California City Approves 1st US Insurance Law for Gun Owners

A California city voted Tuesday night to require gun owners to carry liability insurance in what’s believed to be the first measure of its kind in the United States.

The San Jose City Council overwhelmingly approved the measure despite opposition from gun owners who said it would violate their Second Amendment rights and promised to sue.

The Silicon Valley city of about 1 million followed a trend of other Democratic-led cities that have sought to rein in violence through stricter rules. But while similar laws have been proposed, San Jose is the first city to pass one, according to Brady United, a national nonprofit that advocates against gun violence.

Council members, including several who had lost friends to gun violence, said it was a step toward dealing with gun violence, which Councilman Sergio Jimenez described as “a scourge on our society.”

Having liability insurance would encourage people in the 55,000 households in San Jose who legally own at least one registered gun to have gun safes, install trigger locks and take gun safety classes, Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

The liability insurance would cover losses or damages resulting from any accidental use of the firearm, including death, injury, and property damage, according to the ordinance. If a gun is stolen or lost, the owner of the firearm would be considered liable until the theft or loss is reported to authorities.

However, gun owners who don’t have insurance won’t lose their guns or face any criminal charges, the mayor said.

The council also voted to require gun owners to pay an estimated $25 fee, which would be collected by a yet-to-be-named nonprofit and doled out to community groups to be used for firearm safety education and training, suicide prevention, domestic violence, and mental health services.

The proposed ordinance is part of a broad gun control plan that Liccardo announced following the May 26 mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard that left nine people dead, including the employee who opened fire on his colleagues and then killed himself.

At an hourslong meeting, critics argued that the fee and liability requirements violated their right to bear arms and would do nothing to stop gun crimes, including the use of untraceable build-it-yourself “ghost guns.”

“You cannot tax a constitutional right. This does nothing to reduce crime,” one speaker said.

The measure didn’t address the massive problem of illegally obtained weapons that are stolen or purchased without background checks.

Liccardo acknowledged those concerns.

“This won’t stop mass shootings and keep bad people from committing violent crime,” the mayor said, but he added that most gun deaths nationally are from suicide, accidental shootings or other causes and that many homicides stem from domestic violence.

Liccardo also said gun violence costs San Jose taxpayers $40 million a year in emergency response services.

Some speakers argued that the law would face costly and lengthy court challenges.

Before the vote, Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his group would sue if the proposal took effect, calling it “totally unconstitutional in any configuration.”

However, Liccardo said some attorneys had already offered to defend the city pro bono.

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US to Russia: No Change on NATO, Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the ball is now in Russia’s court after the U.S. hand delivered its written response to Moscow’s stated security concerns over NATO and Ukraine. As VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports, Blinken made clear there will be no change to NATO’s open-door policy to new members, as Russia had demanded.
Producer: Kimberlyn Weeks

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State Department Recap: January 20-26, 2022 

Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:

US, Russia, Ukraine

Following consultations with various European partners as well as Ukraine, the United States and NATO provided written responses to Moscow addressing Russia’s renewed security demands — the latest moves in diplomatic maneuvering aimed at heading off armed conflict.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan delivered the document in person Wednesday to Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Separately, NATO transmitted to Russia its own responses regarding European security in a document described by officials as a few pages in length.

US Responds to Russia’s Security Demands, Renewing Call for Diplomacy 

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman assessed that China’s hosting of the Winter Olympics early next month was a factor in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculation of military actions against Ukraine.

“We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics begin on February 4 — the opening ceremony — and Putin is expected to be there,” Sherman said. “I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine. So, that may affect his timing and his thinking.”

On Sunday, the State Department ordered the departure of eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct-hire employees amid the continued threat of Russian military action against Ukraine. The State Department also asked U.S. citizens in Ukraine to consider departing the country via commercial or other privately available transportation options.

US Orders Departure of Family Members of Ukraine Embassy Staff ​

Burkina Faso

The State Department said it was watching closely “the fluid situation” in Burkina Faso, where a military junta ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore. But the U.S. said it was “too soon” to officially characterize the events in Burkina Faso as a coup.

“We call for the immediate release of President Kabore and other government officials, and for members of the security forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership. We urge all sides in this fluid situation to remain calm and to seek dialogue as a means to resolve grievances,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this week during a press briefing.

Burkina Faso Soldiers Say They Deposed President

US-Iran

The United States warned Iran was just weeks from developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon. The alarm came amid indirect negotiations between the two countries seeking a mutual return to compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.

