Polish Election Results Cause Fear for LGBTQ Community

After Polish President Andrzej Duda narrowly won a second term last weekend, the country’s LGBTQ community fears increased homophobic legislation and exclusion from society.

Duda, who had said LGBTQ “ideology” was worse than communism, had also promised to ban same-sex marriage and adoption rights for LGBTQ couples. He won against liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski with 51% of the vote in the runoff election.

Beyond Duda’s policy proposals, his rhetoric demonizing the LGBTQ community is dangerous in itself, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

“Even the rhetoric of local administrations establishing LGBT-free zones, the impact of the rhetoric used by the candidate for president, really created a context of demonization of LGBT people,” Dam said. “And that itself is really dangerous in a modern society.”

Leading up to the election, Duda viciously dehumanized LGBTQ people, using the phrase “LGBT are not people.” A member of Duda’s Law and Justice Party had earlier said “LGBT are not people, they are an ideology.”

Hate crimes against Poland’s LGBTQ people have occurred for years and Duda’s homophobic rhetoric is only exacerbating the situation, according to Hubert Sobecki, head of a Warsaw-based LGBTQ-right group.

“It’s a disaster. You can call it a humanitarian disaster, but that wouldn’t even bring you close to the scope of human suffering those people are inflicting on us as a community,” Sobecki said. “They call us ‘ideology,’ but it’s not the ideology that is beaten up on the street.”

Duda has aligned his platform with increasingly homophobic trends in Russia, where the constitution now bans same-sex marriage. He also visited the White House last month, where President Donald Trump praised him for “doing a terrific job.” Duda leveraged his visit to the United States to leverage Trump’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric for his campaign, according to Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign.

Poland’s increasingly hostile environment has taken a toll on the mental health of young LGBTQ people in the country. A 2020 study shows that about 84% of young LGBTQ people now have suicidal thoughts. The percentage of queer teens who have attempted suicide climbed from 30% in 2016 to 45% this year.

Despaired by Duda’s reelection some LGBTQ people are thinking of leaving the country.

“I want to have the same rights as my sister has who lives with her husband,” Romana Dybalska, who is raising three children with her partner, said. “I believe that good times will still come to Poland, but at this point I am considering leaving this country.”

Sources: PBS NewsHour 7/15/20; NBC News 07/13/20; The Daily Beast 07/16/20.

COVID-19 Test Vaccine Displays Immune Response

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown an immune response in test participants. The vaccine is manufactured by the biotech company Moderna.

No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.

According to researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the group developing the vaccine with Moderna, the vaccine appeared safe in the first 45 people who tested it. The vaccine used genetic material found in the virus to cause the immune system to fight COVID-19.

The volunteers were all healthy adults between the ages of 18 to 55. Each person received two separate vaccinations exactly 28 days apart. All of the volunteers developed antibodies after the second shot, and more than half of them experienced non-serious side effects.

It is not certain if this vaccine will make someone completely immune, but it could drastically reduce the severity of the illness – reducing COVID-19 to a bad cold.

This vaccine was the first one in development to be tested on humans. The next stage, Phase 3, will test the vaccine on 30,000 volunteers. Half of the people will receive the vaccine, and half of the people will receive placebos. The researchers will need to find that those in the former group were less likely to contract COVID-19 than those in the latter.

Even if this vaccine works, it will not immediately eradicate the virus. According to experts, we will need more than one, as no single company can produce the number of vaccinations necessary. Additionally, we do not yet have an infrastructure for distribution – a process that could leave many communities susceptible to the virus long after the creation of a vaccine.

The United States has seen over 3.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. 136,000 people have lost their lives to the virus, and an estimated 5.5 million people have lost their employer-provided healthcare during this time.

A virologist at Columbia University in New York, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, said of the news: “None of us are safe unless all of us are safe… it’s not just us. It’s everybody in the world.”

 Sources: The Hill 07/16, The New York Times 07/16, AP 07/16, Vox 07/16

Colorado Bans LGBTQ+ Panic Defense in Courtrooms

Colorado has become the 11th state to ban the LGBTQ+ “panic defense.” On Monday, Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law, prohibiting defendants from using the gender identity or sexual orientation of a victim to excuse their behavior in the courtroom.

“This bill is going to help us ensure that there aren’t biased arguments or bigoted arguments in our courtrooms here in Colorado,” said Amanda Gall, a sexual assault resource prosecutor with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. The bill requires that a perpetrator be responsible for their own actions, rather than relying on irrational fears and hatred to justify them.

The bill passed relatively easily, with only one lawmaker opposing it. One of its sponsors, Rep. Brianna Titone, said the support was “unlike anything I have ever seen.” For Titone, Colorado’s first openly transgender state lawmaker, the bill holds significant meaning. “For me, what this bill really means is protecting Black trans women, who are the most vulnerable of the communities we’re trying to protect here,” she said at the bill signing ceremony.

