With surges in COVID-19 cases threatening to overload some hospital facilities, we must face the possibility that therapeutic treatments will need to be rationed, at least in some places. I do not propose any particular ideal rationing scheme but caution strongly against adopting a position that Professor Bagenstos advocated this past spring, rejecting rationing on the basis of patient life expectancy simply because life expectancy based rationing might threaten the factual interests of those with disabilities and might conceivably be implemented by those making judgments that were not simply inaccurate but grounded in biased, unacceptably discriminatory intuitions that some decision makers would have about the life expectancy of those with disabilities. My view is that Professor Bagenstos does not make either considered normative or empirical arguments that attending to the factual interests of those with disabilities or protecting against the possibility of discriminatory implementation of a plan should trump all other considerations; instead, he is “performing” his rhetorical commitment to a subordinated community as though that commitment functioned in the same way as a formal, normatively and factually defended side constraint on action would function.
Washington and Lee Law Review - Developments
by Rep. Eric M. Swalwell & R. Kyle Alagood
A national security strategy is the “nation’s plan for the coordinated use of all the instruments of state power—nonmilitary as well as military—to pursue objectives that defend and advance its national interest.” Perhaps the most straightforward national security objective is to protect the country from foreign invasion, but national security involves other objectives that aim to protect people in the United States as well as their values. For example, protecting U.S. elections from foreign interference is a security objective that advances the nation’s interest in democratic governance. The outbreak of a highly contagious disease like COVID‑19 strikes at the core of national security and the nation’s interest in protecting its citizens from unnecessary harm.
by Michael T. Morley
Federal Election Day didn’t just happen. Rather, it reflects the culmination of a series of federal laws enacted over the course of nearly seventy years. Each of those laws requires states to hold a different type of federal election on the same day. These statutes also grant states flexibility to hold federal elections at a later date if there is a “failure to elect” on Election Day. Based on a detailed examination of these provisions’ texts, legislative histories, and histories of judicial application, this Article explains that federal Election Day laws empower states to postpone or extend federal elections when serious emergencies preclude them from being conducted or concluded on Election Day itself.
A court may also postpone or extend a federal election when necessary to prevent constitutional or statutory violations. The Supreme Court has emphasized that courts should generally avoid granting such relief at the last minute, although major unexpected emergencies may sometimes render it necessary. A court may not order an election postponement or extension, however, unless other, less extensive changes to the rules governing the electoral process would be insufficient to remedy the underlying constitutional or statutory violation. And courts may be especially reluctant to grant such relief in states that provide extensive opportunities for early and absentee voting before Election Day. In the hierarchy of electoral remedies, a postponement or extension is a severe, disfavored remedy—particularly in the unique context of presidential elections—that should be employed only in the rare, extreme case where alternatives would be completely ineffective.
by George D. Brown
The Supreme Court’s decision in the “Bridgegate” controversy has been the subject of intense debate. It has received strong support. However, some critics assail the decision as representative of a pattern of recent cases in which the Court has shown itself as indifferent to political corruption, if not supportive of it. Somewhat lost in the discussion is the decision’s potential to be the foundation for a seismic re-alignment of anti-corruption enforcement in the United States. The current model—with federal prosecution as the norm—is not cast in stone.
by Melanie D. Wilson
While the deadly and highly contagious COVID-19 virus lingers and spreads across the country, courts are resuming criminal jury trials. In moving forward, judges reference case backlogs, speedy trial rights, and other concerns for the rights of the accused. Overlooked in this calculus is the importance of jurors and their safety. The Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” Without jurors, there is no justice.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the justice system sometimes took advantage of juror vulnerability, treating jurors callously, if not rudely, during voir dire by asking them intensely personal questions. During the pandemic, courts have intensified this harsh treatment of jurors by exposing them to serious health risks—sometimes to decide cases with minor charges. This exploitation of jurors is short sighted. When courts endanger jurors, they create serious due process concerns for the accused and erode public confidence in an already beleaguered system. If jurors are forced to serve on jury duty without adequate safeguards, verdicts will be suspect, mistrials will dominate, and many citizens who are fearful or susceptible will fail to appear (or worse, contract the virus during jury service), resulting in juries less representative of the community.
