This week saw an improbable amount of news, given the holiday in the middle–several things snuck in under the turkey radar while most people weren’t paying attention. (The National News Roundup was paying attention. You’re on notice, SCOTUS.)
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 an ill-advised partial recount!–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 Corners:
Here we go again with another round of Election Rejection, but it’s tentatively looking like Trump is running out of steam. Here’s what I have for you:
- Trumped-Up Election Challenges. The cockroach metaphor remains apt for another week as courts fumigate Trump’s election claims, with the 3rd Circuit throwing extra rat poison on Giuliani’s arguments and the PA Supreme Judicial Court mopping up any remaining aftermath. The last-minute Wisconsin recount is also over, and in the end only resulted in 86 more votes for Biden. At this point, all six of the states where Trump tried to contest results have certified their election results for Biden. With the certification game more-or-less over, Trump has pivoted to lashing out at staff again and saying that he’ll step down if the electoral college votes for Biden. It’s tempting to believe we’re truly out of the woods, but his clear and conditional capitulation makes me think he’s got some kind of bananas scheme in place regarding elector appointments.
That said, we also saw more Original Flavor Disregard of Governing Norms. Here’s what I have for you:
- Pardoning a Turkey. As we were waiting for final word on whether Attorney General William Barr would be allowed to drop Michael Flynn’s criminal charges, Trump went ahead and pardoned Flynn via tweet on Wednesday. Though the move isn’t especially surprising, it does highlight the close relationships between Flynn and Trump, as Flynn’s attorney was handling Trump’s election challenges until she was fired sometime last week. Flynn is not the first Russia investigation associate pardoned by Trump–that honor goes to Roger Stone–but unlike Stone, Flynn still had an active legal case. Ironically, since he accepted a pardon, Flynn now effectively has admitted his guilt again, which was the very thing Barr was trying to avoid.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Unexpected Political Updates. There were a handful of other noteworthy political stories this past week as well. In “I can’t believe this happened, even though it needed to” news, Senator Diane Feinstein announced that she is stepping down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee after alienating half her party with her handling of the Comey Barrett hearing. Along a similar vein, the Washington Post reports that the NRA straight-up told the IRS about its executives misappropriating funds in 2019–great news in the long run, but you don’t often see a nonprofit just admit its executives were stealing money. It will be very interesting to see what, if anything, happens in the wake of both of these stories.
Your New Normal*:
*Increasingly, I struggle with where to put news about the Biden administration, because much of it isn’t clear-cut enough to be considered ‘good,’ but it isn’t Trump or pandemic levels of bad. And yet it’s not weird, because, well, it’s an overt bid to make things “normal” again. I don’t believe a return to our previous political reality is achievable, but I’m creating a new section to highlight Biden’s choices and reflect that agenda.
- Transition Tidings. President-elect Biden continues to name his cabinet staff picks, though many of those choices need to be confirmed by the Senate once he is inaugurated. In the past week, he has named a foreign policy team, including a proposed Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence, and National Security Advisor. He also officially nominated his chosen secretary of treasury this week, which made the stock market very happy. And as I type this, he also just announced the first all-female White House communications team. Some of his choices have obvious issues, which we can expect to see highlighted at Senate confirmation hearings, but I’ll address those once they become front-and-center.
- State of the COVID-19. In the awful COVID news bucket, infections are still rising and so are death rates; additionally, hospitalization reached a new all-time high on Sunday, with 93,238 total COVID patients reported. At the time that I type this, we have literally seen two million new cases in the past two weeks and four million new cases in the past month. Though the CDC more-or-less begged people not to travel for Thanksgiving, given those numbers, the TSA reports that they saw about one million people per day in the days leading up to the holiday. It may be a few weeks before we see how all of that travel has impacted the pandemic, particularly because less testing was likely done over the holiday, but it seems likely we can anticipate yet another spike in many places.
- SCOTUS Sea Change. Very early in the morning leading into Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court released an anonymous 5-4 opinion stating that the governor of New York was being prevented from limiting in-person religious gatherings in COVID red zones. This would be concerning enough, given the rapid rise of COVID-related deaths, but as an attorney I really want to stress that this opinion was rife with inconsistencies, bizarre arguments, and legal irregularities that appear to usher in a scary new age for SCOTUS cases. Among the irregularities to note: 1) They granted an injunction, which is designed to be an emergency remedy when harm is imminent, for religious groups that were no longer in red zones; 2) The decision overturned decisions that were issued only a few months before, which is an incredibly fast window to overturn precedent; 3) There were six different opinions written for this decision, which is an unusually high number of separate opinions even for a court known for routinely writing concurrences and dissents; 5) The decision was written anonymously despite the fact that there were six different opinions written and the other five were all signed, leaving only a few justices as the possible author of the per curium opinion. (I’ve seen legal scholars speculate that Amy Comey Barrett probably wrote this opinion, and I think they’re likely correct.) I would disagree with this opinion even if it illustrated none of these irregularities, but the fact that they are there suggests that court processes may be breaking down at the highest level right now in this country. We need to be watching the court’s activity over the next couple of months very, very carefully, especially given the court’s pending case about census apportionment, and we should brace ourselves now for potential fallout.
- Positive Pandemic Updates. There is still some positive COVID news this week, mostly regarding vaccines. Pfizer might start distributing its first doses as soon as mid-December, and Moderna is now seeking FDA authorization as well–so it might not be far behind. The technology used in both vaccines, which modifies viral RNA, also has a whole host of other promising applications for public health. In other vaguely positive pandemic news, workers are organizing to seek hazard pay at many major retail establishments in light of the risk created by this year’s holiday season. And finally, new research analysis suggests that many people do not remain contagious for longer than seven days, which may result in the CDC shortening their recommended period for self-isolation in cases of exposure.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve these Canterbury Park corgi races 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!