Although the defense is not frequently used in Colorado, its outlawing comes at a time of unprecedented danger for Black trans women. Between June 25 and July 3, six Black trans women were found dead. The most recent deaths of Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, Tatiana Hall, and Bree Black brings the total number of trans women who have died as a result of violence in 2020 to at least 22.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 128 crimes in Colorado in which individuals were victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gall believes this number to be underreported but says that it still shows the level of discrimination that exists in the state. The ban is a stepping stone towards ending this kind of discrimination.

In addition to the panic defense ban, Polis, who is the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the country, signed other LGBTQ-friendly bills into law on Monday. One allows pharmacists to prescribe HIV-prevention medication, making it more accessible across the state. Another simplifies the requirements to change the gender listed on government documents.

“We’ve come a long way here in Colorado since our days as the Hate State. We really went from a place where discrimination was legalized in the 1990s to where we are today, where Colorado is a leader,” shared Polis.

Sources: KOAA News 7/14/20; Colorado Politics 6/12/20; The Denver Post 7/13/20; Them. 7/14/20

After Weeks of Negotiation, Health Care Workers Win Pay Increase in France

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, French healthcare workers have been demanding higher pay, increased funding for hospitals, and more staff. France has been one of the hardest hit countries in Europe, with over 200,000 infections and 30,000 deaths. This year, after seven weeks of tense and fraught negotiations with trade unions, the French government finally gave these workers “historic” pay raises: about 8 billion euros or about $9.1 billion. This decision came just in time to celebrate Bastille Day, with the French government hosting smaller gatherings on Bastille Day to honor these workers. 

A healthcare administrator from Paris named Laura Rezé, said that her wages will increase by about 183 euros, or about $208, a month. In an interview with CBS News, she said “it doesn’t make a huge overall difference, but it’s better than nothing.” She added “This is definitely progress… I just wish it didn’t take a pandemic for us to be seen and heard.”

Instead of the traditional Bastille Day parade this year, due to the pandemic, there was a military parade on the Place de la Concorde that was dedicated to nurses, doctors, and other hospital workers. There were several thousand spectators, including families of health care workers who had passed away during the pandemic, watching from socially-distanced seating. Officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland were also invited to watch due to their countries’ acceptance of French patients. 

After the ceremony, thousands of yellow vest activists, a grassroots movement that demands economic justice, and healthcare workers protested demanding increased public funding for healthcare and better contracts. They were met with tear gas from the police. 

Media Sources:  CBS News 07/15/20; BBC News 07/15/20; French Press Release 07/15/20; NBC News 07/15/20

Federal Judge Rules Doctors Can Distribute Abortion Pills by Mail

A federal judge ruled Monday that patients seeking the abortion pill do not need to visit a doctor in-person to obtain the pill during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision, issued by U.S. District judge Theodore Chang in Maryland, makes it legal for doctors to mail the abortion drug mifepristone. Used along with misoprostol, the drugs can end an early pregnancy or manage a miscarriage.

In his decision, Chang stated that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule requiring patients to go to a doctor during an ongoing pandemic can be dangerous and poses a “substantial obstacle” to people seeking an abortion, which would be unconstitutional.

“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” Chang wrote.

States hostile to abortion rights, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, joined the suit in support of the FDA, arguing any rulings could impact their own laws. The judge rejected their claim and said those states would still be able to impose regulations in addition to FDA rules.

The lawsuit was brought in May by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other groups after the FDA singled out mifepristone as the only drug that can be self-administered but required in-person pickup.

Skye Perryman, chief legal officer of ACOG, said the ruling correctly recognized the lack of medical basis for the FDA’s rules and the hardships people face in obtaining abortion care, especially during a pandemic.

“Today’s ruling recognizes the hardship and undue burden that many women have faced obtaining essential health care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perryman said.

Eva Chalas, the president of ACOG, also recognized how the FDA rule disproportionately affected communities of color that faced systemic discrimination and were hit especially hard during the pandemic.

“The FDA’s burdensome in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone has had a disproportionate effect on communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including communities of color who already face existing inequities and structural barriers to care,” Chalas said, “Suspending the REMS requirement for mifepristone for early pregnancy termination represents a necessary step forward in our collective work toward health equity during this unprecedented time of pandemic.”

Sources: PBS Newshour 07/13/20; Time 07/13/20; Forbes 07/13/20; ACOG 07/13/20; Feminist Newswire 05/28/20

Federal Judge Blocks Affordable Care Act Abortion Payment Requirement

On Friday, a federal judge blocked a new Affordable Care Act (ACA) abortion requirement. The regulation was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2019 and would have required ACA healthcare providers to issue a separate bill for abortion coverage.