Concerns over the virus are already resulting in some jurors defying their legal obligation to appear for service. Surveys also show that seventy five percent of jurors are at least somewhat nervous about attending a trial and that people of color, Democrats, and older Americans are very concerned about spreading and contracting COVID-19. When jurors are worried and distracted, they may rush to a verdict—any verdict—or fail to appreciate all the evidence, resulting in wrongful convictions and erroneous acquittals. And, if even one juror tests positive during the trial, a mistrial may be declared to allow trial participants to quarantine. If we are going to require jurors to serve during this dangerous time, we must protect them to protect the criminal justice system itself.
by Charles L. Slamowitz
This article takes an approachable, forward-thinking, and academic dive into congressional insider trading in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. After a confidential briefing by the Senate Health Committee warned of COVID-19, massive stock sell-offs by members of Congress and their spouses suddenly ensued. Some senators even publicly disparaged COVID-19’s viral effects while their own shares were being offloaded. By the time the American people were made aware of its dangers, vast investment holdings by congressional insiders had already been sold. Shockingly, it is unclear if congressional insiders trading on confidential coronavirus information are actually breaking the law. Congress members are also not required to timely disclose trades, even during pandemics, leaving the American people in the dark. This article provides the only viable remedy to congressional insider trading, crucial for governmental transparency and accountability to precipitously curb public health crises moving forward.
by Robert Gatter & Seema Mohapatra
As states begin to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions, public debate is underway about what public health measures are appropriate. Many states have some form of mask-wearing orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection. Public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization has conflicted. From a public health point of view, it is not clear what the right answer is. In the absence of directives, individuals are also making their own choices about mask use. At a time when public health measures, like shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, are being used to stop the spread of coronavirus, wearing masks can be seen as a form of solidarity and desire to not infect others. Similarly, not wearing a mask can also be a political statement of sorts. Additionally, black men wearing masks have reported being asked to leave stores and fearing for their own safety. This Article provides an overview of the legal and policy landscape and focuses on the potential for policing against black Americans when mask mandates are in place. Despite the public health benefits of mask usage, due to mask mandates likely being enforced discriminatorily, we advise caution against mask mandates.
by Stephen E. Smith
Maintaining social distance in the time of COVID-19 is a public health priority. A crowded courtroom is an environment at odds with public health needs. Accordingly, until science determines otherwise, it will be necessary for judges to manage courtroom attendance and exclude the public from trials, wholly or in part. Courtrooms may be closed to the public, despite the Sixth Amendment’s right to a public trial, when the closure is justified by a strong government interest and is narrowly tailored to further that interest. Typically, this heightened scrutiny is applied on a case-by-case basis and turns on a case’s specific circumstances. This Article proposes that in this period of pandemic, with indisputably strong government interests in public health and with few means available beyond closure to satisfy those interests, courtroom closures may be ordered by trial courts, and approved by appellate courts, almost categorically. It further suggests that there are alternative protections available that may be employed by courts to further the Sixth Amendment’s good government purposes in this time of emergency.
by Paul J. Larkin Jr.
State lawmakers should allow those graduates to receive a provisional license so that they can provide emergency medical care under the supervision of a licensed physician to help treat the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 patients we will see throughout the near future, or those patients who suffer from more common illness and injuries. Each level of government has its own peculiar responsibilities to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The states are responsible for licensing physicians who can treat the affected people. Each year, a large number of American and foreign medical school graduates do not find a residency position in the United States. Medical school graduates who have passed the qualifying examination have acquired a considerable amount of education and training during their medical studies, far more than physician assistants, nurses, military corpsmen and medics, and civilian paramedics or emergency medical technicians. They comprise a pool of talent that could be immensely useful in ameliorating the shortage of physician care throughout the country during the pandemic.
by Scott R. Thomas & Mystica M. Alexander
In an effort to address gun violence, activists and victims’ families have filed lawsuits against the firearms industry seeking damage awards for violence committed by third party unrelated actors. Although Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) in 2005 intending to foreclose such lawsuits, since the time of the law’s passage, plaintiffs have brought claims against the firearms industry seeking refuge in an exception embedded in the statute. In a March, 2019 decision, Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act fell within an exception to the PLCAA. In that case, families of the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting sought to hold those in the chain of distribution of the weapon used in the attack accountable for the harm that resulted from their “unethical, oppressive, immoral, and unscrupulous” marketing of that product. The court allowed this case to proceed on its merits.
This Essay addresses the court’s decision and its implications for lawsuits in other jurisdictions. More specifically, the authors believe that the court wrongly interpreted the PLCAA’s legislative history, reached an incorrect conclusion, and lit a path to the courthouse steps for other plaintiffs with similar claims in certain other jurisdictions.