Category Archives: Policy Update

House Staffers Successfully Get the Green Light to Unionize

House Staffers Successfully Get the Green Light to Unionize

Gina Kelley
May 12, 2022

In March, NETWORK shared a blog discussing calls from Congressional Staffers for livable wages and the right to unionize. Last week in a Dear Colleague Letter, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) announced that the House of Representatives would vote on a Resolution from Congressman Mike Levin (CA-49) to allow House staffers to unionize and also shared that $45,000 will be the new minimum annual salary for House staffers. Thankfully, that vote was a successful one.  

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice applauds the passage of H.Res. 915 as well as the new $45,000 minimum annual pay standard for House staff. This is a great step in the right direction for workers’ rights on Capitol Hill.  

As people of faith, we know that supporting a living wage is one of the most effective ways to uphold the dignity of work. Catholic Social Justice teaches that work is more than a way to make a living — it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Additionally, our faith affirms the right of workers to organize. We know it is a moral imperative that all workers are free to act in solidarity with one another and make their voices heard. Our belief in the intrinsic value of work and workers leads us to strongly support the expansion of the right of workers to bargain collectively, form unions, and engage in collective action.  

Representative Levin’s Resolution and Speaker Pelosi’s implementation of a minimum salary uphold the dignity of work. As an organization that proudly collaborates with Congressional staff — and has done so for 50 years — NETWORK affirms the faithful vocation of public service. We thank those who have answered that call and proudly support policies that recognize the dignity of that calling. 

Finally, while we are thrilled to see these actions taken to support Congressional Staffers, we simultaneously urge the Senate to prioritize the economic security of workers in all industries. Everyone deserves a livable wage and the right to join a union.  

Hundreds of Miles of Wall and Two Years of Title 42 Later: Are We Any Better Off?

Hundreds of Miles of Wall and Two Years of Title 42 Later: Are We Any Better Off?

Julia Morris
May 9, 2022

“Title 42 is a policy failure plain and simple. It does nothing to stop COVID from being spread and by circumventing immigration law it actually goes against the principles on which our country was founded.
Ending it was the right decision”
– Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7)

A Trump appointed federal judge ordered a two week hold on the phasing out of the Title 42 expulsion policy, raising doubts about the Biden administration’s ability to restore asylum on May 23.

As Pope Francis said, “[T]housands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation … Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” (Papal address to the United States Congress, 9/24/15.)

Faith and secular border reception agencies are ready to receive asylum seekers and hope that Congress and the Administration will treat them as partners in this journey so that they can provide the best service to our siblings at the border. Rather than fall victim to anti-immigrant rhetoric, we have an opportunity now to live up to our values and show compassion.

Title 42 is a death sentence for these vulnerable asylum seekers. At its core, Title 42 is an obscure public health law weaponized advance cruel, xenophobic immigration policies under the guise of public health.

We know how to curb COVID-19: vaccines, masking, and social distancing. A xenophobic and selective ban on individuals and families fleeing harm only undermines public trust in federal institutions like the CDC.

We can protect public safety without turning away vulnerable families coming to this country for a better life.

Join NETWORK activists in restoring the right to asylum, email Congress now!

Ending the Black Maternal Health Crisis Is a Moral Imperative

Ending the Black Maternal Health Crisis Is a Moral Imperative

Joan F. Neal
April 15, 2022

This week marks the five-year anniversary of Black Maternal Health Week in the United States. During Black Maternal Health Week, advocates and elected officials build community and draw awareness toward the maternal mortality epidemic that is sweeping our nation. At NETWORK, we believe that access to quality, affordable health care is a fundamental human right. It is our moral responsibility as Catholics to ensure accessible health care for all and eliminate racial and economic health disparities. As Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) who is the co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus stated, “This work is deeply personal” during an interfaith event NETWORK helped to organize.

Statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in February revealed that the Black maternal mortality crisis has only gotten worse. The data shows that the mortality rate for Black women rose by 26 percent in 2020—a rate three times greater than that of white women. In an interfaith event last month, Representative Alma Adams (NC-12) said, “Overlooking the pain of Black women in health care results from implicit bias and racism.” The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, especially for birthing people of color. This is unjust and sinful.

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a historic call to action to improve lives and health outcomes for birthing people, especially people of color, across the country. The Biden-Harris administration made a series of announcements that will work toward health equity including extending Medicaid and CHIP coverage for a full year after pregnancy in 11 additional states, and proposing “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designations to make improvements in maternal health outcomes. These announcements, along with the 12 key bills in the Momnibus Act, are vital steps forward to invest in maternal health and dismantle systemic racism in our health care systems.

