How the Supreme Court Could Reshape Discrimination Lawsuits

On November 13, 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media.1 The Court’s decision will determine how difficult it will be to bring future cases regarding possible discrimination and racial bias to trial.2

Facts of the Case

Byron Allen, an African American, owns Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which operates channels including JusticeCentral.TV and Pets.TV.3 Cable provider Comcast declined to carry ESN channels, citing capacity constraints and lack of demand.4 Allen alleges discrimination, claiming that Comcast offered untruthful excuses and added white-owned networks instead of his.5 Comcast calls the case frivolous, pointing out that a Carter-appointed district judge dismissed the case three times.6 The Supreme Court will decide if Allen’s case merits discovery and trial.7

Legal Arguments and Ramifications

Allen cites one of the first U.S. civil rights laws,8 the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act of 1866,9 which was intended to help former slaves overcome discriminatory “Black Codes” by guaranteeing them equal rights to make and enforce contracts.10 Allen calls it “an economic pathway for former slaves”11 that should ensure “equal access for economic opportunity for all Americans.”12

But does the law require Allen to prove that race was one motivating factor or the only factor in Comcast’s decision-making?13 Allen claims that the higher threshold would encode discrimination.14 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce asserts that the lower threshold would force businesses to settle costly nuisance suits15 rather than risk negative publicity and an onerous discovery process.16

Civil rights lawyers call17 the stricter test a “near-impossible”18 standard that would block victims’ suits19 and deter lawyers from taking their cases20 by precluding tactics like depositions.21 Drexel University law professor David S. Cohen summarizes, “Today very few people are openly racist, so they hide behind other reasons. A law that requires someone to say that race is the only reason for discrimination will be very hard to prove.”22

Comcast states that it isn’t advocating a major legal change,23 just a narrow ruling24 that won’t have far-reaching effects.25 Comcast touts its progressive diversity record26 in programming and in developing African-American ownership27 (which Allen disputes28). Comcast calls the discrimination allegations a “preposterous”29 business tactic.30

Political Involvement

The Department of Justice took Comcast’s side (despite President Trump’s derision of Comcast-owned channels),31 advocating the higher standard32 with 10 minutes of Comcast’s argument time.33 Some congressional Democrats have called for Comcast to be broken up,34 while others have joined some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates35 and over 20 civil rights organizations36 (including the NAACP37) in siding with Allen’s legal interpretation.

Some analysts see the conservative-leaning Supreme Court as unfriendly to civil rights plaintiffs38 and guarding of higher pleading standards.39 Though the justices appeared to favor Comcast during the hearing, Allen still expressed hope.40 The Supreme Court decision is expected in June 2020.

Suggested Further Reading

READ: Explanation of the “But-for” legal test that will decide this case (from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute)

READ: Text of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 with historical context and study questions (from, a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University)

READ: Analysis of the hearing from SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe

VIEW: What’s on the Supreme Court calendar?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it important to have diverse actors and characters on screen? Why or why not?
  2. Is it important to have diversity among writers, directors, and producers of shows and movies? Why or why not?
  3. Is it important to have diversity among owners of media companies? Why or why not?
  4. Is the Civil Rights Act of 1866 still relevant over 150 years later? Why or why not?
  5. In a discrimination trial, should Allen win if he can prove that Comcast was partially motivated by racial bias, or should he have to prove that bias is the only reason Comcast didn’t do business with him?
  6. Respond to this quote from Allen’s lawyer (in a Washington Post article): “Imagine somebody goes to a hotel to rent a room and the clerk says, ‘We’re not renting a room to you because we don’t have rooms available and we don’t rent rooms to black people,’” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, who will argue on Allen’s behalf. “Under Comcast’s theory, that wouldn’t be enough to prove discrimination.”
  7. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals thinks that if Comcast is partially motivated by racial bias, it doesn’t matter if the company also has legitimate business reasons not to carry Allen’s channels. The Ninth Circuit says that Allen should get a chance to gather more evidence by looking at Comcast documents and interviewing their employees, and then there should be a trial. Do you agree or disagree with the Ninth Circuit? Why?



Featured Image Credit: Steve Helber, Associated Press, via 
[1] Oyez Project:
[2] CNN:
[3] Reuters:
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Fox Business:
[7] The Hollywood Reporter:
[8] U.S. House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives:
[9] Federal Judicial Center:
[10] The Hollywood Reporter:
[11] American Bar Association ABA Journal:
[12] Yahoo:
[13] Associated Press:
[14] NewsOne:
[15] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[16] The Hollywood Reporter:
[17] Washington Post:
[18] Deadline:
[19] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[20] The Hollywood Reporter:
[21] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Deadline:
[25] The Hill:
[26] Ibid.
[27] Deadline:
[28] The Hill:
[29] Associated Press:
[30] Yahoo:
[31] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[32] Deadline:
[33] Deadline:
[34] Bloomberg:
[35] Deadline:
[36] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[37] NAACP:
[38] Philadelphia Inquirer:
[39] The Hollywood Reporter:
[40] CNBC:


What We Can Learn From the 2019 Elections

On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, voters in eight states went to the polls to vote in local and statewide elections. Competitive gubernatorial and state legislative races were held in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia.1 These were the last elections before the 2020 census, which could result in the redrawing of political boundaries in each state. Furthermore, the results of these elections could be potential indicators of voter behavior and turnout in the 2020 election.

What Was at Stake in These Races?

