Week in Review

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The Supreme Court interprets federal immigration law, a federal court rules that BLM violated NEPA, and more…

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  • In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal immigration statute requires the federal government to detain certain immigrants without U.S. citizenship and prohibits their release on bond. But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, noted that the Court’s decision only concerned the meaning of the statute and does not preclude a constitutional challenge to how the statute is applied. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, writing that the Court should not interpret the statute without also considering whether it violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to adequately consider environmental impact, violating the National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued oil and gas drilling licenses on several hundred thousand acres of federal land. Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered BLM to re-examine the greenhouse gas effects of the drilling licenses, writing that “compliance with NEPA cannot be reduced to a bureaucratic formality.” Jeremy Nichols, a director at a non-profit that challenged the BLM licenses, reportedly said that the ruling “calls into question the legality of the Trump administration’s entire oil and gas program.”
  • The European Union (EU) granted an extension to the original Brexit deadline of March 29. The new deadline is set for April 12, unless Parliament agrees to a withdrawal agreement, which would push the deadline back to May 22. Separately, the European Commission (EC) announced that it has approved “nearly all foreseen contingency measures” that would be needed in case of a no-deal scenario.
  • The EC fined Google €1.49 billion for violating EU antitrust regulations by suppressing the search results of its competitors. EC Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stated that Google’s practices were an “illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market.” Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, reportedly said that the company would take efforts to “give more visibility to rivals in Europe” in the future.
  • Although the U.S. Department of Defense intends to implement its prohibition of transgender individuals in military service, a federal judge ruled that it currently lacks the authority to do so. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit undid the freeze placed on the Department of Defense’s policy by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. But Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that, until the D.C. Circuit finalizes its decision, the Defense Department must hold off on implementing its policy.
  • U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao requested a formal audit of how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified the Boeing 737 MAX 8. “Safety is the top priority of the Department, and all of us are saddened by the fatalities resulting from the recent accidents involving two Boeing 737-MAX 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia,” Secretary Chao said. The U.S. Department of Justice reportedly started its own inquiry into the development of the plane by issuing a subpoena for documents to at least one person involved in the plane’s development.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug specifically intended to treat postpartum depression experienced by women after childbirth. FDA explained that a single continuous 60-hour infusion of the drug resulted in improved depression symptoms both at the end of the infusion and 30 days later. But FDA also stated that the new drug has serious risks of sedation or loss of consciousness during administration and that patients must be carefully monitored during treatment.
  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to simplify and relax companies’ financial disclosure requirements. Under newly adopted amendments to the SEC’s Regulation S-K, which governs the disclosures a company must make for several types of transactions, companies may omit nonmaterial confidential information without formally asking the SEC for permission. Companies will also be allowed to omit some historical information if it has already been reported and is no longer material.
  • President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate Stephen M. Dickson for Administrator of the FAA. Dickson, a former U.S. Air Force officer, had previously led safety and operational performance at Delta Air Lines. “Captain Dickson is a strong advocate for commercial aviation safety and improvements to our National Airspace System,” the White House said.


  • Has the U.S. Supreme Court become more conservative, or has Chief Justice John Roberts become more liberal? Adam Feldman of Empirical SCOTUS argued that the Chief Justice “has exerted some clear movement to the left” since joining the bench. Using data from the Supreme Court Database, Feldman observed that Chief Justice Roberts voted liberally more often that conservatively in liberal opinions during the Court’s last term—for the first time since he was appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Moderate regulatory sanctions may not be more effective than small sanctions, argued professors Tim Friehe of Phillips-Universität Marburg and Murat C. Mungan of the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in a recent paper. In contrast to the common view that “increasing the size of the sanction will enhance welfare,” Friehe and Mungan proposed that larger sanctions may actually encourage firms to invest in avoiding detection of their regulatory violations, resulting in lower overall social welfare.
  • In a recent article for FiveThirtyEight, William T. Adler, computational research specialist for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, and Ella Koeze, visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight, argued that measuring partisan bias is useful for identifying partisan gerrymandering. For example, Adler and Koeze calculated that Republicans benefit from a partisan bias of 5 percentage points in North Carolina—because if Democrats took 50 percent of the votes, they would currently win 45 percent of congressional seats available. They observed that, according to the partisan bias measure, Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is fairer than the prior map, but emphasized that the metric is merely one of several methods for analyzing gerrymandering.