Week in Review

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The Senate acquits former President Donald J. Trump, the Census Bureau delays releasing data, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • The U.S. Senate acquitted former President Donald J. Trump of the impeachment charge of inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol. A majority of senators voted to convict President Trump, but the majority fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to convict. Although seven Republican senators voted to convict the former President, most Republicans indicated their view that the impeachment of a President who is no longer in power is unconstitutional. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for instance, called President Trump’s actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” but voted to acquit because he did not believe the impeachment trial was permissible. Since the Senate did not convict former President Trump, he could hold public office in the future.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau announced that it will not release the data necessary for voting redistricting until September 2021—a six-month delay from its original March 2021 deadline. The Census Bureau explained that the delay is necessary to ensure the accuracy of redistricting data. According to news reporting, the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump Administration’s efforts to cut the census collection short contributed to the delay. Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of Common Causeposited that the delay will enable widespread gerrymandering, reportedly saying that “legislators will simply use a special session to secretly pass maps with zero public scrutiny, and then count on a tight timetable to eke out at least one election cycle.”
  • President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Texas, where a severe winter storm has caused multiple deaths and widespread power outages for over four million residents. The declaration enabled the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize resources and cover 75 percent of local-emergency relief efforts with federal funding. Texas Governor Greg Abbott thanked President Biden for approving the emergency declaration and approved the deployment of the Texas National Guard to assist in escorting residents to designated warming centers throughout the state.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) approved two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, clearing the way for vaccine distribution in developing countries through the organization’s COVAX program. Reflecting its motto that “no one is safe, unless everyone is safe,” the COVAX program aims to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for countries that have been unable to secure doses for their citizens. Lauding the emergency use approval of the vaccine, Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão, a physician on WHO’s headquarters leadership team, called for continued momentum in the “scale-up of manufacturing capacity and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review.”
  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a lawsuit alleging that then-President Trump and Rudy Giuliani conspired with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, two alleged hate groups, to incite the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. The lawsuit alleged that President Trump caused the insurrection by promoting misinformation regarding the validity of the 2020 presidential election. The complaint quoted statements by the former President endorsing or failing to condemn acts of violence by his supporters in protesting the election results. U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), another plaintiff in the lawsuit, reportedly emphasized the need to hold President Trump “accountable for the insurrection that he so blatantly planned” after the Senate failed to do so through an impeachment conviction.
  • Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing news stories after the Australian House of Representatives passed legislation that, if enacted, would require Facebook and Google to pay Australian news companies to share news content on their platforms. Facebook maintained that the law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.” Facebook argued that the proposed law is unfair because “the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers.” Facebook reported, for instance, that last year it generated 5.1 billion in free referrals for the publishers, whereas Facebook gained minimal profits. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned Facebook’s ban, allegedly calling Facebook’s actions to “unfriend” Australia “as arrogant as they were disappointing.”
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a coordinated effort to expand and extend temporary COVID-19 foreclosure relief programs through June 30, 2021. The updated relief programs will include an extended foreclosure moratorium, additional time for homeowners to enroll in the mortgage payment forbearance program, and an additional six months of mortgage payment forbearance for existing participants of the program. The Biden Administration indicated that the action would provide immediate help for homeowners, support communities of color, and offer centralized support for housing assistance.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken removed the terrorist designation status from the Yemenite Houthi group, a movement fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government that holds significant control over certain regions. Blinken said that the decision to revoke the terrorist designation status despite the group’s “malign actions and aggression … is a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” as the designation prevented the United States from providing aid to areas controlled by the Houthi.
  • The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense announced a path for LGBTQ+ veterans and soldiers to reclaim medals that the military revoked on the basis of their sexuality. Until 2000, the U.K. government allowed the military to convict soldiers for homosexual behavior or discharge them based on their sexuality. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the program will “address this historic wrong.” Veteran Joe Ousalice reportedly said that the program “is nowhere near enough” because the policy does not restore discharge benefits retroactively. Craig Jones, joint chief executive of Fighting With Pride, reportedly called the announcement a “first step” and emphasized the need to restore commissions, warrants, convictions, and royal pardons.

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a recent paperMatthew Kugler, professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, gauged the public sentiment around “deepfakes,” videos in which an individual’s face is replaced with that of another person using machine learning technology. Kugler found that whereas people objected less often to deepfake videos that do not involve defamatory conduct, respondents overwhelmingly viewed deepfakes involving nonconsensually-produced pornographic videos as harmful and even criminal. Based on these surveys, Kugler recommended that pornographic deepfakes be subject to the same regulatory treatment as nonconsensual pornography, which receives an enhanced level of legal scrutiny above the less-protective law of defamation.
  • In a forthcoming articleRyan Doerfler, professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Samuel Moyn, professor at Yale Law School, discussed the possibility of reforming the U.S. Supreme Court. Doerfler and Moyn argued that the court reform debate should center on how to make the Court’s role consistent with democratic values. Doerfler and Moyn discussed several types of expansive court reforms, distinguishing between reforms to personnel and reforms that remove power from the Court. For instance, they highlighted proposals that limit the number of Justices that can be appointed to the Court by Presidents of the same political party. Doerfler and Moyn explored other proposals that remove the Court’s ability to hear certain types of cases, such as cases about abortion or gun control. Instead, they argue that legislatures should address these more controversial issues.
  • In a report for the Brookings Institution, senior fellow and research director Carol Graham argued that the Biden Administration should form a federal interagency task force to address “addiction and despair.” Graham suggested that the decline of the white working class and popularity of candidates such as President Trump stem from a lack of hope among Americans—particularly white, poor, rural Americans. Graham wrote that substance abuse along with poor economic prospects have driven an increase in the despair that Americans feel, which has increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Graham argued that the multifaceted nature of this problem necessitates coordinated action across agencies to address mental health, addiction, job training, and education.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory ReviewElizabeth Golberg, former director at the European Commission, argued that the European Commission’s “one-in-one-out” policy, requiring that for each new law enacted, one must be repealed, may lack meaningful benefit while imposing serious harm. The European Commission aimed to create a more cost-conscious legislature by preventing lawmakers from endlessly adding additional financial commitments, but Golberg suggested that this goal could be achieved by other means, without adding lengthy legislative procedures when enacting a new law. Golberg argued that resources should be dedicated to assessing the benefits of old laws without stifling the passage of new ones.