Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: February 8, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Global HER Act reintroduced

On February 7, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act to permanently end the global gag rule. The bill, co-sponsored by 45 Senators and 150 Representatives, will help expand access to health programs for women around the world, ensuring that foreign NGOs can continue to operate US-supported health programs abroad — including those providing counseling, referral, and legal abortion services. In a joint op-ed, Rep. Lowey and Sen. Shaheen recognized that “[a]ccess to reproductive health care allows women to more fully participate in their respective societies and economies, improves both child and maternal mortality and empowers women to make decisions about their futures and those of their children.” NCJW and 113 other diverse organizations endorsed the Global HER Act and celebrate its reintroduction.

What Trump got wrong about later abortion

On February 5, President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address, a speech filled with gross inaccuracies, mischaracterizations, and misinformation. For instance, he asked Congress to pass “legislation to prohibit late-term abortion.” To be clear, “late-term abortion” is a medically inaccurate term coined by anti-abortion activists to create a stigma around basic health care. What’s more, bills like New York’s Reproductive Health Act do not “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” Instead, the law simply codifies Roe v. Wade, ensuring that New Yorkers have access to their constitutionally-protected right to an abortion. Many factors — including difficulties in accessing abortion care, delays in arranging travel and funds to pay for the procedure, and changes in life circumstances — influence the decision to have an abortion after the first trimester. Laws to make such procedures more accessible will not make them more common. NCJW applauds the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the proposal of similar legislation, which reflects Jewish tradition: that a woman’s health is paramount at any and all stages of pregnancy.

House Subcommittee holds hearings on the ACA

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee focused its first hearing of the 116th Congress on the impacts of Texas v. United States. In her opening remarks, subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) explained what is at stake if the ACA is struck down: “the 13 million Americans who gained health insurance through the Medicaid expansion will lose their health insurance; the 9 million Americans who rely on tax credits . . . will no longer be able to afford their insurance, and health insurance costs will skyrocket across the country . . . .” The Congresswoman also noted that 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions would be denied coverage or charged higher rates, denying important protections the President has falsely promised to provide. Watch the complete hearing here. The subcommittee’s next hearing will examine the Trump Administration’s expansion of junk insurance plans as well as legislation that will restore enrollment funding and protect individuals with preexisting conditions. Access to health coverage is a reproductive justice issue — we all deserve to have the resources we need to make our own decisions about our health, families, and futures. NCJW supports the ACA, which has expanded access to health care to millions.

Federal Courts

Senate Judiciary Committee reaches new low through Monster Markup

On February 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a vote on forty-four judicial nominees and attorney general nominee William Barr. NCJW is outraged by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) decision to advance 44 judicial nominees several of whom NCJW opposes and the attorney general nominee in one session. Doing so is a clear abdication of the senators’ constitutional duty to advise and consent, as such a rushed agenda precludes the Committee from properly doing its job. The Committee voted to advance all forty-four nominees, including six circuit court nominees: Bridget S. Bade (Ninth Circuit), Paul B. Matey (Third Circuit), Eric D. Miller (Ninth Circuit), Eric E. Murphy (Sixth Circuit), Chad A. Readler (Sixth Circuit), and Allison Jones Rushing (Fourth Circuit). All of the circuit court nominees were advanced along party lines, 12-10, with the exception of Bridget Bade, who was advanced 17-5. Thirty-eight lower court nominees were also advanced to the Senate floor, including Wendy Vitter (Eastern District of Louisiana), Matthew J. Kacsmaryk (Northern District of Texas), Brian C. Buescher (District of Nebraska), Michael J. Truncale (Eastern District of Texas), J. Campbell Barker (Eastern District of Texas), and Howard C. Nielson, Jr. (District of Utah). Click on each nominee’s name to read NCJW’s letters of opposition that were sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During the markup, Chairman Graham astonishingly and incorrectly remarked that the blue slip has never been used as a veto on behalf of home state senators. On the contrary, former committee Chairman Grassley used the blue slip policy, during the Obama administration, to block eighteen nominees, including six to circuit courts. Ranking Member Feinstein (D-CA) requested that the circuit court nominees listed for a vote be held over again to resolve the disagreement over blue slips, a request denied by Chairman Graham because the nominees “had hearings.”  Read NCJW’s full statement and take action.

