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 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.


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