Week in Review

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The Supreme Court allows individuals denied benefits to seek additional relief, President Biden updates plans to change the cap on refugee admissions, and more…

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that individuals who apply for but are denied disability benefits under the Social Security Administration (SSA) are not required to raise all of their claims through the administrative process before seeking relief in court. Lower courts had denied six individuals’ claims because the individuals had not raised their issues first through the administrative process. The Supreme Court reasoned that because no statute or regulation imposed a requirement to exhaust all claims in SSA proceedings, courts should not create one.
  • President Joseph R. Biden announced that he plans to change the maximum number of refugees allowed admission into the country by mid-May. It is still expected that the new maximum will fall below an earlier goal announced by the Biden Administration of raising the refugee admission limit to 62,500. The Administration’s clarifying announcement followed a previous announcement that it would keep the Trump Administration’s cap of 15,000 refugees per year in place. President Biden’s announcement of the continuation of the Trump Administration policy prompted criticism from Democratic lawmakers who cited the urgency of the issue and pointed to President Biden’s prior commitment to increase the cap. Lawmakers emphasized that, according to a recent report from the International Rescue Committee, the Biden Administration was on track to admit fewer refugees than any president in U.S. history.
  • U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued two orders that establish a climate change task force and revoke orders made by the Trump Administration that weakened certain environmental protections. Haaland’s first order revoked 12 Trump-era orders   that sought to enhance the federal coal leasing program, promote energy development on federal lands, and increase petroleum extraction offshore and in Alaska. The second order established a task force to develop a science-based pollution reduction strategy, address environmental injustice and climate change, and conserve federal lands. Haaland’s orders seek to implement President Biden’s goals articulated in his executive order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. Haaland’s orders come one week ahead of the Leaders Summit on Climate.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) rescinded a Trump Administration policy requiring all NIH grants for research using fetal tissue from elective abortions to be reviewed by an ethics advisory board. The NIH also removed a Trump-era ban on the use of federal funds to purchase human fetal tissue for government run studies. These changes came after more than 100 scientific organizations wrote a letter asking President Biden to lift restrictions on fetal tissue research. Christine Mummery, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, praised the decision as a “return to evidence-based policymaking.” Researchers used fetal tissue to develop vaccines for polio and measles and currently use it to study cancer, HIV, and COVID-19.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule requiring debt collectors to notify tenants about their rights under the eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CFPB rule also prohibits debt collectors from making misrepresentations about tenants’ eligibility for protection under the CDC Moratorium and allows violators to be prosecuted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The CFPB’s rule was issued to address behavior by debt collectors that included instructing property managers to inform tenants inaccurately that the tenants are ineligible for protection under the eviction moratorium. The moratorium was first ordered in September 2020 and was extended to last through June. According to the CFPB, millions of families are at risk of eviction which could jeopardize lives and may exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear three cases challenging a federal law that forbids any person from owning a gun if that person has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment of one year or more. The plaintiffs in each of the three cases had been convicted of nonviolent crimes—driving under the influence, making a false statement on tax returns, and importing counterfeit cassette tapes—and claimed that the federal law unconstitutionally infringed on their Second Amendment rights. Without providing a statement or dissent, the Court declined to hear the appeals. Adam Kraut, an attorney with the Firearms Policy Coalition who represented two of the plaintiffs, responded that the coalition would continue its “aggressive litigation strategies” challenging the constitutionality of firearm restrictions.
  • Tae Johnson, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Troy Miller, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, issued similar memos that update immigration terminology. Both memos direct agents and officers to use inclusive language in all communications, such as replacing use of the term “alien” with “noncitizen” and “assimilation” with “integration.” The memos acknowledged that the outdated terms may still be used in legal documents where the term is required by law. These changes reflect broader efforts to humanize language about immigration, which President Biden supported by sending a bill to Congress that would replace “alien” with “noncitizen” in federal immigration laws.
  • In a 54-45 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler to serve a five-year term. Gensler, who was appointed by President Biden, will also serve the remaining two months of former chair Jay Clayton’s term. Clayton’s term was set to end in June 2021, but resignation is customary before a new U.S. president takes office. The vote cemented a Democratic majority in the SEC, with three Democratic and two Republican commissioners. Federal law maintains that no more than three of the five commissioners may belong to the same political party. Experts say that Gensler, a former chair of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, will likely focus on the regulation of digital currencies and improving corporate disclosure.


  • In a digest for the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, Sara Bronin, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, argued that historic buildings should be part of the country’s strategy to mitigate climate change. Bronin claimed that buildings older than 50 years are typically greener than modern buildings because they are more compact, use more durable materials, and employ passive design—a style that naturally reduces the need for temperature control. Bronin argued that regulators overlook the energy efficiency of historical buildings when exempting these historical buildings from energy conservation building codes that apply to new construction. Bronin proposed updates to federal standards for rehabilitating historic buildings that would legalize energy efficient changes so long as they maintain the historical fabric of the buildings.
  • In a recent report by the Brookings Institution, Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors, advocated safer wildlife practices and habitat conservation to reduce the spread of infectious diseases through animals. Felbab-Brown reported that 75 percent of emerging human diseases are animal-borne, and human encroachment on natural habitats accounts for 30 percent of pathogen transmission from animals to humans. Felbab-Brown criticized policies in the United States and other countries for prioritizing mitigation—such as through economic stimulus packages—rather than disease prevention. To reduce the spread of disease from animals, Felbab-Brown suggested that domestic and international regulatory bodies, such as the National Security Council and the World Health Organization, should coordinate permanent policies: minimize interactions with wild animals; better monitor wildlife trade, especially in unhygienic meat markets; and preserve natural habitats by funding protected areas and curbing global warming.
  • In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Ann Bartel, professor at Columbia Business School, and her coauthors studied the effects of New York State’s paid family leave policy on employers. The law went into effect in 2018 and required most private employers to provide 8 weeks of paid leave. The study found that, within the first year of the policy, employers improved their ability to manage longer employee absences. By its second year, the paid family leave policy had resulted in an increase in employees who took family leave. Bartel and her coauthors concluded that most New York employers were supportive of the paid family leave policy.


  • In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Lucas Guttentag, professor at Stanford Law School, argued that the presidential administration that would follow the Trump Administration would have difficulty restoring the country’s immigration systems and policies. Guttentag discussed several obstacles to restoring the immigration system, including a general preference for maintaining the status quo and burdensome review processes. For example, Guttentag described how career civil servants opposed reforming policies even when they recognized the policies were problematic. Guttentag called for streamlining the antiquated review processes, anticipating the realities of bureaucratic inertia, and getting buy-in from career civil servants as necessary elements of any successful reform strategy.