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Week In Review

By Ariana Sarfarazi Edited by Elissa D. Hecker

Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Entertainment, Arts, Sports, Technology & Media, General News, and COVID:


Hall v. Swift

A district court judge in California has denied Taylor Swift and her co-defendants' motion for summary judgement in a case of alleged infringement relating to lyrics contained in Swift's hit song "Shake It Off". The case was brought by songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who claim that the defendants, including Swift, co-writers of "Shake It Off", publishers (Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Kobalt Music Publishing), and Swift's labels (Big Machine Label Group and Universal Music Group), infringed the lyrics to their song "Playas Gon' Play" (which was released to the public as a single from the female group 3LW in 2001) by referencing the lyrics "playas" and "haters". The defendants originally sought to dismiss the action on the ground that the disputed lyrics lacked originality to enjoy copyright protection; however, the matter was previously litigated, and the court denied their first motion to dismiss. The defendants again sought to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to establish that "Playas" and "Shake It Off" were substantially similar with respect to their musical compositions. The court, however, again denied the motion for summary judgment, and found that genuine issues of triable fact remained as to substantial similarity.

Smollett Guilty in Fake Report of Hate Crime

Actor Jussie Smollett was convicted by a Chicago jury of filing a false police report in 2019 claiming he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. After more than nine hours of deliberation, the 12-person jury chose to believe the accounts of two brothers who testified that Smollett asked them to injure him as part of a publicity stunt. The actor, who faces up to three years in prison, was released on bond and a sentencing date has not yet been set.

Drake Withdraws from Grammy Race

Drake, the superstar rapper and singer, has been nominated for best rap album and best rap performance at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards but has asked the organization behind the awards to withdraw his name from the competition, and the Recording Academy has honored the request. Drake, who has been nominated for 49 Grammy nods in his career, including the two nods for 2022, joins a long list of talent that have been longtime critics of the awards for failing to recognize artists of color in its most prestigious categories and for its failure to recognize and appreciate contemporary Black music.


A Sea Change at Art Basel Miami

Art Basel, the renowned art fair staged in Miami, has recently changed its admission requirements and made a concerted effort to invite previously marginalized galleries to apply. The art fair says that it has lowered the obstacles to entry, such as by permitting participation from galleries that do not have a permanent physical space, so as to increase diversity by eliminating impediments to participation from participants of color. Whereas Art Basel's online event in 2020 did not include a single Black-owned gallery, the galleries this year feature several first time participants of color, including four galleries owned by Black Americans, three from Africa, eight from Latin America, and one from Korea.

HarperCollins Won't Publish Cuomo Book

HarperCollins has announced that it will no longer publish a planned book by Chris Cuomo, the fired CNN anchor who also recently resigned from his daily SiriusXM radio talk show. Cuomo was fired by CNN amid inquiry into his efforts to aid his brother, Andrew M. Cuomo, during a sexual harassment scandal that led the resignation of and criminal charges against the former New York Governor. According to the publisher, the book, which was originally entitled "Deep Denial", was scheduled to be released next year and was to be "a provocative analysis of the harsh truths about the pandemic and Trump years have exposed about America... and a road map of the work needed to make our ideals match our reality."

The Musical and the Elephant in the Room

A new biographical Michael Jackson musical entitled "MJ", has begun previews at the Neil Simon Theatre and is set to open on February 1, 2022. The musical, which is being produced by the singer's Estate, is set in 1992, the year before the superstar was first publicly accused of abuse. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, the show depicts the creative process of the King of Pop at the top of his game, as well as explores themes of hardships in the singer's life including financial woes, an overreliance on painkillers, emotional baggage from his upbringing, and intense media scrutiny, but does not address allegations that the pop singer molested children.

A Billionaire Gives Up Looted Relics Worth $70 Million

Billionaire, hedge fund pioneer, and once-prolific antiquities collector Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 stolen objects that had once decorated his homes and offices worth $70 million. Under a deal with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Steinhardt is also now barred for life from buying more antiquities. The prosecutor's office struck an agreement with Steinhardt after a four-year multinational investigation determined that the seized pieces had been looted and smuggled from 11 countries, trafficked by 12 illicit networks, and appeared on the international art market without lawful paperwork. Steinhardt's lawyer issued a statement that Steinhardt is "pleased" that the investigation has concluded without any charges and claiming that he purchased the items based on dealers' representations that the items were lawfully obtained.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Will Pull Sackler Name from Wing Over Opioid Ties

In the wake of growing outrage that the Sackler Family may have played in the opioid crisis, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) and the Sackler Family have issued a joint announcement that the Sackler name will be removed from seven exhibition spaces. The announcement marks a significant break between the world's largest museum and one of the world's biggest benefactors, and follows decisions by other cultural institutions, such as the Serpentine Gallery in London, which has refused Sackler money, and the Louvre in Paris, which has already removed the Sackler name. Experts suggested that the Met's announcement is likely to inspire many more institutions to reconsider their own Sackler galleries.

