Packing A Punch
September 23, 2020
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“If we desire respect for the law we must first make the law respectable.” — Louis D. Brandeis
“It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.” — Clara Barton
Packing A Punch
(Jose Luis Magana via Getty Images)
On Tuesday, Utah Senator Mitt Romney announced that he would “follow the Constitution and precedent” in support of a vote on Donald Trump’s impending Supreme Court nominee, essentially clearing the way for a conservative judge to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the general election. Romney represented the last remaining hope that some dissenting Republican senators would stand in the way of a fast-tracked confirmation process, and his announcement all but ensures that the high court will shift into a 6-3 conservative supermajority.
This new-look Supreme Court would immediately endanger hallmark progressive accomplishments like the Affordable Care Act, Roe v. Wade, and LGBTQ protections. In response to the prospect of this daunting set of reversals, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave a message to his fellow Democrats: “Everything is on the table.”
In the immediate future, that threat is rather empty. With Trump as president and Republicans holding a slim majority in the Senate, all Democrats can do at the moment is make ethical appeals to their colleagues in the GOP. In all likelihood, a new Justice will be confirmed and take the bench before the election can even take place.
But looking farther down the road — if the Democrats can convert their anger into momentum at the polls and win back both the presidency and the Senate — there’s a couple of tantalizing options on Chuck Schumer’s table. One that has picked up a lot of media attention in recent days in the idea of “packing the court,” or expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court in order to restore an ideological balance. It’s a bold move, but one that some members of Congress see as the next logical progression in this precedent-shattering political climate.
“Mitch McConnell set the precedent,” tweeted Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., referring to the Republicans’ 2016 move to block then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election. “If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.”
The filibuster rule is a topic for another day, but expanding the Supreme Court may not be as radical a reform as it appears at first glance. In fact, it’s happened seven times in American history. The Constitution fails to mandate a specific number of judges, and lawmakers in the early days of the Republic were hardly shy when it came to manipulating the court for political gain. However, the Justice count has remained at nine since the Judiciary Act of 1869. Reforming the court today would require a new Judiciary Act. And despite its popularity amongst some progressives, Joe Biden and more establishment Democrats have expressed extreme reticence when asked about the concept court-packing.
“It’s a legitimate question, but let me tell you why I’m not going to answer,” Biden said. “Because it will shift the focus. That’s what (Trump) wants, he never wants to talk about the issue at hand and he always tries to change the subject.”
Regardless of whether he wants to or not, Biden better hope that he will one day have to answer for his stance on packing the courts. If not, that means that Trump will have been re-elected, and a conservative majority in the executive and judicial branch will have free reign to undermine years of the social progress he claims to have fought so much for.
Additional SCOTUS Reads
- Why Biden is stiff-arming the left on court-packing and the filibuster (Politico)
- The Left Wasn’t Ready to Fight Brett Kavanaugh. That Isn’t the Case This Time. (Mother Jones)
- The Senate’s tight timeline to confirm Trump’s SCOTUS nominee (PBS)
- Today, as the US tops 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19, African infection rates look to be leveling off. The continent of 1.3 billion has seen just 1.4 million cases and 34,000 deaths since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly less than the US’s caseload of over 7 million and death count of more than 200,000.
- While the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) acknowledged that early predictions stated “a large number of Africans would just die,” he refused to accept the expected outcome. Haunted by the 12 million African deaths due to HIV, the Africa CDC united African countries against the disease.
- The African public and private sectors combined their resources to create an online purchasing platform to streamline the distribution of COVID-19 supplies directly from manufacturers, some of which are now produced in Africa by African companies. African countries are now looking to secure vaccines in late-stage clinical trials in order to vaccinate the 60% of the population needed to reach herd immunity. The country needs 1.5 billion vaccine doses, costing about $10 billion altogether. (AP)
China Cops American Intel
- Just when you thought the press couldn’t get much worse for American police officers, federal prosecutors announced on Monday that a New York City police officer has been accused of acting as an illegal agent for China. Tibet-born Baimadajie Angwang was arrested on charges of working at the behest of the Chinese government, providing them with intelligence on ethnic Tibetans living in the United States.
- He was also accused of inviting a Chinese official to an NYPD event and promising access to senior police officials, and if charged could face up to 55 years in federal prison. The development is forcing US officials to reconsider just how embedded Chinese government assets have been in American institutions, going so far as to allegedly employ an American police officer just to monitor Tibetan free speech.
- Prosecutors detail a 2019 phone call, in which Angwang told a Chinese consular official that he could recruit Tibetan-Americans to be intelligence assets and give the CCP an inside look at information sensitive to the Police Department.
