Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: October 16, 2020

Federal Courts

Courts matter to voting rights

On October 12, Texas restrictions allowing only a single drop-box for mail-in ballots in each county were reinstated by a federal appeals court, essentially holding that the governor’s concerns about ballot security outweigh voting-rights activists’ worries that millions of voters won’t be able to safely access the drop-boxes. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Gov. Greg Abbott who, on October 1, ordered the shuttering of multiple drop boxes where thousands of ballots in some of Texas’ largest counties were already collected. NCJW is outraged by this blatant voter suppression and works to ensure that every eligible voter is able to register to vote, cast a ballot, and engage in all levels of government in a deep and meaningful way.

  • Take Action! Click here to access helpful resources and ways to take action to ensure that EVERYONE has access to the polls.

Courts matter to abortion rights and access

Several recent court decisions have aptly illustrated the importance of a federal judiciary committed to upholding constitutional rights for everyone. On October 8, the US Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s emergency petition in American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) v. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This case centers on a long-standing FDA policy that forces patients to unnecessarily travel to the clinic to pick up medication abortion. ACOG asked a federal district court to lift this requirement during the pandemic to protect patients, providers, and their families from viral exposure, and a nationwide injunction was granted. Rather than approving the administration’s request to reinforce this dangerous restriction, the Supreme Court sent the case back down to the district court to reevaluate the need for a nationwide injunction. For now, the policy remains blocked and patients are able to receive medication abortion through the mail.

Additionally, on October 13, the Supreme Court declined to hear another case designed to restrict access to reproductive health care. Following a trend amongst conservative states, a 2018 executive order from South Carolina’s governor barred Medicaid enrollees from receiving services from providers like Planned Parenthood that also perform abortions. Lower federal courts blocked the policy, affirming that Medicaid enrollees have a right to seek care from any qualified provider they choose. Because the Court refused to take up the case, these rulings now stand, permanently blocking the policy.

Finally, on October 13, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Texas’ ban dilation and excavation procedures, the most common abortion method used after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court deemed the law unconstitutional because it “unduly burdens a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to obtain a pre-viability abortion” and “forces abortion providers to act contrary to their medical judgment and the best interest of their patient by conducting a medical procedure that delivers no benefit to the woman.” NCJW opposes all policies that restrict access to abortion, shutter clinics and prevent patients from receiving care and celebrates these decisions.

Courts matter to the census

On October 13, as the Senate Judiciary Committee was questioning Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, the Court issued an emergency order granting the Trump administration’s request to halt the census count while a lower court considers an appeal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent that “the harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable.” Last week, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the administration’s request to halt the district court’s order that extended the census deadline through October 31. The ruling in the case, Ross v. National Urban League, most impacts people of color, low-income individuals, and those who live on tribal lands who are likely to go uncounted as a result.

Mizelle “unqualified” nomination on the move

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle was nominated to the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Her nomination was scheduled for a vote on October 15 in the Senate Judiciary Committee but ultimately was held over until next week. Mizelle graduated from law school only eight years ago, spent four years clerking, and has experience in only two trial cases — neither at the senior level. Mizelle has deep ties to the nation’s most conservative legal voices in addition to being a long-time member of the Federalist Society, an ultraconservative legal society. Moreover, the American Bar Association found Mizelle “Not Qualified” for a lifetime appointment, directly citing her lack of meaningful experience. NCJW believes Mizelle lacks the proper experience required for a lifetime appointment and strongly opposes her nomination.

Human Needs

USDA extends nutrition options

The US Department of Agriculture on October 13 extended critical waivers that will allow the continued operation of the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option through June 30, 2021. This extension will ensure schools and private nonprofit organizations can reach children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals through the rest of the school year. NCJW urges the Senate to pass COVID relief legislation, like the HEROES Act, that includes provisions expanding and extending vital nutrition assistance programs to address food insecurity made worse by the pandemic.

COVID relief nowhere in sight

While the president appears suddenly interested in COVID relief, suggesting a willingness to support a package above the $1.8 trillion already floated, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refuses to play ball. Instead, he plans to bring an emaciated package worth roughly $500 billion to the Senate floor next week. While the measure is expected to include another round of stimulus checks, it is unlikely to address relief for states, robust unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, and safe elections. NCJW supports a meaningful response to COVID that would help families and workers make ends meet during the economic recession.

Sign-On Letters

  • On October 5, NCJW joined 136 organizations supporting reproductive health, rights, and justice in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing Amy Coney Barrett.
  • On October 8, 50 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership opposing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court given the impact her decisions would have on immigrant communities.
  • On October 10, NCJW, joined by 40 interfaith organizations, sent a to the Senate opposing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

Related Resources