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High Court Considers Birth Control Mandate

The legal fight over the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate continues at the Supreme Court today.

 

When enacted, the ACA included a mandate that insurance companies offer no-cost birth control. Some employers objected to this mandate, arguing that they had religious objections to some forms of birth control. They said that they should not have to pay for insurance that then provides a service they find morally objectionable.

 

There were various legal cases filed about this mandate, culminating in a 2014 Supreme Court decision affirming that some companies did not have to provide such insurance. In 2017, the Trump Administration went further, expanding this exception to include more companies. This administrative change is what is at issue in today’s Supreme Court arguments.

 

Pennsylvania is suing the Trump Administration, alleging that it exceeded its authority in granting more businesses an exception to the law. The state also alleges that the administration did not follow federal law in promulgating the rule.

 

At the heart of the argument is the idea, embodied in the ACA, that birth control should be widely available to individuals at no cost. Supporters say this is a good way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and it an essential part of women’s health care. Opponents to this idea have a variety of arguments. Some people point to their religious objection to providing birth control to others, especially types of birth control that they see as being no different than abortion. Others argue that if people want to use birth control, they should pay for it themselves, especially since it is widely available and not very expensive.

 

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments and ask questions remotely over video conference.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that businesses provide no-cost birth control to their employees through insurance?

Supreme Court Hearing Broadcast for First Time

The coronavirus has changed many things about the way Americans are living their daily lives. Those changes have also affected the Supreme Court. Today, the high court heard arguments remotely, allowing media outlets to broadcast their hearing for the first time in history.

 

The case involved a patent dispute that will not be one of the major cases the justices decide this term. But with each justice working in a separate location via a video conference, this case will make history. If one wanted to watch the arguments made by lawyers and the questions asked by justices, usually it is necessary to obtain a ticket to appear in the Supreme Court chambers. Today, these arguments and questions were broadcast on a variety of news channels.

 

The Supreme Court members have long resisted calls to place cameras in their courtroom. They argue that it will lead to justices playing to the cameras instead of focusing on legal arguments, and that their arguments will be taken out of context. With the changes necessitated by the coronavirus, however, the justices were forced to alter their procedures.

 

There has long been a push to televise the proceedings of the high court. At least during the time when the coronavirus restrictions are in place, it looks like such broadcasts will be available. However, once the court returns to its normal practices, these are likely to end.

 

Do you think that the Supreme Court’s arguments should be televised?

Some States Begin Easing Lockdowns

Across the nation, governors are issuing orders that roll back some of the restrictions put in place to reduce the coronavirus infection rate.

 

With people agitating to return to work, governors in 14 states are allowing some businesses to re-open today. The details differ in each state, but all of them are ending some of the social distancing restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

 

These governors and their supporters say that it is time to stop the economic damage caused by stay-at-home orders. They argue that if people feel comfortable returning to work, then they should be allowed to do so in certain instances. Many states are requiring individuals to continue practicing some sort of safety measures, such as wearing masks or maintaining a distance from others.

 

Some are criticizing these efforts, however. They say that the coronavirus is not contained, and allowing more contact between people will lead to more deaths. They argue that the governors allowing businesses to open are putting lives at risk, and are also risking future economic problems in the coming months.

 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a notable exception to this movement to ease restrictions. She has extended her state’s lockdown orders until the end of May, and vowed to veto any attempt by the legislature to challenger her decision. Protesters appeared at the state capitol this week in opposition to voice opposition to her orders, which are among the strictest in the nation.

 

Do you support easing restrictions on businesses being open and social distancing?

Lawyers Argue that Trump’s Name on Stimulus Checks is Illegal

Stimulus checks going out to millions of Americans contain the name of President Donald Trump in the memo line. A bipartisan group of lawyers is arguing that this is a violation of federal law.

 

Congress passed legislation authorizing stimulus payments to tens of millions of Americans due to the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic. Many of those payments were made by direct deposit. Some people, however, are receiving paper checks.

 

There were reports that President Trump wanted his signature to appear on the line authorizing the checks. Generally, the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury appears on government checks. Due to legal reasons, this idea could not be realized. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had the idea to place the president’s name in the memo line of the check, something that has never been done before.

 

A group of lawyers who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations argues that this move was intended to boost the president’s re-election campaign. As such, they say, it violates a federal law that prohibits the use of federal employees and property for campaign purposes. They sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate this situation.

