Labor unions have a constitutionally protected right to protest using giant inflatable rodents, a federal board ruled Wednesday.
“Scabby the Rat,” as it is known, has became a staple of labor protests in the United States, often rolled out when a company has decided to hire non-union contractors. The menacing inflatables were first deployed in 1990 by a bricklayers union in Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune. Some have been as tall as 25 feet.
In this case, the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, headquartered just outside Chicago, had brought a 12-foot “rat” along with it to a trade show for recreational vehicles. The target was Lippert Components, which supplied parts for another firm, MacAllister Machinery, that the union accused of engaging in unfair labor practices.
Under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions are generally prohibited from engaging in secondary boycotts, or seeking to intimidate so-called “neutral” companies that are not the direct target of their dispute. The question considered by the National Labor Relations Board – an independent federal agency whose members are appointed to five-year terms by the president – was where to draw the line between legal speech and illicit intimidation.
The Trump administration had sided against labor, submitting a legal brief maintaining that the giant rats were “glaring in character and size and an unmistakable symbol of contempt,” their “red eyes, fangs, and claws” constituting a threat, not constitutionally protected expression. The ACLU, in turn, argued that the First Amendment was at stake, arguing that the previous administration was “attempting to exterminate Scabby because he is a labor symbol.”
Ultimately, even those members of the NLRB who were appointed by former President Donald Trump sided with the ACLU and organized labor.
In her opinion, NLRB Chairman Lauren M. McFerran, a Democrat and appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote that courts “have consistently deemed banners and inflatable rats to fall within the realm of protected speech, rather than that of intimidation and the like.”
The NLRB’s three other members, all Republicans, likewise agreed that while federal labor law limits activities targeting a “neutral” employer, it does not override the Constitution and its protections for free speech.
Several abortion-rights groups and providers filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday to block a Texas law that would allow people to sue abortion clinics, doctors, and anyone else helping someone get an abortion in the state after six weeks.
The law, signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May and set to take effect in September, invites private citizens, even those outside of Texas, to help enforce the state’s six-week abortion ban, awarding them with at least $10,000 per each successful court challenge.
The law will “incentivize anyone who disapproves of a patient’s abortion – a relative, an abusive partner, or even a stranger – to sue the provider and obtain a court order stopping the abortion,” the group of plaintiffs, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with several abortion providers, said in a press release.
The groups argue that the law violates “constitutional right to privacy and liberty as established by Roe v. Wade,” the landmark Supreme Court decision that granted the right to abortion almost 50 years ago.
The Texas law, known as SB 8, is one of a slew of restrictive “heartbeat” abortion bans recently enacted by Republican governors. The law seeks to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs at the six-week mark, a time when some people don’t know they are pregnant.
But the Texas law is unique from the others in that it authorizes individuals, and not state government officials, to enforce the ban.
“This new law would open the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt health centers, harass providers, and isolate patients from anyone who would treat them with compassion as they seek out health care,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “The cruelty is the point – and we will not let it stand.”
At a military base in El Paso, Texas, hundreds of unaccompanied children who crossed the US-Mexico border to seek asylum are sleeping under one big tent. Some have been there for weeks – others were held there for months – as authorities worked to track down a relative who could take them out of government custody.
It was not supposed to be like this. President Joe Biden and his administration pledged to create a “humane asylum system” – one that abandoned images of kids in cages in favor of recognizing the legal right to seek protection from violence and repression.
Shaw Drake, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, has twice visited the military base that now doubles as an emergency shelter. What he saw is too many children in one confined space, conditions that make it difficult for staff to keep track of what’s even happening.
“Children shouldn’t be held in those mass, dormitory-like situations,” he said. “We certainly observed firsthand the challenges and concerns about the lack of case management and the amount of time children were spending at the facility.”
Those conditions have led some children to attempt suicide and other forms of self-harm, according to testimony filed this month.
The Biden administration insists it is doing better – and in many ways it has, having reduced the number of kids in its custody and placing them in the care of family and friends. At one point, Fort Bliss housed around 5,000 children. This week, that number fell to fewer than 800, a product of the federal government ramping up efforts to place them with relatives and legal guardians.
By contrast, Drake said, the Trump administration allowed children to languish in Border Patrol facilities that were never intended to host them. At least five children died in them between 2018 and 2019.
“Border Patrol has a long history of holding people in inhumane conditions and abusing people in their custody, so it’s certainly not an environment that is conducive for unaccompanied children to spend any time in,” Drake said.
