Supreme Court Preview: The 2021-2022 Term

The Supreme Court begins its new term on the first Monday in October, a tradition that dates back to 1917.1 This year, that meant yesterday, Monday, October 4. In the term ahead, the Court is set to take up many key constitutional and legal issues. To explore those issues, Close Up is offering a free webinar for students and teachers with University of Illinois Chicago law professor Steven Schwinn on October 13.

LEARN MORE AND REGISTER: Close Up Conversation with Steven Schwinn

Three of the biggest issues that the Supreme Court will take up this year are abortion and reproductive rights, gun control and Second Amendment rights, and separation of church and state.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stems from a challenge to a 2018 Mississippi law that bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the Mississippi law is upheld, it will allow other states to pass similar laws. While this would not completely overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade (1973) decision, it would reduce the window in which women could seek to terminate a pregnancy from 24 weeks to 15 weeks.2 Oral arguments for this case take place on December 1.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen stems from a challenge to restrictions on who can obtain a permit to carry concealed weapons. The handgun permit in question requires that applicants show “proper cause” for needing a concealed handgun and that applicants be “of good moral character.” Gun rights activists and other critics argue that the restrictions are too vague and a violation of constitutional rights.3 This case will be heard on November 3.

In Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court is again evaluating the relationship between church and state. Maine passed a law barring the use of public funds, such as student financial aid, to pay tuition at religious schools. If the Maine law is overturned, families would be able to use government financial aid money at “sectarian” religious schools.4 This case is set to be heard on December 8.

In addition to these issues, the Supreme Court is taking up cases about:

  • Free speech on college campuses5
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) and disability protections6
  • State secrets and the authority of law enforcement to withhold information from the public and defendants7
  • The death penalty8

All of these cases come at a time when Gallup polling shows that approval of the job the Supreme Court is doing is at its lowest since 2000.9 Given these cases and the nature of political polarization, this could be one of the most impactful—and controversial—Court terms of the past several decades.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
[1] National Constitution Center:
[2] NPR:
[3] Fox News:
[4] CNBC:
[5] Fox News: 6
[6] CNBC:
[7] Time:
[8] Ibid.
[9] Gallup:


Texas S.B. 8 and the Future of Reproductive Rights

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court declined to review a new Texas law (S.B. 8) restricting abortion access in the state after six weeks of pregnancy. Under the provisions of the law, women in Texas are legally prohibited from receiving an abortion, doctors are prohibited from performing an abortion, and third parties (such as friends, family, and volunteers) are prohibited from assisting anyone who intends to have or has had an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.1

The law makes exceptions for “medical emergencies” but not for rape, incest, nonviable pregnancies, or fetuses with fatal or untreatable conditions. Doctors who perform abortions and persons who assist abortion patients can be sued by any citizen for $10,000 in civil court, with the person bringing the suit not liable for any legal fees if they win the case. At the same time, even if a defendant against such charges is successful in court, they are on the hook to pay their own legal fees.2

Many pro-life groups have cheered the new law, while pro-choice activists have called it a violation of women’s constitutional rights as established by Roe v. Wade (1973).3

Unpacking Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Prior to 1973, some states allowed abortion while others restricted or outlawed it. A Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, changed all of that and resulted in the legalization of abortion across the United States. The Court’s 7-2 ruling cited a right to privacy in the 14th Amendment that extended to a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. However, the Court found that the right to an abortion is not absolute, and that it must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life.4

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that no restriction (other than requiring that the procedure be performed by a licensed doctor and take place in medically safe conditions) could be placed on abortion access in the first trimester of pregnancy (up to 12 weeks). In the second trimester (up to 24 weeks), a state could apply restrictions related to a woman’s health. In the last trimester (25 weeks and beyond), a state could outlaw abortion unless it was necessary to save the health or life of a mother.5

The Supreme Court revisited the Roe v. Wade decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The 5-4 decision in Casey reaffirmed abortion rights but allowed for states to impose greater restrictions on abortion as long as the procedure was still ultimately accessible. The Court also changed the standard for banning abortion to fetal viability, or the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb.6

LEARN MORE about Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey

(Source: University of Texas/Texas Tribune)

What’s Different About S.B. 8?