 

Legal observers note that no one has been prosecuted under the section of the federal code that these lawyers cite.

 

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government from using the president or vice=president’s name or image in promotional material.

 

Do you think it was appropriate to put President Trump’s name on stimulus checks?

Democrats Want Federal Funding for Faster Internet

At a time when tens of millions of Americans are working from home or going to school from home, the Internet is proving critical to connecting people. Now some Democratic members of Congress want federal funding to boost high-speed Internet.

 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have joined with Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) to advocate for a federal grant program for improved broadband access as part of the next coronavirus aid bill. They argue that this epidemic has shown the importance of high-speed Internet, and that some people are at a disadvantage because they don’t have this type of service.

 

Opponents of this idea say that Internet access is better left to the private sector, not the government. They argue that the government can distort the market and harm efforts to roll out broadband. They note the large increase in high-speed Internet access over the past decade that private businesses, not the government, accomplished.

 

There is ongoing discussion about what the next coronavirus aid bill should contain and when Congress should act on it. Democrats are pushing for a big aid package for state and local governments. Republicans are cool to this idea, but have not rejected it. This is the main sticking point in negotiations, and it is unclear when it will be resolved.

 

Do you think the federal government should take steps to improve high-speed Internet access?

McConnell Pushes to Limit the Coronavirus Liability of Business Owners

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to take steps to limit what he says will be a “lawsuit pandemic” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

 

With businesses set to begin reopening around the nation, some people fear that there will be lawsuits from customers if they contract coronavirus in these places. Many business owners cite their concern over these potential lawsuits as one of the reasons they are hesitant to resume operation.

 

Sen. McConnell has said he will insist that any future bill to provide more aid related to the coronavirus must also contain a limitation on the liability for business owners and health care workers. He argues that this is a key way to begin restarting the economy.

 

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a new coronavirus bill that will provide aid to local and state governments. Sen. McConnell has been cool to this idea, noting that many of these governments were facing budget issues prior to the coronavirus. He has said that the federal government should not be bailing out states that spent irresponsibly. However, he has said he would be open to considering carefully-crafted aid if it also contains a liability limit.

 

The Senate will likely meet next week. The House was supposed to reconvene, too, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer now says that members will not be returning to Washington in early May.

 

Do you support giving business owners and health care workers protection from lawsuits over the coronavirus?

High Court Avoids Taking Stand in Gun Case

The Supreme Court today avoided making a decision that could have had a big impact on gun control laws across the country.

 

The case involved a New York city laws that prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Gun owners challenged this law, saying it restricted their rights to keep and bear arms. The city eventually changed the law, but the challengers continued to press their case in court.

 

The Supreme Court decided that since the law was no longer in effect, they did not need to make a decision about it. Some gun rights supporters viewed this case as a prime opportunity for the court to define the extent of Second Amendment protections for transporting firearms.

 

The case centered on an ordinance that restricted licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

Since New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms, the justices decided that the case is moot and dismissed it. Three justices dissented, however, indicating that they would have used this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Do you think the Supreme Court should have decided that the Constitution protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

House Passes Another Coronavirus Aid Bill

This week, Congress passed a fifth bill to fund federal response to the coronavirus epidemic. The House met in a nearly-full session on Thursday to debate and then overwhelmingly vote in favor of this $484 billion legislation.

 

This bill contains funding for a number of items, including:

  • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic
  • $75 billion for hospital aid
  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing
  • $60 billion for disaster loans and grants

 

The most-anticipated portion of this bill dealt with the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money last week while Congress was in the midst of partisan disagreements over how to replenish it. Republicans were pushing for legislation that only contained $250 billion in new money for that program. Democrats wanted a larger bill that also gave money to hospitals as well as state and local governments.

 

While the Senate passed this bill by voice vote, the House of Representatives reconvened to vote on it. After some debate, the vote in favor was 388-5. One member, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), voted “present,” while 35 members were absent.

 

There is already talk about another coronavirus aid bill. Democrats are suggesting that such a bill have money in it for state and local governments which are having budget problems. Republicans are cool to that idea.

 

What do you think Congress should be doing to respond to the coronavirus epidemic?

