Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
This week, COVID-19 has caused some legislative efforts to come to a halt, while raising new concerns over state power and civil rights and liberties. The public health impacts have highlighted race inequities in the country, and prison conditions. Title IX revisions are expected any day, even as a new lawsuit about transgendered athletes was just filed under the existing law. In Texas, the battle over abortion services continues.
In a handful of states, protesters rallied outside state houses to reopen businesses: At this point, most states have implemented some sort of restrictions due to COVID-19, whether that’s closing businesses deemed “non-essential,” closing state parks or beaches, or issuing tickets to anyone not wearing a mask in public places. In Michigan, Ohio, Utah, Oregon, and Minnesota, groups of protesters gathered to urge their states to “re-open the economy.” The groups voiced concern over what they described as government overreach, and cite economic concerns as a more critical threat than public health concerns. (NPR).
Racial discrepancies in COVID-19 testing and deaths highlight pre-existing problems in our healthcare: New data released from states and cities shows Black Americans are less likely to get tested for coronavirus, and more likely to become infected. Public health experts say the results are a symptom of unequal resources and access to care that has been long engrained. The preliminary statistics have already prompted policymakers in those states to think about how to target the discrepancies. (New York Times).
Maryland adds itself to the growing list of places expediting the release of inmates during COVID-19 outbreak: Maryland’s governor signed an order to expedite the release of prisoners eligible to be released within the next four months. The move comes after weeks of advocacy from defense attorneys, and some prosecutors, who explained that the close-quarters in prisons made them particularly vulnerable to a public health disaster if hit by the virus. (Baltimore Sun).
Despite clashes between religious liberties and social-distancing orders, most church-goers stayed home on Easter Sunday: Though the majority of churches in the U.S. have been closed in recent weeks, there have been some hold-outs. As state leaders increasingly imposed bans on social gatherings, a number of protests arose from church attendees, and some churches even filed lawsuits challenging the order as applied to religious gatherings. Despite the backlash, cell phone data shows that most people observed the holiday from home. (Washington Post).
Indiana Election Commission’s meeting was subject to a “Zoom Bombing”, heightening concerns over privacy as an increasing amount of official business is moved online: Zoom Bombing is the phenomenon of third parties joining an ongoing Zoom meeting to which they were not invited, sometimes as a prank for pure comedic effect, and sometimes to hurl abusive racial insults. The FBI issued guidelines for countering the attacks, including requiring a password to enter the meeting. This strategy in particular is difficult to implement for entities operating under public meeting laws however, which need to ensure public access. (The Hill).
Coronavirus, then Betsy DeVos’ impending Title IX revision are the key holdups of a long overdue agreement on higher education legislation: The Higher Education Act covers everything from Pell Grants, to FAFSA requirements for federal aid, to Title IX implementation, but was last reauthorized in 2008. The senate education committee was reportedly close to reaching a deal before the pandemic hit, though they would not have been able to reauthorize it without the impending Title IX revisions from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, which still have not come. She is expected to include controversial protections for students accused of sexual assault, including the ability to cross-examine the student making the accusations. (Inside Higher Ed).
The ACLU and Legal Voice filed suit challenging Idaho’s new law banning student athletes who are transgender from competing in accordanc with their gender identity: On March 30th, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed the policy into law, in addition to a bill banning transgender individuals from changing the sex listed on their birth certificate. The ACLU and Legal Voice say the laws violate both the U.S. Constitution and Title IX. (NBC).
Federal court rules medication-based abortions can proceed in Texas after Texas Governor Greg Abbott initially suspended abortions in the state: The ruling comes after Planned Parenthood clinics in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico reported seven times as many abortion patients traveling from Texas in the wake of the suspension, in spite of travel being heavily discouraged at this time. Governor Abbott cited a shortage of medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the suspension. (NPR).