Emergency intake shelters like the one at Fort Bliss are an improvement, a fact that could have led to some complacency under the Biden administration – or at least a confidence that progress, amid a new surge in child asylum-seekers, was sufficient in the wake of the Trump administration, which itself had hollowed out the infrastructure for dealing with them.
“I think a big piece of it is a lack of commitment to the follow-through,” Drake said. “It’s very important to stand up these facilities and get kids out of Border Patrol, but the administration needed to move more quickly past to ‘how can we actually reunite these children with their loved ones?'”
There is a need to provide shelter. “The government does have to do its due diligence to ensure that they’re releasing the child to someone who is a bonafide relative or sponsor who’s going to take care for that child appropriately,” Drake said. But right now, that process can take days or weeks to even get started.
Beyond improving conditions at Fort Bliss and elsewhere, Drake said the search should begin as soon as a child is received by Border Patrol. On-site staff from the Department of Health and Human Services could even help some avoid further detention altogether.
“When children have – and many children do – direct parents or other immediate relatives waiting for them, they could be released directly without having to be transferred to an HHS facility,” he said. “And that’s something that, to this point, this administration and past administrations have failed to do.”
More than half of the nearly 4,000 children separated from their families by the Trump administration remain estranged from their parents, the Department of Homeland Security revealed in a new report on Tuesday.
As part of its effort to discourage Central Americans from exercising their legal right to seek asylum, the previous administration forced parents to choose: get deported as a family unit or leave the kids behind so that they can pursue their claims in the relative safety of the United States.
Still, as DHS’s Inspector General said in a May report, some 348 parents and children were separated against their apparent wishes.
Now a new report, from DHS’s Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families, shows the full impact of that separation policy, which the previous White House abandoned after a public outcry.
The task force, created by an executive order from President Joe Biden, identified 3,913 children as having been separated from their parents during the last administration. Of them, 1,786 “have already been reunified with their parent,” the report said.
That leaves 2,127 children who are still separated from their parents.
The report hints at how long it may take to find their parents, if they are indeed able to found back in their home countries – primarily Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In the previous 30 days, DHS said, the department was able to reunite just 7 children with their parents.
As CBS News reported, once reunited, families are granted access to mental health services and are eligible for “three years of protection from deportation to try to acquire work permits.”
But speaking to KQED, Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued over the family separation policy, said he believes that the number of parents who have not been found is actually lower than DHS suggests. According to the ACLU, the parents of 391 children have not been located.
“The other group are families who have been contacted by us, but were not reunited because the Trump administration only gave them two brutal choices: remain permanently separated from your child, or have your child come back to your home country and back to the very danger from which they fled,” Gelernt said.
Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, a nonprofit representing the Maya community in Nebraska, said it has been consulting with the DHS task force. It believes many of the remaining children come from indigenous communities in the Americas, complicating the reunification process as these communities are typically the most isolated and impoverished.
“The majority of the children still lost and not returned to their families are Maya,” the group said in a statement on Twitter, a fact it lamented was not acknowledged in the DHS report. “Indigenous erasure will only add further harm,” it said, noting the attacks on their rights in countries such as Guatemala is what drives them “to seek asylum and refugee status in the US.”
The ACLU in 2018 sued the Trump administration, in which a federal court in San Diego ruled that it’s unconstitutional to separate parents and children.
When now-President Joe Biden entered office, he promised to reunite families separated at the border. But the local of hundreds of parents remains unknown, and about 1,000 families still remain separated, the ACLU said in a press release.
“This Mother’s Day, hundreds of children remain separated from their mothers and thousands of others are suffering from the trauma Trump’s family separation practice inflicted,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “More than 5,500 families have suffered unimaginable trauma and deserve a path to citizenship, immediate care, and resources to help them.”
Biden, about two weeks into his first term as president, signed an executive order that rescinded Trump’s immigration policy. The order also instilled a Family Reunification Task Force, charged with leading the effort to bring together separated families.
The task force is expected to deliver a progress report on June 2.
“This Mother’s Day, despite the change in administration, hundreds of people will be forcibly expelled from the United States – including mothers traveling with or to their children – under a Trump-invented process that entirely bypasses the asylum laws,” Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
“President Biden promised to build a humane immigration system that aligns with our values,” Jadwat added in the statement. “Today millions of lives depend on his ability to deliver on that promise.”