Margaret Murray, the CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, stated that the decision was “a major win for access to care” and that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten Americans and our health care system we urge HHS to implement policies that promote access to care, not wrap coverage in red tape”

HHS announced the new requirement in December 2019, with plans to enforce it by June 27. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that date was pushed back to August 26. In February, Planned Parenthood of Maryland filed a lawsuit against the regulation. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and  Planned Parenthood Federation of America represented the plaintiffs.

The HHS requirement would’ve forced insurers on the ACA exchange to provide separate bills for abortion coverage.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover abortions – except in cases of rape, incest, or to save someone’s life. Insurers on the ACA exchange that cover abortion already must place enrollee’s abortion payments into a separate account. HHS stated their new regulation was an effort to ensure federal funds were separate from abortion care and in accordance with Congress’ “intent for (participating insurers) to collect two distinct payments, one for the coverage of (relevant) abortion services, and one for coverage of all other services covered.”

US District Court Judge Catherine Blake refuted the regulation, finding it an “unreasonable barrier” to healthcare access – which is in violation of the ACA. Blake stated the rule could result in people losing access to their health insurance. This might be due to insurers removing abortion coverage because the regulation is too burdensome, or due to enrollees missing a payment because they must keep track of multiple bills. Blake did not find a need for additional oversight regarding federal funds or a strong connection between the requirement and Congress’ intent.

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement: “Today is a huge victory for the people who need and deserve access to safe, legal abortion… abortion is essential health care, and this rule was an obvious attempt by the Trump administration to put it out of reach for millions of people in the country.”

Sources: CNN 07/13, Planned Parenthood 07/13, Planned Parenthood Action Fund 07/13, ACLU 07/13, Fierce Healthcare 07/13

ICE Transfers and Deportations Spread COVID-19 Within Detention Centers, Globally

As lockdowns, social distancing, and mask-wearing become the norm all across the world, ICE continues to detain people, moving them from state to state, often deporting them, which is contributing to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus both domestically and abroad. 

The Marshall Project and the New York Times conducted an investigation, published July 10, exposing how “unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus — and how pressure from the Trump administration led countries to take in sick deportees.”

In the investigation, they spoke to more than 30 immigrants, all of them describing unsanitary and cramped detention centers. They also told stories of protective gear and social distancing being almost nonexistent and impossible. When they got back to their country of origin, at least four deportees that the New York Times interviewed ended up testing positive for COVID-19. 

ICE has confirmed at least 3,000 COVID-19-positive detainees. In the investigation, the Marshall Project and the New York Times tracked over 750 domestic ICE flights since March. On these flights, ICE carried thousands of detainees to different centers, even if they were exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. They also tracked 200 deportation flights, often with detainees who had tested positive for the virus to other countries. Since March, Honduras and El Salvador accepted more than 6,000 deportees, Trump praising presidents of both the countries and saying that he would provide ventilators to them if they continued doing so. 

When ICE was asked about its own role in spreading the virus, the agency claimed that it followed guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and took precautions. Last week though, ICE stated that it is only able to test a sampling of immigrants before sending them to their home countries. Yet, deportations continue with 11 countries confirming that deportees returned home with the virus.

Media Sources: New York Times 07/13/2020; American Progress 07/13/2020; Los Angeles Times 07/13/2020

Supreme Court Rules in Trump Financial Records Subpoena Cases

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases concerning subpoenas of the president – affirming that the president does not have absolute immunity. The court concluded that the president can be subpoenaed by a grand jury, but that there are limitations on congressional subpoenas to the executive branch.

Both subpoenas in question sought Trump’s financial records from before he took office, and we issued directly to his accountant and bank firms. The firms agreed to comply with the subpoenas, but Trump himself blocked the investigations – claiming immunity.

The coupled cases received a vote of 7-2, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Anthony Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh making up the majority. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The first case, Trump v. Vance, concerned a subpoena made by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to Trump’s accounting firm: Mazars USA. The subpoena attempted to obtain eight years of personal tax and business records. It is a part of an investigation by the district attorney’s office into hush money paid by Trump and the Trump campaign to women before the 2016 election. In this case, the court rejected Trump’s immunity reasoning to prevent these records from being obtained.

The second case, Trump v Mazars USA LLP & Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG, concerned subpoenas made by the House Financial Services, Government Oversight, and Intelligence committees. The subpoenas were made to uncover information regarding hush-money payments, asset descriptions, and financial records. In this case, the court returned it to the lower courts after outlining a need for limits on congressional subpoena power. This means that Congress does have the authority to subpoena the president, but that the Supreme Court believes that authority must be limited – citing power concerns.

This also means that Trump’s financial records will not be made public before the November 2020 presidential election.

This Supreme Court ruling protected the precedent and tradition of previous presidential litigations. In 1997 the Court decided that President Bill Clinton was not immune to a sexual harassment lawsuit, and in 1994 ruled that President Richard Nixon must release subpoenaed tape recordings to a grand jury. Chief Justice John Roberts specifically used the subpoena of President Thomas Jefferson during the Burr trial as evidence against Trump.