“[Iran] is getting to the point where its breakout time, the time it would take to produce fissile material for a bomb, is getting down to a matter of a few weeks,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a virtual event Monday. How the U.S. and its allies would deal with the risks will be decided soon, Blinken said, adding that “given what Iran is doing, we can’t allow this to go on.”

As Iran Nears Uranium Breakout Capacity, US Mulls Bomb-Making Scenarios

Human trafficking 

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department released its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.” Blinken called for other countries to improve “collective efforts to comprehensively address human trafficking,” as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

State Department Releases Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

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WTO: China Can Place Duties on $645 Million in US Imports

The World Trade Organization on Wednesday handed a fresh victory to China, permitting it to place duties on $645 million worth of U.S. imports per year, in a long-running anti-dumping dispute with Washington.

The United States is unable to appeal the decision.

“The deeply disappointing decision today by the WTO arbitrator reflects erroneous Appellate Body interpretations that damage the ability of WTO members to defend our workers and businesses from China’s trade-distorting subsidies,” said Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“Today’s decision reinforces the need to reform WTO rules and dispute settlement, which have been used to shield China’s non-market economic practices and undermine fair, market-oriented competition.”

The WTO green light does not mean China will automatically impose the tariffs, in whole or in part, on U.S. imports.

The figure was revealed in an 87-page decision by a WTO arbitrator on the level of countermeasures Beijing could request in its dispute with Washington regarding US countervailing duties (CVD) on certain Chinese products.

The dispute stretches all the way back to 2012, when the WTO set up a panel of experts to try to settle a complaint filed by China over what it said were unfair duties imposed by the United States.

Washington had justified the additional tariffs on products ranging from paper to tires and solar panels, arguing they were being dumped on the market to help Chinese companies grab business.

The WTO Dispute Settlement Body ruled in China’s favor, and the ruling was upheld by its appeals judges in 2014, paving the way for China to retaliate.

Beijing initially asked to be permitted to place tariffs on $2.4 billion in U.S. products each year, but then scaled back its demand to $788.75 million.  

The United States had argued that the appropriate level should not exceed $106 million per year.

The anti-dumping duties are permitted under international trade rules as long as they adhere to strict conditions, and disputes over their use are often brought before the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body.  

Wednesday’s decision marks the second time the WTO has allowed China to retaliate for U.S. anti-dumping duties deemed to be in violation of international trade rules.

In November 2019, a WTO arbitrator permitted China to add duties on up to $3.6 billion worth of U.S. imports, in a separate case.

So far, China has not notified the WTO that it has implemented the approved retaliatory tariffs from that case.  

Washington has long complained about the WTO dispute settlement system, and especially its appeals court, claiming unfair treatment.

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump brought the system to a grinding halt in December 2019 by blocking the appointment of new judges to the Appellate Body.

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Anticipated US Interest Hikes Expected to Reverberate Globally

Wednesday’s signal from the U.S. Federal Reserve on impending interest rate increases is expected to have ramifications beyond America’s shores.

The Fed’s Open Market Committee announced it was keeping, for now, the target range for a key interest rate at near zero but cautioned that with inflation well above 2% and a strong labor market, it expected “it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate.”

The federal funds rate is the interest rate commercial banks charge each other for overnight loans of their excess reserves.

“The committee is of a mind to raise rates at the March meeting,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters Wednesday. “We have our eyes on risks around the world, but the economy should hold up.”

As the dollar serves as the primary international reserve currency, a U.S. interest rate hike would pressure central banks of other countries to also raise their rates for those who want to borrow money.

“The rest of the world has a lot of dollar debt, and even if their debt is in local currencies, their central banks will often have to raise interest rates to offset the U.S. rate increases to try to maintain some currency stability,” said Gerard DiPippo, senior fellow with the economics program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Raising interest rates is aimed at stifling consumer demand to address all of this money that’s sloshing around in our economy, and that’s going to affect consumers here, as well as producers of goods and other countries that rely on the U.S. market,” said Sarah Anderson, global economy project director at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Inflation ‘transmitted through trade’

Inflation in the United States is at a 40-year high amid surging consumer demand for goods, a strengthening domestic job market and pandemic-caused supply chain disruptions, including for critical semiconductors.

“The price of U.S. exports increased by more than the price of U.S. imports last year, so in a sense, the U.S. is exporting inflation because the cost of producing things in the U.S. has increased faster than the imports going into it from overseas. So, the inflation can be transmitted through trade,” DiPippo told VOA.