In Kentucky, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, a strong supporter of President Trump and conservative policies, faced a strong challenge from state Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat. Despite the fact that Kentucky is considered to be a strong Republican state (President Trump won the state by over 30 percentage points in 2016, and it’s the home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Democrats have found success in gubernatorial races there.2 The unpopularity of Governor Bevin allowed the race to become highly competitive, giving Attorney General Beshear a jump in the polls.3 Many Democrats were hoping that seeing one of their own win in a state like Kentucky, which overwhelmingly votes Republican in national elections, would indicate the state’s voting behavior for 2020.

Ultimately, the gubernatorial race in Kentucky has been ruled too close to call, and Governor Bevin has formally asked for a recanvassing of the election. The recanvassing is currently scheduled for November 14.4 All other elections in the state were won by Republicans.5

In Virginia, which has become more of a purple state in recent years, the scandals among the top three officials (all Democrats) that unfolded earlier in 2019 had Republicans hoping that they would gain momentum in this year’s election, and allow them to hold onto control of the state Senate and House of Delegates.6 Despite the scandals, Democrats seized full control of the state legislature, marking the first time that Democrats have controlled the entire state government in over two decades.7

Mississippi’s gubernatorial election, although more competitive than elections in years past, saw Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves defeat Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat. The heavy turnout from both parties shows how engaged voters are in the political scene, both locally and in anticipation of the 2020 election.8 However, even with this heightened sense of engagement from both sides, Democrats did not claim any statewide office or function of government in Mississippi last Tuesday.9

The 2019 elections reflected a higher sense of political engagement across both parties, but the effects of voter turnout and engagement moving towards the 2020 election remain unknown. In the coming weeks, strategists from both major political parties will attempt to find patterns in last week’s elections as they look ahead to the presidential race.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do any of these election results surprise you? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think these results might tell us about voter behavior in the upcoming 2020 election?
  3. Do you think elections before a census year are more important? Why or why not?
  4. How might voter turnout in local elections be different than turnout in national elections?
  5. Do you believe these elections received more national attention than usual? If so, why do you think that might be?
  6. How closely linked do you think local and state elections are to national elections?
Featured Image Credit: Steve Helber, Associated Press, via 
[1] NPR:
[2] Wall Street Journal:
[4] NPR:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Ibid.
[7] CNN:
[8] Fox News:
[9] Mississippi Today:



Eliminate Illegal Immigration; Make Immigration Work for the Economy

President Donald J. TrumpImmigration policy and enforcement continues to be a major area of conflict between Democrats and Republicans. Currently, Congress is considering many bills related to immigration, asylum, migrant detention, and family separation. This week, we will look at two proposals that Republicans are advancing; two weeks ago, we examined two bills that Democrats are advancing.

Republicans have two main goals for immigration policy: to drastically reduce illegal immigration and to ensure that immigration is good for the U.S. economy.

In May, President Trump proposed sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system. In addition to boosting border security and securing funding for a wall on the southern border, President Trump aims to reduce the number of poor or unskilled immigrants in favor of immigrants with education or expertise that will contribute to the U.S. economy.1

Border security, and especially the proposal for a border wall, has received ample attention and is a central focus in two of our earlier posts (see: The Shutdown: It’s Over! … Isn’t It? and State of Uncertainty: Emergency Declaration on the Border). In this post, we will take up two proposals to change legal immigration in ways that Republicans believe will help the U.S. economy.


Secure and Protect Act of 2019 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced this bill in May; it reached the full Senate in August. The bill addresses many aspects of immigration related to seeking asylum or refugee status and to the treatment of undocumented migrants. The bill would make several key changes to the system, including:

  • Lengthening the amount of time the government is permitted to hold children away from their families, from 20 days to 100 days;
  • Making immigration officers the sole authority on whether or not a minor is capable of making their own decisions in the immigration process;
  • Establishing refugee processing centers in certain countries (designated by the secretary of Homeland Security), especially in Central America; and
  • Barring people from countries with those processing centers from seeking asylum.2

These changes would allow the Trump administration to automatically reject asylum claims made by migrants from Central America; their only paths to entry would be legal immigration or the refugee process.


LISTEN: What is the difference between refugees and asylum seekers?


Deny Visas to Immigrants Who Cannot Afford Health Insurance

The Trump administration has plans to implement a policy of rejecting visa applications from immigrants who cannot prove that they could afford health insurance or other health-related costs.3 President Trump signed a proclamation on October 4 stating that the new practice will begin in November 2019.

Explaining the shift in policy, Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute said, “The administration is on-the-record wanting to cut legal immigration, and particularly wanting to cut legal immigration of lower-skilled, lower-paid immigrants who are probably less likely to have health insurance coverage.”4

Supporting his proclamation, President Trump said, “Immigrants who enter this country should not further saddle our health care system, and subsequently American taxpayers, with higher costs.”5



These two proposals, and the two Democratic proposals examined two weeks ago, show the different priorities of the two major political parties on the issue of immigration. While Republicans want to limit both legal and illegal immigration, Democrats are attempting to check the president’s power and to ensure humane treatment of undocumented migrants.


Discussion Questions

  • When you think of immigration, what do you see as the most serious issue?
  • Should the United States take steps to reduce numbers of legal immigrants? Why or why not?
  • When you compare the four proposals (two from Democrats and two from Republicans), whose vision for immigration do you most support?
  • What do you think the United States’ big-picture immigration goals should be?


Featured Image Credit: Handout/Reuters, via the Washington Post
[1] PBS Newshour:
[2] Library of Congress’
[3] CBS News:
[4] Ibid.
[5] NPR:



The Global Climate Strike

To help students explore the climate change debate, please see our resource on climate change policy here.