DC Circuit Court nominee proves at hearing that she is unfit to judge

On February 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Neomi Rao to fill the vacancy on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit created by the elevation of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. Rao, who currently serves as administrator of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), has published several pieces that are insensitive to race, LGBTQ rights, sexual assault survivors, and beyond, thus rendering her incapable of being a fair and independent judge. At her hearing, Rao did express regret regarding some of her statements, calling them “common sense observations,” but failed to allay concerns about her work at OIRA reflecting these troublesome views. She also refused to answer whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided or commit to recusing herself in cases concerning OIRA. NCJW opposes Rao’s nomination. Read our letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee here.

SCOTUS blocks restrictive Louisiana abortion law

On February 7, the Supreme Court blocked (5-4) a Louisiana abortion law from going into effect with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members. Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Gorsuch voted to allow the law to go into effect. The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, concerns a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. In the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court ruled that an almost identical admitting privileges law in Texas was unconstitutional. The last-minute ruling blocks enforcement of the law — allowing Louisiana’s 3 clinics to remain open — while the court considers whether to hear the case. If the court decides to hear June Medical Services v. Gee, it could be a chance to revisit and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade. NCJW opposes the Louisiana law and others like it, which are thinly veiled attempts to undermine the constitutional right to abortion.

Civil Rights

Attorney general nominee advances to Senate floor

On February 7, as part of the “Monster Markup,” the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to advance the nomination of attorney general nominee William Barr to the full Senate. Barr has criticized the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and also holds expansive views of executive power that would further sanction President Trump’s efforts to cripple civil rights, including reproductive rights, and quash true religious freedom.

Take action today! Tell your senators to oppose Barr for attorney general.

Gun Violence Prevention

The first hearing on gun violence prevention in almost a decade

The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on gun violence prevention in almost a decade on February 6. Among other issues, the hearing largely focused on HR 8, the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which would establish universal background checks on all gun sales in America. A vote is expected on the measure next week. Also in the House, Reps. Anthony Brown (D MD) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced HR 717, the Raise The Age Act, which would raise the age to purchase a semi-automatic assault-style rifle from 18 to 21. Under current federal law, individuals must be 21 to purchase handguns, but only 18 to purchase long guns, including semi-automatic rifles. And, in the Senate, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced Ethan’s Law, a bill that would hold gun owners who fail to safely store or secure their firearms accountable for the tragic consequences that all too frequently result from negligent storage practices. Eight kids and teens are unintentionally shot or killed every day with improperly stored guns. NCJW supports these gun safety measures.

Human Needs

Proposed cuts to SNAP

On February 1, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its proposed rule that would limit waivers on how long certain people can have access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Currently, able-bodied adults without dependents, referred to as ABAWDs, can access SNAP benefits for three months while they find work unless they receive a state waiver. The new rule would restrict those waivers, and could ultimately harm more than 750,000 people if put into place. The proposed rule follows failed efforts to limit SNAP benefits legislatively via the Farm Bill, which passed without these limitations last fall. NCJW opposes this proposed rule.

Sign on Letters

  • On February 3,an  op ed signed by members of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Collaborative, including NCJW, was published in eJewish Philanthropy. 
  • On February 4, NCJW joined two letters asking Congress to secure back pay for federal contractors who went unpaid during the shutdown.
  • On February 4, NCJW joined 18 LGBTQ organizations on a letter organized by Lambda Legal urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination of Neomi Rao to the DC Circuit Court.
  • On February 4, NCJW joined 21 women’s organizations on a letter organized by the National Women’s Law Center expressing concern regarding the nomination of Neomi Rao to the DC Circuit Court.
  • On February 5, more than 100 groups including NCJW joined a women’s community letter organized by National Women’s Law Center urging passage of the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour by 2024.
  • On February 5, NCJW joined 28 faith groups on a letter to Members of Congress urging them to avert another shutdown and implement responsible spending practices for the Department of Homeland Security.
  • On February 6, NCJW and over 130 other organizations sent a letter to Sen. Grassley and Rep. Neal, Chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, supporting the Johnson Amendment.

Amicus Briefs

NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in Moussouris v. Microsoft, gender discrimination and pay equity case before 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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