- “As alleged in this federal complaint, Baimadajie Angwang violated every oath he took in this country. One to the United States, another to the US Army, and a third to this Police Department,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot F Shea said in response to the dramatic arrest. (NYT)
Additional World News
- The hotter things get, it’s worth asking: Is the world entering a new Cold War? (BBC)
- At U.N., Trump demands action against China over virus, Xi urges cooperation (Reuters)
- China, top global emitter, aims to go carbon-neutral by 2060 (AP)
- Dissent to jail: China Sentences Ren Zhiqiang, Xi Critic, to 18 Years in Prison (NYT, $)
- Huawei Turns To Russia For Its Game-Changing New Android Alternative (Forbes)
- Tel Aviv set to become first city with electric roads that charge public transportation (CNN). Catch a charge while you drive.
- Mexico’s Lopez Obrador pushes referendum to prosecute ex-presidents (WaPo, $)
- UN warns of lost decade without Covid economic recovery plan (Guardian)
- Women bear disproportionate share of Covid-19 burden, U.N. official warns (NBC)
- FDA poised to announce tougher standards for a covid-19 vaccine that make it unlikely one will be cleared by Election Day (WaPo, $)
- Confirmed Covid-19 deaths have reached 200,000 in the US (Vox)
- Trump views 200,000 Covid-19 deaths as a PR problem (CNN)
Nobody Was Ready to Meat The Moment
(Cris Faga via Getty Images)
- ProPublica reviewed thousands of pages of documents detailing the chaos and breakdown of communications between health agencies and meatpacking companies during the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. As COVID-19 spread across the country, many meatpacking companies were slow to respond to the impending health crisis, which led to small towns becoming some of America’s largest hot spots.
- The nation’s meatpackers, along with federal and state officials, have for years planned for pandemic flu outbreaks that could wipe out herds and flocks and threaten America’s food supply, but those efforts were largely focused on their animals rather than their workers. Despite reports of hundreds of workers testing positive for the virus, some meatpacking plant officials did not listen when local health officials warned to shut down operations.
- The COVID-19 response was complicated by a lack of clarity over which agency had the right to order meatpacking plants to make changes or shut down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could only offer guidance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture dealt with animals and food, the Labor Department had few rules that applied to a virus, and the power of local and state health officials varied from state to state. (ProPublica)
Additional USA News
- US economy showing improvement but path ahead ‘uncertain’, says Fed chair (Guardian)
- Pentagone: The Pentagon funneled coronavirus relief funds to defense contractors (WaPo, $)
- A Google employee is suing for discrimination. He wants to know if Google can use his data against him. (WaPo, $)
- Can Circuit Breakers Stop Viral Rumors On Facebook, Twitter? (NPR)
- Inside the Biden campaign’s surprising influencer strategy (Vox). From shaking hands to Instagram, campaigning sure has changed.
- Black voters in Detroit key for Biden, but are they engaged? (AP)
- As Schools Go Remote, Finding ‘Lost’ Students Gets Harder (NYT, $). Zooming ahead leaves some behind.
Shedding Light on the Dark Web
- The dark web witnessed its largest takedown to date when Operation Disruptor arrested 179 people across six countries, seized 500 kilograms of drugs, and confiscated $6.5 million in cash and cryptocurrency on Tuesday. Operation Disruptor began on May 3, 2019, when German police seized Wall Street Market, a popular underground bazaar.
- In the US, Operation Disruptor is played out through dozens of court documents and more than 120 arrests, though it’s long-term effectiveness remains to be seen, as dark web drug markets have been shown to bounce back. While announced as a package on Tuesday, the arrests in the US have trickled through over the last several months.
- “In some ways this is just the perfect storm combination of traditional criminal activity of all shapes and sizes merging with this more sophisticated technology,” FBI director Christopher Wray said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We have very creative people who are themselves very innovative within the law and using a variety of tools to catch people who think they can hide in the dark net.” (Wired)
- From ‘SNL’ To Workout Videos, How RBG Became A Pop Culture Icon (NPR)
- Influencers Are Being Paid to Promote Universities They Didn’t Attend (Vice) Doing it for the gram, and money of course.
- Why Walmart thinks TikTok is the future of its business (Vox)
- Extraterrestrial equality: Nasa outlines plan for first woman on Moon by 2024 (BBC)
- Stolen First Editions by Galileo, Newton Discovered Beneath Floor in Romania (Smithsonian)
- Seeing behind the fold: The Cheating Scandal That Ripped the Poker World Apart (Wired)
- The Environmental Headache in Your Shampoo (Nautilus)
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