Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:

President Joe Biden delivered the State of the Union address.

  • In his speech, Biden highlighted achievements from his first two years as President, such as passing legislation to enhance infrastructure and protect the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, and he laid out his goals for the next two years. He also challenged the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives to work with him to pass legislation. “To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress. The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden said.
  • A tense moment during the speech came when Biden accused Republicans of suggesting that Congress scale back or cut Medicare and Social Security. Biden said, “Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans…some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years. That means if Congress doesn’t vote to keep them, those programs will go away.” In response, many Republicans loudly protested and booed, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who shouted, “Liar!” Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) has proposed a plan that would require all federal legislation to sunset in five years, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said that Medicare and Social Security cuts would not be part of negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. After the Republican outbursts subsided, Biden said, “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? We have unanimity,” which was met with a standing ovation from Democrats and many Republicans.
  • Guests in the House chamber for the speech included, among others, Paul Pelosi, Bono of U2, the parents of Tyre Nichols, the Black man who was fatally beaten by Memphis police officers last month, and Brandon Tsay, the man who disarmed the Monterey Park shooter. 
  • Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the Republican response to Biden’s speech, in which she called him “unfit to serve as commander in chief.” She also used her speech to criticize the Biden administration’s agenda. “The Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day. Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight. Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols,” she said. Sanders, at 40 years old, is the youngest serving governor in the United States. She previously served as former President Donald Trump’s press secretary.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge to a public health policy with significant implications for asylum seekers.

  • 42 U.S. Code §265, commonly referred to as “Title 42,” is a public health law that empowers the U.S. Surgeon General to restrict people from entering the United States in order to stop the spread of disease. As President, Trump used this policy to curb immigration, including asylum seekers, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. President Biden continued using the policy for some time, before seeking to end it last year.
  • A pair of cases relating to the policy are currently winding through the legal system. Late last year, the Justices left in place Title 42, for now, and agreed to hear oral arguments in a dispute over whether 19 Republican state Attorneys General may intervene in the case to defend the policy. That case followed a separate decision in which a federal district court judge struck down Title 42.
  • Last month, Biden announced that the federal government’s Covid-19 public health emergency designation would formally end on May 11. Trump first declared the emergency in January 2020, and both administrations have renewed it every 90 days since then. The decision to end the emergency is to some extent symbolic, but it also carries policy implications, such as scaling back some of Biden’s executive powers and limiting government spending.
  • With the public health emergency coming to an end, the Biden administration has now petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss the challenge to Title 42 as moot since the policy will be revoked once the emergency designation expires. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the court filing, “The anticipated end of the public health emergency on May 11, and the resulting expiration of the operative Title 42 order, would render this case moot: Because the Title 42 order would have ‘expired by its own terms,’ this suit seeking only prospective relief would ‘no longer present a ‘live case or controversy.’

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