Analysis Law and Policy

Senate Votes to Confirm Two Key Equality Advocates

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The confirmation of Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are important victories for civil rights advocates.

Late Wednesday and early Thursday, the Senate voted to confirm two key nominations, Georgetown law professor Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chai Feldblum to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The votes were the latest to come from the Senate after Senate Democrats reformed the rules to prevent the filibuster of non-Supreme Court-level judicial nominees and other executive agency nominations. Their confirmations represent an important step forward, not just in filling critical vacancies in the courts and agencies, but in changing the culture of both.

The Senate first took up the Pillard vote, narrowly confirming her 51 to 44 after Senate Republicans forced Democrats to use all 30 hours of debate on her nomination. Senate Republicans have been united in their opposition to the Pillard nomination, calling her an “extremist,” despite her excellent credentials and wealth of experience. As a professor at Georgetown Law School, Pillard argued that access to contraception and abortion is an important part of ensuring gender equality, while as an advocate she argued, and won, the critically important cases of United States v. Virginia, which opened the Virginia Military Institute to women, and Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, which successfully defended the Family and Medical Leave Act against claims it was unconstitutional.

On the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, she will join Patricia Millett, a seasoned, centrist litigator, and provide an important ideological balance on the bench to Janice Rogers Brown, who recently called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) a “behemoth” that “tramples” on the religious rights of corporations in an opinion striking the contraception benefit in the ACA as unconstitutional.

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Like Pillard, Feldblum is also a culture changer. Also a Georgetown Law Professor, Feldblum is an openly lesbian advocate who has been at the forefront of LGBTQ and disability equality for decades. She played a leading role in the drafting of the Americans With Disabilities Act and is a leading expert on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Notably, her scholarly work explores the issues of gay rights, religion and equality—all critical issues facing the agency charged with monitoring and enforcing workplace civil rights, especially as conservatives advance arguments that various forms of workplace discrimination should be tolerated under their First Amendment religious exercise rights. Her nomination and confirmation is an important victory for employment equality advocates.

Our federal agencies and courts are charged with enforcing and protecting our federal civil rights, which is why it is so critically important those at the top reflect the deep diversity present in this country. But these institutions are also slow to change and are often playing catch-up with public opinion. The fight for marriage equality and contraceptive equality are two clear examples of this inertia. This week though, with the confirmation of both Pillard and Feldblum, things started moving again and we took an important step forward in advancing the cause of equality. Let’s just remember that movement was possible only after fundamentally changing the way the Senate does business.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Legislator Confirms Vote on House Conscience Protections (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

The Conscience Protection Act would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Act allows providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

UPDATE: July 14, 10 a.m.: The House passed the Conscience Protection Act Wednesday night in a largely party line 245-182 vote. Prior to floor consideration, House Republicans stripped the text of an unrelated Senate-passed bill (S. 304) and replaced it with the Conscience Protection Act. They likely did so to skip the Senate committee referral process, House Democratic aides told Rewire, expediting consideration across the capitol and, in theory, ushering a final bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama, however, would veto the Conscience Protection Act, according to a statement of administration policy.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next Wednesday on legislation that would allow a broadened swath of health-care providers to sue if they’re supposedly coerced into providing abortion care, or if they face discrimination for refusing to provide such care, according to a prominent anti-choice lawmaker.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told Rewire in a Friday morning interview that House leadership confirmed a vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828) for July 13, days before the chamber adjourns for the presidential nominating conventions and the August recess. Pitts said he expects the bill to be brought up as a standalone measure, rather than as an amendment to any of the spending bills that have seen Republican amendments attacking a range of reproductive health care and LGBTQ protections.

The office of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had no immediate comment.

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Pitts’ remarks came during and after he hosted a “Forum on Conscience Protections” in the House Energy and Commerce Committee room to garner support for the bill.

Energy and Commerce Democrats boycotted the forum, a House Democratic aide told Rewire in a subsequent interview.

