Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: January 15, 2021

Federal Courts

SCOTUS decides first abortion case with Justice Barrett

On January 12, the Supreme Court issued a shameful decision in its first abortion case following the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In Food and Drug Administration (FDA) v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Court reinstated the FDA’s requirement that mifepristone, an abortion medication, can only be picked up in person at a clinic or hospital. In the midst of a global pandemic that has infected more than 20 million Americans and left at least 370,000 dead, each contact poses a risk of contracting the virus. Mifepristone can be prescribed remotely and does not need to be taken under medical supervision. Forcing people to pick up the medication in person — a requirement that does not exist for any of the other 20,000 plus FDA-approved drugs on the market — unnecessarily jeopardizes patient well-being and lives and undermines public health efforts. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her thoughtful dissent, “maintaining the FDA’s in-person requirements for mifepristone during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational, and unjustifiable undue burden on women seeking to exercise their right to choose.” While the Court’s decision, in this case, is narrow and the incoming Biden-Harris administration can likely reverse the FDA’s policy, it proves what we already know to be true: the six conservative justices do not support the constitutional right to abortion and will continue to undermine Roe v. Wade. NCJW advocates for the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and the EACH Woman Act, federal legislation with the potential to create a future where all — particularly those struggling to make ends meet; Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities; young people; immigrants; and LGBTQ individuals who are disproportionately impacted by bans and restrictions — can access the abortion services they need without cost barriers, delays, or burdensome limitations.

  • Take Action! Urge your lawmakers to commit to passing WHPA and EACH when they are reintroduced in the 117th

SCOTUS accepts new case to watch, hears immigrant rights case

On January 8, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Sanchez v. Wolf, which will determine whether people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who did not enter the country legally are eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. TPS allows immigrants from countries facing war or natural disasters to living and works legally in the United States. The Sixth and Ninth Circuits ruled that these individuals could apply for LPR status, but the Third Circuit ruled they cannot. This ruling could impact hundreds of thousands of people.

On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Pham v. Guzman Chavez, which examines whether immigrants applying for an asylum-like form of protection called “withholding of removal” are eligible to seek bond while their cases are pending or whether they have to spend the entire duration of their cases (which could be years, including appeals) in detention. Read more about the case in NCJW’s “What’s At Stake? US Supreme Court 2020-2021 Term” resource. NCJW is watching this case closely and opposes immigration detention, including indefinite detention, and believes that immigrants are entitled to due process prior to deportation.

Administration’s efforts to undermine the census fizzle

On December 18, the Supreme Court dismissed Trump v. New York, a legal 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 and ultimately appealed up to the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision was only about timing, not the merits of the case, and in its wake, the administration continued its efforts to create a count of undocumented immigrants in order to remove that total from the census. However, this week, the head of the Census Bureau, under pressure from internal whistleblowers and the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), ended the administration’s efforts to produce this count. Officials in the Census Bureau reported to the OIG that the data was not ready and what they were being asked to do was “statistically indefensible.” NCJW was watching this case closely, and is relieved by both the Supreme Court’s ruling and this week’s decision to abandon these unconstitutional efforts. We applaud the courage of the whistleblowers within the Census Bureau and call on the Biden administration to formally rescind the deeply flawed memo.

Trump continues to nominate judges

On January 3, President Trump submitted 16 new federal judicial nominations to the Senate for consideration, including four new lifetime appointments. With the fast-approaching inauguration of President-elect Biden and COVID-19 infection rates continuing to climb during the initial stages of vaccine distribution, this is another unprecedented and irresponsible move. While the Senate is currently in recess until January 20, the continued nominations to the judiciary reflect a deep callousness toward the needs of millions of people negatively impacted by the pandemic and an irresponsible commitment to ultraconservative political aims.

Fourth Circuit rejects anti-refugee order

In September 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order allowing state and local jurisdictions to veto refugee resettlement, and further, requiring jurisdictions to actively consent to resettlement. Three refugee resettlement agencies (HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service) challenged the order, and this week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a nationwide injunction put in place by a district court last year. The order was one of many attacks by the administration on the nation’s refugee resettlement program. NCJW applauds this ruling and joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting the refugee resettlement agencies.

Voter Engagement

DC statehood bill introduced

On January 4, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced HR 51, which would make the District of Columbia the nation’s fifty-first state and give its more than 700,000 citizens two senators and one representative in Congress. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed HR 51 but the Senate did not take up the legislation. NCJW supports this critical bill, as DC statehood is both a voting rights and racial justice issue.

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Civil Rights

Trump administration advances harmful regulations

The Trump administration continues to finalize regulations paring back civil rights for people of color, LGBTQ people, and others. On January 8, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a final rule rolling back Obama-era regulations that barred HHS grantees from discriminating based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion, as well as requiring grantees to treat same-sex marriages as valid. This rule will impact foster care and adoption agencies, health services, and more.

This week, the administration announced its intent to finalize its “disparate impact” rule, which will change how it enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin, and covers education, employers, hospitals, and beyond. The change would narrow the law’s protections by only applying to cases where intentional discrimination can be proved, and not cases in which unintentional discrimination occurs. NCJW and other civil rights groups oppose this change as intentional discrimination is very difficult to prove. While the final rule is imminent, the Biden administration is expected to take action to roll it back.

While not a regulation, this week the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a memorandum that it would only consider certain forms of discrimination based on LGBTQ identity as discrimination under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions, like public schools) and that “sex” should only be interpreted to mean “biological sex, male and female.” The memo was in response to a 2020 Supreme Court decision, Bostock, which ruled that “sex” in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin) should be interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The memo is expected to be rescinded by the incoming Biden administration, but NCJW condemns it as just one more attack against LGBTQ students.

Human Needs

Biden introduces first massive recovery plan

On January 14, President-elect Biden introduced the first in his two-part plan to help the nation respond and recover from the twin crises of the pandemic and an economic recession. Part one — the American Rescue Plan — is a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package to fund vaccinations, provide immediate and direct relief to families bearing the brunt of COVID-19, and support struggling communities. It includes many of NCJW’s priorities to help women, children, and families: emergency paid sick and family leave; extended unemployment benefits, eviction moratorium, and increased nutrition assistance; funding for state and local governments; $1400 for individuals, including households with immigrants; additional child care funding; aggressive action to speed vaccinations and contain the virus; and more. Importantly, the package focuses on those hit hardest, communities of color and women of color in particular. While NCJW urges additional funding to buttress the child care system, we support this critically needed plan. We urge Congress to swiftly approve the President-elect’s emergency relief package, which would help so many people in need as infections increase and job losses mount.

  • Take Action! Contact your lawmakers to urge their support for the next COVID-relief package.

Sign-on Letters

  • On January 8, NCJW joined a women’s community letter signed by 26 female leaders/heads of organizations to condemn the actions of January 6.
  • On January 9, NCJW joined 51 organizations on a letter to House and Senate leadership in support of the COVID Community Care Act (HR 8192/S 4941).

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