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Democratic leaders urged to restrict Supreme Court jurisdiction over marriage, abortion

Roe v. Wade overturned last month

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Outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, after it overturned Roe v. Wade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a letter to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, 10 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked for support in establishing and protecting nationwide privacy rights that include abortion and marriage equality. 

The letter, addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), calls on party leaders to support a push to restrict the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over matters and decisions regarding certain privacy-related rights.

“We write to urge your support for restricting the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction in the areas of abortion, marriage equality, non-procreative intimacy and contraception,” the members of Congress wrote. “In doing so, we can ensure that, as Congress takes legislative action to codify each of these fundamental rights, a radical, restless and newly constituted majority on the court cannot further undermine the protections we would enact.”

Although Congress cannot remove the Supreme Court from cases falling under its original jurisdiction, Article III of the Constitution does grant Congress the power to strip the court’s jurisdiction in appellate cases. 

Appellate jurisdiction pertains to a court hearing, reversing or amending a lower court’s previous decision on a case.

The signatories of the letter to Democratic leadership pointed to instances in which the Supreme Court itself has reaffirmed such congressional power in the past.

“Most recently, in Patchak v. Zinke (2018), Justice Thomas held for the court that, ‘When Congress strips federal courts of jurisdiction, it exercises a valid legislative power no less than when it lays taxes, coins money, declares war, or invokes any other power that the Constitution grants it,” they wrote. “‘Indeed, this court has held that Congress generally does not violate Article III when it strips federal jurisdiction over a class of cases.’”

The letter comes amid a new era of heightened tension between the Supreme Court and a number of members of Congress who have accused it of threatening the rights of certain groups of Americans after ruling on several controversial cases heard during its latest term.

In relaying what they feel to be the urgency of enacting such restrictions, the letter’s signatories pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision last month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that ended the nationwide right to abortion. More privacy-related rights, they say, are now under threat.

“As a result of the Supreme Court’s actions, millions of people will no longer have access to abortion care, a crisis disproportionately impacting women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and the undocumented,” the signatories wrote. “Moreover, Justice Thomas’ concurrence in Dobbs laid out a clear plan for the Supreme Court to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) in the near future, placing the rights to marriage equality, non-procreative intimacy and contraception in jeopardy.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii).

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Congress

Members of Congress call for gender-neutral travel documents

Letter sent to the State Department, DHS on Tuesday

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(Public domain photo)

California Congressman Adam Schiff and 18 other House Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security that encourages them to make the “X” gender marker available for all U.S. passport applications and Trusted Travelers programs.

A spokesperson for Schiff told the Washington Blade in an email:

“The letter was inspired by a constituent who reached out to our office trying to get an emergency passport appointment with an ‘X’ gender marker — right now you can only get rush passport service with the ‘X’ gender marker at one passport agency in D.C., so if they had gone through the L.A. passport agency, they only would have been able to get a passport with the M or F gender marker. Our office was able to resolve the case successfully, but it inspired our team to figure out a legislative solution that will help LGBTQI+ individuals access these services in the future.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in March 2021 announced passports with an “X” gender marker will be available starting April 11.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym last October received the first gender-neutral American passport.

In Tuesday’s letter, the House members noted that while State Department and the Department of Homeland Security made history by expanding the gender marker options available for U.S. passports and TSA PreCheck applications, creating a new “X” marker for individuals who identify as unspecified or another gender identity.

“The departments have yet to implement the ‘X’ gender marker for their wide range of passport services and application forms, including the rush, non-routine, and Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry that are currently accessible to other travelers.”

The letter also highlights: “As long as the Department of State fails to provide non-routine services to individuals seeking an ‘X’ as their gender marker, non-binary applicants will continue to face an undue and unjust burden when pursuing international travel. The State Department’s current timeline to provide these services by late 2023, with no clear date released to the public, would deny these travelers equal access for far too long. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security’s current policy limitations simply force non-binary travelers to choose a gender that does not reflect their gender identity.”

The members and concerned LGBTQ and intersex advocacy groups who endorsed the letter are asking the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure.

  • Solidified and accelerated implementation of the “X” gender marker option for passport cards, emergency passports printed at embassies and consulates, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) and on Trusted Traveler Programs forms
  • A public date by which the “X” gender marker will be available for applicants for all passport services and application forms

Schiff was joined by U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Schiff’s office also noted that this request was endorsed by COLAGE, Equality California, Equality Federation, Family Equality, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project.

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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Congress

Rep. Mondaire Jones makes video of getting second monkeypox vaccine

Outbreak now disproportionately affecting Black men

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Rep,. Mondaire Jones made a video of him getting the second monkeypox vaccine. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), at a time when racial disparities in the monkeypox outbreak are becoming more pronounced, took a visible role Tuesday in embracing efforts to contain the disease, putting out a video of him obtaining a vaccine.

Jones, who is one of two openly gay Black members of Congress, is shown in the video outside of Westchester Medical Center’s drive-through clinic in Westchester County, N.Y., saying he just received his second dose of the monkeypox vaccine.

“Monkeypox is hitting LGBTQ+ communities of color particularly hard,” Jones said in a tweet. “The most effective way to stop the spread is to get vaccinated and to talk about it — to overcome stigma and misinformation. I did my part and got vaccinated. You should, too.”

The video comes out as racial disparities persist in the monkeypox outbreak, even though the number of new cases overall is beginning to decline. In the week of Sept. 4, Black people represented 41 percent of the cases and Latinos represented 27 percent, while 26 percent were white and three percent were Asian, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

Jones, who had represented New York’s 17th congressional district, was unable to obtain the Democratic nomination to run again for Congress after redistricting in New York and is set to leave at the end of his term.

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Senate Dems weigh including same-sex marriage bill in budget stopgap

Legislative maneuver enables speedier approach

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Senate Democrats are weighing the inclusion of a marriage bill in a budget stopgap. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Democrats upon return from August recess are weighing whether to include a provision seeking to codify same-sex marriage into law as part of a measure that would temporarily continue funding the government as lawmakers hammer out the budget for the upcoming year.

Something senior Senate Democrats have been considering in recent days is possibly adding marriage equality to the continuing resolution, a Capitol Hill source with knowledge of the talks told the Washington Blade on Tuesday morning. The news was first reported by Jake Sherman of PunchBowl News.

Supporters of the Respect for Marriage Act, which seeks to codify same-sex marriage into law amid fears the U.S. Supreme Court may rescind it after its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, have said they’ve been working on securing 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The House approved the legislation in July.

Four Republicans have signaled they would support the bill, at least in some capacity: Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.). Johnson, however, has changed his tune recently and said an amendment for religious accommodations is necessary.

Whether or not the marriage bill is included in the continuing resolution, the measure would still require 60 votes. The approach in the stopgap budget, however, would enable speedier movement with limited time remaining on the legislative schedule.

Some internal pushback has emerged on the idea to include same-sex marriage in the continuing resolution: A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the Respect for Marriage Act told the Blade supporters are still working on obtaining 60 votes for a standalone bill and a provision in the budget stopgap would be a “last resort.”

“I think conventional wisdom would say if all things fall apart, maybe that’s our route for some must pass bill,” the aide said. “But as of now, the coalition that is supporting the bill [is] still working with colleagues to find the 10 Republican votes, and we’re confident we’ll be able to.”

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