Zooming in on Student Surveillance: Protecting Student Privacy in the Age of COVID-19

(Source) Exams are stressful even under the best of conditions. Exams taken virtually, as so many students over this previous year have found out, have presented a brand new set of challenges that can magnify student stress. But, imagine for a moment that you cannot even get into your exam, because the exam software does not recognize your face, or that the eye-movement tracking system built into the exam software could mean that looking away momentarily from your computer screen would result in you being flagged for cheating. This is, in fact, the reality that ample students have faced over the past year of virtual learning and testing. Indeed, when COVID-19 hit in early 2020, teachers and their students, from kindergarten to graduate school, had to quickly pivot to virtual learning and testing modalities. While this transition was certainly a necessity to keep students, their teachers, and their families safe, virtual learning and testing nonetheless raises civil liberties concerns around privacy and freedom of speech and perpetuates inequality for those who are people of color, low income, non-binary, or neurodivergent. In the United States, unlike in other countries, there is no “national” privacy law. Rather, a patchwork of laws make [read more]

Running Out of Beds: How COVID-19 Demonstrates the Need to Repeal State Certificate of Need Laws

(Source) During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, states struggled in part because the disease caused demand for hospital beds to outstrip supply. Around one month into the pandemic, in New York City, for example, only about 300 intensive care unit (“ICU”) beds remained available. States reacted by creating more medical facilities, and New York City mobilized public and private hospitals to create more beds and ICUs. The sudden spike in demand for medical care brought into question existing certificate of need laws. Certificate of need (“CON”) laws require anyone who wants to construct a new healthcare facility to obtain permission from the state first. The state often requires that the applicant pay a fee and establish that there is a public need. Many states also allow interested parties to object to the new facility. New York passed the first certificate of needs of law in the mid-1960s. The idea behind these laws was to allow states, instead of the market, determine whether there is a public need for additional medical facilities. In normal times, perhaps the idea of states restraining the spread of medical facilities may make sense. However, these laws hampered states’ responses to [read more]

Shallow Measures: International Regulation of Noise Pollution in Our Oceans

(Source) Recently, several researchers and scientists from all over the world released a survey in the journal Science consisting of over 500 studies done on the far-reaching effects of an everyday phenomenon: noise, specifically noise as a pollutant of marine ecosystems. According to the survey, the soundscape of our oceans is dramatically changing. Climate change has altered geophysical sources of noise, such as sea ice and storms, in addition to affecting populations of noise-producing marine animals. Furthermore, human involvement in the form of vessels, active sonar systems, energy and construction infrastructure, and seismic surveys – just to name a few – are generally on the rise. Depending on the water pressure and temperature, sound can travel for thousands of miles without decreasing considerably in energy. Although research has not yet definitively connected noise pollution with a higher mortality rate for marine animals, scientists are concerned about the long-term effects it could have on our planet’s oceans. All of this far-reaching, human-generated noise compromises the hearing ability of marine animals, which disrupts their normal behavior processes for finding food, mating and migrating, and communicating with each other. For example, in 2017 the Obama Administration considered the use of seismic airgun arrays [read more]

President Biden’s Self-Defeating Environmental Dyad

(Source) Appeasing environmentalists and Democrats, President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order halting progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a perennial project to construct an underground pipeline that would distribute 830,000 barrels of crude oil every day from Calgary, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The executive order fulfilled one of President Biden’s campaign promises, creating a perception of political fealty on day one of his presidency. The decision was, however, simultaneously met with criticism by some Republicans, who have suggested that Biden’s inaugural commitment just hours earlier to unify the country, which is reeling from partisan division, was fleeting or disingenuous. President Biden should reverse course on his mandate to nix the pipeline and on his twin mandate to temporarily prohibit the issuance of new permits for fracking on federal lands. This environmental dyad has, thus far, stagnated environmental progress, destroyed thousands of current and future American jobs, and imperiled the bipartisanship Biden has sought to court with Republicans.   The most self-defeating, even shortsighted, aspect about President Biden’s environmental dyad is its lack of any salutary effect on the environment. His nixing of the pipeline merely swaps one method of oil distribution for a dirtier and lengthier [read more]

Immunity Passports: A Silver Bullet or a Security Blanket?

(Source) As COVID-19 infection rates remain high, many wonder when and how life will return to normal. The policies currently in place to limit the number of new infections have primarily focused on restricting movement and access to public spaces. While this has helped limit the spread of the virus, it has also resulted in one of the largest global economic recessions in decades. The combination of unemployment, fragmented trade streams, a reduction in spending, and a reduction in local and international travel has led experts to predict a global economic contraction of GDP of just over 5%.  Leaders in several countries, most notably Chile, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, have considered the creation of immunity passports as a potential strategy to safely reopen and stabilize their nation’s economies. An immunity passport is an official document that would certify when an individual has acquired immunity, either through infection and subsequent recovery or by vaccination, to COVID-19. While immunity passports could provide national and local governments with a way to return to pre-pandemic life, several practical, legal, and ethical considerations raise questions about the efficacy of such a program. If governments hope that immunity passports will effectively limit [read more]