Notre-Dame Renovation Plans Outrage Some Preservationists

France's National Heritage and Architecture Commission has approved plans by the diocese of Paris to revamp the interior of Notre-Dame, the fire-stricken cathedral, and to give it a more modern look before its planned reopening in 2024. Planned changes include the installation of contemporary artworks, rearrangement of interior furnishings to create more room for visitors, and installation of new lighting effects. The decision has ignited controversy among opponents of the plan, which include dozens of cultural figures and intellectuals, who say that the renovations will debase the 850-year-old cathedral and will disturb the harmony of its Gothic design.


U.S. Uses a Diplomatic Boycott of the Olympics to Rebuke China

While American athletes will still be able to compete in the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing, the U.S. will not send government officials to attend. The diplomatic boycott of China is by both Democratic and Republican parties to hold China accountable for abuses of Uyghur Muslims in the Xingjing region, crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and the disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a top Communist Party leader of sexual assault. China has said that it will respond to one of the White House's most public condemnations of Beijing with "resolute countermeasures."

A Diplomatic Boycott is a Start, But Where Are the Sponsors?

While the U.S. and other countries have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in public rebuke of China, a move that has earned the praise of human rights organizations, corporate sponsors of the Games have been glaringly silent about human rights abuses in China. By staying silent, instead of using their significant clout to speak boldly about human rights in China, the corporate sponsors that underwrite the Games and use the Olympics has a marketing tool, which include Visa, Protecter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Airbnb, and several others, are being accused of putting profit over morality.

Filings in Suit Show How Photos of Kobe Bryant Crash Spread

New legal filings submitted by Kobe Bryant's widow, Vanessa, suggest that photos of the bodies of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others who died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles in January 2020, were shared widely among Los Angeles County Sheriff's and Firefighter Department personnel who are alleged to have described the remains in crude terms in public spaces, such as at a bar and an awards banquet. Bryant, who says she is overcome with anger and emotion, is suing Los Angeles County and some of its agencies and employees for emotional distress over the leaking of photos of the crash site. Los Angeles County, however, denies any wrongdoing and says that it worked to keep the photos out of public hands when officials became aware of them.

National Hockey League Announces Initiatives to Combat Racism, Accelerate Inclusion Efforts

The National Hockey League (NHL), joined by the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) has announced a series of significant initiatives focused on fighting racism and making the sport and the NHL more inclusive. Some of the new specific initiatives of the NHL and NHLPA include: working jointly with the Hockey Diversity Alliance to establish and administer a grassroots pilot development program to provide mentorship and skill development for BIPOC youth in Canada and the U.S., instituting mandatory inclusion and diversity and anti-racism training for all NHL players and personnel, pledging financial support to various partners to support improvements in the criminal justice system and to growing the sport of hockey in communities of color, hosting a series of "Courageous Conversations" on race, equity, and inclusion for its personnel, developing a resource guide and amplification of NHL players calling for change, developing a more diverse business pipeline to engage more minority-owned organizations, forming a new committees such as the Executive Inclusion Council, Player Inclusion Committee, Fan Inclusion Committee and Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee (YHIC) to identify opportunities and develop tangible action steps for positive change, developing more inclusive hiring strategies and establishing specific hiring targets and a timetable for instating such efforts, launching a NHL hotline to report unethical behavior and misconduct, and other initiatives to promote voter education and increased voter participation in the U.S.

Kentucky Derby Winner Who Failed Test Dies in Workout

Medina Spirit, the racehorse whose victory in the Kentucky Derby has been called into question by a failed post-race drug test, died of an apparent heart attack while working out at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in Southern California. California racing officials pledged to perform a necropsy on the colt to determine more details about the death and to make the final report of their findings public.

