Week in Review

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The FTC alleges that Facebook violated antitrust law, President Trump issues executive order to prioritize U.S. citizens in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging that the social media company created an illegal monopoly through unfair anticompetition practices. Forty-eight state attorneys general filed a separate lawsuit alleging similar violations of law. The FTC’s lawsuit accuses Facebook of illegally acquiring two competitors, Instagram and WhatsApp, and “suppressing, neutralizing, and deterring serious competitive threats” to create a monopoly. Ian Conner, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, remarked that “personal social networking is central to the lives of millions of Americans,” but that “Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition.”
  • President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize domestic access to COVID-19 vaccines before assisting other countries. President Trump signed the executive order shortly after Pfizer reportedly informed the Trump Administration that it would not be able to supply the United States with substantial additional doses of the vaccine until June or July, as other countries had purchased them ahead of the U.S. government. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientist of the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, commented that he did not “know exactly what this order is about.”
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded approximately $9.2 billion to 180 companies, including SpaceX, to construct broadband networks in rural areas of the United States that have limited or no access to reliable internet service. The award represents a key component of the FCC’s initiative to “bridge the digital divide” between urban and rural areas by bringing high-speed internet access to underserved rural Americans. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai hailed the announcement as a critical milestone in the agency’s “ongoing commitment to universal service.”
  • A federal court held that U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf did not have authority to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Obama-era policy allows people who moved to the United States without immigration paperwork as children to remain in the country legally. The court ordered DHS to continue processing DACA applications according to the terms that existed prior to Wolf’s attempted recission of the program. Karen Tumlin, founder of the Justice Action Center, said that the decision is a win for “DACA recipients and those who have been waiting years to apply to the program for the first time,” but stressed the need for “Congress to pass permanent protections for these immigrant youth.” 
  • For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the universal use of face masks indoors. The CDC found that “compelling evidence now supports” the benefits of face masks. According to the CDC, an infected person is less likely to spread COVID-19 when wearing a mask, and an uninfected person is also less likely to contract the virus when wearing a mask. In the same report, the CDC also recommended measures such as physical distancing, avoiding indoor spaces when possible, and postponing travel. 
  • Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recertified the state’s 2020 presidential election results after two vote recounts. Both recounts declared President-Elect Joe Biden the winner in Georgia. Secretary Raffensperger also rejected allegations of voter fraud in Georgia, including claims of voting machine tampering. Walter Jones, communications manager at the Secretary of State’s office, called the allegations of fraud “falsehoods … peddled by conspiracy advocates trying to convince the gullible of why the presidential election didn’t turnout as they’d hoped.” 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court denied Representative Mike Kelly’s (R-Pa.) request to stop the certification of the presidential election in Pennsylvania. In support of the request, Kelly argued that a Pennsylvania law allowing voters to vote by mail for any reason is unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously rejected this argument. In a concurrence, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David N. Wecht said that the petitioners, who failed to challenge the law before the election, would not be permitted to “flip over the table, scattering to the shadows the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians.” 
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to update the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2021 fiscal year. The changes include provisions to raise pay for service members, reform sexual harassment policy, and remove the names of Confederate soldiers on military bases. President Trump expressed his intent to veto the bill, in part because of the renaming policy. He also demanded that the bill include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to release social media companies from liability for content posted on their websites. The legislation passed the House with bipartisan support, but the U.S. Senate forced a filibuster late this week that could result in another government shutdown.
  • The U.S. Department of Education extended the forbearance period for federal student loan repayments from January 1 to January 31, 2021. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that the extension provides relief to borrowers struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic and “allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate.” The extension came amid growing calls from congressional Democrats for President-Elect Biden to direct his Administration to cancel $50,000 in student debt for every borrower.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a report for the Brookings Institution, Greg Feldberg, director of research for the Yale Program on Financial Stability, described how a lack of financial data hindered the Federal Reserve System and other government entities’ ability to respond to the economic shocks caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Without access to rich, time-sensitive data on the financial system, entities such as the Federal Reserve were forced to make hulking interventions when a more tailored approach would have been possible with better data. To increase the availability of important financial data, Feldberg recommended that the incoming Biden Administration strengthens the Office of Financial Research, an independent organization housed within the U.S. Department of the Treasury and charged with identifying risks in the financial system.
  • In a recent paper, Kathryn Leifheit, PhD student at the UCLA Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health, and her coauthors projected the potential effects of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention’s temporary evictions moratorium expiring in 2021. Using other eviction bans as a predictor, Leifheit and her coauthors found that the lifting of eviction bans was related to increased rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and that these effects worsened over time. The researchers posited that the increase in COVID-19 cases after lifting eviction moratoriums was caused by the “mounting displacement, crowding, and homelessness” that follows evictions. They recommended that the government extend the federal eviction moratorium into 2021 while also providing rent relief to prevent evictions once the ban is lifted. 
  • In a report for the Center for American Progress, associate director Nicole Prchal Svajlenka argued that undocumented immigrants are uniquely vulnerable to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because they are often ineligible for government programs, many people without documentation lack access to structural supports such as health insurance or stimulus payments. Svajlenka argued that undocumented immigrants play a vital role in American society and should be given a path to citizenship to combat their often vulnerable status as undocumented immigrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Peter Margulies of the Roger Williams University School of Law argued that frontline government workers shape the law by imposing their own constitutional interpretations in their daily administrative duties. Margulies asserted that administrative decisions made when officials interact with people impacted by regulations can benefit administrative law by allowing empathy to guide or influence enforcement. Furthermore, he argued that this “street-level advocacy” maintains a balance of power by empowering a wider variety of regulatory voices.