Photo credit: Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press.
Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This week, lawsuits continue over Biden’s vaccine mandate, the murder trial of Ahmaud Arbery continues, backlash arises against the University of Florida over free speech concerns, and more.
The chief law enforcement officials for the states of Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky are jointly suing the Biden administration due to its COVID-19 mandate, asking a judge to stop the implementation of the mandate requiring federal employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated by January 4. This is just one of a number of legal challenges beginning over the vaccine mandate. A United States Court of Appeals issued a stay over the weekend on the mandate.
After hearing oral arguments in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas early last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past Wednesday in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the case challenging New York’s law limiting the right to carry concealed handguns. If the court strikes down New York’s law, many questions will arise as to where guns can be banned outside the home, such as in large protests, businesses with liquor licenses, and subways. It is unclear how broadly the court will likely rule.
On Friday, November 5, the murder trial of Ahmaud Arbery began in Brunswick, Georgia. The practice of attorneys being able to dismiss potential jurors without cause, or peremptory challenges, has come under intense scrutiny after the jury selection ended with a jury of one Black man and 11 white jurors. All attorneys gave opening statements except for Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William Bryan, who requested to defer his opening statement until after the prosecution presented its case, a strategy that Judge Timothy Walmsley said he has never encountered in his decade on the bench. Prosecutors called their first witness forward, Officer William Duggan of the Glynn County. The trial will resume today.
A new election law is being challenged in Florida for restricting voting rights. Three University of Florida professors were hired as expert witnesses for groups opposing the law, but told they could not participate in the suit, which has raised questions of academic freedom and First Amendment rights. University officials claimed that participating in a lawsuit against the state was “adverse to U.F.’s interests” as the school is a state institution. Much backlash has ensued, with many saying the action of restraining the professors’ abilities to speak was likely unconstitutional.
Pfizer has developed a COVID pill which can apparently cut the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 89% if taken within three days of developing symptoms. Although the results are preliminary, infectious disease experts noted that this represents another promising development in the search for efficacious COVID-19 treatment beyond the vaccination.