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Public colleges and universities should have the constitutional right
to deny funding and official recognition to student clubs that engage
in religious discrimination, a trio of religious and civil liberties
groups has told the Supreme Court.
The organizations - Americans United for Separation of Church and
State, the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism - filed a friend-of-the-court
brief March 15 urging the justices to rule in favor of the
University of California's Hastings College of the Law in a pending
Christian Legal Society v. Martinez concerns a student
chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Hastings that sued the
school after it was denied official university recognition. Hastings
officials said the CLS chapter violated school policies by denying
membership and officer positions to non-Christians, gays and others who
run afoul of CLS's faith statement.
"Public colleges have every right to deny funding and official
recognition to student groups that discriminate," said the Rev. Barry W.
Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "If students want to form
a club that excludes others, they shouldn't demand school subsidies or
In the brief, the groups assert that non-discrimination is an
important social value that public universities have the right to
"The University has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the
student activity fees all students must pay support only those groups
that are open to all students," observes the brief. "Especially in light
of the history of invidious discrimination on college campuses,
UC-Hastings has a strong interest in avoiding the appearance of
facilitating discrimination by its officially recognized and funded
The brief goes on to note that the law school's anti-discrimination
policy imposes no serious hardship on the CLS chapter at Hastings. CLS
members are still permitted to meet on campus and use school facilities
without official recognition and school funding.
"Because CLS does not need to be an official student group to
communicate its message effectively to the Hastings student body," the
brief asserts, "the group's First Amendment interest in discriminating
against non-believers and the University's interest in ensuring that its
sanctioned extracurricular activities are open to all students are not
The brief was drafted by a team of attorneys at the New York City
firm of Jones Day, with input from attorneys at the American Jewish
Committee and Americans United.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
"It's time to ensure our democracy works for all people by getting big money out of politics and ensuring every voter's voice is heard," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
To end an era in which wealthy corporations have been given free rein to spend nearly unlimited money on political campaigns, Democrats in the U.S. House on Thursday proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the hugely consequential Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by U.S. Supreme Court, saying the ruling "has dangerously eroded" the government's ability to serve the public interest.
Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) led dozens of co-sponsors in introducing the Democracy for All Amendment two days before the 13th anniversary of the Citizens United decision, in which the court struck down a ban on corporate independent expenditures.
According to Schiff, the constitutional amendment—which the congressman first proposed in 2013—would:
The proposal, said the campaign finance reform group End Citizens United, "strikes at the heart" of the 2010 ruling.
"It would affirm the right of the people to pass state and federal laws by restoring Congress' and the states' authority to place [limits] on political spending," said the group.
In addition to overturning Citizens United, the Democrats aim to overturn the "fundamental flaws" and legal precedents that underpinned the court's reasoning in 2010 and in "an entire line of cases dating back to the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which prevented meaningful regulation of campaign expenditures by corporations and special interest groups."
\u201cBREAKING: We've introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and the irresponsible SCOTUS decisions that came before it.\n \nUnrestricted dark money has no place in our elections or democracy. We need to return power to people. Once and for all.\u201d— Adam Schiff (@Adam Schiff) 1674144857
"Citizens United was one of the most egregious enablers of special interest money, but it was only the latest in a long line of Supreme Court cases that opened the floodgates. To truly rein in dark money, we must amend our Constitution," Schiff's office said. "The Democracy for All Amendment will close legal loopholes that wealthy megadonors, corporations, and special interest groups have exploited for far too long, and return power to the people once and for all."
The 2010 ruling allowed special interest groups and corporations to create super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations—including from "dark money groups" whose contributors are hidden from the public—and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns.
\u201cWe cannot continue to let members of Congress be controlled by dark money and corporations.\n\nThat's why I'm a cosponsor on the Democracy for All Amendment, which would overturn Citizens United v. FEC.\n\nAmericans deserve representatives who aren't influenced by dark money.\u201d— Congressman Jamaal Bowman (@Congressman Jamaal Bowman) 1674146650
John Bonifaz, president and co-founder of Free Speech For People, said the amendment would allow for overall campaign spending limits and public campaign financing systems and would end the big money dominance of our elections."
The Democracy for All Act would affirm, said Jayapal, that "corporations are not people and money is not speech."
"In every election following Citizens United, billions of dollars of dark money have been dumped into our electoral system, giving corporations and the richest Americans outsized power and influence," said the congresswoman. "It's time to ensure our democracy works for all people by getting big money out of politics and ensuring every voter's voice is heard."
"Contrary to industry narratives, the increase in the price of eggs has not been an 'act of God,'" says Farm Action. "It has been simple profiteering."
As U.S. egg producers rake in record profits amid soaring prices, a farmer-led advocacy group focused on building a just and sustainable food system on Thursday implored the Federal Trade Commission to "promptly open an investigation into the egg industry, prosecute any violations of the antitrust laws it finds within, and ultimately, get the American people their money back."
