Week in Review

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The House passes a bill that expands federal protections over voting rights, Congress passes a joint spending bill, and more…

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  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act that would curtail the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision and allow the federal government intervene when states pass voter suppression laws. The bill would update the formula identifying areas of voting violations as a response to Shelby, which found the original formula unconstitutional. “I am so proud that, today, the House took critical steps in addressing the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision,” said Representative Terri Sewell (D-Ala.).
  • The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate released their joint defense spending bill, the result of lengthy bipartisan negotiation in both houses. Notable provisions include a deal to provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees and an increase in survivors’ benefits available to military families. Negotiators sacrificed multiple provisions originally contained in an earlier version of the House and Senate bills, including sections on border wall funding allocation and the required cleanup of military Superfund sites.
  • In a measure intended to combat anti-Semitism on university campuses, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order suggesting that discrimination against Jews may qualify as national origin-based discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. “This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the tremendous amount of federal dollars that you get every year, you must reject anti-Semitism,” President Trump reportedly said. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of Jewish-American advocacy group J Street, said that the order appears “designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel.”
  • The Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a Kentucky law that requires doctors to perform an ultrasound and explain the results before a pregnant patient can consent to an abortion. The decision leaves in place an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that upheld the law. “We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court will allow this blatant violation of the First Amendment and fundamental medical ethics to stand,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a challenge to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rules on e-cigarettes. E-cigarette manufacturer Nicopure Labs and the industry group Right to Be Smoke-Free Coalition filed the lawsuit against the FDA in 2016, challenging the constitutionality of barring manufacturers from marketing e-cigarettes as safer than tobacco cigarettes. In affirming the district court’s rejection of Nicopure’s arguments, Judge Cornelia Pillard wrote that “e-cigarettes are indisputably highly addictive,” and it is reasonable to require that, “before any new tobacco product may be marketed, its manufacturer show the FDA that selling it is consistent with the public health.”
  • New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced adoption of the state’s first rules governing online fantasy sports. The rules will require fantasy sports operators—who will now need to obtain permits from the state to do business there—to implement safeguards to ensure that no one under the age of 18 accesses their websites. The rules will also prohibit operators from extending credit to adult participants.


  • In a new research paper, Cary Coglianese and Lavi Ben-Dor of the University of Pennsylvania Law School examined use of artificial intelligence tools and machine-learning technology in the judiciary and in administrative agencies. The authors’ survey of current use indicated that, although no courts or agencies have implemented algorithmic-based legal or policy decision making, several courts and agencies have launched protocols that use machine-learning tools in performing administrative tasks. Coglianese and Ben-Dor concluded that early use of algorithmic tools shows substantial promise, but cautioned that implementers must be alert to algorithmic bias and other potential concerns surrounding the use of machine-learning tools.
  • U.S. cities are struggling to make progress on ambitious “Vision Zero” pedestrian safety targets, according to Laura Bliss, David Montgomery, and Matthew Gerring of CityLab. Several major U.S. municipalities have adopted ambitious targets to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero, Bliss, Montgomery, and Gerring wrote—but those efforts have often stalled in the face of local political opposition and budgetary constraints. Achieving zero deaths will require wider political support for sweeping infrastructure and policy changes, which may “take years of culture-change and constituency-building to accomplish,” they conclude.
  • In an article published by the Duke Law Journal, Samuel N. Liebmann of the Duke University School of Law argued that the way the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission calculates civil penalties is outdated and unable to respond to sophisticated trading violations. According to Liebmann, the civil penalty framework comes from the Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990, which assigns civil penalties in an inconsistent manner due to the excessive discretion accorded to Administrative Law Judges.