Some economists and policy analysts see the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden confusing structural and cyclical economic matters as it struggles to tame inflation.

“The cyclical phenomenon — inflation — over the next year or so, really only the Fed has the tools to deal with that,” DiPippo said. “Even if the Biden administration is able to increase subsidies to produce things in the United States or increase competition through regulation, those things take time. And we’re talking about inflation over the next year or two, not over the next five years. So, there’s a mismatch.”

The White House has repeatedly said that it is prioritizing lowering prices to help American households and that the best way to accomplish it is through increased competition.

“Competition results in lower prices for families. Competition results in fair wages for workers. And as you all know, competition encourages companies to innovate,” Biden said on Monday during a meeting of the White House Competition Council.

Prices have been surging in the United States and other countries since last year amid serious shortages of workers and the goods they produce. That has the International Monetary Fund predicting slower growth and faster inflation for the world’s biggest economies.

“People have shifted from spending money on services, like going out to restaurants and theaters, during the pandemic to buying more stuff,” Anderson told VOA. That has put more pressure on manufacturers, especially in countries such as China and Vietnam, which are having difficulty keeping pace with demand because so many workers have been sidelined by the pandemic.

“We can raise interest rates, but I don’t think the problem is going to go away until we end the pandemic,” Anderson added.

China’s “No-COVID policy may cause more lockdowns,” exacerbating the supply chain woes, Powell, the Fed chair, warned on Wednesday. “There’s plenty of risk out there.”

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США запропонували «серйозний дипломатичний шлях» – Блінкен про відповідь Росії

США відкриті до діалогу, але «ясно дають зрозуміти, що є основні принципи, які ми прагнемо підтримувати і захищати»

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As Iran Nears Uranium Breakout Capacity, US Mulls Bomb-Making Scenarios

With the United States warning that Iran is just weeks from developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, there is disagreement among Washington experts on the likelihood of Iran rushing to build such a weapon, and how the U.S. and its allies should deal with that risk. 

“[Iran] is getting to the point where its breakout time, the time it would take to produce fissile material for a bomb, is getting down to a matter of a few weeks,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a virtual event Monday.

The U.S. and Iran have been negotiating indirectly since last April to see if they can secure a mutual return to compliance with a 2015 deal in which Tehran promised to curb nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for sanctions relief from the U.S. and other world powers.

“I think that will be decided in the next few weeks, because again, given what Iran is doing, we can’t allow this to go on,” Blinken said.   

Iran says its nuclear activities are for civilian use and denies seeking nuclear weapons.

The U.S. left the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump said it was not tough enough on Tehran and unilaterally reimposed U.S. sanctions. Iran retaliated a year later by starting a process of increasingly exceeding JCPOA limits on its nuclear work.

The U.S and Iran decided to start indirect talks in Vienna last year, through the mediation of world powers, after President Joe Biden succeeded Trump and pledged to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran would return to limiting its nuclear activities under the deal.

The agreement was intended to prevent Iran from producing enough highly enriched uranium to make one nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency says 25 kilograms of the uranium-235 isotope, which is accumulated when about 28 kilograms of uranium is enriched to 90% purity, is the breakout quantity at which the “possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded.”

Israel long has viewed a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat because of repeated calls by the Islamic Republic for the destruction of the Jewish state. Israeli officials have estimated it would take Iran two years after attaining a breakout capacity to develop, if it wanted, a nuclear-armed missile that could reach Israel. 

U.S. physicist David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told VOA Persian in a recent interview that Iran also could develop a cruder nuclear weapon in a much shorter time once it achieves a breakout capacity.

“Iran could rush to its first nuclear explosive, in our estimate, in about three months,” Albright said.

Georgetown University international relations professor Matthew Kroenig, who previously served as a U.S. Defense Department adviser on nuclear deterrence policy, told VOA that Iran could use that time to build a “gun-type” nuclear bomb.

“This is such a simple bomb design that the United States didn’t even test it before dropping one on Hiroshima in 1945,” Kroenig said. 

Kroenig said Iran could deploy such a weapon by dropping it from a plane, driving it to a target in a truck, or putting it in a container on a ship that sails into a port. “There is a lot of mayhem that Iran could cause before it gets to a fully deliverable warhead on a ballistic missile,” he said.

Other analysts interviewed by VOA said there is little point in speculating about weaponization steps Iran could take post-breakout, because it does not appear to have made a decision to reach the breakout stage, let alone go beyond it.

