Week in Review

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Georgia lawmakers impose new voting restrictions, the Supreme Court holds that the FCC can loosen media ownership rules, and more…

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IN THE NEWS

  • Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation amending state election law to impose new voting restrictions. Among other changes, the bill will shorten the absentee voting period, prohibit sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications, and require absentee voters to provide government identification in place of the signature-matching system previously used to confirm voter identity. Marc Elias, lawyer for The New Georgia Project, reportedly claimed that the new rules “target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult—especially for minority voters.”
  • In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not violate its statutory authority by revoking three ownership rules limiting the number of media stations a single company may own. Several advocacy groups sued the FCC over their decision to revoke the rules. The organizations argued that the decision was arbitrary and incorrectly concluded that the change would not harm minority and women-owned companies. The Court, however, found that the FCC reasonably concluded that revoking the rules would not be harmful to minority and women-owned companies. In fact, the FCC claimed that revoking the rules would serve the public interest by providing more flexibility for companies.
  • President Joseph R. Biden signed a bill that extended the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing small businesses struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic to apply for financial assistance through the end of May. An overwhelming bipartisan majority of lawmakers passed the bill to enable qualifying businesses to receive low-interest financing from the Small Business Administration. In a statement, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Businesses Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) reported that the program “has approved 2.1 million loans totaling $156.2 billion during 2021,” calling it “one of Congress’s earliest and most effective means of distributing relief to small businesses.”
  • President Biden announced an initiative to combat anti-Asian violence, building on an earlier executive memo. Among other actions, President Biden directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to publish an online, interactive data tool for tracking hate-crimes, which will spotlight hate-crimes against Asian communities. President Biden also highlighted the National Endowment for the Humanities’s virtual bookshelf, which lists projects celebrating Asian American contributions, and National Science Foundation research projects which seek to address bias and xenophobia against Asian American communities. U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, reportedly applauded the effort for “taking concrete actions” to “root out anti-Asian bias while also supporting the victims of hate crimes.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its moratorium on residential evictions through June. First issued in September of 2020, the order sought to limit the spread of COVID-19 by allowing renters—8 million of whom are behind on rent payments—to remain in their homes. Robert Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, reportedly criticized the extended order, maintaining that “though politically popular and well-intentioned, eviction moratoria push renters and their housing providers closer to the brink of financial ruin.”
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana. The state legislature voted to pass the bill after lengthy debate with the Governor on how to allocate the new taxable income from marijuana sales. Legislators insisted that a portion of the tax revenue will be dedicated to Black and Latinx communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition laws. The bill will also expunge the convictions for past marijuana-related offenses that are now decriminalized or legal. Melissa Moore, director at the Drug Policy Alliance, reportedly said that “this law comprehensively addresses the harms of overcriminalization and establishes one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization programs in the nation,” placing “community reinvestment, social equity, and justice at the core of the law.”
  • The Arkansas legislature passed a controversial bill that Governor Asa Hutchinson is expected to sign into law, which would make Arkansas the first state to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth. One of the bill’s Republican sponsors reportedly justified the bill based on a belief that gender-affirming health care is “at best experimental and at worst a serious threat to a child’s welfare.” Medical experts, however, support access to gender-affirming treatments for transgender children. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, released a comprehensive policy statement detailing how providers can and should provide critical gender-affirming care. This Arkansas bill is part of a larger national movement of states passing legislation that limits the rights of transgender individuals.
  • The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced that the United States has suspended all trade engagement with Myanmar until the country returns to its democratic system of government. The announcement followed a series of brutal killings by the country’s military junta, which has targeted pro-democracy protesters and killed over 500 civilians, including young children. Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative recently confirmed by a unanimous Senate, commented that the actions of Myanmar’s military have “shocked the conscience of the international community” and that the country’s transition to democracy “has been the foundation of Burma’s economic growth and reform.”
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. Department of State will deviate from the human rights policy promoted by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Blinken cited the previous policy’s “hierarchy” of rights, which prioritized religious liberty above other rights. Blinken added he would reinstate the section on reproductive rights in future annual human rights reports after the Trump Administration removed it. Sarah Holewinski, director at Human Rights Watch, reportedly noted that “when women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes, there are likely to exist policies and laws that undervalued their life.”

WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK

  • In a forthcoming article in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, Margot J. Pollans, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and Matthew Watson argued that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bears an obligation to consider the environmental effects of the country’s food system. Pollans and Watson cited the National Environmental Policy Act as the primary basis for FDA’s authority to act as an environmental steward, asserting that the agency’s exclusive focus on the protection of individual human health is overly narrow and should include the environmental impacts of the national food system on public health.
  • In a working paper, Daniel E. Walters, professor at Penn State Law, argued that if the U.S. Supreme Court limits the nondelegation doctrine, the decision would not be as consequential as many experts expect. The nondelegation doctrine prohibits Congress from delegating legislative power to the executive branch. Walters, however, described the doctrine as “dead” because it has rarely “been invoked to invalidate any federal statute.” Walters highlighted that in Gundy v. United States the dissenting judges signaled that they may reinvigorate the nondelegation doctrine, causing worry for many scholars. Walters found, however, that courts that have begun to revive the doctrine, as suggested in Gundy, are still “no more or less likely to invalidate statutes” than courts that do not invoke the nondelegation doctrine.
  • A report by the Philadelphia Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that from 2013 to 2018, Philadelphia exceeded the national rate of pregnancy-related deaths. Black women accounted for 73 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Philadelphia, but only 43 percent of births. To address the disproportionate mortality rate, the committee recommended addressing the root causes of racism and inequity within health care, providing mental health treatment tailored to pregnant people, improving access to all types of pregnancy-related care, strengthening the coordination between health care and social services, and supporting victims of intimate partner violence.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Jordan Wellington, co-founder and chief compliance officer at Simplifya, argued that states that legalize marijuana create regulatory regimes that are difficult to administer because the regulations are normally within the federal government’s purview. Wellington added that imposing costly regulations on new legal cannabis businesses can drive them out of business due to competition from the existing illegal market. Wellington noted that despite the regulatory challenges, the benefits of marijuana legalization outweigh the hardships that states must overcome.