The Supreme Court’s prior decisions on abortion were all tied to restrictions imposed by governments. S.B. 8 makes it a crime to receive, deliver, or aid an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Penalties for violating the law are normally enforced by police and by officers of the state, which would make the new law unconstitutional on its face. Instead, by allowing individuals outside of government to sue violators for $10,000, it leaves the responsibility for enforcing the law in the hands of citizens.

Supporters of the law argue that it is not denying women access to abortion. It is simply showing that the people of Texas want more restrictions on the procedure than the federal government allows. Supporters argue that the law does not violate the Constitution and it represents the will of the people of Texas. (Prior to the law’s enactment, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed that 37 percent of respondents wanted to expand abortion rights, 18 percent wanted to keep the status quo, and 32 percent wanted greater restrictions on abortion.7)

Opponents of the law argue that the six-week limit functionally outlaws abortion, which is in clear defiance of the Constitution. They point to the fact that women cannot confirm they are pregnant until at least four weeks into pregnancy, giving them at most two weeks to schedule and receive an abortion in a state with a female population of 13.8 million and 22 facilities allowed to perform abortions.8 Opponents also point to what they view as an unprecedented and dangerous provision which empowers citizens to enforce the law and to profit financially from doing so at little cost to themselves.

LEARN MORE about Elected Officials’ Views on Reproductive Rights

Both before and since the Supreme Court’s decision on S.B. 8, other states have passed restrictions on abortion access, including new laws which were directly inspired by S.B. 8. Texas also recently passed S.B. 4, which limits access to abortion-inducing drugs after seven weeks of pregnancy with criminal penalties that include felony charges, fines, and jail sentences.9

The Supreme Court will hear a case involving Mississippi’s new abortion law on December 1, 2021. That law would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and be enforced by the state, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade that could possibly lead to the Court to overturn that ruling.10 If Roe were to be overturned, it could allow states to decide on their own abortion restrictions, including the possibility of banning the procedure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Studies indicate that a plurality of Americans (46 percent) believe that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. A clear majority of Americans (80 percent) believe it should be legal in at least some circumstances. Alternatively, 19 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in virtually all circumstances. Given the general support for legal abortion in the United States, why do you think it remains such a controversial issue?
  2. Do you believe abortion should be legal in the United States? Do you feel there should or should not be restrictions on access to abortion? Why?
  3. Do you think limits on abortion should be set by state governments or by the federal government? Explain your answer.
  4. Texas S.B. 8 empowers citizens to enforce the law by suing abortion providers or anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion for no less than $10,000. If successful, the plaintiff (the person suing) is paid the money directly and has their legal fees paid for. If unsuccessful, they need only pay their legal fees. No matter the outcome, the defendant (the person being sued) has to pay their own legal fees. Regardless of your views on abortion, do you agree with this system? Do you think this system is fair and reasonable? Why or why not?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Sergio Flores/Getty Images
[2] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.


Teaching the 26th Amendment

One of the most important things that schools can do to promote civic and political engagement is to explicitly teach about elections and voting.1 While this can include teaching about current elections and ballot initiatives or processes such as voter registration, it should also include lessons on the struggle for voting rights by different groups throughout history. One such struggle, the struggle to lower the voting age to 18, culminated in a Constitutional amendment in 1971. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment.2

See our earlier post: 50th anniversary of 26th Amendment post

Here are some resources and ideas to help teachers and students explore the 26th Amendment and discuss the importance of voting:

WATCH this Close Up Conversations webinar in which two people who helped push for the passage of the amendment and one voting rights attorney discuss the significance of the amendment today. After watching the webinar, lead a discussion with students about such questions as:

  • What is the significance of the 26th Amendment today?
  • What strategies and tactics did activists and political leaders use to build support for the passage of the amendment?
  • The speakers are all concerned about challenges to voting rights today. Do you share those concerns? Why or why not?

TEACH our Youth Voting lesson plan. Students will deliberate about the question, “Should the voting age be lowered to 16?”

READ our new Youth Voting resources for middle and high school.

