On the Hill Updates: June 21, 2019
Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice
Spending package passes House, retains progressive provisions
On June 19, the House of Representatives voted 226-203 to approve a nearly $1 trillion spending package funding the vast majority of the federal government. The bill relating to the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor includes strong language blocking the Trump administration’s Title X gag rule and implementing a historic funding increase for the program. Additional provisions prohibit funds from being used to finalize the Trump administration’s refusals rule, tighten standards for the detention of immigrant children, and dedicate $50 million for gun violence prevention research. Unfortunately, the bill also retains the discriminatory Hyde Amendment despite attempts to strip this prejudicial language from the bill. Another component of the spending package funding the State Department employed the language of the Global HER Act (HR 1055/S 368) to permanently end the global gag rule. NCJW celebrates the progressive provisions included in the spending package and vows to continue our essential work to end Hyde once and for all.
House committee hosts first dedicated hearing on Title X in decades
On June 19, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing on “Protecting Title X and Safeguarding Quality Family Planning and Care.” The committee convened the investigation to consider the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule preventing participating providers from discussing and referring patients for abortions. (Further, this unconscionable regulation not only requires health centers to move abortion services to a different physical location than where their other critical care takes place, but also allows providers who don’t believe in providing contraception or abortion to receive Title X funding for their clinics.) A panel of experts and advocates testified, raising concerns that this rule would affect those who are most vulnerable and noting that 60% of patients seeking contraceptive care at Title X-funded health centers reported that the center was their only source of care that year. NCJW vehemently opposes the dangerous, unconscionable, and illegal gag rule which jeopardize the health and lives of the people of color, young people, low-income people, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals who largely rely on the Title X program.
Affordability is Access Act introduced
On June 13, Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Katie Hill (D-CA) joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to introduce the Affordability is Access Act (HR 3296/S 1847). The bill would ensure that over-the-counter birth control is covered without cost sharing requirements and without a prescription. In a press release celebrating the introduction, Sen. Murray noted that the legislation would most impact those facing health disparities and greater challenges to accessing care including people of color, people with disabilities, low-income people, and those living in rural areas. NCJW supports this bill consistent with our resolution to work for comprehensive, affordable, accessible, and equitable family planning, reproductive, sexual health, and maternal health services.
Supreme Court dismisses racial gerrymandering case for lack of standing
On June 18, the US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision written by Justice Ginsburg dismissing Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, a case about racial gerrymandering that NCJW has been watching. The case, which follows Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, asked the Court to reconsider the invalidation of Virginia’s redistricting plan. The plan required at least 55 percent black residents of voting age in each of 12 voting districts, thus diminishing the power of black voters across the state and in other districts. The Supreme Court held that the House of Delegates alone, a single chamber of a bicameral legislature, lacked the legal right to appeal the invalidation of Virginia’s redistricting plan. While this does not create any new gerrymandering jurisprudence, it has the practical effect of ensuring that Virginia’s voting districts are not unconstitutionally gerrymandered in future elections.
Supreme Court disregards Establishment Clause in Bladensburg cross case
On June 20, the US Supreme Court held in American Legion v. American Humanist Association that a 40-foot Christian cross can remain on public property and be repaired and maintained with public funds. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor alone completely dissented from Court’s ruling; in her dissent, Justice Ginsburg noted that “when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content.” She also traced the history of the cross as a Christian symbol and rejected the Court’s contention that it had become secular over time, explaining that “[t]he cross was never perceived as an appropriate headstone or memorial for Jewish soldiers and others who did not adhere to Christianity.” NCJW believes that denying the cross’ religious symbolism is untenable as public policy and that the use of the cross is especially offensive as we honor those who gave their lives to defend our country’s freedoms, chief among them freedom of religion.
Supreme Court refuses to tackle conflict between LGBTQ rights and religious freedom
On June 17, the Supreme Court punted on a major question involving LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. The Justices sent Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, a case regarding an Oregon bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple, back to the lower courts for further consideration in light of last year’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This means that the lower court’s ruling in favor of the same-sex couple is now in jeopardy. In Masterpiece, the Court held that government agencies had engaged in bias against a bakery that refused to serve a same-sex couple; however, the Justices stopped short of ruling that businesses have an affirmative right to cite religion in refusing service to customers. NCJW opposes all forms of discrimination as well as the use of religious liberty not as a shield to protect free exercise, but as a sword to harm others.