McConnell Suggests Bankruptcy, Not Aid, for States

With some states facing budget problems, congressional Democrats are seeking billions of dollars in aid as part of the next coronavirus legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has another suggestion for states in budget trouble: bankruptcy.

 

Officials in some states say they are facing dire budget situations due to the coronavirus. They argue that the economic slowdown will reduce tax revenue and lead to an increased demand for government services. These officials say that they will be forced to fire public safety employees and stop vital government programs unless Congress provides them with money.

 

Sen. McConnell, however, contends that many states have a long history of irresponsible spending. He has said that he does not want coronavirus aid bills to rescue states from what he calls bad decisions of the past. He specifically points to generous pension programs that some states provide without putting away enough money to cover these obligations.

 

Congressional Democrats wanted the latest bill related to the coronavirus to contain billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments. Sen. McConnell prevented this from being included in the package. Instead, he says it may be a good idea for states to explore bankruptcy to restructure their long-term spending.

 

Should the federal government provide aid to states and local governments that are struggling with budget issues? Or should these governments look at declaring bankruptcy to restructure their spending?

New Coronavirus Aid Bill Passes Senate

This week the Senate passed a fifth bill to fund federal response to the coronavirus epidemic. This new legislation has a price tag of $484 billion, and some members of Congress want to begin work on a sixth aid bill.

 

The legislation contains funding for a number of items, including:

  • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic
  • $75 billion for hospital aid
  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing
  • $60 billion for disaster loans and grants

 

The Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money last week while Congress was in the midst of partisan disagreements over how to replenish it. Republicans were pushing for legislation that only contained $250 billion in new money for that program. Democrats wanted a larger bill that also gave money to hospitals as well as state and local governments.

 

The two sides finally settled on this compromise legislation, and the Senate passed it via a voice vote. This procedure does not require that members of the Senate return to the Capitol building for a vote.

 

The House of Representatives will now consider this bill, and is expected to pass it this week.

 

Do you support the new $484 billion coronavirus aid bill?

Trump Says He’s Halting Immigration to U.S.

President Trump took to Twitter on Monday night to announce that he would be stopping immigration into the U.S.

 

The president says that this immigration halt is necessary to protect the U.S. from the coronavirus and to help American workers. Even before he was president, Trump was a critic of immigration. Since he has taken office, Trump has pursued policies to limit legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration.

 

The president plans to sign an executive order that will prevent the State Department from issuing visas to incoming immigrants. With the virtual shutdown in airline travel due to the coronavirus, there has already been a large slowdown in immigration. The president previously stopped travel into the U.S. from nations where there have been large outbreaks of the coronavirus, such as China.

 

Given the president’s broad authority to take steps in response to emergencies, this move is likely legal as long as it only lasts the duration of the epidemic. Critics, however, note that the president has long looked for ways to stop people from immigrating into the U.S., and they claim he is using this as a pretext to advance his anti-immigration agenda.

 

There will likely be legal challenges to this executive order.

 

Do you support stopping immigration into the U.S. during the coronavirus epidemic?

High Court Bars Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts

Today the Supreme Court held that there must be unanimous jury verdicts to convict someone in criminal cases.

 

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the court held that it violated the Constitution to convict someone of a crime using a jury that did not return a unanimous verdict. This applies only to offenses deemed “serious.” The court did not rule on cases concerning petty offenses.

 

This decision arose from the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos for murder in Louisiana. A jury in that state found him guilty by a verdict of 10-2. At that time, Louisiana allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts. It has subsequently changed its law.

 

The decision finding these verdicts unconstitutional was 6-3, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. The majority concluded that the standard at the time the Constitution was written required a unanimous verdict. The dissenting justices said that the court had previously held that it was not unconstitutional for states to use non-unanimous jury verdicts, so the court should not be overturning precedent here.

 

Only Oregon is currently affected by this decision, at it was the last remaining state that allowed criminal convictions without a unanimous verdict.

 

Do you support requiring unanimous jury verdicts for criminal convictions?

Small Business Fund Runs out of Money

 

The federal government’s program offering forgivable loans to small businesses affected by coronavirus ran out of money today. Senators are making little progress in resolving differences over legislation that would replenish this fund.