Just before testifying at an open meeting of the FTC, Farm Action sent a letter to agency chair Lina Khan detailing its "concerns over apparent price gouging, price coordination, and other unfair or deceptive acts or practices by dominant producers of eggs such as Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms, Versova Holdings, and Hillandale Farms, among others."
As Farm Action explained, "Egg prices more than doubled for consumers last year—going from $1.79 in December 2021 to $4.25 in December 2022 for a dozen large Grade A eggs."
Major egg producers and their allies have blamed surging prices on a "supply disruption" triggered by the deadliest outbreak of avian influenza in U.S. history, calling it "'act of God' type stuff," the letter notes.
Based on its analysis of publicly available industry data, however, Farm Action determined that while the avian flu outbreak killed roughly 43 million egg-laying hens nationwide in 2022, "its actual impact on the egg supply was minimal."
According to the letter:
After accounting for chicks hatched during the year, the average size of the egg-laying flock in any given month of 2022 was never more than 7-8% lower than it was a year prior—and in all but two months was never more than 6% lower. Moreover, the effect of the loss of egg-laying hens on production was itself blunted by "record-high" lay rates observed among remaining hens throughout the year. With total flock size substantially unaffected by the avian flu and lay rates between 1-4% higher than the average rate observed between 2017 and 2021, the industry's quarterly egg production experienced no substantial decline in 2022 compared to 2021.
Nevertheless, the "weekly wholesale price for shell eggs climbed from 173.5 cents per dozen at the end of February to 194.2 cents in the middle of March," the letter continues. "By the first week of April, it had reached 298 cents per dozen. For two months after this point, the wholesale price of eggs appeared to stabilize at elevated levels slightly below this peak—but then it started increasing again. In July, it broke previous records and reached over 300 cents per dozen. After dipping briefly in August, the rally in wholesale egg prices continued, hitting 400 cents per dozen in October and almost 450 cents per dozen in the first weeks of December."
According to Farm Action, major egg producers' massive price hikes are unjustifiable. In addition to the avian flu outbreak, some have attributed skyrocketing egg prices to higher feed and fuel costs, but "the dominant producers' course-of-business documents suggest these claims have little merit," the letter states. "For example, in a presentation to investors just this month, Cal-Maine noted that total farm production and feed costs in 2022 were only 22% higher than they were in 2021."
"What Cal-Maine Foods and the other large egg producers did last year—and seem to be intent on doing again this year—is extort billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Americans."
"The real culprit behind this 138% hike in the price of a carton of eggs," says the letter, "appears to be a collusive scheme among industry leaders to turn inflationary conditions and an avian flu outbreak into an opportunity to extract egregious profits reaching as high as 40%."
Max Bowman, the chief financial officer of Cal-Maine—the nation's largest producer and distributor of eggs—has admitted as much, saying in a recent statement that "significantly higher selling prices, our enduring focus on cost control, and our ability to adapt to inflationary market pressures led to improved profitability overall."
CNNreported last week that "there have been no positive tests" of avian flu at any of Cal-Maine's facilities, and yet the company's net average selling price per dozen conventional eggs more than doubled last year. The corporate giant, which controls roughly 20% of the egg market, is behind several popular brands, including Farmhouse Eggs, Sunups, Sunny Meadow, Egg-Land's Best, and Land O' Lakes eggs.
"Contrary to industry narratives, the increase in the price of eggs has not been an 'act of God'—it has been simple profiteering," Farm Action's letter argues. "For the 26-week period ending on November 26, 2022, Cal-Maine reported a 10-fold year-over-year increase in gross profits—from $50.392 million to $535.339 million—and a five-fold increase in its gross margins."
"Cal-Maine's willingness to increase its prices—and profit margins—to such unprecedented levels suggests foul play. That Cal-Maine—the leader in a mostly commoditized industry with, presumably, the most efficient operations and the greatest financial power—will quintuple its profit margin in one year without any compelling business reason is plainly an indication of market power," the letter continues. "It is also an invitation for rival egg producers to tacitly collude with Cal-Maine, forego price competition themselves, and maintain high prices for the entire industry. Fundamentally, Cal-Maine seems to be engaging in price leadership—using the avian flu outbreak and the inflationary conditions of the past year as cover to establish a new 'focal point' for egg prices."
"This pattern of behavior by the dominant firms in the egg industry raises significant concerns about monopoly power and potential antitrust violations in this sector," the letter adds. "It also presents exactly the kind of monopoly or oligopoly power that is entrenched in a market 'with highly inelastic demand' and that 'imposes substantial costs on the public,' which Chair Khan has previously argued enforcers should seek to challenge. We urge the FTC to exercise the full scope of its authorities—under the Sherman, Clayton, and FTC Acts—to identify, challenge, and uproot anti-competitive arrangements that suppress competition among egg producers and enable dominant firms like Cal-Maine to extort consumers for the eggs they need every day."