Auburn's Coach Suspended for Two Games in Fallout from Corruption Scandal

In resolving a case of corruption in men's basketball after a former assistant coach funneled money to players, the NCAA has accepted penalties Auburn already imposed on itself and has suspended Bruce Pearl, Auburn's men's basketball coach, for two games for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance. The case against Auburn is among nearly a dozen that are tied to a federal corruption investigation targeting college basketball more than four years ago and follows a similar pattern of issuing very few repercussions for the richly rewarded head coaches who run the programs, despite tough talk of cracking down on corruption in the sport.

Video Games in Tesla Cars Are Raising Safety Fears

A new feature in Tesla cars that allows drivers to play video games in moving cars is again raising questions as to whether Tesla is compromising safety in a rush to add new technologies. After a recent over-the-air software update, three video games can now be played by the driver or front passenger on the large touch screen that is mounted in the front of the dashboard of all Tesla models, even while driving, therefore raising fears about the safety of the brand, which has already been heavily criticized for safety concerns.

Countries Weigh Whether to Join Diplomatic Boycott of Olympics

Following the announcement by the White House that neither President Biden nor American officials will attend the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in protest of China's repressive policies and long list of human rights abuses, other countries are also considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games. Whereas officials from other countries, such as the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia, have announced that they also will not attend the Games, many European nations have extensive trade ties with Beijing they do not want to jeopardize by offending China and have not made such a commitment. Officials from Italy have announced that they will not join the American boycott, and France and Germany are currently noncommittal. However, additional political leaders from other nations are expected to eventually bow out, whether they announce an explicit reason or not.

Beijing Activated Propaganda Machine to Silence Tennis Star

According to analyses by The New York Times and ProPublica, 20 minutes is all it took for the Chinese government to mobilize after Peng Shuai, the tennis star and one of China's most famous athletes, went online to accuse Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Almost immediately after the allegations were posted to Shuai's social media, Chinese officials began a multifaceted propaganda campaign to do damage control, which included using internet controls to scrub almost all references to the accusation, districting digital spaces where people might discuss it, and activating a widely followed network of state-media commentators, backed by a chorus of fake Twitter accounts, to push back at critics abroad.

Judo Champ Margaux Pinot Reacts After Coach Accused of Assault Is Acquitted

French politicians and athletes have expressed outraged over the acquittal a judo coach accused of domestic violence against Olympic judo champion Margaux Pinot, including the 27-year old Judoka, who won a gold medal at the Tokyo Games herself. Pinot told police that her partner and judo trainer, Alain Schmitt, attacked her at home by verbally abusing her, wrestling her to the ground, punching her, attempting to strangle her, and smashing her head against the ground multiple times before she escaped from him. A French judge, however, has ruled that there is "not enough proof of guilt" for the domestic violence case against Schmitt to proceed. Schmitt denies the allegations. In a statement reacting to the acquittal, Pinot has questioned what evidence was missing - "my death at the end, perhaps?"

French Court Convicts and Fines Spectator for Causing Huge Crash at Tour in June

A French court has convicted and fined a Tour de France spectator whose cardboard sign caused a pileup of cyclists during the competition in June. The spectator was convicted of reckless endangerment and involuntarily causing injuries after stepping into the road during the race, facing TV cameras, and holding a piece of cardboard bearing an affectionate message for her grandparents, who are longtime fans of the Tour. The spectator was fined 1,200 euros and faces a possible one-year prison term and additional fine of 15,000 euros. Prosecutors have requested a four-month suspended prison sentence.


Court Lets Apple Hold Off Making App Store Changes

A federal appeals court has agreed to delay a legal order requiring Apple to make policy changes to its App Store that could help app developers circumvent what they argue are unfair fees. Had the appeals court not granted Apple's request, Apple would have had to start allowing companies to include links within their apps directing customers to outside websites where they can pay for those companies' services or subscriptions, which would have also prevented Apple from taking a cut of up to 30% on those transactions. The order is part of a lawsuit between Apple and Epic Games, the latter being the creator of the popular video game Fortnite, and the appeals court ruled that Apple can wait to make any changes until the appeals process for the lawsuit concludes, which could take another year.

Lawmakers Push Instagram's Chief to Better Protect Children

In a hearing held by the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, lawmakers questioned Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, on internal research leaked by a whistleblower that shows the social media app has a toxic effect on some teenagers. Lawmakers grilled Mosseri about why the company has not acted on warnings from its own researchers that the app is harmful to children, and warned that bipartisan legislation is forthcoming, since the company cannot be relied upon to police itself. Although Instagram recently announced new safety tools for children, lawmakers found such moves to be too little too late.