Israeli military intelligence chief Major-General Tamir Hayman told Israeli news site Walla in October that Iran was “not heading toward a bomb right now.” Similarly, U.S. CIA chief William Burns told a Wall Street Journal forum on December 6 that he did not “see any evidence that Iran’s Supreme Leader has made a decision to move to weaponize,” according to CBS News.

Ploughshares Fund President Emma Belcher, whose grant-making organization seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, said ongoing IAEA inspections of Iran’s declared nuclear sites and Iranian leaders’ own statements also indicate a lack of intent to weaponize. “So, I am not concerned right now that Iran is going to do that,” she said.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of advocacy group Arms Control Association, said Iran also would see little benefit in making a crude nuclear bomb to use for blackmail or as a terrorist weapon against another country.

“Iran is a state with territory to defend and is concerned with regime preservation,” Kimball said. “Why would it, at great cost, give its terrorist proxies a nuclear device? The world would know where the fissile material came from. There are radiological fingerprints. So, there’s no escaping the attribution problem,” he added.

Even if Iran were to produce a breakout quantity of fissile material, Belcher said the U.S. and its allies could use diplomacy to try to secure Tehran’s agreement not to make it into a bomb.

“You could have a deal for Iran to down-blend that material so that it is no longer highly enriched, or you could ship that material elsewhere so that Iran cannot use it to create a nuclear weapon,” Belcher said.

Kimball said the international community also could use economic pressure, military strikes or covert action to make it difficult for a post-breakout Iran to build a nuclear bomb. He said if Iran tried to weaponize fissile material in secret by ejecting IAEA inspectors, further sabotage against Iranian nuclear sites would be “very likely.”

Iran has accused Israel of carrying out two blasts that damaged its Natanz uranium enrichment facility in July 2020 and April 2021. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

Scott Roecker, deputy vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative organization that advocates for reducing nuclear threats to humanity, said Iran has shown an increased desire in recent weeks to reach a deal to revive the JCPOA. But if that does not happen, he said continued diplomacy still would be the best way for the U.S. and its allies to deal with an Iran that has enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb.

“I don’t think there needs to be any drastic steps in the next few weeks, should Iran get to that point, because it still would have to take more steps to achieve a true nuclear weapon capability,” Roecker said.

But hoping that a post-breakout Iran will decide not to weaponize, and assuming that countermeasures will work in case it does, is a strategy that could backfire on the U.S., warned Kroenig and Albright.

“Once Iran gets the first bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium, we could try to negotiate with it for a year or two. But why would Iran invest billions of dollars and endure sanctions and threats of military strikes to get one screwdriver turn away from a nuclear weapon, and then voluntarily stop short in a negotiation?” Kroenig asked. “If Iran has a clear path to the nuclear-armed club, it eventually will build an arsenal like North Korea and Pakistan did.”

If Iran were to build a crude nuclear bomb and use it without claiming responsibility, Kroenig said nuclear forensic scientists would look at the explosion and try to determine what triggered it, but the process could take months and lead to several countries being identified as possible culprits. “In this scenario, it’s not obvious that the U.S. would take decisive action, given the uncertainty of where the bomb came from and the risk of escalation if Iran retaliates with another nuclear explosion,” he said.

Albright said a post-breakout Iran also could detonate a crude nuclear device underground within months in a symbolic test of its capabilities. He said such a test likely would heighten regional tensions and lead to nuclear proliferation, with Iran’s Gulf Arab rivals wanting to start nuclear weapon programs.

“These scenarios create more urgency for us to put up firebreaks so that Iran doesn’t cross the nuclear breakout threshold,” Albright said. “We are close to failing in that effort.”

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НАТО у письмовій відповіді закликає Росію до деескалації – Столтенберґ

У НАТО відмовилися зобов’язатись не надавати членства Україні, як цього хоче Росія

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US Warns of Risks of Doing Business in Myanmar

The United States issued an advisory Wednesday warning of the increased risk of conducting business in Myanmar nearly a year after a military coup in the Southeast Asian country, which is also known as Burma. 

The advisory from the U.S. State Department warned it was especially risky for “individuals, businesses and financial institutions and other persons” to be associated with business activity in Myanmar “that could benefit the Burmese military regime.” 

The advisory cited the possibility of exposure to illegal financial and reputational risks by doing business there, and using supply chains controlled by the military. 

“The coup and subsequent abuses committed by the military have fundamentally changed the direction of the economic and business environment in Burma,” the advisory said. 