Over one million workers, students, and others engaged in the global climate strike on Friday, September 20, in an effort to call for more significant action to combat climate change.1 This was the third in a series of worldwide strikes organized by students; the rally was planned to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit.2


Students protesting climate changeWhat are the students’ demands?

The organizers of the strike state their demands as follows:

“The climate crisis is an emergency – we want everyone to start acting like it. We demand climate justice for everyone. Our hotter planet is already hurting millions of people. If we don’t act now to transition fairly and swiftly away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy for all, the injustice of the climate crisis will only get worse. We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations, and climate justice at its heart.”3

At the New York City rally, marchers chanted, “You had a future, and so should we.”4


Why strike?

Many young people in the United States and many people the world over are upset that policymakers are not seriously addressing climate change. Recent reports from the UN and the U.S. government, among others, have called attention to the dire challenges of climate change. The U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment declares, “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”5 The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “[f]uture climate-related risks depend on the rate, peak, and duration of warming,” and that it is too late to avoid some, but not all, of the impacts of climate change.6

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, spoke for many young people when she said, “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. … You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”7

WATCH: Greta Thunberg speaks at the Climate Action Summit


What else is being done?

In the United States, there is a court case, Juliana v. United States, that argues that there is a fundamental right to a stable, livable climate and that the U.S. government is denying young people that right.8 The case began in 2015, with the most recent action taking place in June 2019. There will likely be continued climate efforts in the courts, as many are frustrated with elected officials’ lack of progress.

Read more about the Juliana case here

Climate change legislation is also a frequent subject of debate among presidential candidates, and CNN hosted a town hall on the subject with 10 Democratic candidates.9 A major focus of debate on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill is the Green New Deal.

See our post about the Green New Deal here


Discussion Questions

  • What have you heard about the climate strikes? Do you know anyone who has participated?
  • Do you think these climate strikes will have an impact on policy? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the government should guarantee the “right to a stable, livable climate”?
  • What is the responsibility of young people to engage in demonstrations such as climate strikes?


To investigate this topic further, please see our resource on climate change here.


Featured Image Credit: Handout/Reuters, via the Washington Post
[1] CNN:
[2] MIT Technology Review:
[3] Global Climate Strike website:
[4] New York Times:
[5] Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. 2:
[6] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
[7] Los Angeles Times:
[8] Our Children’s Trust:
[9] CNN:



Reparations and the Demands of Justice

Old political cartoonIn January 2019, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 40: The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act.1 Reparations for slavery, Jim Crow, and systematic segregation and racism in major U.S. institutions is not a new idea, but it has never gained the type of traction that it currently has. In June, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings to begin exploring the idea.2

This bill would not automatically establish reparations. Instead, the bill would “establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies.”3

WATCH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responds to the bill

WATCH: Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “The Case for Reparations,” testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties

Discussions about race, racism, and racial justice are becoming more central parts of our political discourse. The rising tide of white nationalism and white supremacy,4 including their increasing visibility in public spaces,5 has helped spur discussion about the legacy of racism in the United States. Movements and organizations such as Black Lives Matter and the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as publications such as Between the World and Me, The New Jim Crow, and the 1619 Project, have focused attention the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, economic exclusion, and mass incarceration.

In this social and political environment, the debate over reparations is taken more seriously—but is also more contentious—than it has been at other times.

Arguments in support of the bill:

The text of the bill contains arguments—findings—that support passage of the bill. Among those findings are:

  • Approximately 4,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and colonies that became the United States from 1619 to 1865.
  • The institution of slavery was constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned by the government of the United States from 1789 through 1865.
  • The slavery that flourished in the United States constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of Africans’ life, liberty, African citizenship rights, and cultural heritage, and denied them the fruits of their own labor.
  • Following the abolition of slavery, the U.S. government, at the federal, state, and local levels, continued to perpetuate, condone, and often profit from practices that continued to brutalize and disadvantage African Americans, including sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow, redlining, unequal education, and disproportionate treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system.
  • As a result of the historic and continued discrimination, African Americans continue to suffer debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships, including but not limited to having nearly 1,000,000 black people incarcerated; an unemployment rate more than twice the current white unemployment rate; and an average of less than 1/16th of the wealth of white families, a disparity which has worsened, not improved over time.6

Arguments opposing the bill:

  • Charles Lane, a columnist for the Washington Post, argues that reparations may be unconstitutional because black people living today cannot show direct injury from slavery in the same way that other groups—such as Japanese Americans who lived through internment—have been able to do.7
  • Kevin Williamson, writing in National Review, argues that reparations would not accomplish what they are intended to accomplish and that the policies that would most help African Americans, and all Americans, would be economic and educational reform aimed at creating a dynamic and growing economy.8
  • Coleman Hughes, an African-American writer and student, argued against reparations before a congressional subcommittee, saying that reparations “would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors. If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today.”9
  • Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.) has spoken of “the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago.”10

The debate over this issue is taking place in the primary campaigns of Democratic presidential hopefuls, and Congress will continue to consider and possibly vote on the bill.


Discussion Questions

  1. What do you view to be the strongest arguments for and against the idea of reparations?
  2. If you were a member of Congress, what more would you want to know before voting on this bill?
  3. Setting aside the question of reparations, do you think that establishing a commission to investigate the impacts of slavery, segregation, and systemic racism is a good idea? Why or why not?
  4. If you are opposed to the idea of reparations in the form of cash or a check, do you think something else should be done to address the legacy and injustice of slavery and segregation? If so, what? If no, why not?


