On the Hill Updates

On the Hill Updates: Friday, May 21, 2021

Federal Courts

SCOTUS to hear major abortion case

On May 17, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenging a Mississippi law banning all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is a direct challenge to the constitutional right to abortion, first recognized by 1973’s Roe v. Wade and repeatedly reaffirmed by federal courts over the past 50 years. Indeed, both the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the district court struck down Mississippi’s law as unconstitutional, noting that the state legislature’s “professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting.” Clearly, some members of the Court elected to take this case because of its threat to reproductive freedom as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

If the Supreme Court ultimately rules in favor of this cruel Mississippi law, there will be devastating consequences nationwide. Even where abortion is available in theory, it can be difficult or impossible to obtain in actuality; structural barriers resulting from systemic racism and social and economic inequities often make it inaccessible or unavailable. This disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities; young people; low-income people; people living with disabilities; rural communities; immigrants; and LGBTQ individuals. Should Roe be overturned, 24 states have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion, ten of which would be immediately “triggered” to ban all or most abortions. NCJW advocates will not stop our work to ensure that every person can make their own moral and faith-informed decisions about their bodies, health, and future.

  • Take Action! Urge your lawmakers to support equal access to abortion coverage in health insurance.

SCOTUS rules against small reform to criminal legal system

This week, the Supreme Court ruled on Edwards v. Vannoy, a criminal justice case NCJW was following this term. The case examined whether a previous ruling in 2020 establishing the right to a unanimous jury verdict in both federal and state court cases, Ramos v. Louisiana, could be applied retroactively. In a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Kavanaugh, the Court found that it could not. Justice Kagan authored a dissent, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. The decision is limited only to Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts in recent years. It means that hundreds of people found guilty by non-unanimous juries before the Ramos decision cannot seek to have their convictions overturned. NCJW is disappointed in this ruling, which limits the impact of the Ramos decision.

President issues access to justice executive order

On May 18, President Biden signed an executive order calling on the federal government to expand access to legal representation and the courts with a focus on ensuring access for lower-income individuals. In addition, the order directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to outline how it will expand access to justice and re-establishes the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to identify ways to address challenges facing legal services organizations and access.

Presidential Commission on Supreme Court holds first public meeting

The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court, co-chaired by Bob Bauer, Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law and a former White House Counsel, as well as Cristina Rodriguez, Yale Law School Professor, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ, held their first of six public meetings on May 19. Their work over the course of the commission’s designated 180 days will include research on Supreme Court reform, the Court’s role in the constitutional system, length of service for Justices, membership, and size of the Court, and case selection and review.

  • Take Action! The Commission wants to hear from you! Submit your comments on Supreme Court modernization by August 15.

Cunningham is well-qualified nominee for the federal circuit

On April 30, President Biden nominated Tiffany Cunningham for a lifetime position on the United States Court of Appeals 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 holding both a BS in Chemical Engineering and a law degree. Her confirmation would bring a critical perspective as a trained engineer to a court that deals with technology, science, and medicine issues. NCJW supports Tiffany Cunningham’s nomination as her expertise and training uniquely qualify her for a lifetime appointment to the Federal Circuit.

Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Two Qualified Nominees

On May 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nominations of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US Courts of Appeals for the DC Circuit (13-9) and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi to the US Courts of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (12-10). Both nominees will advance to the Senate floor for a final vote in the coming weeks. Judge Jackson has a history of supporting reproductive health care, civil rights, disability rights, and labor rights. Jackson-Akiwumi has spent the majority of her career as a public defender. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for both nominees on April 28. NCJW supports Ketanji Brown Jackson and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who have demonstrated deep commitments to protecting civil rights and ensuring equal access to justice throughout their careers.

Additional Updates:

DOJ Civil Rights Division nominee moves forward

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (11-11) on the nomination of Kristen Clarke to serve as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice. On May 18, the Senate voted (50-48) to “discharge” Kristen Clarke’s nomination to the Senate floor (a procedural move required when there’s a tie vote in committee). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to schedule a cloture vote (which ends debate and moves to a final vote) and final vote on Clarke’s nomination before Memorial Day recess.

Hate crime reporting bill becomes law

This week, a bill long championed by NCJW was signed into law! The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act will improve hate crimes reporting through grant incentives and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes. The NO HATE Act passed as an amendment to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (HR 1843/S 937), which directs the Department of Justice to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19 and increase resources available to communities impacted by pandemic-related hate crimes. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed both the Senate (94-1) and House (362-62) with bipartisan support.

Wear Orange for Gun Safety

The weekend of June 4-6, 2021, is Wear Orange Weekend. NCJW is proud, once again, to cosponsor National Gun Violence Awareness Day and the Wear Orange Weekend to honor survivors of gun violence and remember those who have senselessly lost their lives due to firearms. Orange is the color that Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore in her honor when she was shot and killed in Chicago at the age of 15 — just one week after performing at President Obama’s second inaugural parade in 2013. Learn more about how to participate virtually in your communities here.

Pregnancy discrimination bill advances to Senate

On May 14, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HR 1065/S 1486) passed the House with bipartisan support (315-101). The bill would deter pregnancy discrimination in the workplace by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for a limitation arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act now moves to the Senate, where it has bipartisan support but may not clear the 60 vote threshold needed to bypass a filibuster.

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