On the Hill Updates: June 7, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

House committee targets state abortion restrictions

On June 4, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on “Threats to Reproductive Rights in America.” The committee discussed recent state level abortion bans and heard from witnesses including advocates, lawyers, and doctors. Notably, actress Busy Phillips testified about having an abortion at age 15. The hearing raised tensions as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle exchanged remarks. Democratic leaders expressed concerns about threats to constitutional rights and emphasized that “[t]he power of the state should not be used by one segment of society to impose its moral or religious beliefs on another segment of society.” On the other hand, Republicans criticized Roe v. Wade and avoided debating exceptions to abortion bans for cases of rape or incest. NCJW fiercely opposes laws restricting access to abortion and supports federal laws ensuring that every single person can make their own decisions about their body, family, and future.

Trump administration continues to promote one religious view of “life”

On June 5, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will block use of federal funds to conduct research relying on material collected from elective abortions. In doing so, the government cancelled a multi-million dollar contact with the University of California, San Francisco using fetal tissue to test new HIV treatments. Despite the critical role fetal tissue research has played in major medical advancements — including the development of measles and polio vaccines — HHS has once again prioritized ideology over science and facts and bowed to pressure from anti-abortion groups. In fact, HHS noted in its statement that “[p]romoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.” NCJW strongly opposes enshrining one religious view of “life” into law, a violation of the First Amendment and an affront to our Jewish values.

Appropriations bill lifts DC abortion coverage ban

On June 2, the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee released the spending package for fiscal year 2020. Importantly, for the first time since 2010, the bill does not prohibit the District of Columbia’s government from using locally-raised funds to cover abortion care.The proposal is also free from language preventing the Internal Revenue Service from clarifying rules surrounding the political activities of 501(c)(4) organizations. Finally, while the bill does not prohibit new students from enrolling in the DC voucher program, it does require voucher schools to certify compliance with civil rights laws and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. NCJW supports the complete elimination of abortion coverage bans which push necessary care out of reach for low-income people, people of color, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals.

Federal Courts

Senate Judiciary Committee considers four nominees

On June 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Judge Peter Phipps of Pennsylvania to the Third Circuit of Appeals, William Stickman IV to the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and two other district court nominees. Phipps is the fourth white male nominated to the Third Circuit by President Trump. Notably, Phipps is being advanced over the objection of Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) despite Senate tradition and the fact that Rebecca Ross Haywood, one of President Obama’s nominees to the very same court, was blocked because of an objection raised by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). If confirmed, Haywood would have been the first African American woman to sit on the Third Circuit. Stickman has a long history of submitting partisan, inflammatory letters to the editor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. NCJW opposes both of these nominations. Read our letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Phipps and Stickman.

Senate to confirm three more federal judges next week

The week of June 10, the Senate is expected to hold final confirmation votes on the nomination of Ryan Holte to the Court of Federal Claims for a term of fifteen years. Holte graduated from law school just nine years ago — well below the American Bar Association minimum practice requirement of 12 years (the ABA does not evaluate Court of Federal Claims nominees). In his Senate questionnaire, Holte conceded: “I have not tried a case.” The Senate will also vote on the nomination of Richard Hertling to the Court of Federal Claims for a term of fifteen years, as well as Rossie Alston to a lifetime seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Hertling refused to state whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided at his Senate Judiciary Hearing.

Court hands Trump border wall victory

On June 3, a judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the House of Representatives did not have standing to sue the administration in order to stop it from using billions of unappropriated funds to build a border wall. This ruling does not impact a temporary injunction on building specific parts of the wall granted by the courts on May 24 in a different case. NCJW opposes building a wall on the southern border.

Civil Rights

New revelations in census case could lead to contempt

As lawsuits over whether the 2020 Census could include a citizenship question made their way through the courts, it became clear that the impetus to add the question did not originate with the Department of Justice, as the administration claimed. Last week, new documents uncovered in a separate case made it clear that the request had in fact started with a Republican strategist, called by one newspaper the “Michaelangelo of gerrymandering.” The documents demonstrated that the strategist, Thomas Hofeller, determined that adding a citizenship question would benefit “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” Pieces of Hofeller’s conclusions made their way wholesale into the documents used to justify adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

In April, the House Oversight Committee issued bipartisan subpoenas for documents related to the citizenship question. Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have said they will not comply, and in light of the new revelations, the committee will vote to hold Barr and Ross in contempt.

NCJW opposes adding a citizenship question to the census, which studies show will result in an undercounting of Latinx and immigrant communities. NCJW signed on to an amicus brief in the case and included it on our list of cases to watch this term.

Human Needs

Minibus planned for next week

Next week, the House of Representatives plans to pass a package of appropriations bills, known as a minibus. The appropriations bills would fund Defense (HR 2968), Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (HR 2740), Energy-Water (HR 2960), State-Foreign Operations (2839), and the Legislative Branch (HR 2779). While the bills include many progressive policy victories, it’s important to note the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill still contains the Hyde Amendment, which denies abortion coverage to those enrolled in federal health programs. Once the minibus passes the House it will move to the Senate.


Landmark immigration bill passes House

On June 4, the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) passed the House of Representatives, 237-187. (NCJW sent a vote recommendation to every representative’s office the morning of the vote.) This landmark bill provides a path to citizenship for more than two million Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refuses to bring the Senate counterparts (Dream Act (S 874) and Secure Act (S 879) to this landmark legislation up for a vote. NCJW celebrates this important victory, and urges the Senate to vote on these measures.

  • Take Action! Tell your senators to urge Senate Majority Leader McConnell to bring up the Dream Act and Secure Act for a vote.

DHS appropriations bill released

On June 5, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved the FY 20 Homeland Security Funding bill. In the positive column, the bill does not include additional funding for the border wall, includes a categorical restriction on transferring funds within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for detention, and creates an independent DHS ombudsman to help protect immigrants’ rights. However, the bill includes a fund for the DHS Secretary to use at his or her discretion — essentially allowing it to be used for a wall or increased detention. Next, the full House Appropriations Committee will vote on the bill.


  • On June 3, NCJW joined more than 160 organizations on a letter urging the House of Representatives to oppose poison pill amendments to the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6).
  • On June 4, NCJW sent a letter urging representatives to pass the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) and vote no on any Motions to Recommit the bill.
  • On June 5, NCJW sent a letter urging Members of Congress to support and celebrate refugees as part of a letter-a-day campaign leading up to World Refugee Day on June 20, 2019.
  • On June 6, NCJW joined 67 other LGBT organizations on a letter organized by Lambda Legal urging the Senate to reject the nomination of Matthew Kacsmaryk to the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
  • On June 4, NCJW sent a letter urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination of Peter Phipps to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
  • On June 4, NCJW sent a letter urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination of William Stickman IV to the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Amicus Briefs

NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in El Paso County v. Trump, a case before the Western District of Texas challenging President Trump’s attempt to divert funds to build a border wall.