How to Get Involved

Students can continue to follow the bill on GovTrack.

Students can weigh in—as a group assignment or individually—by visiting this page.

Students can also research their member of Congress to see which committees they sit on. If their representative sits on the Judiciary Committee, they should consider contacting that member while the bill is still in committee.


Further Reading


Featured Image Credit: 19th Century Engraving via New York Public Library Digital Collection (Public Domain) and Wikipedia
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] ABC News:
[5] Inside Higher Ed:
[7] Washington Post:
[8] National Review:
[9] BBC:
[10] Ibid.


Religious Freedom or the Right to Discriminate?

Protestors in Washington, DCOn August 15, the Department of Labor published proposed changes that would expand federal contractors’ ability to claim a religious exemption to equal opportunity and anti-discrimination rules.1 The proposed rule change, as written, could allow employers with federal contracts to fire or refuse to hire LGBTQ employees, and could even be used to fire unmarried pregnant women if an employer claimed that it was against their religion to support having sex out of wedlock.

The Department of Labor cites recent Supreme Court cases, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014)and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018).3 In each of those cases, the Court allowed businesses to claim that the U.S. right to religious freedom exempted them from certain state or federal regulations. (Masterpiece Cakeshop was decided on narrow grounds and the Court cautioned that it should not necessarily be read as precedent.)

Drawing on opinions expressed by the Supreme Court in those cases and in other cases, the Department of Labor’s rule change would allow groups and companies with federal contracts that identify as religious to “make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.”4

The proposed rule is stirring controversy, as many civil rights activists see the change as discriminatory. Patricia Shiu, who oversaw the federal contracting office under President Barack Obama, told Vox that the new rule has the potential to be interpreted very broadly. As Shiu explained to Vox: “The new rule would gut anti-discrimination protections in a ‘major and transformational way.’ While the rule seems to target LGBTQ individuals … it’s so broad that it creates a loophole for employers to discriminate against anyone. … [Companies] could ask for a religious exemption so they don’t have to hire women, by saying that their religion dictates that women cannot work outside the home.”5

Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), warned that the rule “authorizes discrimination in the name of religion.”6 The ACLU also tweeted, “Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace—and we will work to stop it.”7

Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the LGBTQ rights advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign, called the rule “a license to discriminate.”8

An official with the Department of Labor defended the rule, explaining to ABC News: “The Department’s regulations for a long time have allowed religious organizations to take applicants’ and employees’ religion into account when making employment decisions, that’s not new. This proposal only seeks to clarify who qualifies as a religious organization and what religion means under the law. That’s it.”9

In addition, acting Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella told The Christian Post, “Today’s proposed rule helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected. As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.”10


Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think that business owners and employers should have the right to refuse to hire someone on religious grounds? Why or why not?
  2. Are there some types of organizations (such as religious charities) that should have the right to use religion in their hiring and firing practices? Should that same right extend to all employers?
  3. How does this controversy connect to other issues you have heard about in the news? In history?
  4. Do you think the Department of Labor should adopt this new rule? Why or why not?


How to Get Involved

This proposed rule change is open for public comment until September 16, 2019. Anyone can submit a comment, and these comments must be reviewed and considered by the executive branch before it makes the change official.

Read the full proposed rule and submit a comment here:

Implementing Legal Requirements Regarding the Equal Opportunity Clause’s Religious Exemption

Consider having students work in small groups or individually to submit a comment supporting or challenging the proposed rule.


Other Resources


Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
[1] U.S. Department of Labor:
[2] New York Times:
[3] Axios:
[4] U.S. Department of Labor:
[5] Vox:
[6] Washington Post:
[7] United Press International:
[8] Washington Post:
[9] ABC News:
[10] The Christian Post:



Democratic Candidate Highlights: Part 1—The Early Announcers

The 2020 United States Presidential election is on Tuesday, November 3, and there are 20+ Democrats who have announced their campaign to run. As promised in our earlier post (found here), this post will be the first of several where we take a closer look at a few candidates—who they are and their stances are on some of the issues they prioritize. We will be going in order by candidacy announcement date.

Most of the information will come from the candidates’ own campaign sites, as the point of these posts is to give readers an idea of what each candidate’s platform is and how the candidates are presenting themselves to voters.

This post will include a closer look at some lesser known, but early announcing, candidates: John Delaney, Andrew Yang, and Tulsi Gabbard.

Candidate: Former Representative John Delaney, D-Md.
Slogan: Focus on the Future

Short Bio (excerpted from campaign site):

John Delaney’s grandparents came to the United States from Ireland and England, and found jobs in Jersey City, N.J., where one grandfather worked in a pencil factory and the other was a dockworker. He grew up in a blue-collar family in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey. With help from his father’s labor union, he was able to attend and graduate from Columbia University and Georgetown University Law Center. After law school, he decided to take a chance and start his own businesses. By 40, he had launched and led two companies that created thousands of jobs and were publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He was the youngest CEO on the NYSE with his first company. In 2004, he was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and his businesses were voted to be among the best places to work. He was also the only former CEO of a publicly traded company serving in the House of Representatives during his three terms. In 2012, he took congressional office serving the Sixth District of Maryland and since then has introduced large-scale bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, tax reform, social security, and impact investing. On foreign policy, his work has centered on a strong national defense, strengthening alliances, and cutting sources of terrorism funding. He believes that the best policymaking focuses squarely on the future and gives that as the reason for founding the Artificial Intelligence Caucus and helping found the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. In 2017, he was named to Fortune’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” He says that his campaign commitments are the same as they were when he first ran for Congress: advance progressive values, find solutions and common ground, bring new ideas, and create forward-looking policies that help everyday Americans.