Rethinking Originalism

 (Source) Introduction With Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, the Supreme Court now has a firm supermajority of Republican-nominated justices for the first time in over a decade. Although this almost certainly will affect how the Court will now decide on a host of crucial policy issues moving forward, from allegations of electoral fraud, to abortion, to gun rights, to constitutional issues arising out of the coronavirus lockdowns, many Republicans see Justice Barret’s nomination as the last frontier to effectuate meaningful political change given the ongoing and seemingly endless gridlock affecting both the Presidency and Congress.  While it is true that the Court has for several decades now had a firm majority of justices selected by Republican presidents, some of the most landmark cases of the past five decades (i.e., Roe, Obergefell, and Sebelius, just to name a few)—often perceived as reaching the “liberal outcome” in terms of expanding substantive due process constitutional rights that went beyond the plain meaning of the text—were actually penned by Republican-appointed justices. The most notable of these decisions, Roe v. Wade, codifying the right to abortion, was written by Harry Blackmun, a Richard Nixon appointee.  Relatedly, John Roberts, who was appointed as Chief Justice by President [read more]

Rep. Haaland’s Historic Nomination: Diving into the “Department of Everything Else”

(Source) The recent weeks have brought fear and speculation to a largely anonymous and indistinct Department. President Biden nominated Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as his pick for Secretary of the Department of Interior. If appointed by the Senate, Haaland would become the first Native American to ever hold this position – an event long overdue, as the Department oversees the Federal government’s trust obligation to Native American nations. Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, already shares a historic title with Representative Sharice Davids as the first Native American congresswomen. This time, Haaland’s historic moment is met with fierce opposition urging Biden to withdraw the nomination. Although cabinet nominees have been contested in the past, no Secretary of the Interior has ever been rejected by the Senate. The Biden Administration has yet to comment on the opposition to the nomination, but has already taken executive actions aligned with Haaland’s environmental attitude, such as the sixty-day ban on oil and gas leases and drilling permits. While the dates for her confirmation remain up in the air, the growing opposition begs the question: why all the fuss?  The Department of the Interior’s National Role In 1849, Congress created the [read more]

The Price Is Not Right: Solving Student Debt Starts with Stopping Soaring Tuition Cost

(Source) On August 8, 2020, the former Secretary of Education renewed the suspension of student loans, stopped collections, and waived federal loan interest until the end of the year. The action taken by the federal government acknowledges that there is a problem but addresses only the immediate threat by providing temporary relief. In September, some senators called for the former President to cancel $50,000 of student borrower debt under the Higher Education Act, the effects of which would endure beyond the pandemic. However, both solutions are limited, as they fail to address the source of the student debt crisis: the precipitously increasing cost of higher education placing borrowers in a strenuous situation: paying off thousands of dollars in student loan debt for ages after graduation. Part of the challenge of addressing the larger problem lies in the lack of consensus about what causes the price of higher education to increase. Bill Bennett, the Reagan Administration’s Secretary of Education, launched one prominent theory on why tuition prices continue to climb. Commonly known as the Bennett Hypothesis, Bill Bennett blamed colleges for exploiting federal financial aid expansions by raising tuition prices, believing the subsidies would“cushion the increase.” He criticized colleges for being [read more]

Evictions Are Coming: An In-Depth Look at the COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

(Source) In the United States, nearly 1.4 million people per year spend time in a shelter, and there are more homeless people than the population of some rural states. For those living in city centers, it is an unignorable issue. A home is a foundation on which people build their lives—losing the place you call home can have serious impacts on one’s ability to obtain financial stability and can have impacts on one’s mental health. When the COVID-19 (“COVID”) pandemic hit American shores, it not only devastated the health of communities but also their financial stability, specifically impacting communities of color more severely. During the hardest hit months of the pandemic, over fourteen million Americans filed for unemployment. This spike in unemployment meant families lost the ability to financially provide for themselves, and for many of them, the debt of every day expenses, such as rent, began to accumulate. The looming threat of eviction hangs over many of these families who worry that they will be just another homeless statistic. This piece explores the eviction moratoriums the federal government and the New York state government put in place and analyzes the protections they provide to tenants. It is important to [read more]

Forced Sterilizations — A Discriminatory Reality, Not a Relic of the Past

(Source) Content warning: Rape, sexual assault. It has only been six months since a shocking whistleblower allegation regarding forced hysterectomies and medical neglect at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) detention center in Georgia. Dawn Wooten, a licensed nurse who previously worked at the ICE detention center — the privately-operated Irwin County Detention Center — filed a complaint regarding the numerous hysterectomies performed on Spanish-speaking immigrant women without any prior informed consent. She also expressed concern over the alleged deliberate “lack of medical care, unsafe work practices and absence of adequate protection against COVID-19.” In 2020, these allegations — reproductive organs being forcibly removed without the woman’s consent — almost sounded too inhumane to be true. These allegations, however, have brought to light that forced sterilizations are a remnant of the long legacy of eugenics in the United States and, contrary to popular belief, are not a relic of the past but a harsh reality even today. Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s half-cousin, coined the term “eugenics” in 1883. The term stemmed from an inaccurate interpretation of Gregor Mendel’s pea pods and Darwin’s theories and stood for the idea that many social ills were perpetuated by rapid reproduction and growth [read more]
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