In the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “In our system, the public has a right to every man’s evidence…. [and] since the founding of the Republic, every man has included the President of the United States.”

Sources: New York Times 07/10, The Washington Post 07/10, NPR 07/10, Roll Call 07/10, SCOTUSBlog 07/10

Supreme Court Exempts Religious Schools From Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that anti-discrimination employment laws do not protect employees at religious institutions, even if they do not primarily serve a ministerial purpose.

The 7-2 decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, in which Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joined the court’s conservative bloc, could affect more than 100,000 teachers at Catholic primary and secondary school teachers and have rippling effects for other employees at religious groups.

Wednesday’s decision allows institutions to claim the “ministerial exception” and places them beyond the reach of laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Coming after the recent court decision barring discrimination against LGBTQ employees, the new case exempts religious institutions from abiding by that ruling.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor recognizes how the new decision could be weaponized against protected groups.

“When it applies,” she wrote, “the exception is extraordinarily potent: It gives an employer free rein to discriminate because of race, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, or other traits protected by law when selecting or firing their ‘ministers,’ even when the discrimination is wholly unrelated to the employer’s religious beliefs or practices.”

The case was brought by Agnes Morrissey-Berru and Kristen Biel, two Catholic school teachers who were fired from their jobs. Morrissey-Berru claimed she suffered age discrimination and Biel said she lost her job after requesting a leave of absence for breast cancer treatment, a disease that eventually caused her death.

Both women taught primary school and taught a variety of subjects, which included religious topics but were mostly secular. Under the new decision, they were both considered “ministers,” expanding the common definition of the word significantly.

The case was especially egregious in depriving the women of legal protections with not even a religious reason for the discrimination, Sotomayor wrote.

“Both Biel and Morrissey-Berru had almost exclusively secular duties,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “making it especially improper to deprive them of all legal protection when their employers have not offered any religious reason for the alleged discrimination.”

The decision leaves protections for teachers who have no religious responsibilities entirely but does not provide a clear-cut definition of those responsibilities. A physics teacher who also leads prayers, for example, could potentially be stripped of employment law protections, Douglas Laycock, a law professor who supported the religious schools, said.

The decision was a step back for anti-discrimination laws, according to Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to adopt a robust and nuanced test to govern these disputes, one that would have preserved religious institutions’ ability to choose their ministers while also protecting the vast majority of employees from invidious discrimination,” Mach said. “Instead, the court appears to defer largely to the say-so of schools, essentially offering them a rubber stamp for discrimination.”

Sources: The New York Times 07/08/20; Vox 07/08/20; NPR 07/08/20; ACLU 07/08/20.

Supreme Court Protects Native American Reservation in Oklahoma

In a win for tribal rights, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Thursday that a large part of Eastern Oklahoma is considered tribal land, meaning crimes committed by Native Americans can only be prosecuted by federal authorities.

The court’s decision returned 19 million acres of tribal land, including much of Tulsa, the state’s second largest city. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the liberal wing and wrote for the court, ruling that state authorities did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation committed of a sex crime.

The state of Oklahoma could not undermine treaties signed by the government with Native tribes, Gorsuch wrote.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” Justice Gorsuch wrote. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

The jurisdiction in question was established as Native American land by the U.S. Congress in 1866. Under the Major Crimes Act, only the federal government and tribal authorities can prosecute crimes involving Native Americans on Native land.

McGirt, the plaintiff in this case, was convicted of sex crimes against a minor in 1996 by the state of Oklahoma. However, he later challenged the conviction under the Major Crimes Act and the case was heard by the Supreme Court in May via telephone conference because of the pandemic.

The current case is the second time the high court has heard a case on disputes about tribal land. In 2018, the court heard a similar case from Oklahoma but Gorsuch recused himself because he served on the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit when the case was previously decided there. The justices were deadlocked 4-4 and decided to hear the McGirt case this year with all nine justices voting.

Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma had argued that ruling for McGirt would open up the opportunity for many Native people convicted under state jurisdiction to appeal their conviction. There is no data, however, to support this claim and any convictions that can be appealed come from the state’s encroachment of Native sovereignty.

“To the extent they hold any water, the State’s posited consequences stem from the fact that both executive branch and state officials actively sought to undermine Congress’s determination that the Nation’s government and territory would endure,” Riyaz Kanji, a lawyer for the tribe, wrote.

Gorsuch supported this argument in his decision.

“Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law. To hold otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law, both rewarding wrong and failing those in the right,” he wrote.

Sources: The New York Times 07/09/20; Business Insider 07/09/20; CNBC 07/09/20; Supreme Court 07/09/20; The Atlantic 05/08/20.