Former de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) led Myanmar since its first open democratic election in 2015, but Myanmar’s military contested the November 2020 election results, claiming widespread electoral fraud, largely without evidence.

The military removed the NLD government in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, detaining Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Since then, the military government has used deadly force in clampdowns on protests while escalating efforts to neutralize ethnic minority armies and newly formed militias allied with the NLD government. Wednesday’s advisory said the military “has killed more than 1,400 innocent people” since its takeover. 

The advisory said state-owned enterprises were of greatest concern, as well as the gems and precious metals, real estate, construction and defense industries, noting that they have been identified as providing economic resources for the junta. 

The advisory was issued after oil giants Chevron Corporation and TotalEnergies said last week the worsening humanitarian situation prompted them to withdraw from the country, where they were working together on a major gas project. 

 

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US Central Bank Could Signal New Economic Policies

U.S. central bank policymakers are meeting in Washington on Wednesday and could signal how soon they plan to curb their direct support for the pandemic-hit American economy and raise the bank’s benchmark interest rate to curtail rising prices for consumer goods. 

The Federal Reserve is not expected to immediately increase its interest rate, which it has held at near zero percent since the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. 

But the policymakers could indicate whether they plan to raise the rate in March, perhaps by a quarter-percentage point, as hinted previously, and how many more times they might do so again throughout 2022. 

Their goal in raising the interest rate, perhaps four times this year, is to curb consumer demand and, correspondingly, curtail inflation. The annual inflation rate stood at 7% in December, the biggest surge in U.S. consumer prices in four decades. 

The Fed’s benchmark rate plays a key role in the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, because it influences the cost of borrowing for consumers when they buy such big-ticket items as cars and houses and for businesses for the machinery and goods they need to operate. 

The Fed policymakers are also weighing when to end the central bank’s direct support of the U.S. economy, which has recovered faster from the pandemic than economists had once predicted.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.9% in December, not far above the five-decade low of 3.5% recorded before the coronavirus swept into the country. At its peak, in April 2020, the jobless rate was 14.7%. 

The prospect of higher interest rates in 2022, even though predicted for months, has frightened investors throughout January, with one broad U.S. stock index, the S&P 500, plunging about 8% from a record high at the beginning of the month. 

As a result, some financial analysts say they are hoping the Fed will give some clarity about its plans for the rest of the year. Policymakers are already slowing a bond purchase program they had been using to boost the economy. 

Ahead of the Fed meeting, Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst, suggested in a statement that “the initial interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve could come in March. But could it be a larger, half-point hike? If there is any likelihood of that happening, this is the meeting where the Fed needs to begin prepping markets for that possibility.” 

“Mortgage rates (for homebuyers) have surged since the beginning of the year as the outlook takes shape for interest rate hikes that are sooner and faster than previously expected,” he said. “Mortgage rates are still well below 4% but in an environment of already sky-high home prices, more would-be home buyers are priced out of the market with each move higher in mortgage rates.” 

 

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COVID-19: країни Європи фіксують рекордну кількість хворих на тлі поширення «омікрону»

Румунія та Болгарія, країни Європейського Союзу з найменшим відсотком вакцинованих, також мають найбільшу кількість щоденних смертей

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Reports: Liberal US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to Retire

U.S. media reports say Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, for 27 years a staunch liberal voice on the country’s highest court, has decided to retire, handing President Joe Biden his first chance at filling an open seat after former President Donald Trump appointed three conservatives that tipped the court’s ideological balance sharply to the right. 

The 83-year-old Breyer, according to news accounts in Washington, plans to remain on the court through the end of the court’s current term in June, or until a replacement is named by Biden and confirmed by the politically divided Senate. 

Biden, unlike Trump when he ran for the presidency in 2016 and for re-election in 2020, has not released a list of judges he might consider for appointment to the nine-member Supreme Court.

But Biden, during his run for the presidency, has said he would name the court’s first Black woman, following his selection of then-Senator Kamala Harris, of Jamaican and South Asian descent, as his vice president. 

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Посол США привіз до МЗС Росії відповідь на вимоги про «гарантії безпеки»

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Італія в рамках НАТО долучається до деескалації на українсько-російському кордоні – міністр

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California Hotels Use Robots to Do Service Jobs

The current difficulty in filling many service jobs in the U.S. is leaving hotels scrambling to provide room service. But with a bit of ingenuity and a little high-tech help some American hotels are finding a way. Angelina Bagdasaryan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

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Заарештовано голову компанії, пов’язаної з дочкою експрезидента Казахстану

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Supreme Court to Revisit Affirmative Action as Conservative Majority Flexes Muscle

The Supreme Court this week announced that it would hear two cases challenging the practice by some U.S. universities of using the race of an applicant as one of the factors that affect admissions.