The president on Thursday ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes, a plan first reported on Wednesday by the Washington Post. Since it’s a regulatory change, Congress has no say in the matter.
As a candidate, Biden sheepishly claimed to have evolved from the days when he was boasting of legislation that he said did “everything but hang people for jaywalking.” As the Democratic nominee, Biden promised to work on decriminalizing marijuana and removing it from the DEA’s list of Schedule I controlled substances.
Biden’s now been in the White House for more than three months, and Vice President Kamala Harris says the administration is simply too busy to fulfill its promise..
But apparently Biden isn’t too busy to use his power to ban menthol cigarettes.
This demonstrates either Biden’s promise was hollow, or that he’s too stuck in his drug warrior ways to see how it’s a certainty that criminalizing a popular product in the Black community is going to be an abject disaster of human carnage.
The madness of prohibition
Albert Einstein almost certainly didn’t say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But it’s still a good line.
Biden enacting a prohibition that instantly creates a black market and room for more unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounters with police, should be seen as the plainly dumb move that it is.
The “unintended consequences” cannot be called “unforeseen.” We can see them plain as day.
We’ve done prohibition before, several times. To expect a different result – the eradication of the banned product without unneeded violence and imprisonment – meets Einstein’s apocryphal definition of insanity.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is under no illusions about what the menthol ban means.
In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and members of Congress, the ACLU noted that about 80% of Black smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, and warned the ban “will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color,” lead to “constitutional policing,” and “prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction.”
While acknowledging that it would be best if no one smoked, the ACLU also seemed to question the necessity of the menthol ban, citing government data showing “cigarette use is down to 2.3% from 13% in 2002” and that among underage African-Americans it’s down to 1.1%.
There is simply no ethical or scientific reason for Biden to impose a move as severe as a total ban on menthol cigarettes.
Prohibition isn’t just ineffective, it’s wrong. And its architects and adherents almost always regret it eventually.
Biden once prided himself on being more of a Drug War and Law and Order hardass than Ronald Reagan. If his mea culpas from the 2020 primary were sincere, he’d be keeping his promises to wind down the war on marijuana, not starting the war on menthols.
When menthol cigarette crackdowns inevitably come to Black communities, Biden shouldn’t be allowed to claim he couldn’t have possibly foreseen the unintended consequences.
The president should know better about prohibition, but he doesn’t.
The American student-debt problem encompasses 45 million people with a combined $1.7 trillion of debt, and much of the burden falls on communities of color. Civil-rights organizations want President Joe Biden to change that by canceling $50,000 in student debt per person.
On Monday, 36 civil rights organizations, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released civil rights principles for student debt cancelation in an effort to encourage the Biden administration to act on racial, gender, disability, and wealth disparities in the country. They said these disparities have left borrowers “on the brink of financial devastation” simply because they sought a higher education, and the only solution is to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person.
“As we navigate the concurrent crises of systemic racism, a global health pandemic, and the resulting economic recession, it is more important than ever that we take bold action that benefits everyone, especially communities of color,” the organizations said. “Student debt cancellation will help Black and brown borrowers build wealth and enable our economy to move forward as millions of Americans are able to start families, buy homes, and set up small businesses.”
The letter, which was signed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), outlined five principles that student debt cancelation should abide by:
Debt cancelation must extend to all borrowers, including those with private loans.
Debt cancelation should extend to all sectors of institutions, including public, private, and for-profit schools.
The debt cancelation process must be easy to navigate – if it’s too difficult, many borrowers will not be able to access relief.
Debt cancelation should not negatively impact borrowers’ credit scores.
Debt cancelation should come with policies to increase access and affordability in the US higher education system.
The letter noted that upon graduation, Black borrowers typically owe 50% more than white borrowers, and four years later, Black borrowers owe 100% more. Canceling $50,000 per borrower would eliminate student debt for 75% of all federal borrowers, including full cancelation for 85% of Black borrowers and 96% of Latino borrowers in the lowest income quintile.
Biden’s Education Department has already taken some steps to cancel student debt for certain groups of borrowers. On March 18, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona canceled $1 billion in student debt for about 72,000 borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools, and on March 29, Cardona canceled student debt for 41,000 borrowers with disabilities.
And to build on Biden’s payment pause on all federal student-loan payments through September, on March 30, Cardona expanded the pause to borrowers with loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, helping 1.14 million borrowers with private loans.