This week: The next SCOTUS member, transition of power, and Louisville.
Welcome to The Wrap! Each Monday, we’ll walk through some of the big news and policy headlines from last week so you know what to look for in the week ahead.
Now to the thing.
As of Sunday night, we’ve seen over 7 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Over 204,000 people have reportedly died.
We’ve got three big stories involving the news and policy, plus a menagerie of other headlines worth your time.
1. Trump nominates RBG’s antithesis for SCOTUS.
A little over a week after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, President Trump named her replacement: Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett. This is amid strong political and public opposition from the left. The nomination took place within 38 days of Election Day, countering a precedent set by Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016. (We covered the politics of the nomination process in last week’s The Wrap.)
Barrett is Trump’s third Supreme Court appointee and will likely make the court far more conservative than it’s been in years. Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Barrett likened herself to the late Justice Antonin Scalia by saying she’d adhere to the “text of the Constitution as written.” (This is regressive legal philosophy called “originalism.”)
Legal analysts and activists alike have expressed deep concern over the future of abortion, health care, gun access, immigration, and labor unions in the U.S. There’s also current unease over how faith has played a role in her career, mirroring a confirmation hearing for her federal judgeship in 2017, during which Barrett was questioned on whether or not she would properly separate her personal faith from her decisions as a judge.
A lot of this has set the focus on what it means to be a person of faith and a judge. Some on the left are using this as an example for the why we need to maintain the separation of church and state; some on the right say this is just another example of the left’s “anti-Catholic bias” and larger disparagement of religious individuals. (FWIW, both parties have a prominent portion of the “Catholic vote;” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is a devout Catholic.)
When it comes to the law, precedent, and public policy, religion has no place here—and it’s in the Constitution. That’s not to say that people of faith can’t be public servants, but to say that religion cannot be a factor in their actions or decisions in the public’s interest.
Related: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains why Trump moved so quickly in beginning the nomination process and why he picked Barrett.
2. Trump says ‘meh’ regarding peaceful transition of power.
In much lighter news, Trump did not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose in November. Citing fraudulent mail-in voting (which is baseless) during a White House press conference, Trump said, “We’re going to have to see what happens.” Later, he would double down on this.
This is objectively nuts. A peaceful transition from one president to another is key to sustaining our democracy. There’s no spinning a statement like that, which might be why WH staff isn’t trying to hard to do so. (Although a few GOP lawmakers are doing it for them.) Meanwhile, senators from both parties approved a resolution reaffirming the peaceful transition of the presidency.
Folks, I know we’re pretty numb to shocking and upsetting news at this point, but this is egregious. There’s no evidence of mass voter fraud tied to mail-in ballots; foreign interference is a much bigger concern, something that the Trump admin has downplayed. Regardless of whose politics you find agreeable, the ‘most American’ thing you can do is respect the outcome of the election in November. Trump won’t do this, but that doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t.
3. No justice for Breonna Taylor.
This week, a jury decided that the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her home were not legally responsible for her death. Meanwhile, a detective on the case was charged for “wanton endangerment” because several bullets went through the dry wall of Taylor’s residence. In other words, the officers’ shooting of Taylor wasn’t illegal, just their shots that endangered Taylor’s neighbor.
When considering all the pieces of this incident—the police’s intel that prompted them to enter Taylor’s home, the fact they didn’t announce themselves when entering with a battering ram, the fact they shot 32 rounds after Taylor’s partner Kenneth Walker fired a single warning shot because he thought they were being robbed, and the murder itself of Taylor along with the impact on her family and community—a decision like this is simply outrageous.
And it might be even more so. Several outlets have uncovered more evidence linked to Taylor’s death that question the officers’ explanation of the incident, namely a ballistics report and body-cam footage of the ensuing investigation. (The Louisville Metro Police Department also said none of the officers involved were wearing body-cams, but this has also been disputed.