 

The third coronavirus relief bill contained $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). The PPP provided forgivable loans to small businesses as long as they kept paying employees and met other conditions. There was such a strong response to this program that the initial $350 billion soon proved inadequate. There were signs soon after its implementation that the program would run out of money in mid-April.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attempted to pass legislation to provide another $250 billion. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected, meaning that the Democrats would filibuster the attempt. He desired more money for hospitals and state and local governments added to the small business aid. The two sides have been negotiating since last week in an attempt to overcome their differences.

 

The House of Representatives is likely to follow the lead of the Senate on this issue. Democrats in that body are also supporting the same aid demands as the Senate. However, if the Senate passes a small business aid bill without the additional funding, the House is unlikely to stop it.

 

There will likely be legislation to provide this small business aid next week. What is unclear at this time is whether it will contain any funding for Democratic priorities.

 

Do you think that legislation to provide funds for small business loans should also contain money for hospitals and state governments?

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Michiganders Protest Stay-at-Home Order

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has issued one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the nation in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This week, hundreds of her state’s residents rallied at the state capitol building to protest her actions.

 

Hundreds of people showed up in Lansing to denounce the governor’s actions and demand that she allow businesses to re-open.

 

Last week, Gov. Whitmer issued orders to businesses that prevent many from staying open or selling certain items. Many of her critics point out that this order allows the sale of alcohol and lottery tickets, but not items like seeds or plants. She has also asked state residents to refrain from non-essential travel. They say that the governor is overly harsh, taking steps that do little to combat the coronavirus’s spread.

 

Gov. Whitmer’s order goes beyond the federal guidelines, which are not binding. She defends her order as being necessary to stop the virus’s spread in a state that has the third-highest number of victims.

 

Many Republicans in the state disagree, however. They point out that other governors have not gone as far as she has done in restricting what businesses can operate or what they can sell. They contend that her orders are damaging the economy and putting people out of work.

 

The stay-at-home order expires on April 30.

 

What type of activities and businesses do you think governors should be restricting to deal with the coronavirus?

Some Want Rent Cancelled During Coronavirus Outbreak

With many working losing their jobs or seeing their hours cut, some activists and politicians are calling on states and the federal government to suspend or even cancel rent or mortgage payments. Critics, however, say this policy is short-sighted and will cause big problems in the long-run.

 

Politicians across the political spectrum are proposing that government step in and suspend or cancel rent payments. Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida wants federal action to postpone rent payments for 60 days if a renter has an income under $75,000. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution unanimously asking Washington Governor Jay Inslee and President Trump to cancel payments for rent and mortgage. The city council in Alexandria, Virginia, may also consider a similar resolution.

 

Under these plans, either the state or federal government would suspend or cancel the payment of rent or mortgages for as long as the coronavirus emergency lasts. There has been no action on these proposals yet, but state and local governments have imposed moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.

 

Supporters argue that with so many people losing jobs, it would be unfair to expect them to pay rent during this time. They say that failing to stop rent payments could lead to a wave of homelessness. They note that many people who are paying rent have lower incomes, so they are especially hard hit by the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

 

There are many people who are pushing back against this idea, however. They point out that there is little legal authority to cancel the payment of either rent or mortgages, even in an emergency. They also note that canceling these payments would cause harm to either the owner or the rental property or the holder of the mortgage, which could have severe ripple effects throughout the economy.

 

Do you support canceling the payment of rent and mortgages during the coronavirus crisis?

Virginia Enacts Carbon-Free Energy Law

By 2050, Virginia’s utilities must be producing carbon-free energy under a law signed this week by Gov. Ralph Northam.

 

This legislation requires that Dominion Energy, which serves most of the state, to provide energy to customers that was made without any carbon emissions by 2045. Another utility, which serves a smaller part of the state, must go carbon-free by 2050.

 

Those who support this measure say it is necessary to help combat climate change. They argue that this transition will create jobs in the clean energy sector and improve the state’s environment. Opponents, however, predict that this will raise energy costs for consumers and businesses. They note that such an outcome will destroy jobs and hurt the state’s economy.

 

When Virginia voters elected a Democratic majority to the state’s legislature, these legislators ran on an ambitious slate of liberal ideas. This carbon-free mandate was one of those proposals. Republicans had controlled the legislature or the governorship prior to 2019’s elections, and had prevented Democratic legislators’ attempts to pass many of these bills in previous years.

 

A handful of other states have mandated a switch to no-carbon energy production, but Virginia is the first southern state to do so.

