Week in Review

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Google pays $170 million COPPA fine, the Education Department finalizes debt relief rule changes, and more…

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  • Google will pay $170 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General to settle charges that it collected children’s personal information through its YouTube subsidiary in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) criticized the fine. “The FTC appears to have let YouTube off the hook with a nominal fine for violating users’ privacy online,” he stated. Senator Markey added that the government “must come down hard on companies that infringe on children’s privacy.”
  • The U.S. Department of Education finalized changes to Obama-era rules on debt relief for student borrowers who allege that their schools defrauded them. Among other changes, the new rules will impose a three-year time limit for claims and eliminate automatic debt cancellation for students whose schools closed while or shortly after they were enrolled. Opposing the rule, Abby Shafroth of the National Consumer Law Center said the changes “will encourage schools to break the law, engage in risky practices that lead to abrupt closures, and harm students with impunity.”
  • In response to recent mass shootings, including a recent attack in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas that left 22 people dead, Walmart announced that it will stop selling handgun ammunition, strengthen background checks for firearm purchasers, and prohibit non-law enforcement customers from openly carrying firearms in its stores. In response, the National Rifle Association issued a statement that accused Walmart of succumbing “to the pressure of anti-gun elites.” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who formerly represented El Paso as a member of Congress, called the move “a step in the right direction” but stated that “we can’t rely on corporations to stop gun violence.”
  • The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Lawyers for Civil Rights sued the Trump Administration for ending a program that protected immigrants with life-threatening health conditions from deportation. “One’s immigration status should not negate their basic human rights and access to care,” said Ira Levy, a partner at a law firm providing pro bono support for the lawsuit. Since ending the program, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services has clarified that it will continue to process any requests that were pending when the program was cancelled.
  • A North Carolina court unanimously ruled that the legislative redistricting map drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature was made for partisan reasons. It found that the redistricting map violated the North Carolina Constitution’s Free Election Clause and Equal Protection Clause. “In the context of the constitutional guarantee that elections must be conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people, these clauses provide significant constraints against governmental conduct that disfavors certain groups of voters,” the court wrote. It ordered the legislature to redraw the districts before the 2020 election.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy issued a final rule withdrawing regulations that increased lightbulb efficiency requirements. The withdrawn rules, which had been published in January 2017 and were scheduled to go into effect in 2020, modified the definition of “general service lamps” to apply higher efficiency standards—already applied to LED light bulbs—to more light bulb types. According to a 2018 study by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the withdrawn rules would have saved consumers at least $12 billion annually by 2025.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice reportedly drafted legislation that would expedite the execution of individuals convicted of mass murder. The legislation reportedly will be included in the Trump Administration’s broader gun safety plan to prevent mass shootings. Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reportedly criticized the proposal, saying he does not believe the death penalty stops criminals such as Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooter.
  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered an emergency state-wide ban of flavored nicotine vaping products after the state’s Department of Health & Human Services launched an investigation into vaping-related respiratory illness. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, commended Whitmer for protecting Michiganders, “particularly the state’s youth, from the known and unknown potential health risks of e-cigarette use.” Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit group encouraging vaping as an alternative to cigarette use, warned that the ban “will close down several hundred Michigan small businesses and could send tens of thousands of ex-smokers back to deadly combustible cigarettes.”
  • California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a deal with apartment owners and developers that would reportedly cap annual rent increases at 5 percent plus inflation with a maximum increase of 10 percent. “The bill balances the need to protect tenants from large rent increases and unfair evictions while still allowing property owners to make a fair return,” stated Assembly Member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who is sponsoring the bill. This agreement would amend the past versions that have yet to pass the California State Assembly.


  • Historians have much to teach scholars of administrative law, argued Karen Tani of University of California, Berkeley School of Law in a forthcoming article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. For example, Tani noted, historical work explains how the Reconstruction-era Freedman’s Bureau interpreted the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition of “involuntary servitude” in labor contract disputes. Often, Tani argued, Bureau officials applied a restricted understanding of involuntary servitude that reproduced the conditions of slavery and further marginalized Black Americans. Tani concluded that the work of historians enriches the administrative record by highlighting the experiences of marginalized people, whose voices are less likely to appear in formal decision-making records.
  • In a recently released working paper, Rebecca Neubauer of the law firm Romanucci & Blandin and Heather Payne of the Seton Hall University School of Law argued that the federal government should alter preservation methods as iconic historical sites become more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. According to Neubauer and Payne, legislators must move away from traditional historical preservation schemes—as codified in the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act—that attempt to “save” historic buildings by preserving them on their current site, which could lead to the site’s demise from rising sea levels. Instead, they argue, regulators should incorporate review procedures into the National Historic Preservation Act to assess the susceptibility of historic sites, especially those in coastal cities.
  • Inadequate regulation of the security of patient health portal data is a threat to individual privacy and national security, University of Minnesota Law School law student Matthew McCord argued in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. Although media coverage of health industry cybersecurity vulnerabilities often focuses on insurance company records, McCord argued that patient portals constitute an equally serious data security risk. According to McCord, a more robust statutory framework for portal security would provide updated best practices for securing sensitive patient data and a long-overdue enforcement framework.