Issue: Candidate’s Stance According to Campaign Site:
A National AI Strategy
Learn more

The United States must create a government strategy that will provide the tools and skills needed for the country to win the international AI race. For that to occur, the United States must prioritize resources to eliminate gaps in national abilities compared to other high-tech countries, invest in areas of research that deserve additional funding, develop incentives for high-tech professionals to work for the government, support an immigration system that values high-tech professionals, and crack down on international intellectual property (IP) theft.

Climate Change and Climate Corps
Learn more

Delaney proposes a $4 trillion climate change plan—a comprehensive roadmap of policy solutions to address the climate change crisis by focusing on six areas: A carbon fee and dividend direct air capture/negative emissions technology (NET); increasing the renewable energy research budget five-fold; challenge grants; a climate corps; and a carbon throughway. Most notably, Delaney proposes the creation of the Climate Corps as part of his National Service Program. The new program would provide opportunities for recent high school graduates to work in low-income urban and rural communities where Corps members would support these communities’ transition to a green economy, work on environmentally friendly projects, and fight climate change by working on the ground.

Department of Cybersecurity
Learn more

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the government created the Department of Homeland Security. In response to continued cyber attacks, Delaney wants to create a Department of Cybersecurity with a sole focus on coordinating and implementing U.S. cybersecurity strategy, led by a cabinet-level secretary.

Other Issues
Learn more

Delaney has addressed 18 other issue areas in detail on his campaign site. Visit his site to further research his platform: John Delaney’s Policy Platform

Candidate: Attorney and entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Campaign Slogans: Humanity First; Make America Think Harder (Math); Not Left, Not Right, Forward

Short Bio (excerpted from campaign site):

Andrew Yang was born in upstate New York in 1975. His parents immigrated from Taiwan in the 1960s and met in graduate school. His dad was a researcher at IBM who generated 69 patents in his career, and his mom was the systems administrator at a local university. He studied economics and political science at Brown and went to law school at Columbia. After a brief stint as a corporate lawyer, Yang ran a national education company that grew to become a national leader. His education company was acquired, and he decided to take the earnings and commit to creating jobs in cities hit hard by the financial crisis. By that time, Yang says he understood the power of entrepreneurship to generate economic growth, so he founded Venture for America, an organization that helps entrepreneurs create jobs in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. In its first year, VFA trained 40 fellows; by 2017, more than 500 VFA fellows and alumni had launched dozens of companies and helped create over 2,500 jobs across the country. Yang received several awards from the Obama White House, being named a Champion of Change in 2012 and a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship in 2015. He believes that VFA resonates with so many people because it’s clear that there’s a growing problem in the United States: automation is destroying jobs and entire regions are being left behind. He says that together we can build a new type of economy: one that puts people first.

Issue: Candidate’s Stance According to Campaign Site:
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
Learn More

The most direct and concrete way for the government to improve your life is to send you a check for $1,000 every month and let you spend it in whatever manner will benefit you the most. The government is not capable of a lot of things, but it is capable of sending large numbers of checks to large numbers of people promptly and reliably. The United States has plenty of resources; they’re just not being distributed to enough people right now. As president, Yang will implement the Freedom Dividend, providing universal basic income (UBI) of $1,000/month to all American adults over the age of 18 so that we may all share in the prosperity we have contributed to and participate in the new economy. UBI is a version of Social Security in which all citizens receive a set amount of money per month, independent of their work status or income. Everyone from a hedge fund billionaire in New York to an impoverished single mom in West Virginia would receive a monthly check of $1,000. If someone is working as a waitress or a construction worker making $18,000 a year, he or she would essentially be making $30,000 with UBI. UBI eliminates the disincentive to work that most people find troubling about traditional welfare programs—if you work, you could actually start saving and get ahead. With the growing threat of automation, the concept has gained renewed attention, with trials being run in Oakland, Canada, and Finland as well as in India and other parts of the developing world. Today, people tend to associate UBI with technology utopians. But a form of UBI almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling in the Senate.


Medicare for All
Learn More
Health care should be a basic right for all Americans. Right now, if you get sick, you have two things to worry about—how to get better and how to pay for it. Too many Americans are making terrible, impossible choices between paying for health care and other needs. Yang wants to provide high-quality health care to all Americans and believes that a Medicare for All system is the most efficient way to accomplish that. He believes such a system would be a massive boost to the economy, as people will be able to start businesses and change jobs without fear of losing their health insurance. In addition to creating a Medicare for All system, Yangs wants to shift the way doctors are compensated to promote holistic and empathic care and create incentives for, and invest in, innovative treatment methods and methodologies.


Human-Centered Capitalism
Learn More
Americans need to make the markets serve them rather than the other way around. Profit-seeking companies are organized to maximize their bottom line at every turn, which will naturally lead to extreme policies and outcomes. Americans need government leaders who are truly laser-focused on the public interest above all else and will lead companies to act accordingly. As president, Yang will change the way the United States measures the economy, from GDP and the stock market to a more inclusive set of measurements that ensures humans are thriving, not barely making it by. New measurements like median income and standard of living, health-adjusted life expectancy, mental health, childhood success rates, social and economic mobility, absence of substance abuse, and other measurements will give Americans a much clearer and more powerful sense of how they are doing both individually and as a society. Yang also wants to rein in corporate excesses by appointing regulators who are paid a lot of money—competitive with senior jobs in the private sector—but then will be prohibited from going to private industry afterward. Regulators need to be focused on making the right decisions and policies for the public with zero concern for their next position. The government’s goal should be to drive individuals and organizations to find new ways to improve the standards of living of individuals and families on these dimensions. In order to spur development, the government should issue a new currency—the Digital Social Credit—which can be converted into dollars and used to reward people and organizations who drive significant social value. This new currency would allow people to measure the amount of good that they have done through various programs and actions.


