The Biden Administration pauses new oil and gas permits, the Supreme Court agrees to review an LGBTQ+ discrimination case, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- The Biden Administration halted the issuance of new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal lands while the U.S. Department of the Interior determines how to assess climate risks without using the social cost of carbon. Federal agencies use the social cost of carbon, a figure that measures the long-term cost of damage caused by emissions in a given year, as part of the regulatory process to measure the climate impacts of rules and regulations. The announcement came in a legal filing responding to an order from a federal court that blocked federal agencies from considering the social cost and “global damages” of greenhouse gas emissions.
- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a lawsuit that challenges a Colorado law that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The petitioner, a wedding website designer seeking to refuse services to same-sex couples, alleged that the law violates her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Law professor at Columbia Law School, Jamal Greene, wrote that the legal question the Court presented—whether the Colorado anti-discrimination law impermissibly forces the web designer “to speak or stay silent”—is “too broad.” Greene argued that this question misrepresents the case because it encourages the public to choose sides in “a broader culture war rather than focusing on its particular facts and the specific claims each side is making.”
- The Supreme Court agreed to review the Biden Administration’s termination of the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, during its current term. Under the Remain in Mexico program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can deport individuals while it evaluates their applications for asylum in the United States from Mexico. The Court previously declined to halt enforcement of a lower court order that the Biden Administration must reinstate the Remain in Mexico program. The Biden Administration argued that the lower court relied upon “an unprecedented interpretation of the immigration-detention statutes” in its decision to compel reimplementation of the program.
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and other state agencies to investigate as “child abuse” any gender-affirming health care treatments given to children under eighteen. Governor Abbott tweeted that instances of abuse would be referred for prosecution. Governor Abbott’s directive follows an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that gender-affirming treatments, including gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy, can “legally constitute child abuse under several provisions” of Texas law. Paxton reasoned that gender-affirming treatments can qualify as child abuse because they “can and do cause sterilization,” and “the United States Constitution protects a fundamental right to procreation.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas responded that “Paxton’s opinion is not legally binding” and emphasized that “no court here in Texas or anywhere in the country has ever found that gender-affirming care can be considered child abuse.”
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) updated its policies for approving natural gas pipelines. The new policies require the commission to assess the climate impacts of pending projects. FERC’s new policies attempt to encourage project developers to find ways to reduce or offset carbon emissions associated with their projects. These updates are the first revisions FERC has made to its pipeline approval framework in over 20 years.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that all domestic COVID-19 restrictions would be removed in England as part of the country’s “Living with COVID-19” plan. Johnson outlined that individuals who test positive would be advised to remain home, but that a legal requirement to quarantine or self-isolate ended on February 24th. The announcement of the plan also ended government funding for isolation support, free testing, and contract tracing, among other COVID-19 related initiatives. In announcing the plan, Johnson stated that COVID-19 “restrictions pose a heavy toll” on the country and England did “not need to pay that cost any longer.”
- Colombia’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, legalized abortion for those pregnant up to 24 weeks. The court ruled that banning abortion impeded women’s reproductive freedom and “the right to equality of vulnerable women.” Nancy Northrup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations that filed the initial lawsuit, said the ruling “represents great progress for the people of Colombia” but noted that the organization hoped “that the next step for Colombia will be the total decriminalization of abortion.”
- Florida Representative Joe Harding withdrew an amendment to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have forced schools to inform parents of their child’s sexual orientation. Unamended, the bill would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grade levels, require schools to notify parents of health care services, and give parents the power to sue school districts that do not comply. The White House condemned the legislation, saying Florida conservatives chose to reject the simple values of “children’s safety, protection, and freedom.”
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- In a recent report, the U.S. Department of Transportation evaluated the impacts of a Utah law that reduced the blood alcohol concentration limit for operating a motor vehicle from .08 grams per deciliter to .05 grams per deciliter. The Transportation Department found that after the law’s implementation in 2018, Utah reported 19.8 percent fewer fatal crashes and 18.3 percent fewer overall driving-related deaths than in its previous report in 2016. Moreover, the Transportation Department noted that this decline in deaths occurred while total vehicle miles traveled in Utah increased. The Transportation Department highlighted that the more stringent blood alcohol concentration limit did not negatively impact alcohol sales, tourism, or tax revenue, nor did it result in a significant increase in drunk driving arrests. Instead, the Transportation Department reported, “the most common behavior modification reported was making sure transportation was available when drinking away from home.”
- In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Network, Michelle Degli Esposti, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford, and her coauthors found that self-defense laws allowing the use of deadly force are associated with an 8 to 11 percent increase in monthly homicide rates. Esposti and her coauthors compared 23 states that have enacted such laws, known as stand your ground laws, with 18 states that do not have stand your ground laws. According to Esposti and her coauthors, the results of the study suggest that stand your ground laws are “associated with increases in violent deaths,” and that without such laws these deaths “could potentially have been avoided.”
- In a working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Oliver Binz, professor at INSEAD, and John Graham, research associate at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, argued that the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which mandates financial statement disclosure for public companies, has resulted in more informative earnings disclosures. Binz and Graham studied the returns of investment portfolios that owned stock in companies that announced earnings increases and those that were short sellers in stock that announced earnings decreases and found that these returns were higher after the Act. Binz and Graham concluded that this correlation indicated that the Act increased “the value of mandatory accounting disclosures to investors.”
- In an essay in The Regulatory Review, Amanda Shanor, professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, argued that the Supreme Court took a step toward enabling discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in its decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Shanor explained that the City of Philadelphia could not use its antidiscrimination policies to reject the renewal of a contract with Catholic Social Services to provide foster care services even though the organization would not “place children with gay couples” because of its religious beliefs. As a result, Shanor argued that the Supreme Court is “on its way to creating” legal exceptions that will allow businesses to practice some level of LGBTQ+ discrimination.