In addition to teaching the 26th Amendment, if you are looking for lessons and activities to celebrate Constitution Day with your students, we have a two lesson plans: 1) Examining the Preamble to teach the Preamble to the Constitution, and 2) Understanding the Constitution as Aspirational that explores the use of constitutional values by activists and political leaders throughout history.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History
[1] Teaching for Democracy Alliance:


Vaccine Mandates: The Way Out of the Pandemic or Presidential Overreach?

No Vaccine MandateLast Thursday, President Biden issued an executive order requiring that all federal employees and employees of federal contractors are required to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, employees working for a company with more than 100 workers must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Finally, those working for businesses that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds must be vaccinated.1 In total this mandate is expected to affect more than 100 million people.2

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that the combination of the large number of unvaccinated people and the extremely infectious Delta variant has made it difficult to stop the spread of the virus in the United States.3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 63% of those eligible for the vaccine have been fully inoculated, but hope that vast majority of Americans will receive the vaccine in order to end the pandemic.4

While the vaccine mandate has been welcomed by many Democrats as a way to curb the spread of the virus, Republicans have mainly voiced opposition. Public opinion generally supports the vaccine mandates, but there is a huge gap among partisan lines.5

White House Vaccinations

Opponents to the vaccine mandate generally present the vaccine as an effective way to protect people from COVID, but see it as an overreach of executive power, a violation of individual liberties, and a way to divide the nation between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.6 Supporters of the mandate have expressed that many vaccines are already mandated at the state level for participation in education or working in the field of health care. They also claim that the mandate is constitutional as it is limited in scope to areas that affect the federal government or to ensure workplace safety.7

Discussion Questions

  1. How, if at all, might the vaccine mandate affect you or your community?
  2. The mandate will likely be challenged in court. What do you predict the outcome might be?
  3. If you were a policy-maker, would you support or oppose this mandate? Explain your reasoning.
  4. Excluding mandates, what are other measures you believe should be taken to address the pandemic?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Stephen Zenner/Reuters
[1] White House.
[2] Reuters.
[3] CNN.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Morning Consultant.
[6] Washington Post.
[7] New York Times.


The United States’ Exit from Afghanistan

After 20 years of U.S. troops maintaining a presence in Afghanistan, the United States began the process of ending its longest war by removing military forces from the region. Ever since he was vice president, President Joe Biden has been a strong advocate for reducing the scope of the military mission in Afghanistan in order to focus more on global counterterrorism efforts.1 In April 2021, he announced that he would fulfill his campaign promise to end what he calls the “forever war,” which began as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.2

On August 31, 2021, the last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan and President Biden declared the war in the region finished. “My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over,” he said in an address to the nation. “It was time to be honest with the American people again. We no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”3

According to Brown University’s The Cost of War Project, at least 801,000 people have died as a direct result of war violence in the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, with approximately 157,000 of those casualties attributed to Afghanistan.4 This number includes armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers.5 The monetary cost of the War on Terror comes to roughly $6.4 trillion, not including the economic effects of job losses and increased interest rates in the United States.6, 7

The heavy costs of this war have encouraged political leaders on both sides of the aisle to discuss an exit from Afghanistan for several years, but it was President Biden who ultimately decided to make the move. Since the exit began, the Biden administration has been under fire for its handling of the withdrawal, with many critics arguing that the exit was chaotic, poorly planned, and poorly executed, and that it wrongly left behind unknown numbers of Afghans who had risked their lives to support U.S. military efforts over the last 20 years. Supporters of the exit point to years of bad decisions that led to a no-win situation, arguing that President Biden should be praised for making a decision his predecessors talked about but never followed through on.

