Court Decisions
Jul 8, 2020

LEAD STORY

The U.S. Supreme Court announced a number of important rulings in the last week.  We’re taking a closer look at several historic decisions in this edition of The Way.

 

ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to free “faithless electors” in the complex Electoral College system that decides the outcome of presidential elections from state laws that force them to support the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. The justices unanimously rejected the idea that electors, who act on behalf of a state in the Electoral College vote that occurs weeks after voters go the polls, can exercise discretion in the candidate they back. The court sided with Washington state and Colorado, which had imposed penalties on several “faithless electors.” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ruling “reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the vote of the people should matter in choosing the president.” State officials have said faithless electors threaten the integrity of American democracy by subverting the will of the electorate and opening the door to corruption. The plaintiffs had argued that the Constitution requires them to exercise independent judgment to prevent unfit candidates from taking office.

 

ROBOCALLS

The U.S. Supreme Court also struck down a provision in US law that let debt collectors make robocalls to cell phones, ruling that the law violates the First Amendment by favoring debt-collection speech over other speech.  The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 prohibits "almost all robocalls to cell phones," but Congress in 2015 amended the law to add "a new government-debt exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States," the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Monday's ruling.

 

CONSUMER PROTECTION

In last week’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the structure of the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB) violated the separation of powers but stopped short of finding the entire agency unconstitutional and instead held the CFPB could continue to operate with the President’s ability to remove its director “at will.”  The law originally required the removal of the director only “for cause” in a bid to insulate the agency from political interference.  The CFPB, established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, oversees consumer financial markets like credit cards and home mortgages and returned nearly $12 billion to consumers through 2017.  At issue now is the legality of current CFPB enforcement actions, which is pending a lower court’s decision of whether the CFPB effectively ratified actions taken by an unconstitutional director.

 

ON THE DOCKET

The U.S. Supreme Court still has five decisions to issue for this term, including President Trump’s financial documents, the Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate, religious employment disputes, and limits of tribal sovereignty.  The COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of oral arguments in 10 cases.  We’ll keep watch as the U.S. Supreme Court issues decisions in July, which hasn’t happened since 1996.

 

Higher Education

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued new guidance this week for international students taking classes for the fall 2020 semester.  Under the updated rules, international students must take at least some of their classes in person.  New visas will not be issued to students at schools or programs that are entirely online.  Those attending schools that are staying online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction.”  At colleges offering a mix of in-person and online classes this fall, international students will be barred from taking all their classes online. 

 

FALL 2020

The guidance was released the same day that some institutions announced that all instruction will be offered remotely or allowing only 40 to 60 percent of their students to return to campus and live in the college residence halls at any one time, often divided by class year.  Although international students are only 5.5% of the higher education population – about 1 million, they spend more than $44 billion a year. 

 

Making Our Way Around the Country

COLORADO

A new Colorado law expands access to workers' compensation for 911 dispatchers who develop PTSD from listening to traumatic incidents. Previously, compensation was only available for those who witness death or serious injury visually. The new law signed by Gov. Jared Polis this week expands benefits to include those who experience "audible psychological trauma" from hearing events unfold. "Emergency operators are our first line of support when a horrific event occurs," said Sen. Rhonda Fields, a primary sponsor of the bill, "We need to show up for these brave, resilient people the way they show up for our communities and provide them the compensation they need to heal."

 

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

The FBI has seen a spike in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims complaints related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic involving the use of stolen personally identifiable information (PII). U.S. citizens from several states have been victimized by criminal actors impersonating the victims and using the victims’ stolen identities to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online. The criminals obtain the stolen identity using a variety of techniques, including the online purchase of stolen PII, previous data breaches, computer intrusions, cold-calling victims while using impersonation scams, email phishing schemes, physical theft of data from individuals or third parties, and from public websites and social media accounts, among other methods. The Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced it blocked $95 million in fraudulent unemployment claims as of June and the state of Washington previously announced it recovered $300 million in fraudulent unemployment claims.  Several states have delayed unemployment benefits as they work to verify claims.

 

FLOOD INSURANCE

Recently federal agencies proposed to reorganize, revise, and expand the Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Flood Insurance and solicit comment on all aspects of the amendments.  The agencies are the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Farm Credit Administration, and the National Credit Union Administration.  To help lenders meet their responsibilities under federal flood insurance law and to increase public understanding of their flood insurance regulations, the agencies have prepared proposed new and revised guidance addressing the most frequently asked questions and answers about flood insurance. Significant topics addressed by the proposed revisions include the effect of major amendments to flood insurance laws with regard to the escrow of flood insurance premiums, the detached structure exemption, and force-placement procedures.  Comments will be accepted for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

 

OPENING DAY

Major League Baseball released its full 2020 schedule for its shortened 60-game season.  The season is set to start July 23 but several MLB players have already opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns.  As part of the shortened season, the league decided to have teams play geographic rivals only.  Looking forward to the Chicago White Sox heading to Iowa to take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the “Field of Dreams” game this August.  Be safe and play ball!

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