The BREATHE Act Calls for Sweeping Change to Criminal Justice System

The Movement for Black Lives has proposed a bill that calls for sweeping changes to the nation’s criminal justice system. Introduced on Tuesday, the BREATHE Act calls to divert federal resources from systemically racist institutions such as policing and incarceration.

The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of over 150 organizations fighting for racial justice. In 2017, it launched the Electoral Justice Project, the policy leg that is now presenting the BREATHE Act.

The bill breaks down into four sections, beginning with the divestment of federal resources from incarceration and policing. This includes the elimination of major agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This section also calls to end life sentences, decriminalize drug offenses, and prohibit the use of facial recognition technology. These practices are known to disproportionately criminalize the most marginalized communities.

Further sections focus on community investment and accountability. In order to reverse the recent militarization of police departments, the BREATHE Act would establish the Neighborhood Demilitarization Program. This program would collect and destroy military-grade equipment held by law enforcement agencies by 2022.

The act also calls for funding equity between schools and the removal of law enforcement presence in schools. Community programs and grants would protect children and families and create economic justice.

The proposed changes come at a time of national outcry against police violence towards Black people. “This moment is a watershed moment. I think this moment calls for structural change and transformative change in ways that we haven’t seen in a very long time. We see this opportunity to push for the BREATHE Act as a part of what we’re calling the modern-day civil rights act,” said Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

Although expected to be met with resistance in Congress, University of Michigan professor and criminal justice expert Heather Ann Thompson noted the opportune timing of the legislation. “I think those programs that they’re suggesting eliminating only look radical if we really ignore the fact that there has been tremendous pressure to meaningfully reform this criminal justice system. Every radical piece of legislation that we’ve ever passed in this country, it has passed on the heels of the kinds of grassroots protests that we saw on the streets. The will of the people indicates that if they just keep putting a Band-Aid on it, these protests are not going to go away,” said Thompson.

No members of Congress have yet to introduce the bill, but The BREATHE Act has seen support from lawmakers, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

Sources: The BREATHE Act; AP News 7/7/20; Forbes 7/7/20

Indigenous People Protest Trump’s Visit to Sioux Sacred Lands

On July 4, 21 people were arrested during a protest against President Trump’s visit to the Indigenous Sioux tribe’s sacred land, Mount Rushmore. 

Protestors, who were primarily Indigenous, placed three large vans in the roadway to create a blockade to prevent access from Keystone to Mount Rushmore National Memorial” three hours before President Trump gave a speech at the national monument. Protestors cited the Trump administration’s actions and the U.S.’s continuous violence against Indigenous communities as the reason for their presence. 

The protestors sprayed graffiti paint on the highway and eventually refused to disband. In response, the South Dakota National Guard, at close-range, shot shells, pepper spray, and pepper balls at the protestors, according to the Sheriff’s Office and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. 

In Trump’s speech, he claimed that the country was under siege by “far-left” fascists waging “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”

In 1941, the Mount Rushmore carvings were created even though in 1980 the Supreme Court had ruled that the U.S. had illegally stolen land from the Sioux tribe. The monument was created by Gutzon Borglum, an American man who had ties to white supremacy. Lincoln, who is carved into the mountain, hung thirty-eight Sioux in Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862. Mount Rushmore is carved into a sacred site that represents the ancestors of the Oglala and other Indigenous groups, according to the president of the Sioux tribe. The federal government has offered the Sioux people $1 billion dollars for taking the land but the tribe refuses this money, saying that they will only accept their land back. 

Prior to the protests, Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner had written Trump a letter telling him that he was not welcome to the event “due to lack of consultation” with Lakota leaders. The event which had 7,500 people reserve their spots, and made it clear that it would not engage with social distancing and did not require masks. 

Leaders of several Indigenous tribes raised concerns that the event could lead to COVID-19 outbreaks among Indigenous people, which is an especially dangerous disease for their communities due to an underfunded healthcare system and U.S. state violence against Indigenous people. “Our experts… are telling us that these are necessary steps to take in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s not just a threat to my people, but a threat to the land… and human life” Bear Runner said. 

Sources: Argus Leader 07/08/20; Business Insider 07/08/20; Aljazeera 07/08/20; Independent 07/08/20

ICE Says International Students Must Take In-Person Class to Stay in U.S.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a rule Monday that prohibits international students from staying in the U.S. on their student visas if their college opts to hold courses entirely online.

The order will affect F-1 and M-1 visa-holders, forcing students to either take in-person classes or risk deportation. Students in colleges teaching entirely online are told to either transfer schools or leave the country.

ICE’s announcement comes after multiple universities, including Harvard and Princeton, have moved fall courses entirely online for some students because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Soon after the new guidelines were announced, Harvard President Larry Bacow spoke out in support of students and criticized the administration’s decision.

“We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools,” Bacow said in a statement.

While some students will be able to return to their home countries if necessary, others face pandemic-induced travel restrictions that make return difficult. Chinese students, the largest international population in the U.S., may not be able to find tickets home with the country’s restrictions on commercial flights.