Black mothers should not fear for their lives or their infant’s life while giving birth. As Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) said during Wednesday’s Black Maternal Health Week event, “Birthing while Black should not be a death sentence.” NETWORK is proud to see the work done by the Biden-Harris administration to achieve healthcare equity for Black mothers, and continually supports the work of the Black Maternal Health Caucus to pass the Momnibus. With ongoing advocacy and a commitment to Build Anew, we can end the Black Maternal Mortality crisis in the United States. And we should do that.

Judge Jackson’s Nomination Soon to Move to the Senate Floor

Judge Jackson’s Nomination Soon to Move to the Senate Floor

Julia Morris
April 1, 2022

Next Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote  on whether to send the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court to the Senate floor. This will likely split the committee in a party line vote, but not necessarily derail the prospect for a final confirmation vote later next week. The particular day for confirmation depends on how much Republicans want to obstruct before leaving town.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) publicly expressed her support for nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. In her statement Sen. Collins expressed her concern with the manner in which these hearings have proceeded saying, “In my view, the role the Constitution clearly assigns to the Senate is to examine the experience, qualifications, and integrity of the nominee … [I]t is not to assess whether a nominee reflects the ideology of an individual Senator or would rule exactly as an individual Senator would want.” Sen. Collins’ support means Vice President Kamala Harris will not have to break a 50-50 tie for the nomination.

At NETWORK, we urge the Senate to confirm her nomination with all deliberate speed. As our Executive Director Mary Novak stated:

“In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims a new law of love known as the Beatitudes. He said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. We the People are hungering for justice. We need our political and judicial systems to live up to the vision of ‘right relationship’ where every person’s sacred worth is respected. On behalf of NETWORK’s 100,000 members and supporters, I express our strong support for the swift and historic confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court.

“Judge Jackson’s service as a federal public defender, the first defender nominated since Justice Thurgood Marshall, means she experienced firsthand the way our criminal legal system works for some but not all of us. This unique experience will allow her to bring a commitment to equal justice for all, grounded in human dignity to the Court.”

Join us in celebrating this occasion. Call 888-897-9753 to urge both of your Senators to Confirm the Honorable, and extremely qualified, Ketanji Brown Jackson!

NETWORK Lobby enthusiastically celebrates Judge Jackson's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

Ahead of this week’s nomination hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, NETWORK sent a letter strongly supporting her confirmation to the Supreme Court to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley.

Watch Judge Jackson’s nomination hearings here.

The letter asks Senators Durbin and Grassley to ensure a respectful, thorough, and swift confirmation process for Judge Jackson.

Judge Jackson’s work representing criminal defendants as well as her participation on the bipartisan Sentencing Commission is particularly meaningful from the Catholic tradition. As the letter explains,

The Gospels echo a sacred call proclaimed by the prophet Micah to act with both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8-9). During World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis used the three parables in Luke Chapter 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son—as a model of Christian mercy, saying: “Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness.” Judge Jackson’s work to eliminate racial disparities in sentencing and other sentencing reforms as well as her call for robust public defense systems to ensure just, fair, and reliable outcomes demonstrate her profound regard for the humanity of defendants. This is Christian mercy in the public square.

As the Supreme Court regularly decides critical civil rights and civil liberties cases, Judge Jackson’s confirmation will lend an important perspective to the Court’s deliberations. Her more than 600 rulings reflect her dedication to being a fair-minded, even-handed jurist committed to equal justice for all. She has garnered respect and recognition across partisan and ideological lines, and received broad support from the Senate for several high-level appointments. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is undeniably qualified to serve on the highest court in the land.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Sign NETWORK’s letter to show your support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination!

Support Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Nomination to the Supreme Court!

Add Your Name:

Support Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Historic Nomination to the Supreme Court!

We are celebrating! 

President Biden has chosen to nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson is a widely respected jurist who will bring a masterful command of the law along with broad legal experience including her formative service as a public defender to the bench. After graduating from Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Judge Jackson clerked for judges at every level of the federal judiciary, including former Associate Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, and served as a federal public defender. Judge Jackson is an outstanding nominee for Supreme Court, and the Senate should move forward with a fair and timely confirmation and hearing. 

The time to act is now.

This sign on letter is now closed, please stay tuned for additional ways to support Judge Jackson’s nomination!

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 18, 2022

On February 2, 2022, yet another Black person in the United States, 22-year-old Amir Locke, was shot and killed by the police. Amir Locke died with two wounds in the chest and one in the right wrist while lying on a couch just after 6:45 AM as Minneapolis Police Department and SWAT team members conducted a ‘no-knock’ warrant raid. Locke was not the subject of the warrant, and he should still be alive today. For how long must we wait for comprehensive policing systems reforms while Black and Brown lives lie in the wake?

