Sunshine Is Still the Best Disinfectant: How the Cornell First Amendment Clinic and the New York Times Fought to Access COVID-19 Demographic Data

(Source) As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep through the United States in the spring of 2020, outbreaks in cities with significant Black and Latino communities led some to question whether communities of color might be at a heightened risk of both infection and death from COVID-19. As the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) stated in its April 2020 letter to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Robert M. Redfield, “[c]ommunities of color continue to disproportionately suffer health inequities due to the history of racism and oppression in the United States,” making these communities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. At the time, state public health departments had begun releasing data confirming these suspicions. Data from Wisconsin, for example, showed that in Milwaukee County, African Americans accounted for almost half of the county’s coronavirus cases and 81% of deaths, despite making up only 26% of the county’s population. This data provided only a partial picture of the outbreak, however, and critics argued that relying on states to release demographic data and the lack of publicly available national demographic data would continue to hamper efforts to develop a robust public health response in low-income communities and communities of [read more]

Denying Indigenous Sovereignty: The Execution of Lezmond Mitchell

(Source) On August 26th, 2020, the United States government executed Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, continuing the Trump administration’s aggressive reinstatement of federal executions after a seventeen-year delay. Mr. Mitchell was pronounced dead at 6:29 PM. Mr. Mitchell’s execution was the 1523rd execution in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 and the fourth federal execution in 2020. Two days later, the federal government executed Keith Nelson, who was pronounced dead on August 28th at 4:32 PM. With the federal death toll at five people, the federal government has carried out more executions in the past two months than in the preceding fifty-seven years. They plan to carry out two more by the end of September.  There are many problems with the way the federal government has been going about killing the people on its death row, and Mr. Mitchell’s case is no exception: as with the other people whom the federal government has executed, the global pandemic is still raging, and several of the victims’ loved ones opposed Mr. Mitchell’s death sentence. Further, there were real concerns about Mr. Mitchell’s culpability compared to that of his co-defendant, who did not [read more]

The Public Charge and the Pandemic: What Happens When the Dust Settles?

(Source) On July 29th, the Southern District of New York (“Southern District”) enjoined the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) from enforcing, applying, or implementing the Trump Administration’s new public charge rule from taking effect during the COVID-19 national health emergency. Responding to the injunction, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) stated that the 1999 public charge guidance will control the admissibility of immigrants on public charge grounds until the national health emergency ends. The concept of the public charge has been a part of the American immigration system since the late 1800s. It takes its origins from “poor laws,” which were designed to exclude foreign immigrants who would require public assistance. The modern understanding of what constitutes a public charge was formalized in 1999 to include immigrants who are “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” Traditionally, this meant that immigrants could not take advantage of monetizable programs, such as welfare. However, in 2019 the Trump Administration revised the public charge rule and expanded the rule’s impact by barring programs permitted by the 1999 guidance. This lowered the [read more]

Legalize and Regulate: The Solution to the Unsolvable Drug Problem

(Source)   Legalizing recreational drug use, which is not morally wrong since its use does not directly harm anyone but the user, will benefit society as a whole by allowing for safer participation, less incarceration, and increased economic contributions through taxes. Since the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933, which ended the nation’s prohibition on alcohol, the consumption of alcohol has been embraced by society overall. The government legalized alcohol and society widely accepted and consumed it, despite its proven immediate and long-term dangers. Thus, given its approach to alcohol use, the government should permit its constituents to decide what substances they put in their bodies.  Realistically, people will use drugs if they want to use drugs. I am not advocating for an entirely hands-off approach; rather, I argue that broadly legalizing drugs will allow lawmakers to hone in on the aspects of drug use that have raised concern for decades. Part 1: Legalization and Regulation Legal access to drugs does not necessarily equate to increased use and instead creates an opportunity for better oversight. Thus, legalizing all drugs will allow the government to regulate these substances more effectively by crafting targeted legislation, made in conjunction with scientific research, to [read more]

From Smallpox Blankets to COVID Ballots: Understanding the Pandemic as a Fundamental Threat to Native American Voters

(Source) Introduction At 5 million positive cases, COVID-19 continues to devastate people across the United States. Due to pre-existing social inequalities, communities of color remain the hardest hit. Among these communities, Native Americans are contracting and dying from the virus at unmatched rates. Federal, state, and local action to mitigate the spread throughout Indian Country has been slow and fallen short of expectations. For example, when the Seattle Indian Health Board expressed an urgent need for testing and medical supplies, the local King County Public Health Department’s shocking response was to send body bags and toe tags. Horrifying? Yes. Far from sensible? Not if you look at death rates for states with sizable tribal communities. Consider the case of New Mexico. While Native Americans make up 10% of the state’s population, as of May, tribal members make up 50% of local COVID-related deaths. As the country prepares for the November presidential election, all eyes should be on the federal government and the steps, or lack thereof, that the Trump administration has taken to ensure a healthy and safe election season. Historical Suppression & Contemporary Barriers Native American voters have long been disenfranchised and excluded from local, state, and federal elections. [read more]

