Policy Updates

On the Hill Updates: October 25, 2019

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice 

Support UNFPA Funding Act introduced

On October 16, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) introduced the Support UNFPA Funding Act of 2019 (HR 4722). The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was founded with US leadership fifty years ago and is a critical (and sometimes the only) provider of care for women and their families around the world. However, the Trump administration has withheld funding from UNFPA for three years in a row. Fortunately, this bill reaffirms the nation’s commitment to the UNFPA and authorizes an annual contribution to end the unmet need for contraception, end preventable maternal deaths, end harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation, and deliver health care and protection services in humanitarian settings. NCJW supports international access to reproductive health care — which is central to gender equality, women’s economic empowerment, global health, and sustainable development — and endorses this bill. 

Federal Courts 

Another unqualified judge confirmed to lifetime appointment

On October 24, the Senate voted 50-41 to confirm Justin Walker to the US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Walker, who served as a law clerk for then-Judge Kavanaugh on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, received a unanimous “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association for his lack of trial experience. During the confirmation process for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Walker praised his former boss in over seventy media appearances as a “warrior” for “conservative legal principles” who would not go “wobbly.” NCJW opposed Walker’s nomination and is deeply disappointed in the Senate’s prioritizing judicial nominees’ partisan agendas over proven credentials.   

Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on several dangerous nominees

On October 31, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup and vote on several judicial nominees, including Steven Menashi (nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), Halil “Sul” Ozerden (nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit), Sarah Pitlyk (nominated to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri), and others. Menashi is one of President Trump’s most extreme judicial nominees to date; he once wrote a law review article advocating for what he calls “ethnonationalism;” claiming that societies with greater ethnic diversity are less politically and civilly engaged and generally have weaker-functioning democracies. And, at the Department of Education, Menashi served as Betsy DeVos’s right-hand and was at the forefront of the effort to roll back Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault on campus. Likewise, Ozerden has an extremely troubling record on workplace harassment, sexual assault, and racial justice. As a district court judge, he often prevents victims from having their cases heard by a jury, including one case where an African American employee noted the presence of nooses on the work site and use of racist epithets by supervisors. Pitlyk, who served as a law clerk for then-Judge Kavanaugh on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, received a unanimous “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association for her lack of trial experience. She has dedicated her career to passionate anti-abortion advocacy. NCJW opposes these nominees.  

Trump birth control rules blocked once again 

On October 22, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Trump administration’s rules decimating the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit are not enforceable. In October 2017, the administration issued an interim final rule dramatically expanding which employers can be exempted from covering free contraception as part of health insurance without providing opportunity for public notice and comment. This move was swiftly blocked by the courts. However, after receiving over 100,000 public comments, the administration issued another nearly identical rule in November 2018. Once again, multiple federal courts blocked implementation of this rule, a decision that was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2019. Now, the Ninth Circuit has done same. Unfortunately, this saga will continue to play out in the courts as the administration recently petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Third Circuit’s decision. NCJW has worked to improve access to birth control for decades and will remain vigilant to preserve the gains made by the ACA. 

Court vacates rule prohibiting discrimination in health care 

On October 15, Judge Reed O’Connor of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas declared Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) legally void, invalidating the prohibition on discrimination in health care based on gender identity and termination of pregnancy. The judge  who has also ruled that the entire ACA is unconstitutional and that Section 1557 violates the Administrative Procedure Act — has now expanded on previous holdings in finding that the nondiscrimination protections are contrary to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Trump administration has claimed that this case, Franciscan Alliance, Inc. v. Azar, is moot due to its proposed rule permitting health insurers, hospitals, clinics, and other entities to deny patients care or coverage because they have had an abortion or because they are transgender or gender non-conforming. NCJW vehemently opposes this plainly unconscionable regulation and the administration’s continued attacks on women’s health, youth health, immigrant health, LGBTQ health, the health of communities of color, and the health of those struggling to make ends meet. 