In November, "antitrust trailblazer" Khan led the agency in issuing a new policy statement restoring its commitment to "rigorously enforcing" the FTC Act's prohibition on "unfair methods of competition," including what critics have called "predatory pricing."
According to Farm Action: "What Cal-Maine Foods and the other large egg producers did last year—and seem to be intent on doing again this year—is extort billions of dollars from the pockets of ordinary Americans through what amounts to a tax on a staple we all need: eggs. They did so without any legitimate business justification. They did so because there is no 'reasonable substitute' for a carton of eggs. They did so because they had power and weren't afraid to use it."
"This kind of organized theft is exactly what Congress—and the public it represents—'empowered and directed' the FTC to prevent," the group concluded. "The FTC should do nothing less."
In addition to regulatory action, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued last weekend that Cal-Maine's "corporate greed" exemplifies why "we need a windfall profits tax."
\u201cCorporate greed is the producer of Egg-Land's Best, Farmhouse Eggs & Land O'Lake Eggs, increasing its profits by 65% last quarter to a record-breaking $198 million while doubling the price of eggs & reporting no positive cases of avian flu. Yes. We need a windfall profits tax.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1673804220
Last March, Sanders introduced the Ending Corporate Greed Act, which seeks to stamp out price gouging by imposing a 95% tax on the windfall profits of major companies.
Progressive economists have long urged Congress and the Biden administration to enact a windfall profits tax, strengthen antitrust enforcement, and impose temporary price controls, arguing that only these measures—and not the Federal Reserve's unemployment-inducing interest rate hikes—can address the corporate profiteering underlying the cost-of-living crisis.
"How is the Kennedy School," asked Roth, "going to ensure that this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?"
Human rights and free expression advocates on Thursday said the Harvard Kennedy School finally made "the right decision" after the prestigious public policy school's dean announced he was reversing his opposition to a fellowship for longtime human rights campaigner Kenneth Roth.
Dean Douglas Elmendorf's earlier refusal to support the one-year fellowship—first reported by The Nation earlier this month—was met with condemnation from Roth, free speech advocacy groups, and more than 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni of the school who accused the dean of retaliating against Roth for his criticism of Israel's violent anti-Palestinian policies.
Elemendorf reportedly told colleagues that he was concerned about analyses by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the international group led by Roth for three decades until his retirement last year, which concluded—as have other groups including the Israel-based B'Tselem and the United Nations—that Israel has imposed apartheid on Palestinians for decades.
"The problem of people penalized for criticizing Israel is not limited to me, and most scholars and students have no comparable capacity to mobilize public attention."
On Thursday, the dean sent a letter to the school community saying it had been "an error... not to appoint him as a fellow" at the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
Sunjeev Bery, executive director of global human rights group Freedom Forward, applauded the move as a "victory for human rights and academic freedom."
\u201cA victory for human rights and academic freedom! \n\n@Harvard @Kennedy_School Dean Elmendorf has reversed himself and agreed to offer a fellowship to former @HRW executive director @KenRoth at the @CarrCenter for Human Rights.\n\nhttps://t.co/ISvnYlifOp\u201d— Sunjeev Bery (@Sunjeev Bery) 1674145755
Roth released a statement saying he was "thrilled" that Elmendorf "rescinded his decision to block the fellowship" and expressed gratitude to students and faculty members who had shared their "overwhelming disapproval of Dean Elmendorf's original decision."
He called on Elmendorf to provide more transparency about his decision-making process. Roth earlier this month said he believed the decision to veto the fellowship offer stemmed from pressure from anti-Palestinian rights sentiments among Harvard donors.
Elmendorf "still has not said anything about the 'people who matter to him' whom he said were behind his original veto decision," Roth said Thursday.
Roth also said he still has concerns about the larger issue of academic freedom at Harvard, particularly for students and teachers who lack his international platform.
\u201cThe message to younger scholars is devastating. Unless Harvard makes amends, those scholars will be left to fear that criticism of Israel \u2014 or commentary on other controversial topics \u2014 can be a career killer. That is not what Harvard should stand for. https://t.co/Ho9bfSSdjj\u201d— Kenneth Roth (@Kenneth Roth) 1674056486
"Given my three decades leading Human Rights Watch, I was able to shine an intense spotlight on Dean Elmendorf's decision, but what about others?" he said. "The problem of people penalized for criticizing Israel is not limited to me, and most scholars and students have no comparable capacity to mobilize public attention."
"How is the Kennedy School, and Harvard," he asked, "going to ensure that this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?"