For college kids coming back to Kentucky amid COVID-19, the digital divide awaits

An article by Shane Fowler ’21: The novel coronavirus has shone a spotlight on seemingly incongruous pairings: Healthcare with employment, children’s nutrition with school attendance, and corporate size with access to government assistance. So too should we examine the relationship between internet access and geographic residence. Millions of rural Americans are digitally excluded from an information-rich world. This exclusion is significant for students returning to their rural homes as universities across the country move to online learning. In doing so, the response to coronavirus exposes the nation’s uneven distribution of high-speed internet access and marginalizes students from rural America. “Digital divide” refers to the growing disparity of access to high-speed internet between underprivileged members of society, specifically those living in rural areas, and wealthier, middle-class Americans living in urban or suburban areas. According to the Federal Communication Commission and Microsoft, Kentucky is one of the worst states for access to high-speed internet and cellular data. But the state is not unique in its short-comings, around 27% of people living in rural America do not have access to minimum speed broadband internet.

A Way to Help Keep the COVID-19 Economy Working

An article by Mark Roe: As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down the world’s economies, stock markets plummet, and unemployment rises, policymakers will be forced to figure out how to contain the outbreak while preventing financial and economic collapse. Most economic proposals in developed countries focus on cash payments to people, deferred tax payments, and business bailouts. But biomedicine is critical to saving the economy, and of the three major biomedical channels now in play, the least important medically is the one that could impede an economic Armageddon. It’s a test to check whether a person has had, recovered from, and thus become immune to COVID-19. Scientists say that low-symptom and symptomless cases exceed the symptomatic. When these asymptomatic people are over the infection, they could go to work – they will not infect those with whom they come into contact. But we need to know who they are.

Compassionate release now for prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus

An article by Nancy Gertner and John Reinstein: Prisons are Petri dishes for disease in the best of times, but they could become incubators for COVID-19 now. Prisoners sleep, eat, and shower in enclosed quarters with limited ventilation. Social distancing is impossible. Prison populations also have greater rates of serious health problems than the general population. Many are elderly, and have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer, conditions that, if they become infected with COVID-19, make them more likely to require intensive care and especially vulnerable to dying of the disease. On Saturday, officials announced the first case of COVID-19 at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. An inmate serving a life sentence and his roommate have been quarantined from each other and the rest of the inmate population. We don’t have to speculate about what will happen as the disease hits the general prison system. We have seen it.

House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic

Nearly 70 House Democrats on Monday formally requested that the chamber change its rules to allow lawmakers to vote remotely during national emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic. House members, most of whom are currently in their districts across the nation, are increasingly fearful for their safety if they have to travel back to Washington, D.C., and congregate in large groups to vote on the next economic stimulus package…In a letter led by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a total of 67 Democratic lawmakers asked House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to temporarily change the lower chamber’s rules to enable remote voting…The letter cited Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, pointing to the Constitution stating that “each House may determine the rules of its proceedings” and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe stating that the Constitution “needn’t and shouldn’t be construed to preclude virtual presence any more than it had to be constituted to treat air travel or indeed email as something other than interstate commerce or electronic surveillance as less than a fourth amendment search and seizure.”

Trump’s Fear of Experts Hurt the Coronavirus Response

An article by Noah FeldmanWith every passing day, it becomes more and more apparent that the U.S. federal government’s  response to Covid-19 has been appallingly slow and inadequate. A major reason is that the person at the apex of that institution, President Donald Trump, dislikes and distrusts the expert bureaucrats who make the government actually function. The laws that govern emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic give enormous power to the executive branch to direct and coordinate disaster response. These laws are not designed to empower the president personally. To the contrary, the whole point of the emergency laws is to empower government experts who know what must be done in a crisis — that is, career technocrats who work at agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the federal emergency management agency (FEMA). Congress doesn’t trust the president in an emergency. It trusts the experts.

Expect More Litigation Over IRS Penalty Approval Rules

Courts are likely to continue examining a requirement that IRS employees get their boss to OK penalty decisions before they are presented to taxpayers, even after the U.S. Tax Court issued a recent string of opinions addressing the issue. The Tax Court’s 2017 ruling in Graev v. Commissioner interpreted tax code Section 6751(b) as requiring the IRS to obtain supervisory approval in a tax deficiency case by the time it imposes related tax penalties. Since January, the Tax Court has grappled with multiple aspects of the requirement, trying to establish the exact point in the process when the requirement must be met and which penalties need approval…The fact that all the judges weighed in on the Belair decision increases the chances that it will get reversed, according to T. Keith Fogg, director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. “When you look at fully reviewed opinions that get appealed, they get reversed more than other Tax Court opinions that have also been appealed because they’re controversial—they’re close questions,” Fogg told Bloomberg Tax… “I expect appeals in every case the taxpayers have lost involving 6751(b) where the taxpayers are represented by counsel,” said Carlton M. Smith, who formerly directed the Carodozo School of Law’s tax clinic and now is a retired volunteer at Harvard Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic.

Obamacare, CFPB Show DOJ’s ‘Duty to Defend’ Isn’t Ironclad

Monday marks the tenth anniversary of the signing of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill, the Affordable Care Act, and the 10-year anniversary of the first lawsuits seeking to strike it down. Back then, U.S. Representatives Mike Pence, Mick Mulvaney and 120 other Republican lawmakers criticized the Obama Justice Department for its willingness to defend the controversial Obamacare, while choosing to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by another Democrat, Bill Clinton. The “Department of Justice is vigorously defending in numerous federal courts across the country President Obama’s signature health care reform law” even though it “barely passed both chambers of Congress on party line votes,” they said in a House Resolution, after two federal trial courts ruled parts of the ACA were unconstitutional…In deciding not to defend Obamacare, the administration is stretching its power, said Harvard Law School Professor Charles Fried, who served as solicitor general from 1985 to 1989 under President Ronald Reagan. Fortunately, Fried said, other parties often step in, as they did here, to defend the laws the government chooses not to, but “the Justice Department kind of loses some of its credibility.” “When it says we’re not going to defend it, it no longer means because it’s indefensible or no reasonable person could defend it,” he said. “It just means we don’t like it. The Justice Department is supposed to have weightier reasons than that.”