Legislation Builds on Precedent

Conscience protections are nothing new, the aide said. The latest iteration is a successor to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1919/H.R. 940), which remains pending in the House and U.S. Senate. There’s also the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) and similarly named bills in both chambers. The fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services funding bill, which guts Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, includes the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

At the leadership level, Ryan’s recently released health-care plan mimics key provisions in the Conscience Protection Act. Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

The proposals would also codify and expand the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who participated in Pitts’ conscience forum. The Weldon Amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care. Currently, Congress must pass Weldon every year as an amendment to annual appropriations bills.

Administration Action Provides Impetus

There hadn’t been much public dialogue around conscience protections with the exception of some anti-choice groups that “have really been all over it,” the aide said. The National Right to Life issued an action alert, as did the Susan B. Anthony List, to galvanize support for the Conscience Protection Act.

The relative silence on the issue began to break after the Obama administration took a stand on abortion care in June.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights rejected anti-choice groups’ “right of conscience” complaint against California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under the definition of “basic health-care services.” Anti-choice groups had argued the California law violates the Weldon Amendment, but the administration found otherwise.

The California decision reinvigorated support for the Conscience Protection Act, the aide said. Ryan’s earlier health-care plan also specifically references the decision.

“We think this is going to be a big issue for us throughout the rest of this Congress,” the aide said.

Aide Outlines Additional Consequences

Beyond creating a private right of action and codifying Weldon, the Conscience Protection Act contains additional consequences for abortion care, the aide said.

The legislation would expand the definition of health-care providers to employers, social service organizations, and any other entity that offers insurance coverage, allowing them to raise objections under Weldon, the aide said. The aide characterized the change as a direct response to the California decision.

The legislation also broadens the list of objectionable services to include facilitating or making arrangements for abortion care, according to the aide.

The Republican-dominated House is likely to pass the Conscience Protection Act. But the aide did not expect it to advance in the Senate, which would all but certainly require a 60-vote threshold for such a controversial measure. More than anything, the aide said, the bill seems to be catering to anti-choice groups and long-time proponents of conscience clauses.

“The House oftentimes will pass these kinds of anti-choice proposals, and then they just go nowhere in the Senate,” the aide said.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Campaign Says Glitch Led to Selection of White Nationalist Leader As Delegate

Ally Boguhn

The prominent white supremacist has since resigned. And on the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders registered their objections to the Obama administration's immigration raids.

A “database error” this week supposedly led Donald Trump’s campaign to select a white nationalist leader to its California delegate list, and the Democratic presidential candidates are speaking out about the Obama administration’s planned immigration raids.

Trump Campaign: Picking White Nationalist Who Wrote Book Calling For Deportation of All People of Color as Delegate was a “Database Error”

Trump’s campaign added William Johnson, leader of white nationalist group the American Freedom Party, to his California delegate list after a supposed computer glitch.

Johnson applied to the Trump campaign and was chosen from a list of the presumptive Republican nominee’s delegates submitted to the California secretary of state’s office. In California, presidential candidates choose Republican delegatesnot the party.

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Johnson, in an email to Mother Jones on Tuesday, confirmed that he had been chosen by the Trump campaign, expressing excitement about the opportunity. “I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views,” Johnson told the publication. “I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks claimed that the inclusion of Williams was no more than a glitch after the campaign had rejected the white nationalist leader. “Yesterday the Trump campaign submitted its list of California delegates to be certified by the Secretary of State of California,” Hicks said in a statement to the Washington Post. “A database error led to the inclusion of a potential delegate that had been rejected and removed from the campaign’s list in February 2016.”

Johnson on Wednesday told the Associated Press he had resigned from his role as a delegate. “I was naive,” Johnson told AP about his application. “I thought people wouldn’t notice, and if they did notice I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

He noted that Trump’s policy positions lined up with those he supported.

“[Trump] wants to build the wall [along the border with Mexico]. He wants to cut off illegal immigration, and he wants to cut back on foreign trade, bring jobs back to America,” Johnson said. “We believe Donald Trump will help lead the country in a proper direction.”