Public charge rule blocked, for now 

On October 11, three federal judges in three separate cases blocked the Trump administration’s public charge rule from going into effect nationwide. The rule radically expands the list of programs that may be considered when the government determines if someone is likely to become a public charge (dependent on the government) to include food and housing assistance and Medicaid. Usage of these programs would make it harder to immigrants to successfully apply for green cards. Prior to the rule’s release, NCJW partnered with T’ruah to submit hundreds of comments in opposition to the rule. After the rule was final, NCJW signed on as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to a brief in one of the cases opposing the rule. NCJW applauds the courts’ decisions to block the rule, which most harms immigrants of color, low-wage earners, non-English speakers, the young and elderly, LGBQT immigrants, and immigrants with disabilities or health conditions. 

Voting rights victory in Florida 

NCJW advocates in Florida worked hard in the 2018 election to pass Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that restored voting rights to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people. However, the state legislature tried to block the will of the people by passing a bill that mandated all court fines and fees be paid before voting rights could be restored, essentially creating a poll tax. Voting rights groups filed suit, and on October 18, a judge in the Northern District of Florida ruled that the state could not deny voting rights restoration solely because of outstanding legal financial obligations. While the ruling was narrow, advocates believe it signals that the law will not hold up in court going forward. NCJW supports an electoral process in which every eligible person can vote and have their vote counted. 

Voter Engagement 

VRAA passes House committee 

On October 23, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA, HR 4) out of committee along party lines. The VRAA would restore the full strength of the 1965 Voting Rights Act after it was weakened by a court decision in 2013. Passing the VRAA is one of NCJW’s most important legislative priorities.  

  • Take Action! Tell your elected official to pass HR 4 to restore the Voting Rights Act. 

Human Needs 

Executive order caps spending on human needs programs 

On October 10, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) aimed at curbing spending at federal agencies. The EO targets a federal budgeting mechanism known as administrative pay-as-you-go (PAYGO), which requires agencies that propose increases in discretionary spending (most defense, education, and transportation programs, for example, funded through the annual appropriations process) to also include one or more proposals to reduce mandatory spending. Importantly, mandatory spending includes entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and is funded ongoing through underlying law rather than the annual budgeting process. This form of fiscal policy disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations. NCJW believes in economic justice and the moral imperative of providing for our nation’s most vulnerable. 


HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act reintroduced 

On October 15, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) reintroduced the Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) Act for Immigrant Women and Families (HR 4701). This important legislation would remove discriminatory legal barriers denying immigrants access to the health care programs their tax dollars support, disproportionately harming women who are more likely to be low-income, of reproductive age, and uninsured. The resulting lack of access to care places immigrant women at increased risk of harmful health outcomes with lasting consequences for them, their families, and our communities. NCJW endorses this bill to support fair treatment and the health of immigrant women and families. 

Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan resigns 

On October 11, Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan resigned, though his last day at the job is unknown. McAleenan had served as Acting Secretary following his predecessor Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation in April 2018. While President Trump has indicated he would like Ken Cuccinelli, current Acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or Mark Morgan, current Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to step into the role, the White House counsel’s office have deemed them ineligible due to technicalities in federal vacancy laws. While McAleenan oversaw the implementation of several anti-immigrant policies, virulent anti-immigrant hardliners in the White House like Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller saw him as a barrier to implementing Trump’s anti-immigrant policy agenda.  

DOJ to collect immigrants’ DNA 

On October 23, the Department of Justice issued a proposed rule to collect DNA samples from undocumented immigrants held in detention. Immigrant advocacy groups as well as privacy advocates have serious concerns about this proposal, including how this information will be collected and stored. NCJW opposes this proposal. 

Gender-Based and Sexual Violence 

Bill to fund backlogged rape kits passes House 

Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NYDebbie Smith Act (HR 777) passed the House on October 22. The measure would reauthorize grants that support state and local efforts to process DNA evidence in rape kits. The Debbie Smith Act was included in the House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1585), and now goes to the Senate for consideration. 


  • On October 10, NCJW joined 29 organizations on comprehensive principles for child care that was shared with Members of Congress. 
  • On October 10, more than 110 organizations including NCJW sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to keep the House-passed federal paid leave provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act conference agreement. 
  • On October 11, NCJW joined 27 immigrant rights groups on a letter to the Senate organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposing the nomination of Steven Menashi of New York to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  
  • On October 16, NCJW joined over 100 other organizations on a letter to representatives endorsing the Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) Act for Immigrant Women and Families. 
  • On October 17, NCJW submitted a comment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development opposing a proposed rule that would weaken the department’s disparate impact standard, which is crucial for protecting against housing discrimination. 

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