Yesterday, Utah Constitutional Defense Assistant Attorney General Lance Sorenson argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation, one of eight federally recognized tribes in Utah, be allowed to hunt and fish on their ancestral territory, including in parts of Idaho, according to the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868.
Utah sided with both the Northwestern Band and the Federal Government, arguing the Tribe reserved its right in the treaty to hunt and fish on the same land that they had done so for centuries. Idaho has interpreted the treaty to require tribal members to live on nearby reservations or relinquish their hunting and fishing rights. Some tribal members have been fined by Idaho law enforcement for hunting without an Idaho license, which sparked this legal challenge.
The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit after a Federal District Court Judge ruled in favor of Idaho. The three-member panel will deliberate the case and issue a ruling in the coming months.
Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a 24-state coalition of attorneys general in sending a letter to Yelp opposing the company’s practice of discriminating against crisis pregnancy centers in online consumer notices.
Last year, Yelp announced that the company would begin issuing consumer notices to the Yelp profiles of crisis pregnancy centers. The notices claim to inform consumers that crisis pregnancy centers “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.”
In their letter, the attorneys general argue that applying these notices to all crisis pregnancy centers but not to Planned Parenthood and related facilities is discriminatory. The attorneys general write, “The fact that Yelp has apparently applied the Consumer Notice only to crisis pregnancy centers means that Yelp has singled out crisis pregnancy centers for disparate treatment. This sort of discrimination is unacceptable.”
The coalition also contends that recategorizing the services of crisis pregnancy centers is misguided because these services are in high demand. The attorneys general have called on Yelp to stop misrepresenting the services of these crisis pregnancy centers.
In 2019, crisis pregnancy centers provided ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, STD testing, parenting and prenatal education classes, recovery counseling, and other services valued at over $266 million to nearly two million Americans.
Last July, Attorney General Reyes sent a letter to Google urging the company not to censor crisis pregnancy centers from search results, online advertising, and other products like Google Maps.
Attorney General Reyes joined the letter led by Kentucky Attorney General Cameron along with attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes led a 17-state coalition in filing two amicus briefs at the United States Supreme Court, Department of Education v. Brown v. and Biden v. Nebraska.
Each case argues that President Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program is illegal because it is not clearly authorized by statute. The coalition is asking the Supreme Court to affirm the judgments below that found the student-loan forgiveness program to be unlawful.
In August of 2022, the Biden Administration announced a program that would cancel $400 billion in outstanding federal student loans. The Secretary of Education attempted to issue the loan forgiveness under the HEROES Act, a post-9/11 statute enacted to modify or waive student loan requirements for individuals in military service.
The States argue that the HEROES Act does not authorize the Secretary of Education to issue mass cancellations of student loans. The HEROES Act of 2003 only permits the Secretary of Education to waive or modify student loan requirements in limited circumstances. The Secretary’s attempt to exercise power of such vast economic and political significance requires clear Congressional authorization.
In the amicus brief supporting Department of Education v. Brown, the attorneys general point out that many beneficiaries are not “affected individuals” eligible for relief under the HEROES Act. Eligible individuals are:
(A) is serving on active duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency; (B) is performing qualifying National Guard duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency; (C) resides or is employed in an area that is declared a disaster area by any Federal, State, or local official in connection with a national emergency; or (D) suffered direct economic hardship as a direct result of a war or other military operation or national emergency, as determined by the Secretary
The Secretary may “waive or modify” certain provisions in the Higher Education Act, but may only do so when “necessary in connection with a war or other military operation or other national emergency.”
The government claims the COVID-19 pandemic is a national emergency that justifies the program. The brief states: ” If Congress wanted the HEROES Act to empower the Secretary to cancel hundreds of billions of dollars in student-loan debt, it needed to do so clearly. It failed to do so; the HEROES Act clearly does not authorize the Secretary to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt based on a pandemic that is, in every relevant sense, over.”
Attorney General Reyes said, “Congress has repeatedly considered and rejected student-loan cancellation. The Executive Branch cannot sidestep the legislative process just to gain political points. As long as the President continues to push the constitutionally established limits on his power, I will fight to hold him accountable in the courts.”
This month, the Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and Special Counsel for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk have been working with Utah’s sovereign tribes in support of HB 40, which would codify the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act ( ICWA) into Utah law.
The Indian Child Welfare Act became law in 1978 and gives tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over children who are living on a reservation. That authority gives the tribes jurisdiction over the removal of American Indian children from their families in custody, foster care and adoption cases. HB40, Indian Child Welfare Amendments, seeks to codify ICWA into Utah law to “preserve and strengthen Indian families and Indian culture,” when it comes to decisions about child custody.