Senate to Consider Small Business Aid on Thursday

Senators today put off consideration until Thursday of new money for a federal aid fund for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Partisan differences are standing in the way of quick consideration of a new infusion of federal cash.

 

The Senate met in a brief session today but conducted no business. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has set Thursday as the day the body will consider an additional $250 billion in funding for the small business loan program. Congress established these loans in the last coronavirus aid bill. This will provide forgivable loans for small businesses that continue to pay employees through June. If these businesses do this, they will not have to repay their loans.

 

Trump Administration officials warn that the initial $350 billion provided to this loan program will be depleted soon. Some say this could occur as soon as the end of the week.

 

Sen. McConnell is pushing for a fourth aid bill that would provide another $250 billion for this program and nothing else. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports this additional money, but also wants the bill to include funding for hospitals and state and local governments. Sen. McConnell has said these additional priorities should be discussed in a separate bill.

 

Neither side is backing down from its demands. With no easy path to enact this bill, Sen. McConnell said that the Senate will reconvene on Thursday to consider the bill. It remains to be seen if it can be passed if Democrats object.

 

Do you think the Senate should wait until Thursday to provide more funding for loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus?

Rep. Schiff Wants Commission to Look into Coronavirus Response

The federal government is in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus epidemic. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wants a commission to look into how well the government prepared for the epidemic and how well it is performing in its response.

 

Under Rep. Schiff’s legislation, Congress would create bipartisan commission to examine the federal government’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus epidemic. This commission would examine the strengths and weaknesses of these efforts, and make recommendations for future preparedness.

 

Rep. Schiff says that such a commission is common after major events such as the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He notes that commissions like this can help prepare the federal government to respond to future incidents. Critics, however, see this as a commission that would be used to embarrass the Trump Administration for political reasons.

 

Under this proposal, the commission would have a bipartisan mix of experts, including those with a medical background. It would hold hearings and have subpoena power. At its conclusion, it would issue recommendations on how to improve the federal response to future epidemics. This report would not be released until February 2021.

 

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats of California, are planning on introducing similar legislation in the Senate.

 

Do you think Congress should establish a commission to examine the federal response to the coronavirus epidemic?

Senators Can’t Agree on More Coronavirus Aid

Rival plans for coronavirus aid failed to advance in the Senate this week.

 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to advance the Republicans’ version of a fourth coronavirus relief bill. That legislation contained $250 billion in new spending for loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic. These loans would be forgiven if small businesses met certain qualifications, such as keeping their employees hired. The third coronavirus aid bill set up this loan program with $350 billion in funding, but it is in danger of being exhausted by applicants.

 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected to the consideration of legislation to provide this new money. Instead, he proposed adding new spending for other areas in this bill. Some of the things that Senate Democrats want included are a $100 billion aid program for hospitals, $150 billion in funding for state and local governments, and a more generous food stamp program.

 

There is some disagreement about members of Congress and Trump Administration officials about what the federal government should do next to respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic. Sen. McConnell and the White House are pressing for a quick infusion of cash to the small business loan program, then putting off a larger aid bill for future discussion.

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is not opposed to some of the ideas proposed by Democrats, but does not support enacting them right now. Sen. Schumer says that Congress should not wait to provide money that he says is desperately needed right now.

 

Do you support including funding for hospitals, state and local governments, and food stamps in a bill that includes more aid for small businesses affected by the coronavirus?

Congress Looks at More Small Business Aid

Congressional leaders are looking to advance legislation this week that contains more funding to help small businesses affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

 

Under the plan being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Congress would appropriate an additional $250 billion for forgivable small business loans. This would not create a new program, but would provide money for the small business aid contained in the previous coronavirus aid legislation. That bill set aside $350 billion for these loans. Many fear this money will quickly run out, however.

 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to include other items in this bill, such as funding for hospitals and a federal bonus for front-line workers. Other Democrats are also supporting the inclusion of other relief items. Sen. McConnell is remaining firm that the only thing the bill should focus on is small business aid.

 

If there is agreement on this new round of funding, the Senate could pass the bill on Thursday and the House could pass it on Friday. If no member objects, both bodies could pass it by unanimous consent. However, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) is indicating he will object to passing the bill in this way, necessitating a return of at least 218 House members to the capitol building.

 

Do you support Congress providing another $250 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses?

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