- Take Action! End the Trump administration’s abuse of religious liberty by supporting the Do No Harm Act.
Senate confirms anti-LGBTQ actvist to lifetime federal judgeship
On June 19, the Senate confirmed Matthew Kacsmaryk to a lifetime seat on the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas by a 52-46 vote. Kacsmaryk has spent his legal career advocating against the interests of women and LGBTQ individuals, frequently citing religious freedom as an excuse for his discriminatory views. NCJW strongly opposed his nomination and condemns the Senate’s total abdication of its duty to confirm judges who will protect the rights of all Americans. Read our full statement here.
Number of judges confirmed under Trump administration reaches 123
In addition to Matthew Kacsmaryk, the Senate confirmed 3 more district court judges on June 19, including Allen Winsor (Northern District of Florida), James Cain, Jr. (Western District of Louisiana), and Greg Guidry (Eastern District of Louisiana). President Trump is now responsible for 80, or approximately 12%, of district court judges, 23% of circuit court judges, and approximately 14% of all federal judges. The fast pace of judicial confirmations has been made possible in large part by Senate leadership’s disregard for norms and processes meant to safeguard an independent judiciary, which NCJW opposes.
Federal court allows Title X gag rule to take effect
On June 20, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed preliminary injunctions blocking implementation the Trump administration’s Title X gag rule. This decision allows the regulation to take immediate effect nationwide (barring Maryland, which is covered by a separate preliminary injunction). Two nationwide injunctions — as well as a separate preliminary injunction covering only California — prevented the gag rule from taking effect on May 3. However, as a result of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, these injunctions have been lifted while the Trump administration appeals. Under the rule, federally funded family planning clinics can no longer refer a patient for abortion and will be forced to maintain “clear physical and financial separation” between services funded by the government and any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions. Implementation of this regulation highlights the importance of program protections in the House’s spending package (see update under “Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice”) . NCJW will continue to work to overturn this policy, which threatens the health of 4 million patients.
- Take Action! Call or email your senators or use our resources to plan a successful advocacy visit demanding inclusion of critical Title X protections in the Senate appropriations bill.
Anti-Semitism bill approved in Senate
On June 13, the Senate unanimously approved the Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) non-binding resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism (S Res.189). On March 7, the House passed (407-23) a resolution broadly disapproving of all forms of bigotry.
Gun Violence Prevention
House spending package includes historic funding to study gun violence
The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2020 bill contains $50 million for dedicated research to address America’s gun violence crisis for the first time in over two decades. The legislation also acknowledges there is no evidence that arming teachers makes schools safer and called for Education Secretary DeVos to explain her decision to allow using federal dollars to put guns in schools. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration. NCJW supports laws, policies, and programs that restrict and regulate firearms and ammunition, promote gun safety, and prevent gun violence.
Trump administration proposed rule to shrink the poverty line
The Trump administration is trying to quietly change the way we define poverty. Each year the poverty line — the income amount that defines who is and isn’t in poverty — is adjusted for inflation. The poverty line is critical since it’s used to determine eligibility for programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school meals, and other assistance that those living in or near poverty need to survive. By proposing a different means to calculate inflation, which would result in a lower poverty line than the one currently in use, over time hundreds of thousands of Americans would be defined out of poverty without any meaningful change to their financial situation. And millions of children, women, communities of color, working people, retirees, and people with disabilities would have their benefits reduced or would be removed from federal assistance entirely.
- Take Action and submit your unique comment today! You have until 11:59 pm ET on June 21 to tell the Trump administration to find accurate measures of poverty to ensure the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable populations continue to be met.
NCJW celebrates World Refugee Day
June 20 is the United Nations-designated World Refugee Day, a time to celebrate the contributions of refugees. NCJW marked the event by sending a letter to Members of Congress earlier in the month urging their support for refugee resettlement. Staff also went to Capitol Hill to advocate for the GRACE Act, a bill which would restore the refugee admissions target to its historic average of 95,000, instead of the historic low of 30,000 currently set by the administration.
- On June 11, 120 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing deep concern regarding the nomination of Ken Cuccinelli for the position of Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- On June 20, NCJW joined 41 groups on a letter asking Secretary of State Pompeo to strengthen US refugee resettlement as a core part of a robust international religious freedom agenda.
- On June 20, NCJW submitted a comment to the Office on Management and Budget in opposition to the proposed rule exploring changes to the calculations for adjusting the official poverty measure.