The new rules from ICE place the burden on students, despite them having no control over their institution’s fall plans, according to former immigration judge J. Traci Hong.

“If their schools decide to go all online because COVID-19 is in the upswing and in-person classes are more dangerous, the students may fall out of legal status and become removable because of the school’s actions,” Hong said.

Monday’s announcement comes after a slew of anti-immigration policy changes the Trump administration ordered using the pandemic as the justification. Immigration advocates say the new rule will not only hurt international students, but domestic ones as well.

“A lot of universities are totally dependent on international students to survive. That’s particularly true in science and engineering departments where Americans are not enrolling in sufficient numbers to keep departments going,” Greg Siskind, a Tennessee-based attorney said.

Colleges are also concerned about the unclear ramifications of the rule.

“We think this is going to create more confusion and more uncertainty,” Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education, said. “What we were hoping to see was more appreciation for all the different possible nuances that campuses will be exploring.”

Sources: NPR 07/06/20; Buzzfeed News 07/06/20; CNN 07/06/20; Harvard 07/06/20

Ohio Left With Only Eight Abortion Clinics After Recent Closure

Ohio will have only eight abortion clinics after the closing of Founder’s Women’s Health Center in Columbus. The clinic is set to close this month, upon delivering final care to its existing patients.

The owners of Founder’s Women’s Health Center say the clinic’s closure is due to their retirement. They declined to make a statement to the media, but Gabriel Mann, communications manager for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, stated that the closure is “not related to any state actions, legislative or administrative.”

Ohio has seen multiple hostile attempts to restrict abortion over the years. In 2011, it was the first state in the nation to introduce the strict “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected. In many cases, this is before a person even knows their pregnant. The ban would have taken effect when it was signed into law in 2019 but was blocked by a federal judge. In this year alone, Ohio has attempted to both ban telemedicine abortions and classify abortion as a nonessential surgery during a global pandemic.

Current laws in Ohio require that patients undergo a counseling session before receiving the procedure. This session uses biased, state-mandated materials that are meant to discourage the patient from having an abortion. The provider must also perform an ultrasound test to detect a fetal heartbeat, although there is no medical reason to do so.

Of the eight clinics that will remain in Ohio, six are surgical centers, while only two provide medication abortion services. Founder’s provided only medication abortions, after switching from surgical abortions in 2018. Columbus, a city with a population of nearly 900,000, is now left with only two abortion clinics.

Sources: Cleveland.com 7/6/20; NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio; NBC News 7/3/19

Young Afghan Woman Activist Killed in Attack by Insurgent Groups

At just 24, Fatima Natasha Khalil, a young leader and employee of Afghanistan’s human rights commission, had her life brutally cut short following a series of explosions targeting civilians.

An incredibly bright and intelligent leader who spoke six languages, Fatima is remembered by friends as a deeply confident yet sensitive spirit. Following increased violence in Afghanistan during the late 1990s, the Khalil family fled to Pakistan, where Fatima was born. Despite experiencing many challenges in life as a refugee in Pakistan, she excelled and flourished in academics. When her family returned to Kabul following the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, she earned a scholarship and graduated high school from a competitive Turkish international school. Her academic excellence continued, developing a strong foundation in religious studies and earning a degree from the American University of Central Asia with two majors.

The killing of Ms. Khalil is yet another reminder that the civil society, particularly women, are being specifically targeted by insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The latest spike in attacks against civilians happens at a time that the Taliban are engaged in the so-called peace negotiations with the United States. The Taliban has increased its attacks as a leverage point to prove its power in the destruction of lives and the country. The recent attacks have particularly targeted vulnerable populations, such as women and children.

In the years following the Taliban’s loss of dominance, a new generation of Afghans have lived with an increased sense of liberation and opportunities not previously experienced because of the strict, dogmatic rules of the Taliban. It is this generation of activists, scholars, and women in public roles, like Fatima Natasha Khalil, that is being targeted and killed by insurgent groups.

The February peace talks between the Taliban and the United States have increasingly signaled the departure of American military presence in the region, stirring concerns that local governments will be unable to maintain stability, allowing the Taliban to re-dominate strategically. The Taliban and other such insurgents cannot tolerate women like Ms. Khalil who are bright, progressive, outspoken, and defenders of women and human rights.

Although Afghan women have been at the forefront of peace-making developments in the country, the power-sharing negotiations in February did not include any female voices and made no mention that the civil liberties of women and children would be protected and guaranteed. The upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations between local governments and the Taliban will involve the participation of women and will address the necessary preservation and protection of women and minority rights under the Afghan constitution.