Using COVID-19 as a Cover for Binding Regulatory Change: Title IX under Trump

(Source)   On August 14, 2020, colleges and universities will be required to comply with what is essentially an overhaul of the Title IX system as it has existed for over the last decade. Title IX has been revolutionary in combating sexual harassment and sexual abuse in schools, on sports teams, and in other educational programs. The commonly referenced “Title IX” is the ninth title in the Education Amendments Act of 1972, a federal civil rights law which states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Since 1972, blatant pregnancy discrimination has been all but eradicated, the proportion of women earning college and professional degrees has consistently increased, and women have increasingly become college professors. Title IX is now largely seen as protection against sexual assault and harassment, a topic which has garnered much more national attention in recent years. Many, however, do not know where Title IX gets its power. Much of our present-day federal policy is determined by regulatory institutions within the executive branch or by the [read more]

Yes, Everything Has to Do with Race

(Source)   Have you ever heard someone exclaim, “why must we make everything about race?” Well, that is because it is. There is, at the very least, a hint of racism across every institution in society. And because it is generally not loud, it has been almost unspeakable since the Civil Rights era. Alas, indirect racism since Jim Crow has undergirded Black income, wealth, education, environmental, employment, criminal justice, and healthcare disparities. The ability for Black people such as Barack Obama to ascend to the top of the social ladder has convinced some people that racism is dead.  But to look solely at his achievements and ignore the current class stratification is ill-informed and shallow. Furthermore, it ignores that racism is at play, regardless of stature. To illustrate, during President Obama’s joint session of Congress, one Senator shouted, “you lie,” in the middle of his address. This type of unprecedented disrespect was happening in the backdrop of a Tea Party movement that drummed up the “birther” conspiracy, the most racist campaign against a president in US history. The reason why society ignored racism for so long is because nothing is racially discriminatory on its face. That is illegal. Under the [read more]

Violations Without Vindication: How the Supreme Court’s Decision in Nieves v. Bartlett Permits Retaliatory Arrests and Threatens to Undermine the Fight For Racial Equality

(Source) In May 2019, the Supreme Court handed down its decisions in Nieves v. Bartlett. For the most part, the decision flew under the radar, garnering little media attention (with some exceptions). However, this seemingly innocuous Supreme Court decision now threatens to undermine what has been described as “a defining moment in the future of American politics” and a “turning point against police brutality”—the George Floyd protests. As a general matter, the Constitution prevents the government from retaliating against an individual for exercising her constitutional rights. As a recent example, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was released from prison after a judge determined Cohen’s house arrest was revoked as punishment for writing a tell-all book about Trump. Since Cohen had a First Amendment right to write a book about Trump, the government could not retaliate against him for writing it. Likewise, a police officer violates the First Amendment when she arrests an individual because she dislikes his speech—known as a retaliatory arrest. But what does it matter if the officer violates the First Amendment when there are no consequences? One incredibly important remedy is to sue the officer under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 allows victims of [read more]

“Nothing About Us, Without Us” Means Police Reform, Too

(Source)   Being Black and disabled is not a crime. We need to stop treating it like one. Thanks to Evita Nwosu-Sylvester for sources and further reading, and to Amanda Cirillo for review.  Disability remains the “missing word in media coverage of police violence.” Far from anecdotal episodes, the connection between disability and policing harm is undeniable.  More than one half of Black Americans with disabilities will be arrested by the time they reach their late twenties. According to a 2016 report by the Ruderman Family Foundation, up to half of all people killed by police have a disability. If you have an undiagnosed mental illness, you are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter. If you are a juvenile or young adult with a disability, you are 13% more likely to be arrested than those without. Other data indicate that approximately a quarter of those killed by police are in a mental health crisis or were known by police to have a mental illness, in spite of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requiring reasonable modifications to policing where a disability is recognized. This is not just tragic; it is systemic. As reforms addressing police [read more]

The Machinery of Death: The Federal Death Penalty’s Reinstatement is Arbitrary, Capricious, Illegal, and Cruel

(Source)   Introduction In the early hours of July 14th, 2020, while most people were asleep or just starting their days, the Federal Government executed Daniel Lee Lewis, jumpstarting the return of federal executions. The federal government executed Mr. Lee despite myriad procedural and legal deficiencies. Mr. Lee was executed without a new warrant allowing the execution to occur on July 14th. His warrant listed July 13, 2020 as the execution date. Mr. Lee was strapped to the gurney for over four hours as last-minute legal issues were resolved but was pronounced dead less than an hour after his final legal issue was resolved. The loved ones of the victims publicly opposed his execution and were disregarded in their efforts to witness the execution without compromising their health in the midst of a global pandemic.  In many regards, Mr. Lee was a typical capital defendant. Prior to his conviction, his life was riddled with trauma, mental illness, and interactions with the juvenile detention centers. There was widespread consensus that his co-defendant was more culpable and Mr. Lee maintained his innocence in the murders through his last words. His trial had sentencing problems and concerns about ineffective assistance of counsel. When [read more]
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