To sum it up, Kentucky Attorney General’s decided not to prosecute the officers for murdering someone in their home and there are growing questions regarding the merit of his argument. This is all significant by itself, but it’s also part of a larger conversation about policing, justice, and race. How can we assert we have a functioning system when police negligence, misconduct, and terrorism are almost never confronted?
Policy Developments on the Campaign Trail
Quick note: I include some of Trump’s actions as President in this section because we can surmise many of those decisions are meant to help his reelection campaign.
- In addition to nominating Judge Barrett, Trump also shared two policy plans last week. At long last, he’s released a health care “plan” that …doesn’t do much of anything. On Thursday, the WH announced Trump would sign executive orders that address surprise medical billing and would make it “the official policy of the United States government” to provide health coverage for those with preexisting conditions. This is already part of the Affordable Care Act, and the executive order is despite the President and the GOP constantly trying to repeal/eliminate the ACA. Just so we’re clear, these executive orders don’t really do anything; they’re basically a tweet directed at Congress to improve the health care system, which is something that lawmakers have tried to do frequently. I found this WaPo piece (paywall) to be a good explainer on the politics of these EOs.
- Trump also released “The Platinum Plan” for Black Americans, which includes new investments in black businesses, improvements upon the First Step Act, and making Juneteenth a national holiday. You can read the plan here. You can save also yourself time by reading this piece from Ishena Robinson on The Root that cuts right to the chase and calls it pandering. There are a few things in the plan with which I take issue, like its vagueness, but I was especially taken to its provision to treat antifa and the KKK similarly as terrorist groups. That’s basically Trump saying “fine people on both sides” again.
- Last Monday, the Department of Justice labeled NYC, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions” (because words don’t mean anything) for “permitting violence and destruction of property.” The statement ties the recent spike in gun violence in these cities to the civil rights protests for police reform. This is a purely political move along the “law and order” lines Trump likes to walk, but it does touch on the separation between federal, state, and local governments. In designating these cities as such, the DOJ and White House are also threatening to reduce federal funds to these cities—something they can’t actually do.
- In a win for everyone, a federal judge blocked the WH’s order to shorten the Census by a month because doing so would mean a severe undercount, particularly of minority communities. Remember: We use the Census to apportion congressional representation and federal funding to states; an undercount would mean less money for badly needed things like health care and education. The Trump admin is appealing this decision. If you’re wondering why the Census is suddenly a political thing, here’s some context from The Guardian.
- In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an EO that directs the state to phase out gas-powered cars by 2035. That’s a first for any state. NPR has coverage here.
- In Philadelphia, a housing advocacy group and the city found an historic agreement place 50 vacant houses into a community land trust for use by homeless city residents. In addition to housing dozens of homeless individuals and families, it would also phase out a semi-permanent homeless encampment. Local outlet Billy Penn has coverage here.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least toss this in toward the end: Last night, The New York Times reported (paywall) Trump paid no income tax in 10 of the last 15 years and paid as little as $750 in 2016 and again in 2017, the reason being he lost a lot of money during this period. The losses either mean he’s not actually a successful businessman, or that he’s done some pretty fraudulent stuff to cheat on his taxes. In any case, the $1,500 he paid over two years is lower than what some Americans below the poverty line pay. And according to the NYTimes report, Trump owes $421 million in loans, with most of it due within the next four years.
What Congress is up to: There looks to be some movement on stimulus negotiations according to Politico, with Democrats shrinking their ask down to $2.4 trillion. At the same time, the face-to-face talks between the WH, Senate Rs, and the Democrats have not picked up. This is while weekly nationwide unemployment filings hover around 870,000. About 26 million people are currently receiving unemployment insurance benefits, compared to 1.5 million at this point last year, according to ABC.
What else to look for this week: Joe Biden and Trump are set to have their first debate on Tuesday night; expect more news on the Supreme Court nomination.
That’s a wrap. If you missed it last week, read the 101PC’s latest piece, a cover story on climate change, partisanship, and Joe Biden’s clean energy economic plan.