Other Issues: Yang has addressed 104 issue areas in detail on his campaign site. Visit his site to further research his platform: Andrew Yang’s Policy Platform


Candidate: Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
Campaign Slogan: Lead with Love

Short Bio (excerpted from campaign site):

Polynesian-Caucasian, Tulsi Gabbard was born in 1981 in Leloaloa, American Samoa, the fourth of five children born to Carol and State Senator Mike Gabbard. She grew up in Hawaii after moving there at two years old. Gabbard graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a degree in International Business. At the age of 19, she co-founded Healthy Hawaii Coalition (HHC), a nonprofit grassroots organization whose mission is to protect the environment and improve individual and community health. In 2002, at 21 years old, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii State Legislature, where she served on the Education, Higher Education, Tourism, and Economic Development Committees. In 2004, when Gabbard’s fellow soldiers from the 29th Brigade were called to war in Iraq, she volunteered to join them. In 2006, she went to Washington, D.C., to serve in the Senate as a legislative aide to Senator Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii. There, she advised Senator Akaka on issues relating to energy independence, homeland security, the environment, and veterans affairs. After returning home from her second deployment to the Middle East in 2009, Gabbard offered to serve on the Honolulu City Council and was elected on November 3, 2010. She served as chairperson of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs Committee, as vice chair of the Budget Committee, and as a member of the Zoning and Public Works Committee. In 2012, Gabbard ran for the House of Representatives for Hawaii’s Second Congressional District and defeated the former mayor of Honolulu in an upset victory in the Democratic primary. She went on to win the general election. When she took office in 2013, she became one of only two female combat veterans in the House and the first American Hindu ever elected to Congress.

Issue: Candidate’s Stance According to Campaign Site:
The War on Terror
Learn More

To defeat ISIS and other jihadist groups that have declared war on the United States, Gabbard believes the United States must do four things: Immediately end the illegal and counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad; defeat ISIS militarily; find a political solution; and defeat ISIS and other Islamist militants ideologically.


Universal Healthcare
Learn More
Gabbard believes that our present health care system is organized for the benefit of big insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and not for the American people. While the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, many issues remain with it, including escalating costs and high copayments/deductibles. Most importantly, 27 million Americans are still uninsured. All Americans should have access to affordable health care through Medicare or a public option. Gabbard believes we must ensure universal health care and empower the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to bring down the price of prescription drugs.


Campaign Finance Reform
Learn More
Gabbard is committed to campaign finance reform, taking big-money superPACs out of politics, and empowering the people and their voices in our democracy. Some ways she suggests doing this include: Fighting to establish a system to provide public funds that will amplify small donations to federal candidates who agree to lower contribution limits, working to reduce barriers to the ballot box and increase turnout, supporting meaningful contribution limits so a wealthy few cannot use their economic power to shut out ordinary citizens, and working to strengthen disclosure requirements for outside groups.


Other Issues: Gabbard has addressed several other issue areas on her old campaign site (from her run for Congress). So, until her presidential site is updated, visit this site to further research her policy ideas: Tulsi Gabbard on the Issues (Congressional Election Site)


Discussion Questions

  1. Had you heard of any of these candidates prior to reading this? If not, why might that be? If so, in what context had you heard about them? If not, why might that be?
  2. Looking at this list, do you notice anything interesting about the candidates? Are there any noticeable trends in their platforms, backgrounds, campaign language, stances on issues, etc.?
  3. Are there any candidates from this list who immediately jump out at you as someone you agree with on any specific issues?
  4. Of the candidates listed here, are there any that you think would have a chance of winning the Democratic nomination? Or a chance of defeating President Donald Trump? Why or why not?
  5. Imagine that a less well-known candidate (like one of the three above) won the Democratic nomination. Do you think choosing a relatively unknown candidate to face President Trump would be a good or bad strategy for the Democratic Party? Why?
Featured Image:


Should Washington, DC, Become a State?

Washington DC License PlateIf you visit Washington, DC, one of the things you may notice is the license plates on local vehicles.

While the inhabitants of the District of Columbia pay federal taxes, they do not have voting representation in Congress – just one delegate whose votes do not count. So since 2000, after approval by the Mayor and City Council, DC residents have had a choice to use their license plates as a form of protest. “Taxation Without Representation” harkens back to the causes of the Revolutionary War and the principles under which it was fought.

The creation of a federal district was outlined in the Constitution, Article I, Clause 17 which allows Congress “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be…” This allowed Congress to create a federal district over which they had power as it would not be part of a state.

As Washington, DC has grown, so has the frustration of its population. Its citizens were not allowed the right to vote in the Presidential election until the passage of the 23rdAmendment in 1961 which gave the District three Electoral Votes for President. But still, they have no voting representation in Congress.

Activists in Washington, DC are now trying to get the city approved as the 51st state. With a population (estimated at 693,000 in 2017) greater than Vermont or Wyoming, its residents argue that they deserve two Senators and a Representative as much as any states are entitled to them. They argue that the residents pay taxes, serve in the military and contribute to the welfare of the nation as a whole, so they should be entitled to the same rights.

