Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: February 22, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Fight over harmful bill to continue in Senate

On February 4, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) sought to pass by unanimous consent S 311, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” The bill threatens abortion providers with criminal penalties and inserts partisan, anti-abortion politics into medical decision making. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) objected — recognizing that the bill does much more than outlaw infanticide (which is already illegal) — and effectively doomed the legislation. However, conservative lawmakers and advocates have continued to push for passage. While House Democrats successfully blocked a Republican demand to consider the bill on February 14, the Senate is now scheduled to vote on the legislation when they return to Washington on February 25. NCJW strongly opposes this bill which criminalizes safe and legal health care.

Federal Courts

Senate to begin voting on slew of judicial nominees

On February 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced 44 judicial nominees in one day — many of whom NCJW opposes because of the real and serious threats they pose to our hard-won constitutional rights. These nominees for lifetime seats on the federal judiciary will now proceed to the full Senate for individual votes. Early in the week of February 25, the Senate will vote on the nomination of  Eric Miller, who NCJW opposes. If confirmed to the Ninth Circuit, Miller would be the first judge to be confirmed over the objections of both home-state senators — in this case, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (both D-WA). Miller also has a history of extreme hostility towards reproductive rights, among other troubling views. Click here to learn more and take action.

NCJW is particularly concerned about two additional circuit court nominees, Chad Readler and Neomi Rao. While leading the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, Readler filed a brief attempting to strike down the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Rao, who is nominated to fill the seat vacated by now-Justice Kavanaugh, wrote in college that a rape victim is partly to blame if she is intoxicated and then proceeded to roll back Title IX protections for sexual assault survivors while working for the administration. Readler’s nomination is pending on the Senate floor, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to advance Rao’s nomination on February 28. Register for a briefing call hosted by NCJW and Alliance for Justice (AFJ) on Wednesday, February 27 at 2 pm EST featuring AFJ’s Legal Director Dan Goldberg and Communications Director Laurie Kinney to learn more about the nominees and specific ways you can speak out.

Legal fallout of Trump’s emergency declaration

On February 15, after failing to receive funds from Congress to build his unnecessary and immoral border wall, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to use funds from elsewhere in the government to build the wall. Legal scholars generally agree that the declaration itself is legal, but that attempts to move funds will not stand up in court. On February 18, sixteen states filed suit in the US District Court of Northern California, seeking to block the president from acting on the declaration while the case plays out in the courts. Public Citizen, ACLU & the Sierra Club, and El Paso County have also filed suits.

Congress can also halt the declaration by passing a resolution ending the emergency status. Such a resolution is likely to pass the House, but would need to pass with a two-thirds majority in the Senate, given that Trump would veto such a resolution. The House and Senate are both out on recess, but Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) will introduce the resolution when the House returns. Once it passes, the Senate must vote on the measure within 18 days. Sen. Schumer has also announced his intent to introduce a resolution in the Senate.

Supreme Court to decide on citizenship census question

On February 15, the US Supreme Court decided it would hear arguments in NY v. Commerce, a case over whether the US Department of Commerce can add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This means the case will bypass the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals; a judge in the Southern District Court of New York ruled in January that the question should not be added. Oral arguments will take place the week of April 22. NCJW opposes adding a citizenship question to the census, which will depress turnout among immigrants and their families. To learn more about the case and others that NCJW is watching this term, check out our updated resource: What’s at Stake in the 2018-19 Supreme Court Term.

Lawsuit challenges HHS taxpayer-funded religious discrimination

On February 15, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and South Carolina over the Department’s decision to allow state foster care agencies to discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation without losing federal funding. The suit argues (1) that it is unconstitutional for government-funded agencies to discriminate against prospective foster parents and volunteers based on their religion, (2) that South Carolina and HHS may not spend or provide tax dollars to faith-based foster care agencies that use discriminatory religious criteria, and (3) that HHS did not follow proper procedure when it excused South Carolina and its foster care agencies from following federal anti-discrimination law. The plaintiff, Aimee Maddonna, is a mother of three who was turned away by Miracle Hill Ministries (the South Carolina agency that requested an exemption from the Obama-era policy) after they learned she was Catholic. NCJW opposes taxpayer-funded religious discrimination and joined 120 organizations on a letter denouncing the exemption of federally funded foster care agencies in South Carolina from nondiscrimination protections.  

Gun Violence Prevention

Gun safety bills move to House floor

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on two gun safety bills next week, following their passage by the House Judiciary Committee on February 13. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (HR 8) would expand background checks to all firearm purchases or transfers, with the exception of gifts between family members. The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 (HR 1112) would close the loophole that allows a gun sale to go forward if background checks are not completed in three days.

Sign On Letters

  • On February 22, NCJW joined 30 reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations on a letter urging senators to reject S 311, the so-called “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”

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