Instagram to Introduce First Parental Controls

Instagram will introduce its first parental controls in March, as it faces pressure to do more to shield young users from harmful content and from overusing the product. With the first version of the new controls, which will evolve over time, parents will be able to see how long their children have spent using Instagram and to limit the amount of time on the app, and teens will be able to tell their parents if they have reported someone for a violation of Instagram's policies. The app is under pressure after a former Facebook product manager leaked documents showing that the company is aware that it makes some teenage girls feel worse about themselves.

Regulators Investigating Trump's Media Company

Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulators are investigating the planned merger of a young social media company backed by former President Donald Trump, Trump Media and Technology Group, with Digital World Acquisition Corporation, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), or an entity that raises money through an I.P.O. before seeking a company to acquire. The investigation of Digital World, which began in November, comes after The New York Times reported that the chief executive of Digital World had talks with a representative of Trump Media as far back as March about doing a deal before raising nearly $300 million in an initial public offering in September. When going public, SPACs are not supposed to have engaged in merger talks without disclosing that to investors, and investigators are now looking into information regarding trading in shares of Digital World, as well as documents and communications between Digital World and Trump Media.

Nunes to Quit House to Run Media Outlet for Trump

California Republican Devin Nunes is resigning from Congressional representative role after 19 years to become the CEO of Donald Trump's new media and technology company. Nunes, who faced almost impossible odds in being re-elected, was once the chairman and then top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee during the Trump administration and if reelected would continue to helm the powerful Ways and Means Committee that writes tax and health care policy. Nunes's decision to take over Trump's media enterprise instead of remaining in Congress signals where he thinks power lies in the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.

How TikTok Keeps Users Glued to It

An internal company document entitled "TikTok Algo 101" offers a new level of detail about how the most successful video app in the world works, and why it is so addictive for users. The document, which was recently shared with The New York Times on the condition that it is not released to the public, was written by TikTok's engineering team in Beijing to explain to the company's nontechnical employees how the algorithm works. The document explains that TikTok curates a selection of user-created videos for other users to view by taking into effect an individual user's behaviors such as likes, comments, and time watching videos.

Jailed Journalists Reach Record High for Sixth Year

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom monitoring group, says that the number of jailed journalists has reached a record high for the sixth year, with 293 journalists behind bars this year, more than a quarter of them in China alone. The 2021 total is from up 280 in 2020. Since the group established the database of imprisonments in 1992, it has become a global benchmark for measuring repression of journalists.

Nobel Legacies Recede as Russia Clamps Down

Dmitri Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, is the third Russian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first to win after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Muratov follows in the footsteps of predecessors Andrei D. Sakharaov, a dissident physicist who won in 1975 for his struggle for human rights, and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who won in 1990. However, the freedom that Muratov champions is under assault in contemporary Russia, where human rights, openness and freedom of expression have been deteriorating for years and crackdowns have brutally suppressed activists and critics of the Kremlin. Muratov shares the prize with Maria Ressa, a Philippine journalist, who founded a website known for its investigations into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal five year drug war. In accepting the prize, Messa warned that we are at a pivotal moment in society where we can "descend further into fascism" or "each choose to fight for a better world."

Ransomware Operators Are Linked to Moscow's Tallest Skyscraper

Cybersecurity experts tracing the millions of dollars paid by American companies, hospitals, and city governments to Russian ransomware gangs have discovered that at least some of the ransom money has passed through Federation Tower East, the tallest skyscraper in Moscow and one of the city's most prestigious addresses. The Moscow highrise has emerged as a hub of money laundering and online extortion schemes where Russian ransomware gangs encrypt victims' digital data and demand payment to unscramble it. That this illicit activity, which targets victims almost exclusively outside of Russia, is occurring in the center of Moscow's financial district, suggests that Russian authorities both tolerate and support the actuvity, which is likely working with the Russian government and espionage agencies.

U.K. Court Rules That Julian Assange, Wikileaks Founder, Can Be Extradited to U.S.

A British court has ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face espionage charges that could put him in prison for decades. The ruling, which reverses a lower court decision in the long-running case against Assange, is a victory for the White House, which has pursued an effort to prosecute Assange since the Trump administration. The U.S. Justice Department's decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act in connection with obtaining and publishing secret government documents has raised novel First Amendment issues and Assange's extradition to the United States could set off a momentous constitutional battle.


Supreme Court Lets Texas Law Be Challenged, but Leaves It in Effect

The Supreme Court has ruled that abortion providers in Texas can challenge the state's anti-abortion law banning most abortions after six weeks, therefore allowing them to sue certain officials in federal court, despite the procedural hurdles imposed by the law's unusual structure, which was carefully drafted to evade federal review. The Court, however, refused to block the law in the meantime, finding instead that lower courts should consider the matter. The court's three liberal justices dissented, writing that the limited victory for the law's challengers may be inadequate and noting that they would have allowed more comprehensive challenges to the law. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor suggested that the Court's decision gives Texas lawmakers a roadmap of not only how to nullify federal constitutional rights but also to avoid review in federal court.

Judge Rules Against Texas Abortion Law

A state district court judge in Texas has ruled that the enforcement scheme in the state's restrictive abortion law, violates the state Constitution. The court found that the enforcement scheme denies due process and unconstitutionally grants standing to those who are not injured, and therefore represents an "unlawful delegation of enforcement power to a private person." While the decision is deemed a legal victory for abortion rights groups, the defendant anti-choice group that lobbied for the Texas law immediately filed a notice of appeal. Abortion providers, who have not resumed performing the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy, have said that they would again begin providing abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy if the ruling were upheld by the State Supreme Court.

New Reality Persists for Texas Women, Despite Rulings on Abortion Law

While Texas's abortion law has been undercut by recent court rulings that the law's enforcement mechanism is unconstitutional under Texas state law and that federal challenges to the law can move forward, the reality on the ground has not changed for women seeking abortions in Texas. Both decisions have left in place the most restrictive abortion law in the country which effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and has no exceptions for rape or incest. The ban has resulted in a surge of women traveling out of state for abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy.

Deal to Change How Military Handles Sexual Assault Cases

House and Senate negotiators have reached a landmark agreement that would strip military commanders of most of their authority to prosecute sexual assault and other criminal cases, a change in policy that has been resisted for nearly a generation by Pentagon leaders, lawmakers, and presidents. The legislation, which is part of a broad defense policy bill, comes after nearly two decades of efforts by female lawmakers and survivors' groups, despite fierce opposition by military lawyers. Under the new law, which is being called "the most significant military justice reform in our nation's history", independent military prosecutors known as "special trial counsel" will replace commanders, who under existing law have broad authority to to determine which cases are referred to courts-martial, in having exclusive authority to determine to prosecute criminal offenses such as sexual assault, rape, murder, domestic violence, and others. Sexual harassment will now also be criminalized but would not full under the purview of the special prosecutor.

Biden's Pick to Oversee U.S. Borders Clears Senate

The Senate has confirmed Chris Magnus, the Tucson, Arizona police chief and Biden appointee, to lead the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). As head of CBP, Magnus will become the first openly gay commissioner of the federal government's largest law enforcement agency and will be the first confirmed leader of the agency since 2019. Known as a reform-minded police chief, conservatives are wary of Magnus's commitment to enforcing immigration laws since he has been critical of some of the Trump Administration's past policies, but Magnus will seek to win the trust of the U.S. Border Patrol, an agency within CBP that has long been criticized for excessive use and force and inhumane treatment of migrants.

Justice Department Closes Emmett Till Case Without Charges

The Justice Department has closed its investigation into the abduction and murder of Emmett Till, the Black teenager whose gruesome killing in Mississippi in 1955 by two white men more than 60 years ago ignited the civil rights movement. Till was kidnapped, tortured, and killed after he allegedly grabbed and made sexually explicit remarks to Carolyn Bryant Donham, a key witness in the case which was reopened after historian Timothy B. Tyson claimed in his 2017 book "The Blood of Emmett Till" that Donham recanted her story. Citing the statute of limitations and Donham's denial that she ever changed her story, federal officials have announced that there is not enough evidence to pursue charges in the case or to move forward with prosecuting Donham for perjury.

Panel Considered Packing Court Then Agreed to Disagree

The bipartisan commission appointed by President Biden to study possible changes to the federal judiciary unanimously approved a final report that analyzes but declines to take a firm stand as to whether to expand or "pack" the Supreme Court with additional justices. The 288-page report notes "profound disagreement" among the commission' members as to ideas such as Supreme Court expansion, imposing 18 year term limits on justices, and reducing judicial power to strike down acts of Congress, and does not offer specific recommendations. The report comes as the Supreme Court's expanded conservative bloc is considering blockbuster changes to the law, including whether to overturn Roe v. Wade's nearly 50 year old precedent on abortion rights.

