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D.C. Justice Updates
From the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries staff in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022
 

  • Unions: The Senate voted last Thursday stop the threatened freight rail strike.  The fight centers on sick leave for railroad workers, currently they do not even have any days of sick leave. Because the strike could endanger the economy Congress stepped in to stop it, to the detriment of negotiations on ensuring safe and equitable working conditions for rail workers.
     

  • Government Funding: Lawmakers are likely to extend the Dec. 16 deadline to Dec. 23 with a short-term funding bill that keeps funding levels the same, called a continuing resolution (CR).  There’s the possibility that a longer-term CR will be agreed to, but leadership in Congress is reticent to do so. 
     

  • Marriage Equality: The Senate passed the bill to protect same-sex marriage last week, sending it to the House. The House is expected to pass the bill soon (they were originally going to vote on Tuesday), sending it to President Biden’s desk. It may get attached to the defense spending bill (NDAA).
     

  • Supreme Court: This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case of LGBTQ rights vs. free speech- considering whether a web designer’s refusal to produce same-sex-union sites violates public-accommodation law. Today the Supreme Court also considered Moore v Harper which asks whether the U.S. Constitution gives absolute power beyond the reach of state courts and other laws to a state legislature to regulate federal elections.

    Ten Trans Attorneys were admitted to practice before the Supreme Court last week. “This was partly about saying to the Supreme Court, look — we look just like you, we argue cases just like you, we have successes and occasionally lose cases just like you.”

  • Voting Rights/Democracy Protection: The Congressional Black Caucus is trying to convince House Democratic leadership to use a parliamentary maneuver to twin the National Defense Authorization Act with H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
     

  • Abortion: People in Louisiana are paying more than $2,000 for an abortion, dramatically escalating the cost for the procedure.  It’s anticipated that in Nebraska with a new legislative session abortion access will be one of the first items on the agenda. Check in with Wyoming’s only abortion clinic as the WY trigger law banning abortions works its way up to the WY Supreme Court. 
     

  • Germany: A group of extremists were arrested in Germany today for a coup; they planned to storm the capitol, arrest and execute lawmakers and install a far right member of German nobility as head of state. 
     

  • China: Chinese officials announced a rollback in the “zero-COVID” policies that have been in place for three years and sparked mass protests this month. The new policy takes aim at some of the most onerous and widely feared pandemic measures such as requiring mass testing, limited the scope of lockdowns and mandatory hospitalization and mass quarantines. 
     

  • Ukraine: In a state dinner last week with Emmanuel Macron the President of France, President Biden shifted his tone toward Russia by suggesting that he would be willing talk to President Vladimir V. Putin directly if the Russian leader indicated he was serious about ending the war.  Biden hedged these comments by adding he would only do so in consultation with NATO allies, but still it is the first time that the president has suggested a willingness to engage in direct talks not based on Ukraine’s own conditions or initiative.  

 

 

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo: The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) raised its estimates of the number of people killed in a recent massacre in Kishishe last week from 50 to over 270.  The victims of the attack included children at both an Adventist Church and a hospital.  The government has blamed the rebel group M23 for the massacre, but the group has denied responsibility. The fragile ceasefire agreed to in November is now fraying under recent clashes and increased tension. 

 

  • Human Rights: Following a rise in religious and political conservatism in Indonesia, the country’s parliament passed a new criminal code that limits political freedoms, and bans anyone in the country from having extramarital sex.  The decision sparked protests in Jakarta this week, and is expected to be challenged in court.  The law would apply not only to citizens but also to tourists and carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.  In Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a new law banning public expression of L.G.B.T.Q. identity in public.   The new law bans any media representation of “nontraditional sexual relations,” labeling it propaganda and alleges that such information causes children to want to change their orientation.  In Iran, protests continue over the death of a young woman who died in custody for violating the country’s strict Islamic dress laws.  However, in a possible concession in the face of the ongoing protests, there are mixed reports that that Iran’s “morality police” group has been abolished, which- if true- would be a symbolic victory for the protestors and sign that more reforms could come- but reports are murky at best.

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

 

  • Nuclear WeaponsRussia walked away from START Treaty negotiations that were scheduled to begin in Egypt on Tuesday.  The New START Treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides will soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.

 

  • Immigration: This week the Supreme Court considered whether to revive immigration enforcement guidelines issued by the Biden administration that had set priorities for deciding which unauthorized immigrants should be arrested and detained. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar told the justices that the Department of Homeland Security must be able to set priorities. “There are more than 11 million removable noncitizens in this country, and D.H.S. has about 6,000 interior enforcement officers,” she said, adding that the federal government does not have the resources to apprehend and seek to deport all unauthorized immigrants.

 

  • Marriage equality: The Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act this week with 61 YEAS and 36 NAYS.  The bill repeals the Defense of Marriage Act and ensures that same-sex and interracial marriages are recognized under federal law. Notably it includes religious exemptions, which were necessary to get enough support for passage, the legislation would not require states to allow same-sex marriage if Obergefell were indeed struck down; it would only force states and the federal government to recognize marriages conducted in places where they are legal.