Those who oppose Washington, DC becoming a state explain that there was a reason that the framers of the Constitution did not want the federal district to gain too much power. In Federalist #431, one of the authors of the Constitution and future President James Madison, explained that if the capital were in a state, that state would have too much power as members of Congress would be beholden to it as part-time residents.  However, Madison also writes that while not part of a state, the federal district’s citizens “will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them.” This part of Federalist #43 is used by supporters of DC having representation in Congress to show that it wasn’t the intent for them to be disenfranchised.

In the election of November, 2016, DC voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to make Washington the nation’s 51st state.2 To get around the Constitutional requirement that the federal district be under the control of Congress, the referendum carved out the area of the city with the White House, Congress and many of the federal departments as “federal district.” But the rest of the city would become the state of “New Columbia” with two Senators and a Representative. The referendum passed with over 78% of the vote.3

While she can’t vote on legislation, Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s delegate to the House of Representatives, did introduce a bill, H.R.51, the “Washington D.C. Admission Act” which would admit Washington, minus the federal properties, into the Union as the 51st state. While it is very unlikely it will pass through Congress right now, the groundwork is being laid for the possibility that the State of New Columbia will add its star to the American flag sometime in the future.


Discussion Questions

  1. Is using a license plate an appropriate form of protest? Why or why not?
  2. What are the strongest arguments in support of Washington DC becoming a state?
  3. What are the strongest arguments against Washington DC becoming a state?
  4. Do you support statehood for Washington? Why or why not?
  5. There is an argument that in order for Washington DC to become a state with representation, a Constitutional Amendment would need to be adopted allowing such a change. Do you think the current proposal, to carve out a federal district out of the federal buildings downtown and let the rest of the city become the new state, is allowable or do you believe the Constitution would have to be amended?  How do you support your position?


Featured Image: A sign supporting D.C. statehood on display outside an early voting site in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
[1} Madison, James. Federalist #43. (1788)
[2] Davis, Aaron C, “District voters overwhelmingly approve referendum to make D.C. the 51ststate.” Washinton Post, 8 November 2016.
[3] “Washington, DC Statehood Referendum (November 2016). Ballotopedia.,_Statehood_Referendum_(November_2016)


Trade War: What Is It Good For?

This past Friday, President Trump announced a new round of tariffs on $200 billion dollars’ worth of goods from China, increasing the rate from 10% to 25%. On Sunday, China announced retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion dollars’ worth of US goods increasing to a rate of 20-25%.1 The so-called ‘trade war’ between the US and China has been ongoing since the summer of 2018 and there is no clear end in sight. So, what does all of this mean?


Trade War: What Does It Mean?

A trade war usually centers on two nations with a trade imbalance. A trade imbalance occurs when Nation A imports more from Nation B than Nation B imports from Nation A.  Such imbalances are normal since it’s impossible for any trade relationship to ever be 100% balanced. However, when the imbalance gets too extreme it can start having a negative effect on the economy of whichever country is importing more goods. Generally speaking it essentially means that one country is getting more benefit out of the trade relationship than the other.

One way to offset this imbalance is by imposing tariffs. Tariffs are a fee that countries can place on certain goods, typically on imports. For example, let’s say a shopper who lives in Nation A goes to the supermarket to buy apples. Apples from Nation A are $2.50/lb while apples from Nation B are $2.00/lb. Naturally, the shopper buys the cheaper apples from Nation B, as do most other shoppers. As a result, Nation B’s apple growers make money, Nation A’s apple growers do not.

To address this problem the government of Nation A might impose a 30% tariff on apples from Nation B. When that shopper goes back to the grocery store to buy apples, Nation A’s apples are still $2.50/lb but now Nation B’s apples are $2.60/lb. That shopper now chooses to purchase Nation A’s apples, along with most other shoppers, and now Nation A’s apple growers make money while Nation B’s do not.

trade war occurs when rather than yield to the pressure of tariffs, a country imposes its own tariffs instead. In our example, after Nation A imposes the tariff on Nation B’s apples, Nation B responds by placing a similar tariff on Nation A’s oranges. Both countries try to get the other to back off from tariffs by making it too costly to continue.


The US-China Trade War

With the US and China now embroiled in a trade war the question becomes: ‘Why?’ The Trump Administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods are necessary to decrease the trade imbalance between the US and China and will have the effect of growing the US agricultural industry and creating job opportunities in the US.2

However, many experts are skeptical of this plan. The President’s own economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, has stated that while the tariffs will ultimately do more damage to China’s overall economy, the US agricultural industry has been and will continue to be directly damaged as farmers are no longer able to sell soy beans, corn, and pork to Chinese markets.3 Many economists also point to the fact that whatever the goals of a trade war, the immediate result is that prices for consumers rise in both countries, meaning for most Americans the only observable effect of the tariffs will be that their grocery bills cost more.4

The trade war has also produced a precipitous effect on the stock market which opened at a two-month low on Monday as a result of China’s retaliatory tariff announcement. However, many economists argue that these dips in the stock market are usually only short-term.5

Ultimately though, the President’s trade war may be poorly timed if the goal is to restore balance in the US-China trade relationship. While China continues to depend on foreign exports for things like steel, oil, and heavy industrial goods (airplanes, cars, etc.) the Chinese government has also been laying the groundwork for a massive shift away from an export-driven economy to a domestic-focused economy as Chinese consumers gain more wealth and ability to purchase goods.6 While the trade war may be accelerating their timeline and making the transition more risky, the decline in access to foreign goods may wind up boosting Chinese domestic industries as the Chinese government had planned.


Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the government should be involved in regulating trade between countries?
  2. Under what conditions, if any, is it acceptable for the government to impose tariffs?
  3. If it means the economy of the country as-a-whole will improve is it acceptable for the administration to continue the trade war even if it has a negative effect on a specific industry/group (ex. farmers)?
  4. Should the goal of the government always be to protect domestic industries or to pursue policies which make goods cheaper and the economy more efficient?


Featured Image: Associated Press; Andy Wong
[1] Swanson, A., Bradsher, K., & Sullivan, E. (2019, May 13). China Retaliates With Higher Tariffs as Trump Defends U.S. Approach. Retrieved from
[2] Trade wars, Trump tariffs and protectionism explained. (2019, May 10). Retrieved from
[3] Newburger, Emma. (2019, May 12). Kudlow acknowledges US will pay for China tariffs, contradicting Trump. Retrieved from
[4] Trade wars, Trump tariffs and protectionism explained. (2019, May 10). Retrieved from
[5] Wearden, G. (2019, May 13). Trade war: China hits back with new tariffs on US goods – business live. Retrieved from
[6] China showing some steel as industry avoids effects of trade war tariffs. (2019, February 14). Retrieved from


A Flood of Democratic Candidates

The 2020 United States Presidential election is on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 (or 553 days from the publishing of this post) and already there are 21 Democrats who have formally begun their campaigns. Over the next several months, we will take a dive into who the candidates are and what they prioritize. In each candidacy post, we will work in order of when the announcement for president was made and briefly explore a few candidates at a time to make the information easier to digest.

Below is a chart of all current Democratic candidates and a link to their campaign site.

Candidate Title (current or former) Official Start
Campaign Site
a former U.S. representative from Maryland August 10, 2017
an entrepreneur and author from New York November 6, 2017
a U.S. representative from Hawaii January 11, 2019
a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and San Antonio mayor January 12, 2019
a U.S. senator from New York January 15, 2019
a U.S. senator from California January 21, 2019
the mayor of South Bend, Indiana January 23, 2019
Marianne Williamson an author and lecturer January 28, 2019
a U.S. senator from New Jersey February 1, 2019
Elizabeth Warren U.S. senator from Massachusetts February 9, 2019
a U.S. senator from Minnesota February 10, 2019
a U.S. senator from Vermont February 19, 2019
Jay Inslee the governor of Washington March 1, 2019
a former governor of Colorado March 4, 2019
the mayor of Miramar, Florida March 13, 2019
former U.S. representative from Texas March 14, 2019
a former U.S. senator from Alaska April 2, 2019
Tim Ryan a U.S. representative from Ohio April 4, 2019
a U.S. representative from California April 8, 2019
a U.S. representative from Massachusetts April 22, 2019
Joe Biden a former vice president of the United States April 25, 2019


Within the Democratic Party, there are significant differences of opinion on key issues. At times, this is discussed as a contest between progressive Democrats and centrist Democrats.1 Some argue that there are more than two “camps,” dividing the party into three or four factions.2 Regardless of the labels or number of different camps, it is clear that this will be a hotly contested primary that will highlight divisions—and key commonalities—among the Democratic candidates. Already, proposals such as Medicare for All, a living wage, the Green New Deal, and free public college are becoming litmus tests for candidates to show where they stand.3 (NOTE: See our previous blog posts about the Green New Deal and tuition-free public college.) In the coming weeks, less well-known candidates will be struggling to win a place on the debate stage and to win that place securely. There are two ways to ensure a place in the Democratic party debates, and candidates want to meet both thresholds in order to show their strength. Candidates can secure debate spots by receiving at least one percent support in three approved polls or by securing at least 200 donors per state in at least 20 states. Several of the announced candidates are in danger of missing the first debate in late June.4


Discussion Questions

  1. How might the number and types of candidates from one political party impact the election overall? How might it impact the chances of that party winning the presidency?
  2. If you were in charge of the Democratic Party, would you make it more difficult for candidates to secure a position in the debate? Easier? What would you change, if anything?
  3. Looking at this list, do you notice anything interesting about the Democratic candidates who have announced their campaigns? Are there any noticeable trends?
  4. Are there any candidates from this list who immediately jump out at you because of something you know about them? Is what you know about them something having to do with their political views, something personal about them, or both? Does what you know about them make you more or less likely to support their candidacy for President? Why?
  5. Are there any candidates whom you have never heard of before or whom you know very little about their political views? What are some strategies you could use to learn more about those candidates? Why, if at all, is it important to learn more about those candidates?
  6. Of the candidates listed here, are there any that you initially think could have a good chance of defeating President Trump in the 2020 election? Why or why not?


Featured Image: New York Times “Who’s Running for President in 2020?”
[1] Ed Kilgore. “What is a Centrist Democrat, Anyway?” New York Magazine. August 10, 2018.
[2] Noah Redlich. “The Four Democratic Parties.” Harvard Politics. March 19, 2018.
[3] Jennifer Earl. “Three Bernie Sanders Policies Now Embraced by the Democratic Field.” Fox News. April 11, 2019. AND Rashaan Ayesh. “Where the 2020 Presidential Candidates stand on the Green New Deal.” Axios. April 29, 2019.
[4] Maggie Astor, Denise Lu & Matt Stevens. “Who’s in the Democratic Debates, and Who’s in Danger of Missing Them.” The New York Times. April 29, 2019.