This is yet another occurrence of police in the U.S. utilizing tactics that deny human dignity and sacred worth. Minneapolis was also home to George Floyd, who died while a police officer’s knee was placed on his neck for over 9 minutes, and Philando Castille, who was killed during an unwarranted traffic stop. Nationwide pleas for justice and meaningful change in the wake of Floyd and Castille’s deaths have seemingly gone unheard, unmet, unaddressed, as policing reform negotiations failed on Capitol Hill. Our elected officials on Capitol Hill and across the country must not fail to act now.

Cornell Law defines a “no-knock warrant” as, “A search warrant authorizing police officers to enter certain premises without first knocking and announcing their presence or purpose prior to entering the premises. Such warrants are issued where an entry pursuant to the knock-and-announce rule (i.e., an announcement prior to entry) would lead to the destruction of the objects for which the police are searching or would compromise the safety of the police or another individual.”

The ’no-knock’ raid that resulted in the death of Amir Locke is similar to what transpired with Breonna Taylor two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky. Ms. Taylor was an EMT who was shot and killed in her home during the execution of a no-knock warrant, of which she was not the intended focus. There is an ever-growing divide between law enforcement, local and federal government officials, and the public trust given the lack of action and transparency following so many deaths of Black people across the country at the hands of police.

Following Breonna Taylor’s death, activists have advanced  Breonna’s Law to end to the use of no-knock warrants, at the local, state, and federal level. However, more concrete steps and substantive legislation need to be enacted to make these changes real.

In solidarity with Amir’s parents, Andre Locke and Karen Wells, we ask for policing reform negotiations to resume, and for President Biden to include a federal ban on no-knock warrants as well as reforming the harmful 1033 and 1122 programs in his anticipated Executive Order on policing reform. As Democratic Senators Schatz, Wyden, Baldwin, Smith, Sanders, Brown, Van Hollen, Warren, Markey, and Casey recently wrote in a letter to President Biden, “Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer.”

A more perfect Union must establish justice in order to provide domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty that should be afforded us all. Congress and President Biden can – and must – implement these federal reforms to create a country where everyone, no matter our color, origin or gender, is safe and our human dignity is respected.

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 11, 2022

Members of the US Senate are currently considering a package of three sentencing reform bills already approved on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate passage of The First Step Implementation Act (S. 1014), the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act (S. 601), and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act (S. 312) would make meaningful if incremental, progress toward a more just criminal legal system. Sentencing of those who have been found guilty of wrong-doing must be based on values that honor human dignity, sanctity, and the allowance for redemption. However, our system for sentencing those convicted of crimes has for too long borne no relation to these values, resulting in prisons that are heavily populated by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Over the last 30 years, the United States has come to rely on its criminal justice system and lengthy prison terms more than any other nation.  With just 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners, including one-third of all women incarcerated worldwide.

The ACLU has reported [1] that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 2019, approximately 2.1 million people were in adult correctional jails and prisons around the United States. Many thousands of people, disproportionately people of color, are cycled in and out of state jails or prisons every day.

Extreme sentencing laws and practices are keeping people in prisons for far longer than ever before. The result is that more people are spending more of their lives in prison than at any point in U.S. history. Over-reliance on incarceration is fiscally unsustainable and has imposed a burdensome human toll and a disparate impact on African American and Latino persons and communities.

The federal prison population has increased nearly 800% since 1980 and more than doubled since 1994, with spending up 1700% during that time, and federal prisons are currently operating at 131% of capacity. This is due to a significant degree to the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences.  Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. [2]

There is consensus across the political spectrum that our criminal justice system is out of balance and in need of significant reform. Many states have enacted bipartisan “smart-on-crime” reforms that achieve significant cost savings and reduce crime. Now, it is time for these reforms to be made at the federal level.

 

Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021 (S.79)

Introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) on January 28, 2021, this bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, established in 1986 when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act–a major contributor to mass incarceration–and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. Congress set a 100:1 disparity, sentencing crack cocaine offenses at a higher level even though the drugs are nearly identical chemically and comparable in physiological and psychoactive effects. Although it did not address the disparity fully, Congress passed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity to 18:1 for pending and future cases only. The change was not made retroactive until the bipartisan First Step Act of 2018.

Prospective Impact: The Sentencing Commission [3] estimates that approximately 827 offenders each year would benefit from this section of the bill.2 The current average sentence for those offenders is 74 months. The estimated new sentence for those offenders would be 43 months.

Retroactive Impact: Approximately 7,787 offenders in BOP custody would be eligible to seek a modification of their sentence based on this section of the bill. The Commission estimates that up to 7,644 offenders would receive a reduction in their sentence. [3] The current average sentence for these offenders is 173 months. The estimated new sentence for these offenders would be 100 months

 

First Step Implementation Act of 2021 (S. 1014)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 25, 2021, this bill would further the goals of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) by correcting unfairness that has resulted in implementation and interpretation errors that contravene the spirit of the FSA by:

  • Allowing courts to apply the FSA’s sentencing reform provisions to reduce sentences imposed prior to the enactment of the FSA;
  • Broadening the safety valve provision to allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum for nonviolent controlled substance offenses if the court finds the defendant’s criminal history over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record and the likelihood of recidivism;
  • Allowing courts to reduce sentences imposed on juvenile offenders who have served more than 20 years;
  • Providing for the sealing or expungement of records of nonviolent juvenile offenses; and,
  • Requiring the Attorney General to establish procedures ensuring that only accurate criminal records are shared for employment-related purposes.

 

Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 (S. 601)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 4, 2021, this bill would end the perverse practice under which federal courts consider acquitted or dismissed charges as aggravating factors when imposing sentences for convictions. It would do so by:

  • Amending 18 U.S.C. § 3661 to preclude a court of the United States from considering, except for purposes of mitigating a sentence, acquitted conduct at sentencing, and
  • Defining “acquitted conduct” to include acts for which a person was criminally charged and adjudicated not guilty after trial in a Federal, State, Tribal, or Juvenile court, or acts underlying a criminal charge or juvenile information dismissed upon a motion for acquittal.

 

Covid-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (S. 312)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on February 12, 2021, this bill would clarify and expand the eligibility for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program (introduced by the FSA), including explicitly naming COVID-19 vulnerability as a basis for compassionate release under this program. It would do so by:

  • Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including reductions for good time credits (H.R. 4018, which passed the House by voice vote last Congress);
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least two-thirds of their term of imprisonment;
  • Clarifying that elderly nonviolent D.C. Code offenders in BOP custody are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release;
  • Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (based on the First Step Act’s compassionate release provision); and
  • Providing that, during the period of the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability is a basis for compassionate release and shortening the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days.

There are too many people in prison serving unnecessarily long sentences.  These people are not a threat to the public and serving inhumanely long sentences actually reduces their chances of becoming productive law-abiding citizens.  We must support shorter sentences when appropriate.  These bills are not only appropriate, but also imperative.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system bypassing the First Step Implementation Act, the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act, and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act.

[1] Sentencing Reform | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)

[2] Federal Sentencing Reform (americanbar.org)

[3] Prison and Sentencing Impact Assessment for the EQUAL Act of 2021 (ussc.gov)

All I Want for Christmas is a Faithful Democracy

All I Want for Christmas is a Faithful Democracy

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
December 22, 2021

As some of you may know, there are swirling rumors about the possibility that voting rights could move as soon as the Senate returns in January. With that in mind, it is the right moment for us to pull no punches in urging the White House to push the Democratic Caucus to finally pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis VRAA.

After the historical Senate floor address by Sen. Warnock earlier this month demanding action on voting rights, a very real energy is building among Senate Democrats.  The timing of consideration between Build Back Better and voting rights bill has been in flux in recent days, but there was a tangible pivot towards the latter with Manchin’s unexpected rejection of BBB negotiations on Fox News. It was a setback, for sure, but one that can be overcome.

In the meantime, what we are seeing is a problematic lack of enthusiasm by the Biden Administration to meet the level of energy in the Senate move on voting rights. We know his influence on Democratic Senators is powerful.  I chose to get arrested in front of the White House and to write about the moral call to pass these bills because we know President Biden also cares and listens when the faith community weighs in clear and strong.

In a faithful democracy, elections, campaigns, and voting are all mechanisms for a collective wisdom to shape truly representative leadership and empower accountable decision-makers. This is the open-loop system that, at its best, brings about a more perfect union. Transformational reforms are needed now to get us there, and cannot wait for another election cycle to pass.

Hampering voter participation has become campaign strategy in Republican led states. Gerrymandered districts are being drawn to lock in power for another decade rather than reflect the will of constituents. Dark money is already flooding the airwaves and internet with campaign attack ads and fear-mongering half-truths. All the while, a coordinated misinformation campaign is dangerously undermining voters’ trust in elections.

Leader Schumer has announced his intent to consider these bills as the first order of business in January—and to reform the filibuster rule if needed to have the debate and a vote. The White House must match his determination by encouraging the Senate Democrats to move on voting rights and adjust their rules as needed, even as they continue negotiating Build Back Better.

For now, make sure you stay updated with NETWORK here.

We look forward to what I hope is the final push to passage in the New Year and to welcoming Rev. Christian Watkins into the voting rights struggle on behalf of NETWORK. Take this holiday to rest so that you, too, will be ready to engage anew when the time is right.

Sincerely,

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP