Four IU subject experts in environmental justice, manufacturing, health care and the Supreme Court discussed policy implications of a Biden-Harris administration during a virtual panel Monday night.
This panel was the second in a series hosted by the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Shahzeen Attari, associate professor in SPEA and energy and environmental justice expert, said the Biden administration will focus on implementing green energy. She said she thinks the administration needs to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.
“We really need to figure out how to make sure that the folks among us who have the least are taken care of when the climate impacts start,” she said. “And they’ve already started, especially in the United States.”
IU student Kyle Seibert asked if President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to combat climate change will be enough.
Attari said Democrats have pushed Biden to create a greater sense of urgency around climate change throughout his campaign and election. However, Biden’s plans may not be sufficient.
“Given we’ve not had much action on climate change, we really need extremely aggressive policies,” she said.
Attari said she thinks the country needs to rethink its entire system of addressing climate change because decarbonizing every sector of the country will not happen overnight. Conservatives and liberals agree on wanting the country to decarbonize by 2050, they just disagree on the pathways to reach that goal, she said.
“If we find pathways of getting there, then we actually have a shared vision for the future,” she said.
Tom Guevara, director of IU's Public Policy Institute and manufacturing expert, said although Biden has not directly supported the Green New Deal, some action addressing climate change is better than none.
Guevara said manufacturing affects every area of life including environmental sustainability and combating the pandemic. The United States has vulnerable supply chains and is dependent on foreign countries for pharmaceuticals such as vaccines, he said.
Guevara said the Biden administration will use administrative action to implement regulation policies, but other policies will require legislation to pass through Congress.
Beth Cate, clinical associate professor in SPEA and expert on the Supreme Court, said she does not believe Biden will try to pack or expand the Supreme Court. However, Biden has said he will appoint a bipartisan commission to give advice on reforming the court system, she said.
Cate said Biden’s appointments to fill vacancies on the lower federal courts will have a great impact as well.
“The Supreme Court only hears about 80 cases a year, and they’re important, but the vast majority of what gets done in the federal court system is done in the lower courts,” she said.
Kosali Simon, professor in SPEA and associate vice provost for health sciences, said the Biden administration has demonstrated that strengthening the Affordable Care Act is a priority and anticipates the administration addressing health disparities.
IU student Lizi Strawn asked what the Biden-Harris administration will do to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I would expect the Biden-Harris administration to be considerably more sensitive to the interests and the rights and the needs of the LGBTQ+ community than the outgoing Trump administration has been,” Cate said.
Cate said she does not anticipate the Supreme Court reversing its previous decision on constitutional access to same-sex marriage. However, the court may try to create space for religious institutions to object same-sex marriage in other ways, such as denying foster care placement to those couples, she said.
IU student Maddy Horne asked how the Biden administration will deal with issues such as police brutality or other issues that may present themselves in the future.
Cate said lower courts may be inclined to examine qualified immunity for police officers. According to the Legal Information Institute, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits, only allowing suits where there was a clear violation of statutory or constitutional rights.
Simon and Attari agreed after the pandemic is under control, the country may face many emergencies and layered problems at once. The administration has to be prepared to appoint new departments to deal with those emergencies, they said.
Guevara said Biden and future presidents will need to address climate change and its effects as well as social and economic justice.
“I think that unfortunately it’s going to create instability in a lot of places around the world that, right now, we’re not in a very good position to deal with,” he said. “Particularly because of the last four years.”