Over the course of the 18-day exit, more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan partners evacuated the country, but not without loss.8 At least 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops lost their lives—the majority in a suicide bombing that took place on August 26 as troops guarded the Kabul airport, attempting to evacuate remaining U.S. citizens and Afghans from the warzone.9

The withdrawal left behind between 100 and 200 people, which has brought harsh criticism of President Biden’s evacuation strategy. When asked about the individuals remaining in Afghanistan, General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, stated, “The military phase is over, but our desire to bring these people out remains as intense as it was before. The weapons have just shifted, if you will, from the military realm to the diplomatic realm, and the Department of State will now take the lead on it.”10

Other critics of the exit strategy believe that the United States should have kept a small number of troops in the region as a stabilizing, strategic force rather than completely withdraw. To this, President Biden said, “When I hear that we could’ve, should’ve continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on.”11

Citing his years of foreign policy experience directly related to this war, President Biden called the withdrawal a success and said, despite claims to the contrary, it had the full support of all of his political and military advisors.12 Some members of Congress urged President Biden to push back the August 31 withdrawal deadline, but he refused, saying, “I was not going to extend a forever war, and I was not going to extend a forever exit.”13 He also stated that, “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”14

In his speech, President Biden reiterated his purpose for the withdrawal. “The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America—not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow,” he said. “That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan. I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.”15

Discussion Questions

  1. What are your thoughts on how the Biden administration carried out the exit from Afghanistan? Explain.
  2. Do you think the United States should have completely left Afghanistan or kept a small force there? Explain.
  3. What responsibility, if any, does the United States have to ensure the safety of Afghan citizens now that the war is over? Explain.
  4. How does this controversy connect to other issues you have heard about in the news? In history?
  5. Do you think the Biden administration made the right choice by ending the war in Afghanistan? Why or why not?

Other Resources 

  • For more information, see Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on the Afghanistan War.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: The Atlantic/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla / U.S. Marine Corps / AP
[1] The Daily Beast:
[2] NPR:
[3] The White House:
[4] Brown University:
[5] Brown University:
[6] Ibid.
[7] Brown University:
[8] Associated Press:
[9] Associated Press:
[10] Department of Defense:
[11] Associated Press:
[12] Ibid.
[13] NBC News:
[14] NPR:
[15] The White House:


The House Passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

On Tuesday, August 24, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by a vote of 219-212.1 The bill is an attempt to reestablish some voting protections that the Supreme Court struck down as outdated and unconstitutional in its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.2 The bill faces a steep climb in the Senate, where it may not receive a vote.3 The bill is named for John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights leader, and former chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who passed away in 2020.4

LISTEN: “The Right To Vote: The Impact Of Shelby County v. Holder on Voting Rights,” from NPR

In a written statement, Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the passage of the legislation. “Congressman John Lewis was an American hero who dedicated his life to fighting for our nation’s highest ideals,” she said. “Today, the House of Representatives honored Congressman Lewis by passing his namesake legislation, which restores and expands the historic Voting Rights Act. This important step represents progress, but there is more work to do. The Senate must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so it can become the law of the land and protect voters across the country.”5

What Is in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

The legislation restores “voting rights protections that have been dismantled by the Supreme Court. Under the proposal, the Justice Department would again police new changes to voting laws in states that have racked up a series of ‘violations,’ drawing them into a mandatory review process known as ‘preclearance.’”6 Essentially, it would require certain jurisdictions “with a history of racial discrimination in voting” to get permission from the Department of Justice to make changes to their voting rules.7

What Are Supporters Saying?

Representative Terri Sewell, D-Ala., argued, “When we see states running amuck, we need federal oversight. If it wasn’t for federal oversight, we not only would not have gotten the Voting Rights Act, we wouldn’t have gotten the Civil Rights Act. After the Shelby v. Holder decision, we saw states like North Carolina and Texas reinstate restrictive voting laws and those voting laws are suppressive, oppressive, and depressive. They stop the people who need to vote from voting.”8

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill. “We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”9

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland contended that the Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” provision was “enormously effective” and helped block “thousands of discriminatory voting changes that would have curtailed the voting rights of millions of citizens in jurisdictions large and small.”10

What Are Opponents Saying?

For the most part, Republicans are not supporting the legislation and will likely filibuster the bill in the Senate. As the bill was being considered in the House, Representative Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top Republican on the House panel that oversees federal elections, denounced the legislation as a “federal takeover” of elections and a “partisan power grab.”11

Representative Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., said the bill would make it easier for advocacy groups and lawyers to “file as many objections as possible to manufacture” lawsuits. “It empowers the attorney general to bully states.”12

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill “unnecessary” because “it’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already.” Furthermore, he said it would “grant to the Justice Department almost total ability to determine the voting systems of every state in America.”13

What’s Next?

The bill still has significant hurdles to clear in the Senate. So far, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the only Republican senator who has indicated she will support the bill.14 There remain opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their senators.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard about election laws and voter suppression in the news or from other sources?
  2. What different laws, ideas, and proposals to address elections and voting concerns have you heard about?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition resonate most with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.
  5. What other proposals or measures would you support to reform voting rights or access?

Get Involved

  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find how to contact them.
  • Call your senator or representative by phone through the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.
  • Post about the bill on Twitter or Instagram using #hr4 or #votingrights.

Related Blog Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
[2] Brennan Center for Justice:
[3] CNN:
[4] BBC News:
[5] CBS News:
[6] Associated Press:
[7] CBS News:
[8] ABC News:
[9] Yahoo News:
[10] CNN:
[11] Politico:
[12] Associated Press:
[13] CNN:
[14] NBC News:


The House Passes a $3.5 Trillion Budget Framework

On August 24, the House of Representatives passed a $3.5 trillion spending bill, committed to passing an infrastructure bill, and moved forward with significant voting rights legislation.1 It was an important step in enacting such a large spending plan, but it was not the final step. Republicans and a number of conservative and moderate Democrats oppose some measures in the spending bill; thus, the final version of the legislation has not yet taken shape.2

What Is in the Current Spending Bill?

The budget framework includes the following spending targets:

  • Over $700 billion for universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, child care for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other grants for higher education3
  • $330 billion to invest in public housing and housing affordability4
  • $200 billion for natural resources and clean energy development5
  • Over $100 billion to address forest fires and drought concerns and to reduce carbon emissions6
  • An increase in the debt ceiling7

Clearly, this bill would lead to significant, structural, economic changes by increasing access to education and housing and taking some steps to address environmental concerns.

What Are Supporters Saying?

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the initial architect of the spending plan, argued that the needs of working- and middle-class people “have been neglected for decades.”8 He noted that “three people own more wealth than the bottom 50%” and that “real wages for workers haven’t increased in almost 50 years.”9

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the budget framework “so transformative [that] we haven’t seen anything like it.”10 In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote, “When we took the majority in the Senate earlier this year, the American people entrusted us with a great responsibility: to make their lives better. I am happy to report that we are making great progress towards that goal.”11 He added, “The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans.”12

What Are Opponents Saying?

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., stated that she does not support such a large bill. “I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans,” said Senator Sinema in a statement. “I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”13

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the budget framework a “historically reckless taxing and spending spree.”14

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “railed against the spending plan, saying it would fuel inflation, lead to higher taxes and energy costs for working Americans and open the border to more illegal immigration.”15

What’s Next?

Now that there are House and Senate versions of this framework, both chambers of Congress will move forward with outlining the specifics of the spending package.6 There are still hurdles to clear, as well as opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their members of Congress.

Discussion Questions

  1. Review the list of what is included in the spending bill. Which of those items would you most highly prioritize? Which would you prioritize the least?
  2. Is there anything that you would add or subtract?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition most resonate with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.

Get Involved

  • Write to your House member about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Call your senators or representative using the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
[1] CNBC:
[2] Politico:
[3] NPR:
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] New York Times:
[8] Associated Press:
[9] Wall Street Journal:
[10] Axios:
[11] NPR:
[12] CNBC:
[13] NBC News:
[14] NPR:
[15] Reuters:
[16] Politico:



Extended Unemployment Benefits: Helping Workers or Holding the Economy Back?

UnemploymentAfter April’s jobs report fell short of predictions and unemployment ticked up for the first time in the last year, some politicians and policymakers, particularly conservatives, called for an end to the generous unemployment insurance (UI) benefits that have been place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.1

Although federal pandemic-related UI benefits are set to cease in September 2021, the majority of Republican-led states have set expiration dates between mid-June and early July. For example, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming will end COVID-19-related UI benefits the week ending June 19.2 So far, no Democrat-led states have sought to end benefits early.

