Health Care

AFJ Action Campaign is tracking the votes of every senator up for reelection in 2020 on Trump’s worst of the worst judges. Each senator who voted to confirm these judges owns the decisions—these decisions are harming people every day. See how your senator voted for some of the worst of the worst judges here.

In Valentine v. Collier, Fifth Circuit Judges Don Willett, James Ho, and Stuart Kyle Duncan – all appointed by Donald Trump – ruled against elderly inmates seeking an injunction to require prison officials to slow the spread of Covid-19 in prison facilities for medically compromised persons. To date, there have been over 500 infections and 20 deaths in the facility. The judges, however, stated that because the inmates had not exhausted their administrative remedies, their claims could not be heard, writing that the threats posed by the pandemic “do not matter.” The judges also went even further, opining that even if they were to hear the claims, they would dismiss the case because even though the prison “fail[ed] to abide by basic health guidance,” it was not deliberately indifferent to the inmates.

In Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo, Second Circuit judges Michael H. Park and Steven Menashi ruled that New York’s limits on maximum building occupancy in parts of the state particularly ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic served no public interest when applied to religious gatherings. The court’s decision allows houses of worship in areas with high concentrations of Covid infections to hold indoor religious services of more than 25 people. The Trump judges on the Second Circuit followed the lead of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, which earlier enforced a temporary injunction against New York’s attempts to put a stop to “superspreader” events.

In Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, Ninth Circuit judge Mark Bennett joined a panel decision to bar enforcement of Nevada’s fifty-person cap on indoor religious services. The state’s governor issued the emergency order in an effort to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The panel’s ruling severely hinders the government’s ability to protect residents in a state with one of the highest infection rates in the country.

In Planned Parenthood v. Kauffman, Fifth Circuit Judges Don Willett, James C. Ho, Kyle Duncan, and Kurt D. Englehardt held that Texas and Louisiana may withhold Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood clinics providing cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and basic healthcare to low-income people. In dissent, Judge James Dennis said the ruling unlawfully deprives Medicaid patients of the right to make free choices about his or her own healthcare. The Fifth Circuit’s decision also overturns the findings of the district court and reverses its own recent precedent.

In Chipman v. Cigna Behavioral Health, D.C. district court judge Timothy Kelly upheld the denial of Robert Chipman’s request for coverage of residential mental health treatment. After Kelly began struggling with mental health and behavioral issues, he was admitted to a licensed treatment facility. Kelly agreed with Cigna’s conclusion that this treatment “was not medically necessary,” despite multiple letters from Chipman’s doctors recommending treatment in a residential facility.

In First Baptist Church v. Kelly, Kansas district court judge John W. Broomes blocked Kansas from limiting attendance at in-person religious worship services or activities to 10 people or fewer to check the spread of the coronavirus, signaling he believes there’s a good chance the policy violates religious freedom and free speech rights. .

In Capitol Hill Baptist Church v. Bowser, D.C. district court judge Trevor McFadden ruled that D.C.’s cap of 100 people at religious services violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The policy was implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, which, at the time of his decision, had already claimed the lives of over 220,000 people in the U.S.

In Hoffer v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, Eleventh Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom wrote an opinion that reversed a district court order requiring the Florida Department of Corrections to provide antiviral medication to all incarcerated people suffering from Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a disease that impairs liver function and can lead to death if not properly treated. In dissent, Judge Beverly Martin wrote that the decision would “undermine the rights of our incarcerated citizens to maintain their health and safety while they serve their sentence.”

In Atkins v. Parker, Sixth Circuit Judge Eric Murphy cast the deciding vote to uphold a district court decision which allows the Tennessee Department of Corrections to refuse to provide antiviral medication to most incarcerated people suffering from Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a disease that impairs liver function and can lead to death if not properly treated.

In O’Keeffe v. Continental Casualty Co., Sixth Circuit Judge Chad Readler upheld a district court decision to dismiss a claim by the daughter of a deceased elderly woman that her insurance company should not have cut off medical care coverage. In dissent, Judge Helene White, a President George W. Bush appointee, strongly objected and argued that there should have been more discovery in the case.

