On the Hill Updates: December 4,2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

House committee to consider the impact of abortion coverage restrictions

On December 8, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a virtual hearing on “The Impact on Women Seeking an Abortion but are Denied Because of an Inability to Pay.” The hearing, which you can watch here beginning at 10:00 am ET, will investigate the effects of coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment, which has long blocked those enrolled in federal health programs from using their insurance to pay for abortion care. This policy disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and is a painful example of how systemic racism permeates our federal laws and regulations. NCJW calls on Congress to pass the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act (HR 1692/S 758) to permanently end Hyde and related restrictions and to prohibit political interference in private insurance coverage of abortion at all levels of government.

Federal Courts

SCOTUS shifts approach to COVID-19 orders

On November 26, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned 5-4 decision barring New York state from reimposing limits on religious gatherings. Whereas the Court had narrowly rejected challenges to coronavirus-related restrictions on churches in California and Nevada in May and July, the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has shifted this approach to one that diminishes state and local government flexibility in dealing with a dangerous and evolving pandemic. Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor in dissenting from this decision, the latter writing that “Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second-guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.” 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.

#CourtsMatter to asylum seekers

The Trump Administration’s new rule to limit eligibility for asylum was put on hold indefinitely last week by a federal district court in California. The rule, which was set to take effect on November 20, would create new categories to make asylum seekers convicted of a variety of crimes ineligible. NCJW submitted a comment opposing the rule which would eliminate asylum for the vast majority of asylum seekers. On the same day, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered border authorities to stop expelling migrant children without letting them seek humanitarian refuge. In his decision, Judge Emmet Sullivan said unaccompanied migrant children who are taken into custody by border officials must be afforded the safeguards Congress established for them and placed in shelters overseen by the government during their immigration proceedings.

SCOTUS returns to 2020 Census

On November 30, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Trump v. New York, a challenge to the Trump administration’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count used to allot seats in the House of Representatives. In July 2020, President Trump issued a memorandum stating that the total population used for apportionment would not include undocumented immigrants, a decision blocked by the Southern District of New York. Much of this case is speculative as the Trump administration has not yet formally gone ahead with this plan. Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that the Court should wait until a decision is made because “we don’t know what the President is going to do, we don’t know how many aliens will be excluded.” Notably, Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressed skepticism based on “a lot of the historical evidence and long-standing practice” of including everyone living in each state in the census count, regardless of immigration status. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, however, noted that the Trump administration had not chosen to exclude all undocumented immigrants, but only a subset of them. NCJW is watching this case closely because we understand that decisions based on the US Census not only determine the balance of power in the House of Representatives but also the way important human needs funding is appropriated. It is essential the Census be a true accounting of every person residing in a community.

Senate considers nominees despite lame-duck session

On December 1, the Senate confirmed J. Philip Calabrese (58-35) for a lifetime appointment to the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and on December 2, Kathryn C. Davis (51-45) to a 15-year term on the US Court of Federal Claims. As a private litigator, Calabrese argued against the freedom of the press to criticize a private employer. During Davis’ time as senior counsel in the Federal Programs Branch of the US Department of Justice’s Civil Division, she defended extreme immigration and human rights policies. NCJW opposed both appointments.

The churn of judicial nominees continues with Thomas Kirsch, nominated to fill now Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s seat on the Seventh Circuit. Kirsch is the fifth nominee named by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit, all of whom are white — adding to the dire lack of diversity on our federal circuit courts. Prior to President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat, President Obama had named Myra Selby, the first woman and Black woman on the Indiana Supreme Court, for the seat in January 2016. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Selby, keeping the seat open for an eventual President Trump to fill. Kirsch awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, Thompson Michael Dietz, nominated to a 15-year appointment to the US Court of Federal Claims, was passed out of committee in October and awaits a vote in the full Senate. By his own account, Dietz has not tried a case during his law practice. Notwithstanding the concerning backgrounds of these nominees, it is unprecedented for the Senate to be confirming judges during a lame-duck Congress — it has only happened one time and with bipartisan support. NCJW opposes Kirsch and Dietz as well as the effort to prioritize confirming judges over COVID relief.

Human Needs

One step forward on budget and COVID bills

Negotiators are working to meet a December 11 deadline to keep the government open. It is expected that Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution in order to complete work on a budget bill. Disagreements on border wall funding, racial justice, and more are slowing down the process. COVID relief could be combined with the budget package — House and Senate leaders, as well as president-elect Biden, are supportive of a $908 billion bipartisan proposal. It remains to be seen where the White House stands on this proposal, and will likely depend on the amount of aid to state and local governments as well as the inclusion of a liability shield for businesses — ongoing sticking points for both sides. NCJW supports a budget that fully funds human needs programs as well as a robust COVID measure addressing the health and economic needs of the country.

  • Take Action! Call your lawmakers in the House and Senate (Capitol Switchboard #202-224-3121) using this script: Hello, my name is [name] and I am a National Council of Jewish Women advocate from [city,state] I urge you to pass a COVID bill that funds state and local governments; supports health care workers; expands unemployment insurance, rent forgiveness, paid leave, and cash payments; boosts nutrition assistance benefits; and ensures immigrants have access to all relief measures.