Sources: The New York Times, 06/29/20; Reuters 6/30/20

Court Rules to Empty Dakota Access Pipeline

A court ruled this morning that the Dakota Access Pipeline must be emptied by Aug. 5. This decision comes after years of protesting by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

In March, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down federal permits for the pipeline. The court stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately address oil spill concerns by the tribe in its initial 2017 environmental review. Boasberg then asked each side to submit a brief detailing whether or not the pipeline should be in operation during the review process.

Today, the court ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, requiring the Dakota Access Pipeline to halt oil flow while the review is being organized – which is expected to take 13 months.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is an Energy Transfer Partners LP project. It is 1,172 miles long and brings oil from North Carolina to Illinois. The pipeline runs across Lake Oahe, which is a part of the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is only a half-mile away from this crossing, and the tribe relies on the river for its water supply.

Legal opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline began in 2016 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Missouri river crossing. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sued the Army Corps over this decision, and indigenous people and environmentalists from across the country came to North Dakota to protest.

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline, ordering a full environmental impact report. In January 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order approving the permits and expediting the construction. The pipeline was completed in June 2017.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said of the initial March ruling: “After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win… It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

Sources: Bloomberg Law 07/06, NPR 07/06, The Guardian 07/06, EarthJustice 07/06

Georgia Healthcare Workers Petition the Governor for Stronger COVID-19 Restrictions

Last Thursday, around 1,400 Georgia healthcare workers petitioned Brian Kemp, Georgia’s governor, asking for further restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the letter, healthcare workers told the governor that the state is “simply not prepared,” asking the governor to close “bars and nightclubs and prohibit indoor gatherings of more than 25 people, including at places of worship,” according to CNN News. It also recommended that Governor Kemp allow county officials and mayors to create requirements appropriate for their jurisdictions and a statewide mask requirement. 

In the past week, Georgia has seen rates of the virus increase by over 50% according to John Hopkins University & Medicine, listing 90,493 reported cases in Georgia. The day the letter came out, the state recorded 3,472 new COVID-19 cases, “more than double the 1,714 new cases reported last Thursday,” according to Alive. The letter claims that the surge in cases cannot be “accounted for by increased testing.” On June 29, Governor Kemp extended Georgia’s public health emergency to July 15 instead of July 1 as it had been previously set. This bans gatherings of more than 50 people without at least 6 feet apart between each person, requires social distancing, and calls for sheltering in place at long-term facilities. 

The letter read “During the past week we have seen a sharp spike in cases that cannot be accounted for by increased testing. We also are seeing a very troubling increase in hospitalizations that, if continuing, will overwhelm our healthcare infrastructure, not only in metro Atlanta but also in rural Georgia.” It continued, saying “Georgia is simply not prepared for a surge in cases and hospitalizations. You have the power to do much more to save lives and protect our citizens from avoidable illness.”

An infectious disease specialist based in Atlanta, Dr. Jesse Couk, a co-writer of the letter said that he had “a lot of concerns I was watching our cases of COVID-19 grow and grow in Georgia and I was seeing increases in hospital admissions.” He worried that another spike could send everyone back into isolation. 

This week, Governor Kemp and Dr. Jerome Adams, the US Surgeon General, did a “wear a mask tour” of southwest Georgia. Although Couk is grateful for this effort, he hopes that Kemp will follow North Carolina and Texas by making masks mandatory. 

The letter argues that, although these requests will economically hurt the state, not implementing them now will ultimately cause longer-lasting economic problems. It stated that Georgia “will not be able to safely send our children to school in the Fall which will have long lasting repercussions on their education, health, and well-being,” if they don’t do something now. 

Sources: CNN News 07/06/20; John Hopkins University & Medicine 07/06/20; Alive 07/06/20; Forbes 07/06/20

Brown University Faces Challenge for Unequal Elimination of Varsity Teams

Plaintiffs in a 1992 lawsuit are challenging Brown University in court for violating its settlement agreement, arguing that the school’s recent demotion of multiple varsity sports teams did not protect gender equity.

The motion, filed by the ACLU of Rhode Island and advocacy organization Public Justice, argues that the recent cuts to varsity teams further exacerbate gender inequalities within Brown’s athletic program. The original settlement required that intercollegiate athletic opportunities be proportional to the genders’ enrollment.

Brown announced a substantial cut to its athletics program on May 28, demoting 11 varsity teams to club status. The teams cut were men and women’s fencing, men and women’s golf, women’s skiing, men and women’s squash, women’s equestrian and men’s track, field and cross country. Approximately 40% of the roster eliminated were women.

However, the men’s track and field and cross-country teams were reinstated after the university faced public backlash. Athletes and advocates said these teams provided students of color, especially Black students, with the opportunity for an Ivy League education. The university did not choose to reinstate any women’s teams, meaning women now account for nearly 70% of roster cuts.

Brown has announced plans to elevate the coed sailing team to varsity status and argues those roster spots will keep their compliance. The ACLU argues that creating a team where gender enrollment is unknown does not satisfy the gender equity provisions.