Johnson gained notoriety as a self-identified “white nationalist” whose PAC, American National Super PAC, was responsible for robocalls this year in Iowa featuring another white nationalist, Jared Taylor. “I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America,” Taylor said in the robocall according to Talking Points Memo. “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Johnson wrote a book in 1985, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, calling “to deport all nonwhites as soon as possible” from the the United States:

In 1985, under the pseudonym James O. Pace, Johnson wrote the book Amendment to the Constitution: Averting the Decline and Fall of America. In it, he advocates the repeal of the 14th and 15th amendments and the deportation of almost all nonwhite citizens to other countries. Johnson further claimed that racial mixing and diversity caused social and cultural degeneration in the United States. He wrote: “We lose our effectiveness as leaders when no one relies on us or can trust us because of our nonwhite and fractionalized nature. … [R]acial diversity has given us strife and conflict and is enormously counterproductive.”

Johnson’s solution to this problem was to deport all nonwhites as soon as possible. Anybody with any “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” or more than one-eighth “Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood” would be deported under the Pace Amendment.

As late as Monday, Trump’s campaign had expressed confidence about their delegate selection before controversy broke out over the addition of Williams. “We believe that our delegation represents the economic and grassroots community diversity of California. We feel very good about it,” Tim Clark, Trump’s California strategist, told the Sacramento Bee that day.

The campaign reportedly corresponded with Johnson on Monday.

Other notable figures selected as delegates for Trump include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal.   

Democratic Presidential Candidates Speak Out Against Obama Administration’s Immigration Raids

Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), condemned the Obama administration’s coming immigration raids after news broke this week of an upcoming sweep.

U.S. immigration officials will conduct a monthlong series of deportation raids targeting undocumented families from Central America, Reuters reported on Thursday, in what will likely be “the largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families” by the Obama administration this year.

“I oppose the painful and inhumane business of locking up and deporting families who have fled horrendous violence in Central America and other countries. Sending these people back into harm’s way is wrong,” Sanders said in a statement posted to his campaign’s website Thursday. “I urge President Obama to use his executive authority to protect families by extending Temporary Protective Status for those who fled from Central America.”

Clinton said she was “against large scale raids that tear families apart and sow fear in communities” and that “we should not be taking kids and families from their homes in the middle of the night.”

The candidates have spoken out against the Obama administration’s ongoing raids, showing particular concern for the deportation of children. Advocates, however, say that the presidential candidates have not done enough to tackle the issue.

What Else We’re Reading

Priests for Life President Frank Pavone compared the presidential election to a choice between killing ten people and killing 100 people. 

Clinton proposed allowing “people 55 or 50 and up” buy in to Medicare.

Trump supporter Sarah Palin spoke out against Trump’s assertion that he would change the GOP’s abortion platform while speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “I don’t want the platform to change,” said Palin, adding that she “respect[s] the “culture of life that will be built upon the pro-life views the majority of Republicans hold.” 

The Nation’s Ari Berman wrote that “voter suppression is the only way Donald Trump can win” the White House.

Leaders from extremist groups such as the Family Research Council, National Right to Life, and the National Organization for Marriage are reportedly still unsure about whether they will back Trump now that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has left the race for the Republican nomination.

The Washington Post examined how the rise of Donald Trump may jeopardize the Congressional seats of other Republicans running down the ballot. One of those legislators could be Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) who notoriously introduced the failed “Blunt Amendment” to exempt any employer with a moral objection from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.

Former KKK leader David Duke tweeted that Donald Trump should ask him to join his ticket as vice president, claiming the move would be good “life insurance.”

Minnesota Republicans endorsed a candidate for the state’s 2nd congressional district seat who once claimed that women are “simply ignorant … of the important issues in life” because they are concerned about their reproductive health.

Don’t miss The Black Belt, a short film from the Intercept. It highlights voting rights in Alabama—which requires a photo ID at the polls—after the state closed 31 DMV locations that were primarily located in communities with large Black populations.