In Texas v. United States, Fifth Circuit Judge Kurt Engelhardt cast the deciding vote to keep alive a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the entire Affordable Care Act. The case is now before the Supreme Court and, if Engelhardt’s decision is upheld, millions of Americans, including people with preexisting conditions, will lose access to quality health insurance.

In Swain v. Junior, Eleventh Circuit judges Elizabeth Branch and Kevin Newsom reversed a lower court order that had required a series of safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 at a Florida detention center.

In Baqer v. St. Tammany Parish Government, Louisiana district court judge Wendy Vitter denied a request by three men to force a Louisiana jail to enact social distancing in holding cells in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The three men, who were all being held pre-trial, alleged overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in St. Tammany Parish Jail. There were at least nine cases of COVID-19 at the jail at the time Judge Vitter issued her decision.

In Frank v. City of St. Louis, Missouri district court judge Sarah Pitlyk denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented St. Louis officials from clearing a homeless encampment at a downtown park, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, “before adequate shelter, services, and medical outreach could be arranged.”

In ACAP v. Treasury, D.C. Circuit judge Gregory Katsas joined an opinion upholding the Trump administration’s expansion of cheap, short-term insurance as an alternative to the ACA. These plans have been labeled “junk insurance” because they can exclude coverage for maternity care, mental health, or prescription drugs, and carriers can charge more or decline to cover people based on their health.

In County of Butler v. Wolf, Pennsylvania district court judge William S. Stickman IV ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state’s business closure order and reopening plan in June could proceed immediately as violations of citizens’ First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

In Castor v. AT&T Umbrella Benefit Plan No. 3, Sixth Circuit judges Amul Thapar and Joan Larsen ruled to allow a cable company to deny disability benefits to a sick employee even though the company unlawfully used the same doctor to evaluate — and reject — both the initial claim and the appeal.

In Atkins v. Parker, Sixth Circuit judge Eric Murphy upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that thousands of inmates in a Tennessee prison were known to have hepatitis C and were not receiving treatment and that thousands of other inmates went untested. By 2019, 4,740 of the 21,000 inmates in Tennessee’s prisons had hepatitis C; 81 died from hepatitis C just since direct-acting antivirals became available. A majority of the Sixth Circuit panel, including Murphy, found that the medical director did not act with “deliberate indifference to [the inmates] serious medical needs,” particularly emphasizing the high cost of treatment. In dissent, Judge Ronald Lee Gilman argued that cost may be a factor in a treatment consideration, but cost does not remove a state’s obligation for the treatment of people in its care. Moreover, he said, nothing in the record showed that the medical director had even asked for enough funding to treat all inmates suffering from hepatitis C.

In County of Butler v. Wolf, Judge William Stickman of the Western District of Pennsylvania held that Pennsylvania’s emergency response the coronavirus pandemic, which limited the size of public gatherings and required businesses to operate at lower occupancy, was unconstitutional. These measures were designed to stop the spread of Covid-19, which has infected nearly 150,000 people in Pennsylvania and caused nearly 8,000 deaths. Stickman argued that the measures should be given no additional deference despite being implemented to respond to a public health crisis, and that as a result, the limits on public gatherings violated the First Amendment, and restrictions on businesses were “arbitrary” and unconstitutional. Stickman also went out of his way to argue that a state stay-at-home order was unconstitutional, even though no such order was currently in place. 

Although not in the majority, in Cameron v. Bouchard, Sixth Circuit judge John Bush would have blocked a district court order that found that jail officials in Oakland County, Michigan, were acting with “deliberate indifference” to the risks posed by COVID-19 and ordered remedial measures to protect person’s health.

In Estate of Richie Majors v. Gerlach, Sixth Circuit Judge John Bush would have dismissed a claim of deliberate indifference against medical staff who failed to provide timely treatment to a prisoner who had multiple sclerosis, which caused his death. When Richie Majors began his prison sentence, he informed medical staff that he had MS, which was treated with interferon. Over the course of the next four years, however, he did not receive interferon or any other treatment, despite repeated requests. His condition deteriorated to the point where he could “no longer remember basic words,” could not “maintain his own hygiene,” and had “severe memory loss.” After it was discovered that he had “highly advanced MS damage to his brain,” he was released on parole and died shortly thereafter.


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