“For the women athletes, Brown has once again displayed a lack of commitment—as opposed to lip service—to gender equity and to its obligations, not only to its students, but to the Court,” Lynette Labinger, lead counsel of the 1992 lawsuit, said in a statement.

With the three men’s varsity teams reinstated, women’s participation in varsity athletics now account for 47.9% of all athletes. Meanwhile, women account for 52.3% of Brown’s undergraduate population, creating a 4.4% discrepancy in the proportions of women in athletics and in overall enrollment.

The university disputes the alleged violation of settlement terms.

“Today’s motion is a preemptive legal action asserting a hypothetical violation that has not taken place — and Brown would not allow this speculative scenario to emerge in future athletic seasons,” university spokesperson Brian Clark wrote.


Sources: The Brown Daily Herald 06/29/20; Inside Higher Ed 07/01/20; ACLU of Rhode Island 06/29/20; CNN 06/11/20.

Los Angeles Unified School District Divests From School Police Force

Due to the work of local student activists, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to cut the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) police force budget by 35%. Following the decision, the chief of L.A. School Police Department (LASPD), Todd Chamberlain, resigned.

This action comes after a month of protests across the country. Sparked by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahumaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and Elijah McClain, the demonstrators are protesting police violence and systemic racism in our country.

One of the biggest demands made by activists is to defund the police and remove them from schools. Organizations like Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Students Deserve have long been working against the presence of police in L.A. schools. Recently, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) – the union that represents LAUSD teachers, voted to completely remove the LASPD and reinvest the money into counseling and mental health resources.

The Los Angeles Board of Education’s vote Tuesday came after a 13-hour long meeting on the issue. The cut won 4-3, and was a compromise between board members Garcia and Goldberg’s proposals. The board action will result in a $25 million reduction from the LASPD budget. The money will instead be specifically allocated to initiatives designed to support Black students and reimagine campus safety. Additionally, the action will reduce the force by 65 officers and require officers to give up their uniforms and patrol off-campus.

LAUSD is not the only school district to diminish the presence of police in schools. Minneapolis, MS and Portland, OR have both moved to end school contracts with police departments, and activists in Chicago, IL and New York, NY are calling on their mayors to do the same.

The move is especially monumental, however, given the scope of the decision. The LASPD is the largest school police force in the nation, and, according to Students Deserve, the $25 million cut is the largest divestment from school police in the nation.

Students Deserve organizer Mya Edwards states: “This decision is a huge step that the LAUSD School Board is taking to cut the school police department and fund Black futures.”

But the fight is not over, says Black Lives Matter L.A. co-founder Melina Abdullah. “A powerful coalition has formed and will not stop until we rid police from schools and invest in visions of safety that are grounded in meeting student needs.”


Media Resources: Los Angeles Times 07/02, ABC7 07/02, CBS Los Angeles 07/02, LAist 07/02

Latest Iowa Abortion Restriction Blocked by Judge

Iowa’s latest abortion law, requiring an unnecessary waiting period before having an abortion, has been temporarily blocked by an Iowa judge. The law was set to go into effect on Wednesday.

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law on Monday. It states that a patient must endure a 24-hour waiting period after an initial appointment before undergoing the procedure. They are also required to view an ultrasound scan and be given information about alternatives, like adoption, before receiving an abortion. The law was passed by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature in the middle of the night last month, with very little debate.

Johnson County District Court Judge Mitchell Turner issued an injunction on Tuesday to halt the restriction before it could take effect. ACLU and Planned Parenthood officials also filed a lawsuit, stating that the way the law was passed was unconstitutional. Furthermore, the groups argued it goes against a previous 2018 ruling on waiting periods.

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period law in 2018, finding that it violated the constitutional rights and equal protection rights of Iowans seeking abortions. “The Iowa Supreme Court only two years ago ruled that a law precisely like this one violated the fundamental rights of Iowans to seek an abortion,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a statement. “It recognized in that decision that mandatory delays and additional trips to the clinic don’t change people’s minds—they only serve to try to shame women and put obstacles in their way. That precedent requires that this law be struck down.”

While the law is set to undergo further hearings to determine whether or not it’s constitutional, Turner believes the lawsuit could succeed. “The Iowa Supreme Court already has made several determinations regarding mandatory delay laws and the obstacles they present to individuals seeking abortions, and these same parties had a full and fair opportunity to litigate those issues,” he said.

Some expect the litigation to play out similarly to the latest U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling, where Chief Justice John Roberts upheld precedent to strike a Louisiana law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Although some of the Iowa justices from the 2018 ruling have been replaced with more conservative justices, it is possible that they may side with precedent in this case. Drake University Law Professor Sally Frank believes that most justices would not want “to create the imagery of an activist court that decides things merely by political might.”


Sources: The Hill 6/30/30; AP News 7/1/20


Support eh ERA banner