Week in Review

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Supreme Court rules in favor of wedding cake baker in religious objection case, Trump Administration will not defend the ACA individual mandate, and more…

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  • In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the baker who, after refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, claimed that compelling him to do so would violate his First Amendment rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the baker “was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection,” and that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was not neutral in its ruling against the baker.
  • The Trump Administration announced that it will not defend Section 5000(A)(a) of the Affordable Care Act, which requires individuals to maintain minimum essential healthcare coverage. In a letter to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated, “I have concluded that this is a rare case where the proper course is to forgo defense of Section 5000(A)(a)” but that the decision not to defend the constitutionality of the individual mandate “will not prevent the court in Texas v. United States from resolving the question.”
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the operators of 53 websites that they must stop marketing unapproved and misbranded opioid medications. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated that the “warning letters go right to the source of this illegal activity to let online network operators know that marketing illegal and unapproved opioids directly to U.S. consumers will not go unchallenged by the FDA.” FDA gave the operators 10 days to respond and describe the actions taken to address FDA’s concerns.
  • The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) announced a collaborative effort to create a national registry to track medical implants in veterans and their families. The registry is a joint project between FDA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the U.S. Department of Defense, and will “allow VA to notify patients about safety recalls, identify devices when patients show up for medical emergencies with complications and track and compare outcomes of implants.”
  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Jay Clayton announced in an exclusive interview with CNBC that initial coin offerings (ICOs)—sales of digital asset tokens from ventures to investors—are securities offerings and will be regulated as securities by the SEC. Clayton said that the SEC would not be “doing violence” to the definition of a security to accommodate ICOs.
  • A U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that costs to the government from dealing with unused oil wells are increasing. The report focuses specifically on orphaned wells whose drillers are unable to pay to reclaim them, most often due to bankruptcy. U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called for better regulation of the industry, stating that “oil and gas drillers shouldn’t be able to pass their cleanup costs on to the public.”
  • President Donald Trump signed the VA MISSION Act of 2018 into law, expanding veterans’ VA-funded healthcare options in the private sector and paving the way for reform at the VA. The Act establishes several new initiatives including pilot programs to test new methods of providing healthcare, scholarships to medical students committed to working at the VA, and benefits for pre-9/11 veterans to hire in-home caregivers. Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke praised the legislation as “increasing flexibility and streamlining access to healthcare.”
  • The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB) announced it will begin restructuring and will shrink its Consumer Advisory Board, Community Bank Advisory Council, and Credit Union Advisory Council. The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) reported that CFPB had terminated the terms of every member of each advisory group and prohibited them from reapplying. NCLC attorney and now-former Consumer Advisory Board member Chi Chi Wu criticized the move as weakening “critical consumer financial protections that help average families.”
  • Voters in San Francisco approved Proposition E, prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products. Many public health organizations supported the ban, with the American Lung Association stating that these products “have been marketed to and designed to attract kids, setting up our nation’s youth for a lifetime of addiction to nicotine and tobacco.” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, reportedly described the vote as a “travesty” and claimed that activists misled voters “into making it harder for adult smokers to quit.”


  • In a forthcoming article for The Journal of Law and Economics, Yehonatan Givati of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discussed whether language can be regulated. Givati noted that countries plan and control their languages in a fashion similar to how they plan and control their laws and economies and suggested that culture determines how strictly a country will control these areas.
  • Ranbir Singh of the National Law School of India University argued in a paper addressing armed insurrections that “the international community must develop the political will to grant recognition” to organized rebellions in order to fight terrorism and ensure that the laws and customs of war–including the protection of civilians–can be applied to parties in conflict. Singh asserted that the international policy of not recognizing insurgents unless absolutely necessary is a “political convenience” that “frustrates the possibility of any legal regulation of the internal armed conflicts.”
  • The Trump Administration’s deregulatory pace has matched the Bush Administration’s at the same point in each presidency, according to a report for Public Citizen by Michael Tanglis, senior researcher for Congress Watch. The “nearly 1,000 regulations” the Trump Administration claims to have eliminated is a misleading figure, Tanglis said, because most were unfinalized rulemakings rather than regulations on the books. Tanglis found that the Trump Administration has withdrawn or paused 85 percent more regulatory rulemakings than the Obama Administration and slightly less than the Bush Administration. “The data in this report show that Trump has already scuttled hundreds of public protections,” he said.