In March 2020, in response to the rise in unemployment due to the pandemic, Congress passed several emergency UI benefits programs designed to help workers maintain financial security as “non-essential” businesses closed due to stay-at-home orders.3 Subsequent legislation, most recently the American Rescue Plan Act, increased UI benefits, expanding the number of eligible workers, increasing the number of weeks workers are eligible, suspending the requirement to look for work, and providing a federally funded $300 bonus in weekly benefits beyond which workers would normally qualify.4

Economists and policymakers have studied the effects of UI on the economy for decades. One side has concluded that extended and bolstered UI benefits in a recession keep the economy from spiraling downward and should not be removed until the economy is clearly recovering. The other side claims that generous UI benefits, when provided for too long, can extend recessions and keep people from going back to work, as they make it more profitable to collect unemployment, particularly in low-wage jobs.5 As states are removing COVID-19-related restrictions and policymakers are working to develop strategies that continue the economic recovery, this debate has surfaced again. This issue is important because approximately 20 million Americans are still receiving UI benefits, and changes in policy could have a significant effect on them.6

Conservative lawmakers and business owners generally agree that now is the time to reduce UI benefits. Business owners, particularly those paying lower wages, have reported difficulty attracting employees despite offering hiring bonuses and higher wages than have been normal in industries such as food service.7 Industry giants such as Amazon and McDonald’s may be able to absorb the extra cost of labor, but small businesses such as independently owned restaurants already operate on razor-thin margins and risk going out of business. They argue that it is unwise policy to continue to pay Americans, and pay them handsomely, to stay home from work when vaccines are widely available and the economy is ready to fully reopen.

LISTEN: Representative Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., explains his stance on unemployment benefits

Liberal policymakers and labor unions are seeking to keep the extended UI benefits until the economic recovery is stronger and the pandemic is better contained.8 Food service and warehouse workers have seen the economic disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to demand higher wages and better working conditions.9 And, a Census Bureau survey reported that 4.2 million workers are not returning to their jobs due to fears of the coronavirus.10 Americans’ hesitancy to return to work may actually be pushing wages higher, as businesses compete for a limited pool of employees who may be unwilling to go back to the status quo even after the pandemic is over.11 Progressives and workers’ rights organizations herald this shift in employer-employee power as a step toward more equitable treatment of low-wage workers and a silver lining in a recession that has been devastating for Americans.12

Discussion Questions

  1. How has unemployment due to the pandemic affected your community?
  2. What goals do you think conservatives are pursuing? What goals are liberals pursuing?
  3. What values do you think conservatives are prioritizing? What values are liberals prioritizing?
  4. Which side of the debate over UI benefits do you support? Why?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Charles Krupa/AP
[1] New York Times:
[2] National Law Review:
[3] U.S. Department of Labor:
[4] Center on Budget Policy and Priorities:
[5] New York Times:
[6] Brookings Institution:
[7] New York Times:
[8] New York Times:
[9] ABC News:
[10] Wall Street Journal:
[12] Center for Employment Equity:



Conflict in Israel and the U.S. Response

Conflict in IsraelA ceasefire has brought an end to weeks of increasing violence between Israel and the Palestinian communities in the territory it controls, particularly the Palestinian Islamic-nationalist group Hamas. This latest outbreak of conflict ended a period of relative calm that had persisted for the better part of a decade. Adding to the complexity of the conflict is the role of the United States and emerging disagreements over what the nature of that role should be.

Israel’s history has been fraught with struggle and violence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, even before the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Numerous wars with neighboring Arab countries and the lingering consequences of those wars also inform this issue.

If you’re looking for more information on the broader history of Israel and its Palestinian population, check out “Israel-Gaza Violence: The Conflict Explained” from BBC News.

Timeline of the Current Conflict

While the full history between Israelis and Palestinians is beyond the scope of this blog post, the current conflict does have an immediate timeline of events that can help shed light on the situation.