The announcement, six years after the court upheld the use of affirmative action in a case involving the University of Texas at Austin, is another signal that the high court’s new conservative majority is willing to wade into thorny issues on the fault lines of U.S. politics. 

The court said it would combine two cases — one brought against Harvard University and another against the University of North Carolina. The central question identified by the court in both cases is whether it should overturn its own ruling from 2003 in the case Grutter v. Bollinger, which the court upheld in 2016, that allowed universities to use race as a factor in admissions decisions. 

Both cases were brought by an organization called Students for Fair Admissions. In a statement, the group’s president, Edward Blum, said, “In a multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation like ours, the college admissions bar cannot be raised for some races and ethnic groups but lowered for others. Our nation cannot remedy past discrimination and racial preferences with new discrimination and different racial preferences.” 

Blum’s organization claims that Harvard and the University of North Carolina effectively discriminate against Asian American and white students to the extent that they give any preference to members of other groups, notably African Americans, when making admissions decisions.

The Harvard case comes to the Supreme Court on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which found that the university’s admissions system, while “not perfect,” was not racially discriminatory. 

 

‘Merit’ v. ‘accidents of life’ 

Supporters of affirmative action point out that many of the factors typically considered “merit” by advocates of completely race-blind admissions cannot be reliably disentangled from privilege. Do students who achieve excellent grades and test scores with the aid of college-educated parents, or of tutors hired by their parents, truly exhibit more merit than students who achieved slightly lower marks without any outside assistance?

“Those built-in advantages ought to not count as merit. Those aren’t merit,” said Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law (Emeritus) at the University of Houston Law Center. 

“Those are accidents of life,” Olivas told VOA. “Children can take advantage of opportunities, but the opportunity structures are unequally distributed in our society, and higher education is probably the best manifestation of that.” 

The current college admission system may be imperfect, Olivas said. However, he added, “As (Former British Prime Minister Winston) Churchill once said of democracy, I think it’s the worst of all systems, except for the alternatives. What would you substitute in the alternative?” 

 

Multiple flashpoints 

The court’s decision to take on an affirmative action case creates another potential flashpoint in the so-called “culture wars” that dominate political discourse in the United States.

So far this term, the court has heard arguments in an abortion case that many experts believe will lead to the overturning or gutting of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which determined that states are not allowed to outlaw access to abortion services

The court has also heard arguments in a controversial gun rights case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., v. Bruen, which could result in the invalidation of numerous state-level gun laws that restrict the ability of individuals to carry firearms outside of their homes. 

Decisions in the abortion and gun rights cases are expected in the coming months. The affirmative action case will not be heard until the court’s next term begins in October. 

The court has already ruled on some controversial cases during its current term.

Earlier this month, it blocked the Biden administration’s effort to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to require workers to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19 or have a masking and testing policy.

Last August, the court required the Biden administration to reinstitute the controversial Remain in Mexico program initiated by the Trump administration, which required asylum-seekers stopped at the southern border to remain outside U.S. territory while their applications are processed.

 

Energized conservative majority 

Because former President Donald Trump was able to appoint three new members to the court during his four years in office, the ideological makeup of the court shifted dramatically in a short time. The 5-4 conservative majority that existed during former President Barack Obama’s final term in office often produced rulings friendly to the political left, when a centrist conservative crossed over to vote with the court’s liberal bloc, including a landmark 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. 

However, the court is now solidly conservative by a margin of 6-3. 

“You have a very strong working majority of conservative voices in the court now,” said Frederick M. Lawrence, a distinguished lecturer at Georgetown Law Center and the former president of Brandeis University. “By any objective measure, this is the most conservative court in the country in roughly a century.” 

Lawrence said it would not be unreasonable to expect the court to begin revisiting many decisions made by previous incarnations of the court which American conservatives have long opposed.

“There are at least some justices of that conservative group who have very strong views about what the law ought to be, what the court has done over the past quarter-century or half-century, and what they’re trying to roll back,” he told VOA. 

While liberal groups brace for likely defeats, setbacks and reversals, conservatives are eager to continue advancing legal cases that could draw the high court’s attention and, they hope, result in sweeping decisions favorable to their side. 

 

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