Members of the eight federally recognized tribes which reside in Utah have been active on Capitol Hill this year and are actively lobbying in favor of the bill. Last week, sovereign leaders met with Attorney General Reyes and Mr. Echo Hawk to emphasize how important ICWA is to the tribes.
The Attorney General’s Office, the Utah Committee on juvenile Justice, Voices for Utah Children and other key stakeholders are working on and support the bill. As of February 6, 2023, the bill is tabled in the House judiciary committee due to the concerns of some legislators.
Agents from the Utah Department of Corrections’ Division of Adult Probation and Parole have located a missing juvenile girl from Arizona, arresting a Utah man in the process.
On Jan. 31, AP&P agents received information from Arizona involving a missing girl and a possible connection to Jordan Sorenson, who was convicted in June 2020 of first-degree felony aggravated sexual extortion of an adult. He is on probation with AP&P and is listed on Utah’s sex offender registry.
Agents began an investigation in coordination with the Utah Attorney General’s human trafficking unit. Sorenson was located at his work and transported to his residence in West Valley. Agents then searched the home, locating the missing juvenile in the basement.
“Thanks to the quick actions of our agents and cooperation with the Attorney General’s investigators, this young woman was found safe,” said Dan Blanchard, director of AP&P. “This is one of the many roles our agents take every day to help keep our communities safe. We are very grateful for the response and professionalism of these officers. Agents act on a number of tips every day, and in this situation, they helped to locate this girl.”
Blanchard added that Arizona officials have been informed the juvenile was found safe and turned over to the care of a victim’s advocate from the Attorney General’s office.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to assist AP&P and Arizona authorities in this case, and relieved the victim is now in a safe place,” said Richard Piatt, communications director with the Utah Attorney General’s office. “It is a priority for our office to utilize our Secure Strike Force to assist minors and to prosecute the growing number of human traffickers who are out there. These crimes are becoming more frequent, and we all need to continue to work together to combat these crimes.”
In addition to probation violations for Sorenson, there is an ongoing investigation of new criminal charges with the AG’s human trafficking unit.
In an effort to uphold the laws as written and defend the welfare of women and unborn children, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a coalition of 20 state attorneys general in sending a letter to both CVS and Walgreens and informing them that their announced plan to use the mail to distribute abortion pills is both unsafe and illegal.
CVS and Walgreens recently announced that they are seeking FDA certification to use the mail to sell abortion pills. CVS and Walgreens announced this decision after the Biden administration endorsed abortion by mail in an attempt to circumvent the right of states to protect women and children. Abortion pills impose far higher risks of complications compared to surgical abortions. In addition, abortion pills, especially when distributed by mail, make coerced abortions much easier.
The letter informs CVS and Walgreens that “Federal law expressly prohibits using the mail to send or receive any drug that will ‘be used or applied for producing abortion’… the text could not be clearer: ‘every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion … shall not be conveyed in the mails.’ And anyone who ‘knowingly takes any such thing from the mails for the purpose of circulating’ is guilty of a federal crime.”
Additionally, the letter notes that the practice of abortion by mail endorsed by the Biden administration violates state law. “In Missouri, for example, it is unlawful to distribute an abortion drug through the mail. Missouri law also prohibits unfair or deceptive trade practices—and trade practices that violate federal law necessarily are unfair and deceptive.”
“We emphasize that it is our responsibility as State Attorneys General to uphold the law and protect the health, safety, and well-being of women and unborn children in our states,” the attorneys general conclude in the letter. “Part of that responsibility includes ensuring that companies like yours are fully informed of the law so that harm does not come to our citizens.”
Missouri authored the letter, and was joined by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.
Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes led a 25-state coalition in a lawsuit over a Department of Labor rule which would affect the retirement accounts of millions of people. The rule would allow 401(k) managers to direct their clients’ money to ESG (Environmental Social Governance) investments and runs contrary to the laws outlined in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
“The Biden Administration is promoting its climate change agenda by putting everyday people’s retirement money at risk,” Attorney General Reyes said. “Americans are already suffering from the current economic downturn. Permitting asset managers to direct hard-working Americans’ money to ESG investments puts trillions of dollars of retirement savings at risk in exchange for someone else’s political agenda. We are acting with urgency on this case because this illegal rule is set to take effect next week. It must be stopped.”