  • APRIL 13: The first night of Ramadan (Islam’s most sacred month) in 2021 coincides with Israel’s Memorial Day commemorations. The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, is set to make a speech at the Western Wall near the Al-Asqa Mosque. The Western Wall and the site of the Al-Asqa Mosque are sacred sites to Jews. However, Al-Asqa itself is currently open only to Muslims, as it is among the most sacred sites in Islam as well.1 The president’s team requests that the loudspeakers that are used to call Muslims to prayer be turned off during his address, claiming that they could drown out the speech. The mosque refuses the request but Israeli police enter the complex and allegedly disconnect the loudspeakers, sparking backlash from Muslims in Israel, most of whom are Palestinian.2
  • APRIL 13 – MAY: The Al-Asqa controversy occurs in the midst of growing unrest surrounding the attempted eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Protest and unrest continue to escalate throughout April, with direct fighting taking place between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israeli police and pro-Israeli counterprotesters. Forming a backdrop to all of this are political crises in both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, adding to the instability of the situation.3
  • MAY 4: Hamas, which the United States has officially labeled as a foreign terrorist organization, presents itself in the midst of this crisis as the bold, revolutionary leadership that the Palestinian people need to assert their rights and independence. It announces a “final warning” on May 4, declaring that Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah must be allowed to remain and, more broadly, that the Israeli police and military must stop clashing with Palestinian demonstrators.4
  • MAY 7: On the last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli police raid the Al-Asqa Mosque. Police claim that the action is in anticipation of the site being used as a gathering and supply storage space for violent Palestinian demonstrators. The Arab-Palestinian community responds with even more demonstrations, and violent clashes between Jewish and Arab groups spread throughout the country.5
  • MAY 10: Coinciding with the final hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah case and celebrations and demonstrations for Jerusalem Day (a holiday celebrating East Jerusalem coming under Israeli control following the Six Day War in 1967), another raid takes place at Al-Asqa. At 6 pm, Hamas launches 150 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts many of the rockets. Ultimately, no one is killed in the attack but the rockets injure some people and damage property.6
  • MAY 10 – MAY 20: Immediately following the rocket attack, which in part targeted the capital, Jerusalem, the Israeli military begins an airstrike campaign killing 20 people, including nine children. Hamas rocket fire, street clashes, Israeli airstrikes, and military and police actions continue. Thus far, the conflict has resulted in deaths of more than 200 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel, with thousands more injured and hospitalized on all sides. Adding to the tensions are rocket attacks that are suspected of originating in Syria and Lebanon, as well as growing anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian demonstrations in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Across the world, demonstrations are also taking place with various groups demanding support or condemnation for the actions of Israel and Hamas.7
  • MAY 20: Israel and Hamas agree to a ceasefire to be monitored by Egypt.8

The U.S. Response

Historically, the United States has been a strong supporter of Israel and it remains among Israel’s closest allies. Public support for Israel, and specifically for the Israeli people, has remained fairly widespread in the United States, with roughly 70 to 75 percent of Americans expressing a favorable view of Israel in Gallup polls between 2018 and 2021. Sentiment toward the Palestinian Authority has gradually warmed over time, with favorability increasing from 21 percent in 2018 to 30 percent in 2021.9

A possible result of this shifting sentiment is an increasing number of lawmakers, particularly liberal Democrats, speaking out against U.S. policy toward Israel. Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., the nation’s first Palestinian American elected to Congress, has been vocal in her opposition to the Biden administration’s statements of support for Israel in this conflict and has spoken frequently about crimes she alleges Israel has carried out against its Palestinian population.10 Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also made headlines when she recently drafted a resolution to block a $735 million arms sale to Israel, a resolution which has gained the support of other prominent officials such as Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.11 Most Democratic leaders have yet to publicly make such criticisms, but the willingness of any national politician to be so openly critical represents a significant development and a likely shift in Democratic voters’ opinions.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have remained steadfast in their support for Israel, choosing either to not comment beyond voicing their support for Israel’s right to defend itself or to outright condemn Democratic colleagues who have voiced opposition. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats of “regularly engaging in hateful antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric,” while Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has criticized the Biden administration and suggested that President Joe Biden will yield to the “far-left” and block the upcoming arms sale.12

For its part, the Biden administration has been relatively cautious in its public statements on the conflict. Initially, the administration made little commentary beyond President Biden affirming Israel’s right to protect its interests.13 However, on May 19, it was reported that President Biden held a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging a de-escalation of the conflict. Despite this, Netanyahu recommitted to the offensive against Hamas as necessary for any ceasefire to occur.14 Although a ceasefire has now been agreed to, this seeming divide between the two leaders has fueled speculation about how the U.S.-Israeli alliance will evolve moving forward.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are questions you have about the current and historical Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What do you know for certain about the region and its people? What are areas you need to learn more about?
  2. What do you believe the role of the United States should be in conflicts outside of the country? What role could the United States play if it is not already doing so?
  3. For decades, the typical response of U.S. politicians regarding conflict in Israel has been that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Do you agree with that sentiment? To what extent? Is that sentiment alone sufficient to address the issue? Why or why not?