Appeals Court Blocks Trump's Bid to Keep January 6th Documents Secret

A federal appeals court in D.C. has ruled that Congress is entitled to see White House records related to the Capitol attack on January 6th, thereby rejecting former President Trump's claim of residual secrecy powers. The three judge panel held that Congress's oversight powers, backed by President Biden's decision not to invoke executive privilege of the material, outweighed Trump's residual power to keep the material secret. The appellate panel, all of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents, ruled that Trump provided no basis for the court to override the agreement worked out between the political branches over the documents. However, Trump is almost certain to appeal their ruling to the Supreme Court, which is controlled by Republican appointees.

House Passes Bill Curbing Many Presidential Powers

The House has passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, a sweeping package of constraints on presidential power, which Democrats have framed as a response to former President Trump's controversial presidency. The legislation would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and strengthen the Constitution's obscure ban on presidents taking emoluments, or payments, by extending anticorruption charges to commercial transactions after Trump refused to disclose his tax returns and refused to divest from his hotels as lobbyists and governments paid for numerous rooms and sometimes not even using them. The act would also require campaigns to report any offers of foreign assistance to the F.B.I., such as when Donald Trump, Jr. met with Russians who claimed that they had dirt on Hilary Clinton. The package, which has been supported by the White House even though it curbs executive authority but has largely been opposed by Republicans, may be blocked by the Senate.

U.S. Sues Texas for its Redraw of Voting Map

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas over a new restricting plan that the federal government says would violating the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the restricting plan that the state's Republican-led legislature approved in October violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which says that voters cannot be denied equal access to the political process based on their race or ethnicity, because the redrawing of voter districts would essentially make ballots cast by Black and Latino voters count for less than those of others. This is the second recent lawsuit filed against Texas over voting by the Justice Department, which also sued the state in November over a new voting law that would disenfranchise Texans who do not speak English, people with disabilities, older voters, and those who live outside the United States.

Rebel Symbols in Jury Room Win New Trial for Black Man

A Tennessee appeals court has granted Tim Gilbert a new trial after jurors deliberated in a room named after the United Daughters of the Confederacy that was filled with Confederate memorabilia, such as a portrait of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The appeals court unanimously ruled that Gilbert, a Black man convicted of aggravated assault and other charges by an all-white jury, would get a new trial. Gilbert had argued that the "inherently prejudicial" jury room violated his right to a fair trial, an impartial jury, and due process and equal protection, and the court agreed.

City Council's Vote Gives Noncitizens Legal Right to Vote in Local Elections

Recent legislation approved by New York's City Council will give 800,000 noncitizen legal residents the right to vote in local municipal elections, who could begin voting in local elections in January 2023. With the vote, New York City became the largest city in the country to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections, a move that places the city at the forefront of the debate over voting rights. The legislation, which is expected to be challenged in court, was approved over the objections of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who questioned whether the City Council has the power to grant voting rights to noncitizens.


Food and Drug Administration Makes Older Teens Eligible for Pfizer's Booster

The FDA has authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for 16 and 17 year olds, therefore clearing the way for millions of teenagers to receive an additional shot this winter. The decision comes after the FDA authorized everyone 18 and older to receive a booster shot on November 19th.

New York State Brings Back a Mask Requirement

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has announced that effective December 13th, the state will require masks to be worn indoors at all public spaces that do not require proof of vaccination for entry. The requirement means that unless businesses already check for proof of vaccination, it must demand that patrons are masked indoors. While the move is not expected to have a drastic effect in New York City, where many businesses are already required to confirm proof of vaccination, the move is likely to have significant effect in rural and conservative pockets of New York state where such requirements have not been imposed. Businesses that do not comply could face civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

NYC to Require Companies to Get Staff Vaccinated

New York City is mandating that on-site employees at all private businesses in the city get vaccinated in what is the most sweeping local mandate in the country. Mayor Bill de Blasio described the new mandate, which is set to take effect just days before he leaves office, as a "pre-emptive strike" against new coronavirus variants this winter. The mandate, which applies to about 184,000 businesses, is almost certain to face legal challenges and to pose difficulties for employers tasked with enforcing it. Incoming mayor Eric Adams has not said whether he supports a vaccine requirement for private employers and has stated that he will evaluate the mandate and other Covid strategies when he takes office.

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