Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

BBA Eyes Biden Agenda

January 21, 2021

The new Biden Administration has an ambitious agenda, much of which it has been telegraphing for weeks, and some of which coincides with issue areas where the BBA has an interest. We have been tracking President Biden’s plans, including a number that have already come to fruition in the form of day-one executive actions. Here’s a run-down of what we’re expecting.

  • Immigration
    • This is an area that the President has signaled will be a priority. It has been a priority for the BBA as well, and the Immigration Principles we released in 2018 have guided our positions since then.
      • Through an executive order, President Biden has already lifted the final version of the prior Administration’s travel ban on arrivals from several majority-Muslim nations. We opposed it when it was first imposed, nearly four years ago, and we immediately praised this reversal.
    • Still to come?:
      • The new President has pledged to prioritize reuniting separated families, undoing a practice that was the subject of widespread condemnation, including from the BBA. The details, however, remain to be seen “by February 1”.
      • Immigration enforcement will be radically different during the Biden Presidency — that much we know. But we are eager to learn whether US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will take steps to clarify that courthouses should be exempt from enforcement, as we have urged.
      • Last spring, we asked the Department of Homeland Security to allow more non-citizen health-care workers to remain in the US, as a public-health measure to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. We await potential action on that front as well.
  • Eviction/Foreclosure Moratorium
    • Another area that saw day-one action from the President is the crisis facing millions of homeowners and renters who find themselves unable to keep up with payments as a result of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Here in Massachusetts, the BBA advocated for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures over lack of payments for that reason. (That moratorium has expired, but we have since been assisting with the state’s Eviction Diversion Initiative.)
    • At the federal level, President Biden’s executive order yesterday asks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to extend its standing eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on Jan. 31, through at least March 31. Federally-backed mortgages are also covered by the order, but Congress would need to act to provide further protections, including any potential support for struggling landlords.
  • Transgender Rights
    • The previous Administration ordered that transgender troops not be allowed to serve in the military — something we criticized at the time — and there are clear indications that this policy will be rescinded.
    • In the meantime, there is already an executive order that shifts the federal government’s interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order also directs federal agencies to make sure existing laws banning sex discrimination also prohibit discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
    • And, if confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary of health, Biden’s nominee, Rachel Levine (who is currently Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health), would become the first transgender person to serve at that level.
  • Policing
    • The President has pledged to appoint a police oversight commission within his first 100 days in office, “to improve oversight and accountability,” but we await details on its composition and its charge. Meanwhile, the BBA’s own Task Force on Ensuring Police Accountability is hard at work formulating recommendations for Massachusetts lawmakers on reforms to qualified immunity and civil-service laws.
  • DOJ Independence
    • It hasn’t gotten so much attention as the above promises, but the Administration is said to be preparing an order prohibiting interference in the operations of the Justice Department from other parts of government. This would represent a welcome return to traditional norms — and a break from actions over the last four years that drew the BBA’s rebuke.
  • Death Penalty
    • There has been no clear statement from the Administration on this, but opponents of the death penalty — which of course includes the BBA — have reason to be optimistic that President Biden will end the recent string of executions. As a candidate, Biden ran on a platform that included support for legislation to abolish the federal death penalty.
    • Soon, the next Attorney General — presumably nominee Merrick Garland — will have to decide whether to continue pursuing the reinstatement of the death sentence that was handed down at the trial of the surviving Boston Marathon bomber — but that was reversed on appeal. The BBA has called on DOJ to let the case stand, leaving a life-without -parole in place.
  • Other Possible Areas
    • Biden has said there will be forthcoming policies on the following issues — each of which would be of interest to the BBA — but there has been very little detail provided thus far…
      • voting rights
      • criminal-justice reform
      • racial justice
      • diversity, equity, and inclusion

Watch for updates on all of these issues as they develop…

—Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association