National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 5 (February 17–23)

This week’s news was more of a sine wave than we’ve been seeing of late — there was some good news mixed in among the bad, along with a whole lot of weird. I’ll keep folks up to date on all the twists and turns!

Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a report! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!

Constitutional Crisis Corner

Just like last week, there was a flurry of activity on the Russia Investigation — it’s by far the busiest section of the CCC, possibly because it’s supposedly winding down. Here are the main things to know:

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Threats to the First Amendment deserves its own section, at least for this week. Here’s what is happening:

The majority of this week’s Disregard of Governing Norms is aftermath from the shutdown, which thankfully is proving immediate and promising. Here’s what I have for you:

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Cov Cath Further Chaos.* Remember that kid from Covington Catholic who was in the news a bunch a week or two ago for standing in the way of the Indigenous People’s March? Yeah, he’s suing the Washington Post to the tune of $250 million dollars in damages for writing about him, claiming that they ‘defamed’ him when they reported on it. Needless to say, that’s going to be nearly impossible to prove — how does a sixteen-year-old kid even show damage to his livelihood, let alone $250M in said damage? It’s worth noting that the complaint accuses the Post of having bias against Donald Trump and uses that to seek further damages, nicely illustrating another reason why a free press remains important.
  • Tariff Delays. Trump went ahead and delayed his own deadline for whether he’s increasing tariffs on China this week, claiming that they’ve made good progress without them. But he likely wants a good result in his summit with North Korea this week, and given that Kim Jong-un is traveling there by way of China to make a point, he could be hoping this paves the way for negotiation. Or he could have some kind of deal in the works that would be hindered by increased tariffs. Or he could have changed his mind because it’s Tuesday. It’s Trump, so it’s kind of hard to say.

The Bad:

  • Jussie Smollet’s Strange Saga. Actor Jussie Smolett was arrested on Wednesday based on claims by the Chicago Police Department that he staged the attack against him that he reported last month. So now Smolett’s waiting on bond of $100,000 to face his charge of felony disorderly conduct (side note: it’s really strange to me that Illinois makes disorderly conduct a felony in the first place). Predictably, conservative pundits and politicians have drawn as much attention to this news as possible, and most news outlets are treating the charge as credible. Some media press venues, however, are claiming that an FBI source says CPD may have ‘overstated’ their case, and that CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson “went too far” by claiming to have determined Smolett’s connection to the threatening letter he received. Given the twists this case has already taken and the spotted history of the Chicago Police Department, it’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of this story in the Roundup.
  • Oscars So Green. The 2019 Oscars managed to be even more politically-charged than usual, starting with its complete lack of host following news of intended host Kevin Hart’s history of racist tweets. The hostless ceremony announced its winners perfectly well, it turns out, but where those awards went was more of a mixed bag. When Green Book won best picture, negative reactions to the choice poured in immediately — most notably from Spike Lee, who tried to leave the ceremony following the announcement. Oscar detractors had lambasted Green Book as another example of Hollywood’s love for “racial reconciliation” films that receive awards for their white directors. It wasn’t all bad news, though; Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter became the first black women in over thirty years to win non-acting-role Oscars for their work on Black Panther. Domee Shi, the first woman to helm a Pixar short, shared the Best Animated Short award with producer Becky Neiman-Cobb for Bao. Clapbacks featured as well: Trevor Noah pranked the audience beautifully in Xhosa, Spike Lee hoped for the USA to “regain our humanity,” and the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag stuck to her guns.

The Good:

  • North Carolina News. In a turn of events that probably shocked even North Carolina, their election board threw out the House results contested for fraud and ordered a new election this week. The decision came in part because the candidate accused of ballot-harvesting, Mark Harris, said he wanted a new election after several instances of potential perjury during the proceedings. (Harris claims that he was suffering from a stroke which made him give misinformation.) Though there’s no guarantee that the next election will be a clean one, the fact that we’re getting one does seem like progress.
  • Recent Court Resilience. The Supreme Court issued a benchmark decision this week when it concluded that rules against excessive fines apply to state police as well as the federal government under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when they engage in civil asset forfeiture. (Civil asset forfeiture is the practice by police of seizing assets that they claim were involved in a crime.) As several articles covering the case note, this practice is rife with abuses because it can be used as a revenue stream and because it’s often not subject to significant oversight. The decision to apply federal law to states is a major win on this issue that may significantly curtail abuses, and the case is even more unusual because it was unanimously decided. That said, the facts of this case were particularly egregious — Indiana state police confiscated a man’s $40,000 value SUV, which he purchased with life insurance policy money, because he was convicted of selling a small amount of heroin which carried a maximum $10,000 fine. So it’s possible we’ll see a distinguishing case on this soon.

So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through, you deserve frogs wearing tiny hats and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me more hours in the day!

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