Related Posts:

U.S. Iranian Relations Following the Death of Qasem Soleimani

President Trump Seeks to Further Reduce U.S. Military Presence in Syria

Calm or Chaos: The Role of the Media During a Crisis

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES
[5] Ibid.



Reshaping the Economy

Joe and Jill Biden at School

President Joe Biden is currently promoting his plan to transform the U.S. economy.1 In a previous blog post, we explored one element of that plan: infrastructure. In this post, we will examine some details of the Biden administration’s American Families Plan.

What is in the Plan?

According to the White House, the American Families Plan is “an investment in our kids, our families, and our economic future.”2 The White House argues, “It is not enough to restore where we were prior to the pandemic. We need to build a stronger economy that does not leave anyone behind—we need to build back better.”3

The American Families Plan focuses on education, medical leave, and the costs of raising children. Some of the most significant elements of the plan include:

  • Making College More Affordable: The plan would invest roughly $160 billion to make two years of community college free and increase Pell Grants for low-income students who are admitted to universities. The plan would also create a program to subsidize tuition for low-income students who attend historically Black and other minority-serving institutions.
  • Universal Preschool: The plan calls for a $200 billion investment to create universal preschool for three- and four-year-old children. The plan would call for state governments to pay half of the cost with the federal government paying the rest.
  • Child Care and Child Nutrition: The plan would subsidize child care for low- and middle-income families and expand current programs to include roughly ten million more children in free and reduced-price meal programs.
  • Paid Family Medical Leave: Under the plan, the federal government would subsidize sick leave for all workers who do not have sick leave from their jobs. The White House estimates that this would cost $225 billion over ten years.4

The Biden administration argues that it would be able to pay for the plan by raising taxes on the top one percent of earners to pre-2017 levels, raising the tax on investment income for anyone earning over $1 million through investment, eliminating a tax break for real estate investors, and enhancing Internal Revenue Service enforcement on the very wealthy.5

The Debate

Congressional Republicans have raised many concerns about the American Families Plan. They argue that the tax increases would hurt the U.S. economy, slow job growth, and harm the very people that the plan is intended to help.6 They note that the plan throws astronomical sums of money—which the government simply does not have—at new entitlements, such as universal preschool, that some Americans do not need. Kelsey Bolar, a senior policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Independent Women’s Forum, argues that the plan is not what women, and especially working moms, need. She contends that the one-size-fits-all approach would further limit people’s flexibility and choice.7

A recent poll showed that nearly 60 percent of voters support the American Families Plan and 30 percent oppose it, with the rest having no opinion.8 Kevin Shafer, a health and social policy expert at Brigham Young University, argues that the plan is necessary to bring about equity in the economy and to protect children from poverty.9 Bernard Yaros of Moody’s Analytics said that the plan has “meaningful longer-term economic benefits by increasing labor force participation and the educational attainment of the population.”10

This is a large bill that would impact many aspects of the U.S. economy and it is made all the more complicated because it is part of the president’s broader economic plan for recovery and infrastructure. As Congress debates the future of the U.S. economy, this is a good time for voters to make their voices heard on these issues.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has your community’s economy been affected by the pandemic?
  2. Do you think there are people in your community who struggle with the cost of child care? What about higher education?
  3. Do you think that it is the government’s responsibility to address economic inequality? Is that an appropriate power of the federal government?
  4. How would passage of the American Families Plan impact the community in which you live?
  5. Do you support the ideas in the American Families Plan? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
[1] Politico:
[3] Ibid.
[4],, NPR News:
[6] Washington Post:
[7] The Hill:
[8] Morning Consult:
[9] Deseret News: