The Long And The Court Of It
January 25, 2022
The Good News
- Cash Aid to Poor Mothers Increases Brain Activity in Babies, Study Finds (NYT, $)
- ‘A very rich language’: Iqaluit woman begins teaching Inuktitut online (CBC News)
“Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.” – William Howard Taft
“Whenever you put a man on the Supreme Court he ceases to be your friend.” – Harry S. Truman
The Long And The Court Of It
Gallup polled Americans soon after the Supreme Court refused to block Texas’ latest abortion restrictions. The poll showed SCOTUS’ job approval ratings dropped to their lowest level in decades, partly due to a sense the Court had become overly political. Justices are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in all their activities, and not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence their conduct or judgment. Chief Justice Roberts insisted in his year-end report that the judiciary’s “power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence.” The claim that justices’ opinions are “politically neutral” is becoming much harder to accept.
Clarence Thomas has been on the Supreme Court over 30 years. His wife, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, is a vocal right-wing conspiracy theorist and ideologue whose political activism has been controversial for years. Thomas is a lawyer who runs a small political-lobbying firm, Liberty Consulting. She is also a prominent pro-Trump member of various hard-line groups, and has declared that America is in existential danger because of the “deep state” and the “fascist left,” which includes “transsexual fascists.” Thomas has held leadership positions at conservative pressure groups that have either been involved in cases before her husband’s Court or have had members engaged in such cases. She’s been a director of C.N.P. Action, a dark-money wing of a conservative pressure group which furtively connects wealthy donors with some of America’s most radical right-wing figures. She’s been on the advisory board of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump student group whose founder, Charlie Kirk, boasted of sending busloads of protesters to Washington on January 6th. In 2019, Thomas announced a political project called Crowdsourcers. One of her four partners, James O’Keefe, founded Project Veritas. Another partner is lawyer Cleta Mitchell, chairman of a conservative election-law nonprofit that has had business before the Court, filing amicus briefs in cases centering on the democratic process. Mitchell was on the call Donald Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat.
SCOTUS agreed Monday to take up two cases, against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions. An anti-affirmative action group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), first filed suit against Harvard and UNC in 2014, arguing their race-conscious admission policies violated the rights of White and Asian-American students under 1964’s Civil Rights Act. Two lower federal courts rejected these claims. Thomas is an advisory board member of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which filed an amicus brief supporting SFFA’s lawsuits. (Gallup, US Courts, New Yorker, US News, Insider, NYT, Reuters, ABC News, Crimson, News Observer)
The Invasion Equation
- Deep concerns over Russia’s potential invasion of Ukraine shifted into full crisis mode on Monday. NATO announced it was moving more military equipment, ships, and fighter jets into Eastern Europe, and the Biden administration put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for potential deployment to Europe.
- The Belarusian Defense Ministry said Russian troops continued to arrive in the country, which borders Ukraine, ahead of a major ‘training exercise’ next month. Video on social media showed Russian military convoys and trains with military equipment moving across southern Russia and Belarus. President Biden held a secure video call with European leaders Monday to discuss the increasing tensions over Ukraine; the U.S. still advocates for a diplomatic solution, but now joins other Western allies in taking the kinds of dramatic steps typically reserved for anticipated armed action.
- Ukrainian leaders appealed for foreign aid while simultaneously downplaying the sense of impending crisis. On Monday, President Zelensky underscored differing assessments of the threat facing Ukraine, while claiming that “all is under control, there is no reason to panic.” (WaPo)
Takeover In Burkina Faso
- A Burkina Faso army officer read a statement on national TV Monday saying the military had ousted President Roch Kabore, suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, and closed the country’s borders. The announcement cited the deterioration of the security situation and what the army described as Kabore’s inability to unite the West African nation and effectively respond to challenges, which include an Islamist insurgency.