The new rule, “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights,” will take effect on January 30, 2023. Two-thirds of the U.S. population’s retirement savings accounts would be affected, totaling $12 trillion in assets. Strict laws placed in ERISA are intended to protect retirement savings from unnecessary risk.
From the complaint: “[T]he 2022 Investment Duties Rule makes changes that authorize fiduciaries to consider and promote “nonpecuniary benefits” when making investment decisions. Contrary to Congress’s clear intent, these changes make it easier for fiduciaries to act with mixed motives. They also make it harder for beneficiaries to police such conduct.”
The 25 states joining Utah Attorney General Reyes in this lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Today, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Taberon Honie on Utah’s death row for the brutal killing of his girlfriend’s mother, Claudia Benn, in 1998.
Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak made arguments to the Court, centering on whether Honie’s sentence was correctly performed, which the 10th Circuit ruled it was, under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
This week, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a 20-state coalition that is suing the Biden Administration over a new Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) program that unlawfully creates a de facto pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of aliens.
The DHS program would effectively establish a new visa system that would allow for up to 360,000 aliens from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to be “paroled” into the United States every year. But Congress has authorized parole only for foreign aliens who meet very specific standards that have not been met in this instance. Yet, contrary to existing law, the program creates a pathway for program participants to apply from their home country and gain lawful status to enter and stay in the U.S. for up to two years, or even longer.
The Biden Administration also instituted this program without engaging in the usual notice and comment rulemaking process required by law. This constitutes yet another episode in which the Administration has abused its executive authority in furtherance of its disastrous immigration policy.
Statement from the Office of the Attorney General:
“Utah is not suing the Administration because we are anti-immigrant. We want as many people of good will from other nations to come legally and enjoy the liberties and opportunities my own father was blessed to have when he came to this country. But only Congress has the legal power to change the requirements of the DHS parole statutes.
DHS parole statutes have been in place and working for decades through both Democrat and Republican Administrations. The new Biden approach severely relaxes those qualification requirements, ignoring the law and creating further security vulnerabilities.
President Biden claims it is necessary to bypass the law to alleviate the humanitarian challenges at our southern border. We can think of many other actions that are legally sound and would truly assist those suffering at the border and being victimized by cartels and traffickers.
Utah is not immune from the impact of increased illegal immigration. The Biden Administration’s open-borders agenda has caused many problems, including a humanitarian crisis, along with rising crime and violence in many cities. This change in policy does nothing to address these issues. Instead, it unlawfully creates a visa program in violation of federal law.”
Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and Governor Spencer J. Cox co-hosted a news conference announcing their intent to legally take action against social media companies and hold them accountable to protect youth.
The Attorney General and Governor addressed the documented negative effects social media has on children’s mental health and well-being. The correlation between social media use and anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, self-harm and destructive behavior has been studied in recent years. Social media companies have historically taken some steps to address these concerns, but the Governor said more drastic measures are needed.
“Today, we are announcing we will be suing social media companies to protect our kids,” Governor Cox said.
Attorney General Reyes, Governor Cox and legislators are committed to working with social media companies and hope proposed litigation will drive them to action.
AG Reyes released the following statement:
“Beyond the physical threats to youth that we fight every day in our office, like exploitation, grooming, and human trafficking on the internet, there are other serious dangers that affect the overall wellness of our young people. Adult content accessible to teens and pre-teens is just one example of these pitfalls.
“While there are positive aspects of social media, gaming, and online activities, there is substantial evidence that social media and internet usage can also be extremely harmful to a young person’s mental and behavioral health and development.
“Depression, eating disorders, suicide ideation, cutting, addictions, mass violence, cyberbullying, and other dangers among young people may be initiated or amplified by negative influences and traumatic experiences online through social media.
“This is something my team and I recognized early on, and my office has worked tirelessly with and against certain tech companies to enforce the protection of our children.
“In recent years my office has initiated legal action for concerns regarding privacy and business practices against a number of large tech companies. These are serious market and privacy issues. But even more important is the safety and well-being of our kids.
“More and more, my concerns have focused on the content available on platforms that may exploit children or be available to adolescents that are inappropriate for their age. Recent disclosures by Twitter’s new owners about the amount of CSAM formerly on the platform are indicative of this problem.
“Very often, parents don’t have adequate knowledge of or control over their child’s content on these platforms. While we hope to work cooperatively with tech companies to address these concerns, we feel litigation is likely a necessary step to increase the urgency and seriousness of implementing child safeguards.”
Specifics of any legal action are not being released at this time. A Request for Proposal (RFP) document will be submitted this week to prepare for hiring outside counsel to assist with any litigation that could soon occur.