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Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

Former public defender would be first Black woman on bench

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President Biden is set to name Ketanji Brown Jackson, as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, according to reports in multiple media outlets.

In a ceremony in the Great Cross-Hall outside of the Blue Room at the White House Friday, President Joe Biden formally announced Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. The presidentโ€™s choice of Jackson as the first Black woman to serve on the bench is historic.

Jackson, 51, is a favorite among progressives because of her background as a former public defender in D.C. and former clerk for U.S. Associate Justice Breyer, whose seat she would fill after his announced retirement this year if confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Joni Madison, interim president for the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the choice of Jackson for her “integrity, professionalism and unwavering commitment to the Constitution.”

“Her tenure on the bench provides ample evidence that she is both prepared and trustworthy of this highest privilege, and responsibility, that comes with sitting on our highest court,” Madison said.

Madison declared the Human Rights Campaign supports Jackson: “After a careful review of her record, it is clear that Jacksonโ€™s demonstrated fidelity to the principles of our Constitution instills confidence that she will continue Justice Breyerโ€™s legacy as a champion of equality.”

In terms of LGBTQ issues, however, Jackson’s record is not without its blemishes. She once worked as an adviser for a Baptist school in the Maryland suburbs that had a mission statement against LGBTQ people and abortion.

The now-defunct school, known as Montrose Christian School, had a statement on its website condemning homosexuality and abortion consistent with its religious views, as documented by the conservative Washington Examiner at the time of Jacksonโ€™s confirmation process for her current seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The mission statement urged students to uphold a โ€œChristian character,โ€ which among other things in the views of the school, meant they should oppose โ€œall forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.โ€ Abortion is also implicitly condemned in the mission statement: โ€œWe should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.โ€

Upon Jackson’s nomination, conservatives smarting from attacks on now U.S. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation process over her ties to religious groups with anti-LGBTQ views, as well as her affiliation with the anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, may cynically highlight Jacksonโ€™s past affiliation with the school as a reason to attack her or progressives as hypocrites for not opposing her confirmation.

Jackson addressed her past work with the school during the confirmation process for her current job in response to questions from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) , maintaining her role on the advisory board for Montrose Baptist Church was limited and she was unaware of its position statement.

โ€œI was aware that Montrose Christian School was affiliated with Montrose Baptist Church,โ€ Jackson said. โ€œI was not aware that the school had a public website or that any statement of beliefs was posted on the schoolโ€™s website at the time of my service. My service on the advisory school board primarily involved planning for school fundraising activities for the benefit of enrolled students. I did not receive any compensation for my service.โ€

Nan Hunter, an emeritus law professor at Georgetown University who has written about LGBTQ issues, previously downplayed in an email to the Blade Jacksonโ€™s affiliation with Montrose Christian School as evidence she would be hostile to LGBTQ people as a Supreme Court justice.

โ€œJudge Jackson apparently volunteered for a year to help raise money for student services at a Christian school in the D.C. suburbs,โ€ Hunter said. โ€œThere is no indication anywhere in her professional record or personal experience that she shares anti-gay views. In my opinion, her lifelong commitment to equality more than outweighs any concern that she might be biased against LGBT rights.โ€

Progressive groups were undeterred by Jackson’s work for Montrose Christian School in their support for her nomination.

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Womenโ€™s Law Center, said in a statement Jackson is “an eminently qualified public servant with distinguished experience as a federal judge.”

“As a district court judge, she ruled on over 550 cases and is renowned for her careful, methodical approach to ensuring equal justice under the law on reproductive rights, disability rights, and workers’ rights,” Graves said. “It is incumbent upon senators to give her a fair and timely confirmation without obstruction, honoring their Constitutional duty to advise and consent and their moral duty to treat her with the respect and dignity she deserves.โ€

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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: โ€œthis book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.โ€

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Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental โ€œadvisory noticeโ€ on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed.ย 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing โ€œAdvisory notice to parents,โ€ according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, โ€œThis Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her childโ€™s education consistent with state law.โ€ย 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February.ย 

These measures, which Alves described as a โ€œcompromise,โ€ happened after the districtโ€™s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a โ€œPorn in Schools Reportโ€ project last year. The report included a list of books that โ€œpromote gender self-identification and same-sex marriageโ€ as well as titles that include โ€œindecent and offensive material,โ€ as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the โ€œDonโ€™t Say Gayโ€ law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools.ย 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

โ€œIt is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,โ€ Maloney said. โ€œThis legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.โ€

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

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The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children โ€” where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported โ€” would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach โ€” real world studies are needed โ€” and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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