Midterm Elections: Judges are on the ballot!
When it comes to advancing equitable and affordable healthcare for all, the idea of judges and court systems does not always immediately come to mind. However, the judicial system can have a profound impact on civil rights and access to healthcare, especially for marginalized populations like the LGBTQ+ community. Especially with the current surge of anti-LGBTQ+ political attacks, it is more important than ever to make your voice heard by voting for local and state judges in the Midterm Elections!
Recently there have been several cases that highlight just how important the courts are when it comes to healthcare access. For example, in August, a federal judge in Texas ruled that mandating employers to provide PrEP coverage in the employee insurance plans violated the employer’s religious freedom. Despite the proven efficacy of PrEP in preventing HIV transmission, there remain significant barriers to PrEP access for many communities disproportionately burdened by HIV, including BIPOC and transgender populations. Cost is one of the most significant barriers, and this court decision in Texas only undermines efforts to make PrEP more affordable, making it even more difficult for the most vulnerable individuals to access life-saving medication.
In contrast, courts have also been vital in protecting access to care. We have seen a recent onslaught of anti-trans healthcare legislation across the nation. However, some courts have pushed back against anti-trans legislation. For example, a federal court of appeals recently ruled that Arkansas cannot enforce its new law banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. Another federal court ruled that excluding medically necessary gender-affirming care in North Carolina healthcare plans for state employees is discriminatory. There is still much more that can be done to protect LGBTQ+ individuals as they seek and receive healthcare, and it is increasingly clear that courts across the country have a vital role to play.
Despite the critical impact that judges have on healthcare access, judicial races are often overlooked during elections. Approximately 25% of voters who go to the polls do not cast votes for any judges at all. Part of the issue stems from lack of knowledge about the importance of state courts compared to federal courts. Approximately 90% of all cases heard in the American judicial system are heard at the state level. In contrast, of the more than 7000 cases submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court each year, it only accepts 100-150, with most of those cases originating in state courts before being submitted to the Supreme Court. Additionally, cases at the state level help to set legal precedents, establishing an understanding of the law that becomes the standard interpretation used in rulings made by other courts, including federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the most important distinctions between state and federal courts is that many state court judges can be elected by the public, as opposed to federal judges who are appointed by the president. This means voters have a direct impact on the judges who are responsible for hearing the vast majority of cases in the country and setting important legal precedents! Voting in state judges who are committed to health equity and upholding civil rights is even more critical now given that many federal court vacancies over the last few years have been appointed to conservative judges who oppose LGBTQ+ equality.
Now more than ever, being informed about the judges we elect is critical for advancing LGBTQ+ health equity. Across the country, there are a total of 385 state appellate court seats up for election in 2022, including 84 state supreme court seats and 301 state intermediate appellate court seats. In Illinois, there are two state supreme court seats and 61 judge seats in Cook County up for election in 2022. Many judicial races will depend on where you live. You can get more information on the judicial races in Cook County through Injustice Watch, and to find out what judges are on your ballot for all of Illinois you can visit Illinois Voter Guide. The upcoming 2022 Midterm election can have decades-long repercussions in the continued fight for affirming, affordable and equitable healthcare—so make sure you make your voice heard by voting!