 17, the Supreme Court threw out the case of California v. Texas for lack of standing, upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and marking the third major challenge to the landmark health care legislation that the Court has rejected. In a 7-2 decision, the Justices ruled that the 18 Republican-led states and two individuals who challenged the ACA’s individual insurance mandate could not sue because they had not suffered the type of direct injury that is required to file a lawsuit. Justice Samuel Alito authored a dissent joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, insisting that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that it cannot be severed from the rest of the ACA — meaning that, in Justice Alito’s opinion, the entire ACA should have been struck down. Fortunately, particularly for the 31 million people who were in danger of immediately losing their health coverage, the ACA remains the law of the land. NCJW was proud to play a role in the enactment of the ACA and will continue to work to improve upon the law’s successes in order to achieve universal and equitable access to care and coverage for all.
SCOTUS allows discrimination against same-sex couples in Philadelphia
On June 17, the Supreme Court ruled that foster care agencies in the city of Philadelphia can discriminate against same-sex couples. A 2018 article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer detailed the policies of two taxpayer-funded foster care agencies — Catholic Social Services (CSS) and Bethany Christian Services — against placing children with same-sex couples. As a result, the city’s foster care system soon stopped working with the agencies, citing Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and is included in all city contracts. CSS and several foster care parents then sued the city, claiming that this decision violated their First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free speech. These claims were rejected by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court reached the opposite unanimous decision, holding that Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with CSS unless they agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Court took specific issue with the wording of the city’s nondiscrimination requirement, which permits exceptions at the “sole discretion” of the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services. As such, the Justices reasoned that the inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the nondiscrimination requirement not generally applicable in violation of Court precedent set in Employment Division v. Smith.
While this ruling thankfully did not recognize a general right to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom and was tied to the narrow circumstances of this case and the Philadelphia ordinance, NCJW is extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court chose to allow discrimination to continue in Philadelphia. Every child deserves to grow up with a loving family, not to be kept in foster care or a group home while welcoming parents are disqualified by an arbitrary religious test because of who they love. NCJW will continue to work to ensure LGBTQ equality and inclusion by supporting laws, policies, and programs that protect equal rights and opportunities for all people, the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and the right to birth, foster, adopt, and parent with dignity.
- Take Action! Urge your senators to pass the Equality Act, which would add explicit protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to our civil rights laws.
Diversity of judicial nominees coming down the pike
On June 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted (16-6) to send Tiffany Cunningham’s nomination to the Senate for a floor vote. Nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit, Cunningham is a registered patent attorney before the US Patent and Trademark office with over 20 years of experience in patent and intellectual property law. And, in the coming weeks, the committee will also vote on the nominations of Eunice Lee to the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Veronica Rossman to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Both Lee and Rossman have spent their careers as public defenders, with Lee representing more than 380 clients over the past 20 years and Rossman representing over 250 clients in the last 12 years. NCJW supports the nominations of Tiffany Cunningham, Eunice Lee, and Veronica Rossman.
- Take Action! Tell your senators to confirm Tiffany Cunningham, Eunice Lee, and Veronica Rossman to the federal bench.
President signs bill designating Juneteenth a federal holiday
This week, Congress passed — and today, the president signed — the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act (S 475), establishing June 19 as a federal holiday. Known as “Juneteenth,” the holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered and about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.
AG Garland reverses harmful asylum decisions
This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated three Trump-era rulings limiting asylum, particularly for women, children, and LGBTQ people. The reversal means that people escaping domestic violence, gang brutality, and persecution due to family relationships will once again have a fair shot at seeking asylum in the US. Advocates hope that this is just the first step toward creating an asylum system in line with international human rights standards.
Title IX to protect transgender students
On June 16, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a Notice of Interpretation explaining that it will enforce Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on gender identity. The Department’s interpretation stems from the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, issued exactly one year ago, in which the Court recognized that it is impossible to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity without discriminating against that person based on sex. NCJW welcomes this interpretation which aims to ensure all students can succeed in school regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.