- The takeover was said to have been carried out without violence, and those detained were at a secure location. However, Kabore’s whereabouts remain unknown, and there are conflicting accounts of his situation. Landlocked Burkina Faso is one of West Africa’s poorest countries despite being a gold producer; it has experienced numerous takeovers since independence from France in 1960. In the last 18 months, military coups have toppled governments in Mali and Guinea. The army also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died fighting rebels on the battlefield in the country’s north. (Reuters)
Additional World News
- New Zealand adds new COVID restrictions as omicron spreads (NPR)
- Vatican fraud trial to resume with boost for prosecution (Reuters)
- UK lawmaker says he’ll go to police with ‘blackmail’ claims (AP)
- German conservatives elect right-winger Merz as new party leader (Reuters)
- In Kashmir, India batters press freedom — and journalists (AP)
- EU in touch with partners to boost gas supplies, energy commissioner says (Reuters)
- Kuwaiti minister in Lebanon over diplomatic row with gulf (AP)
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- On Monday, Fulton County Superior Court judges approved a request by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) allowing her to seat a special grand jury on May 2 to aid in her continuing investigation of whether former President Trump and others committed crimes by pressuring Georgia election officials to help overturn Biden’s 2020 win in the state.
- Willis explained that a “significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate … absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.” Willis cited Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) as an example. Trump had asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win.
- January 6 investigators have a draft executive order dated December 16, 2020 that would have directed the defense secretary to seize voting machines and appoint a special counsel to probe the election. The draft is unsigned and was never issued, but lawyer Sidney Powell met with Trump on December 18 and urged him to seize the voting machines and appoint her as a special prosecutor to investigate the election. (WaPo, Politico)
- Seven Virginia school districts are suing the state’s new Republican governor Glenn Youngkin over his executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of locally-imposed school mask requirements. The school boards say the governor’s executive order cannot supersede a March 2021 commonwealth law that says local school boards should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
- The CDC currently recommends “universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” The law, which expires August 1, requires each school board to adhere “to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools…”
- Youngkin, who made parental rights in educational decisions a cornerstone of his campaign, was elected in November after defeating his Democratic opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe, who supported the school boards’ masking policies. (CBS News)
Additional USA News
- At DC rally, anti-vaccine activists protest covid mandates (WaPo, $)
- January 6 committee has been talking with ex-attorney general William Barr, chairman Bennie Thompson says (CNN)
- Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial (The Hill)
- New York’s response to violent incidents will include reinstating plainclothes officer unit, mayor says (CNN)
- Tim Heaphy removed as U.-Va.’s counsel by Jason Miyares (WaPo, $)
- Public health experts say schools are safe – but districts struggle to convince parents and teachers (Guardian)
- LA schools to require students to wear non-cloth face masks (AP)
A Game Of Masketball
- Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington happens to be the alma mater of retired N.B.A. player John Stockton, one of the greatest point guards in the history of the league and Gonzaga’s most famous athletic alum. After four years at Gonzaga, Stockton went on to spend his entire N.B.A. career with the Utah Jazz. His tenure spanned from 1984 to 2003, during which he made 10 All-Star teams and became the all-time leader in assists. Both the Jazz and Gonzaga retired Stockton’s number in 2004. Two of Stockton’s children played basketball at Gonzaga, so he has generational ties to the school. He’s a season ticket holder, and as a local celebrity, he’s very recognizable in the crowd at their basketball games.
- In August, when the more aggressive Delta variant of Covid-19 was spreading around the world, the school reinstituted an indoor mask mandate. In order to attend games at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where the school’s basketball teams play, attendees who are 12 years and older are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test within the past 72 hours, and all spectators are required to wear a mask.
- The mask mandate didn’t faze Stockton at all – he simply refused to wear one. Stockton doesn’t believe in Covid-19 vaccines or government measures to mitigate the virus. In an interview with the Spokesman Review, Stockton made unsubstantiated claims about the vaccines. And over the summer, the former basketball star and local celebrity made headlines for appearing in an anti-vaccine documentary titled “Covid and the Vaccine: Truth, Lies, and Misconceptions Revealed.” His personal decisions aside, when the high-profile Stockton kept attending games without a mask, officials started getting complaints. Stockton was told nicely that he was setting a bad example, and was asked politely to follow the rules and wear a mask. The recalcitrant former star declined the request, so the university simply revoked his season tickets. (NYT)
- Iceberg size of Delaware dumped billions of tons of water in ocean (USA Today)
- Bouncing Boulders Point to Quakes on Mars (NYT, $)
- Australian Open bans Peng Shuai messages (WaPo, $)
- French fashion designer Thierry Mugler dies, aged 73 (Guardian)
- Telescope reaches its final destination a million miles from Earth (CNN)
- Is It OK to Listen to a Butt-Dial Message? (Wired)
- Dragon Returning to Earth Today; Crew Studies Agriculture, Physics (NASA)