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

 

  • Saudi Arabia: The Biden administration is considering reevaluating the U.S.’s relationship with Saudi Arabia after last week’s agreement by OPEC+ to slash crude production by 2 million barrels a day, the largest supply cut since 2020. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez said Monday that he would oppose arms sales and other security cooperation with Saudi Arabia saying that Saudi Arabia’s support of that production cut will “help underwrite” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. Russia is a major oil producer and part of OPEC+.

 

  • Marijuana: On Oct. 6, President Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of simple marijuana possession at the federal level. The administration will also undertake a review of the drug’s legal classification. Convictions for marijuana possession disproportionately punish Black and brown communities, making this a significant step toward racial equity in our justice system.

 

  • DACA Decision: A federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that found the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful, and ordered a review of changes to the program made by the Biden administration. The decision leaves the program temporarily intact, meaning current DACA recipients can renew their status, but new applications are not being accepted. 

 

  • Yemen: The truce in the war in Yemen expired last weekend, leaving civilians vulnerable to a renewal of hostilities. Forty members of Congress signed a letter on Sept. 30 calling on the United States to use its leverage with Saudi Arabia to end the blockade of Yemen and pursue peace. 

 

  • Climate: This week group of Senate Democrats including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) urged the White House to declare a “Climate Emergency

 

 

  • COVID: Just five percent of the eligible population in the US (which is nearly all adults and teens) have received the latest COVID booster, concerning news since it looks like cases are ticking up again. 

 

 

  • Abortion: In states like Ohio where abortion is banned in nearly all exceptions, those receiving cancer treatment must leave the state to get an abortion- which means people who are pregnant and need life-saving treatment are being denied it depending on where they live. “I don’t know anybody that would feel comfortable treating a pregnant patient with cancer because I don’t feel like they’re nearly dead enough,” Zahedi-Spung said. “The threshold that I am holding in order to provide abortion care is basically almost dead to try to avoid being arrested and jailed.” We’re now at about 100 days since Roe fell and 66 abortion clinics have closed. Nearly 1 in 3 women in America lost access to abortion care in their state. Notably, none of the states that criminalized or banned abortion increased coverage for maternal care or paid maternal leave.

Monday, October 3, 2022 • Justice Update

The House and Senate are out. The Senate doesn’t have any votes until after the midterm elections setting up a very busy lame duck session – in which they’ll have to consider the defense authorization bill, an omnibus spending package, a bill protecting the right to same-sex marriage, and other items that haven’t made it to the floor yet.

 

  • Supreme Court: The Supreme Court begins its fall term this week (starting with the traditional Red Mass at St. Matthew’s cathedral timed for the beginning of the term). As we all saw, the last term of the Supreme Court upended many years of settled precedent, notably overturning Roe v. Wade. This term will also include several momentous (and contentious) cases on issues including the environment, LGBTQ equality, affirmative action, elections, and the independent state legislature theory. Last week Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was welcomed by her colleagues on Friday at an investiture ceremony at the court.
     

  • Puerto Rico: The President in Puerto Rico today announced $60 million in funding to help the island protect itself from future storms. More than two weeks after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, 122,130 customers are still without power as of Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.
     

  • Government Funding: A government shutdown was avoided by just a whisker last week after the House passed the Senate continuing resolution – authorizing government funding through Dec. 16. Already there is talk of how to provide additional funding following the devastation of Hurricane Ian in Florida.
     

  • Iran: Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke for the first time on the protests in Iran, calling them rioting provoked and planned by the U.S. and Israel. This weekend Iranian students stepped up their protests in defiance of a crackdown by security forces.
     

  • Russia/Ukraine: President Putin’s disconcerting (and illegal) declaration of the annexation of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine signals the onset of a new and highly dangerous phase in the seven-month war.
     

  • DACA: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court is poised in the near future to issue a ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and its legality. In advance of that, the Biden administration is preparing executive orders to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deprioritize deporting DACA recipients and refrain from deporting them if they aren’t deemed threats to public safety or national security.
     

  • Gun Violence: The Supreme Court left the ban on bump stocks in place today, declining to hear a case challenging the order.
     

  • Policing: House lawmakers passed a package of policing bills that would provide millions of dollars to local law enforcement. It does include investments in violence interrupters and support for mental health interventions but it lacks the accountability needed to ensure funds will not result in increased militarism, violence, and over-policing of Black and brown communities. The legislation’s future in the Senate is uncertain.

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In responding faithfully to God’s call for abundant life for all people, a common life in which no one is left behind, we are drawn inevitably to engage in public policy advocacy and decision-making.   

The UCC Washington DC Office was called into being by a resolution at General Synod 10 in 1975. This predecessor body to Justice and Witness Ministries (then called the Office for Church in Society) was created to assume a leadership function for social action concerns in the UCC and to provide resources to the national, conference and local churches. 

THE GOAL of the UCC JWM Washington office is to make a better world possible by addressing the systemic problems that we face as a country and as part of the world. Hunger, poverty, peace and security, racism, care for the earth. These are among the types of justice issues that we work to improve through federal policies.

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