- In a series of requests for proposed legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Justice is asking Congress to enact a law that would allow some judges to indefinitely detain a person without the right to trial.
- The DOJ is also asking for Congress to suspend the statute of limitations for arrests and pass a law explicitly saying that migrants cannot apply for asylum if they have COVID-19.
- The requests were met with intense criticism by both Republicans and Democrats, though the DOJ has defended them, saying it worked with Congress and federal courts to develop the measures.
DOJ Requests Emergency Powers
The Department of Justice has asked Congress to grant it certain new emergency powers, including the ability for Attorney General William Barr to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings, which could indefinitely detain people without trial.
The details of the requests were originally published by Politico on Saturday and they come as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, the DOJ is asking Congress to allow it the power to ask district courts to indefinitely pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”
Further, that proposal would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings.”
That request could have serious implications, most notably the suspension of habeas corpus, which is a person’s right to appear in front of a judge after being arrested.
For its part, the DOJ is justifying this request by saying that, currently, judges can already pause judicial proceedings in an emergency; however, this new legislation would allow them to handle emergencies “in a consistent manner.”
Nonetheless, in an interview with Politico, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Norman L. Reimer expressed concern.
“Not only would it be a violation of [habeas corpus],” Reimer said, “but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest. So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”
According to Politico, Reimer also called the possibility indefinite suspensions of court rules “deeply disturbing.”
DOJ Makes Several Other Requests
In its draft for proposed legislation, the DOJ also made several additional requests.
Among those, it asks Congress to suspend the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings during a national emergency and “for one year following the end of the national emergency.”
It’s also asking to change the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in some cases to expand the use of video conference hearings. Under current law, if a person consents to it, they can appear at their hearing over a video conference call and have their charges read that way.
Now, the DOJ is asking Congress to let some of those hearings happen without defendants’ consent.
“If it were with the consent of the accused person it would be fine,” Reimer told Politico. “But if it’s not with the consent of the accused person, it’s a terrible road to go down. We have a right to public trials. People have a right to be present in court.”
Another big request is that the DOJ is asking Congress to pass a law that would explicitly bar asylum seekers from claiming asylum if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
That request comes as the Trump Administration has already announced it will start barring entry to migrants at the southern border. Notably, that already includes asylum seekers there.
DOJ Requests Met with Intense Criticism
While the requests would be unlikely to pass a Democratic-led House of Representatives, the highly controversial draft legislation has largely been met with opposition both by Democrats and Republicans.
Among notable reactions, Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee—who is currently one of five U.S. Senators self-quarantining—said of the requests, “OVER MY DEAD BODY.”
“@realDonaldTrump, please refute and disavow this immediately,” he said.
In an interview on CNN with Jake Tapper Sunday morning, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the requests “abhorrent.
“This is not a time,” she said, “and you know, there is a long history in this country and in other countries of using emergencies as times to really start to encroach upon people’s civil rights. And, in fact, this is the time when we need them the absolute most. We have to keep an eye out for these kind of authoritarian and frankly this expansion, or rather suspension, of rule of law.”
Former RNC Chair and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland Michael Steele also blasted the requests, saying on Saturday, “NO!! This is NOT a slope we want to get on. Suspending Constitutional Rights!? With this crew?! OH HELL NO!”
Richard Painter, the former White House Chief Ethics Lawyer for George W. Bush, called on Barr to resign on Monday.
DOJ Defends Request
At the same time, the DOJ has defended its requests. Sunday night on Twitter, spokesperson Kerri Kupec tried to clarify the situation by outlining the DOJ’s reasoning.
“There has been some confusion re: reports about DOJ asking Congress for certain “emergency powers,” she said. “This was triggered by Congress asking DOJ for suggested proposals necessary to ensure that federal courts would be able to administer fair and impartial justice during [a] pandemic.”
Kupec then said the draft proposal was “developed in consultation w/ Congress and federal judiciary to help federal judges more consistently manage cases w/in their districts & protect interests of justice during this national emergency.”
“Because of pandemic-related measures, courts are closing and grand juries are not meeting,” she added. That means prosecutors may not be able to indict criminals before a statute of limitations expires, or dangerous criminals who have been arrested may be released because of time limits.”
Because of pandemic-related measures, courts are closing and grand juries are not meeting. That means prosecutors may not be able to indict criminals before a statute of limitations expires, or dangerous criminals who have been arrested may be released because of time limits.3/— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) March 23, 2020
Kupec said that authority would end once the national emergency was over if a chief justice found that emergency conditions were no longer affecting the federal courts.
“Bottom line: The proposed legislative text confers powers upon judges. It does not confer new powers upon the executive branch. These provisions are designed to empower the courts to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice.”
That authority too would end at the earlier of the termination of the COVID-19 national emergency or upon a finding by the Chief Justice (or his designee) that emergency conditions no longer affect the functioning of the federal courts. 10/— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) March 23, 2020
Bottom line: The proposed legislative text confers powers upon judges. It does not confer new powers upon the executive branch. These provisions are designed to empower the courts to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice.— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) March 23, 2020
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (Rolling Stone)
Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying
The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.
Amazon Endorses States Reform Act
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.
The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.
The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.
The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.
While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.
The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.
Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill” because “it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”
Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.
“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.