This week was a rough one on a lot of levels–so bad, in fact, that I considered changing the format for this week’s roundup. In COVID news, we’ve made it to partially open, and now we may be here for a while–though everyone is anxious about a second wave, and we may end up moving backwards before we move forwards. And in non-COVID news, we have a lot of disturbing official action and a very real reminder that we have a lot of work to do on the issue of police brutality.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not a curfew–but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corner:
Though our focus is mostly elsewhere right now, we did see a lot of Disregard of Governing Norms–and these things are definitely related, because this administration is using unrest to consolidate power. Here are the main things to know:
- Social Media Standoff. After three years of honeymoon period, Trump’s now in an ongoing standoff with Twitter that has truly been a sight to behold. The conflict started brewing over the previous week, when Trump repeatedly falsely claimed Joe Scarborough killed somebody and the deceased person’s widower publicly called on Twitter to delete his tweets. Though the platform did not in fact delete his claims, this seems to have been some sort of tipping point, because they did fact-check his subsequent tweets about mail-in voting–which they’ve never done before. Trump went ballistic in response, yelling that this was censorship that violated his First Amendment rights despite that being, y’know, definitionally untrue. He then passed a bonkers executive order that will probably be successfully challenged in courts. Twitter, meanwhile, has continued to fact-check his tweets and also started adding warnings to tweets they think are violating their policies by glorifying violence. So needless to say, this has been a very strange backdrop to everything else I’m going to write about today.
- Government Messed Up COVID-19 Response. Before all eyes were on civil unrest, we did manage to see some really messed up COVID news. Trump kicked things off by banning noncitizen travel to and from Brazil, because as we all know the virus definitely cares whether you’re a U.S. citizen. He also started taking concrete steps to force the United States to leave the World Health Organization, though it’s unclear if he legally can. Meanwhile, the WHO is pausing a global trial on hydroxychloroquine, because it’s run by grownups who care when a drug’s prescription is contraindicated. And speaking of being the grownup in the room, Justice Roberts joined with his liberal colleagues on the Supreme Court to refuse to force governors to open churches during the pandemic, noting in his 5-4 opinion that it “seems quite improbable” that the situation merits the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief. (Kavanaugh, meanwhile, wrote a tinfoil hat dissent literally claiming it was discrimination to close churches at all.) I’m glad the court came down on the correct side, just barely, but I find it unsettling that four justices wanted to force a governor to walk back restrictions on indoor gatherings during a pandemic.
- The Shifting Position of the Press. Though I’ll talk more about the weekend’s protests below, we need to spend a moment on the shrinking protection of the press, which definitely reflects a disregard of governing norms. Historically, established press members have always been able to cover protests, and even riots, as necessary information sources for what is unfolding–press covered the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, for example, and the Los Angeles riot of the early 1990s. Given this backdrop, it’s understandable that the sudden arrest of a CNN team in Minneapolis on Friday startled even the journalism team–in the associated video, the reporter can be heard asking “Why am I under arrest?” as he’s being cuffed mid-report in broad daylight. This was escalated dramatically and violently over the weekend, as police action against the press began to seem intentional and systemic. At the time that I type this on Monday, outlets have identified over two dozen incidents around the country: a reporter in Louisville lost her eye when police shot her in the face with a rubber bullet; journalism teams in Denver reported paint balls and tear gas used against them; a team in Detroit took pepper spray to the face while holding up their badges; a team in D.C. report physical assault; several teams in Minneapolis report police threw them to the ground or fired rubber bullets at them; teams in the larger LA area report rubber bullets and tear gas used as well. Many of these incidents occurred after the press had identified themselves, and many of them also have accompanying video. Though violence is part of the landscape right now, we need to pay particular attention to any state action that involves knowingly committing violence against the press, because it has major First Amendment implications.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Other Election Oddities (Again). Honestly, it feels weird to even be talking about these stories, because the earlier half of last week feels like a lifetime ago, but here we are. Joe Biden was in the news for saying Black voters who consider voting for Trump “ain’t Black,” which he of course later had to apologize for saying. Trump keeps threatening to pull the RNC from Charlotte because…reasons? Ostensibly he says they might not be open, but there doesn’t seem to be much to support that claim, so I’m guessing he just likes Florida better.
- State of the COVID-19.* We have officially surpassed 100,000 deaths in this country at the time that I type this, and over 1.7 million cases have been reported. Given this news, combined with high rate of asymptomatic infection and a country that is increasingly reopening, an effective method of contact tracing has become extremely important. It’s particularly alarming that we’re also seeing news of businesses banning masks and government officials hiding COVID-positive test results. WHO is warning about a second peak, but Disney World is reopening, and so is New York City–or at least, that was the plan before all the riots; I’m not sure if that changes anything.
- Black Lives Still Matter (Part I). This was, frankly, a very bad week for civil rights of Black Americans. The unrest started gaining steam in Minneapolis, where an unarmed man named George Floyd was choked to death by police, with videotape very clearly showing one officer’s knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protests of the death resulted in even more deaths and mass arrests, and there were fatalities from Louisville protests as well. Eventually the officer in question was arrested and charged with third-degree murder as we went into the weekend, but the other officers present have not faced charges. Meanwhile, in New York, a white woman was caught on camera calling 911 and filing a false report that claimed a Black fellow park-goer was assaulting her because he asked her to leash her dog. So things were a bit of a powder keg by the time we went into the weekend.
- Black Lives Still Matter (Part II). The situation in Minneapolis continued to devolve as more and more awful details about Floyd’s death came out, police response became more brutal, and protesters began setting fires and damaging property. The governor of Minnesota mobilized the National Guard, and the Pentagon put military police on standby. Protests of all types continued to grow in response in over 140 cities all around the world. Increasingly, police escalation and increased violence has been reported, as I noted above–everything from cruisers driving into crowds of protesters to rubber bullets and pepper spray to people being fatally shot. Many cities now have curfews in place in an attempt to get things back under control, but it’s unclear whether that is working. All of this was exacerbated by 45’s response, which has oscillated between bravado (inciting state officials to violence and threatening to declare antifa a terrorist organization) and utter cowardice (literally turning all the White House lights off so he could pretend no one is home). Today, we careened back into bravado, with Trump indicating he would use military force in DC in a seeming invocation of the Insurrection Act. He immediately put his money where his mouth was by having military police use tear gas to disperse a completely peaceful protest, apparently so that he could have a photo op in front of a nearby damaged church. Folks, I know we have become inured over the past few days, but use of military force on a peaceful gathered assembly is definitely not constitutional and it is not the system working as intended. The next few days are going to be very critical on a lot of levels.
- Recent Space Resilience. This week did see the first successful space shuttle launch in nearly a decade, as the private company SpaceX had their first launch and rendezvoused with the International Space Station on Sunday. As one Twitter user put it, “Congratulations to the Astronauts that left Earth today. Good choice.”
So that’s what I have for this week, and if things stay this bad we’re getting good news first next week. For making it through, you deserve this stunned koala and animals in swings 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 uninterrupted sleep!