National News Roundup: Week 29 (August 6-12)

Good Lord, this news cycle was like being whacked repeatedly with a bag full of oranges. Or possibly doorknobs. You know what, let’s go with doorknobs, on account of I want to still like oranges after I’m done writing this. And speaking of oranges, this is definitely a comfort food week, y’all; we’re deep in Bad News Cycle country. Get your tasty item at the ready.

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 — still a lawyer, not a wartime strategist — 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 Corners:

Most of the Russian Collusion Investigation seemed to involve Manafort this past week. That’s really interesting, for a lot of different reasons, and we’ll have to see where it leads us.

  • The raid is at Manafort’s Home. (And Bank Records. And Relatives.) Federal investigators staged a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s home on July 26th, and more recently spoke with his son-in-law and subpoenaed his bank records. It’s harder to get a search warrant than a summons, and it requires a judge to agree that there is a likely cause for a crime to be committed. Manafort has already provided documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the election, so the search warrant is an unusually aggressive step. Ordinarily I would have something to say about this kind of aggression when a suspect is already apparently cooperating with the investigation, but in this case, I’m just hoping Manafort wasn’t shredding documents in the study while they were searching the kitchen.

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Trump vs The GOP. Trump has spent a considerable amount of his vacation so far slagging on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and gosh, it couldn’t be happening to a nicer Yertle the Turtle. It looks like McConnell might actually have started it, which would maybe be relevant if this were a third-grade recess brawl, but fellow Republicans clearly don’t want to hear it; they’re increasingly sharing just whose side they are taking in the whole thing. At the apparent root of all of this is the fact that Trump wants to get rid of the filibuster, which is a move that doesn’t appear to have Republican support (so far). In an ideal world, that will stay the case.
  • Premium Pile-Up. A study this week suggests that Trump’s horrible will-he-or-won’t-he regarding the payment of healthcare subsidies has caused double-digit premium increases in individual health insurance. On the one hand, insurers are struggling with an increasingly uncertain situation, and it’s sort of understandable that this is impacting the market. On the other hand, right now it’s still a legal requirement, per the still-existing ACA, that he has to pay the damn subsidies. So it would be nice if we could accept business as usual until something actually changes in some way. At any rate, I’m sure Trump will use this premium hike as evidence that the ACA is broken, even though he’s the one who’s breaking it at the moment. THANKS, TRUMP.

The Bad :

  • Murder and White Supremacy in Charlottesville. Probably the biggest and most important headline to know this week was that white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA murdered someone and injured thirty-five more people in a sustained and highly organized act of violence that ultimately lasted two days; while monitoring the violence, two police officers also died in a helicopter crash of unknown cause. Conflict actually began on Friday night, when white supremacists armed with (tiki) torches cornered students under a statue on campus and trapped several counterprotesters who had gathered at a local Black church. On Saturday morning, hours before a “Unite the Right” rally was scheduled to begin at noon, protesters and counterprotesters clashed in what Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas later referred to as “premeditated violence that our community experienced,” prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency and city officials to order the supremacists’ dispersal as an unlawful assembly. But what began as an assault and battery with fists, water bottles, and pepper spray escalated dramatically soon after the crowd dispersed, when a protester photographed earlier among the white supremacy crowd (and sporting a Vanguard America shield, suggesting official affiliation) drove a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters as they were leaving. The driver was ultimately identified as a twenty-year-old white man from Ohio, who is now in custody and charged with second-degree murder (among other things). The Associated Press has put together a decent timeline outlining Saturday’s events.
  • Let’s Have Elections Where Ohioans Can’t Vote.* Under the Obama administration, it was illegal for Ohio to remove tens of thousands of inactive voters from the voting rolls. Surprisingly absolutely nobody, the Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Department of Justice (for White People) has reversed course on this position, insisting that the state’s actions are legal under federal law. So now this question is going to the Supreme Court. Ohio’s procedure checks in with voters and requires them to confirm their voter registration by mail after two years of voting inactivity; voters who neither respond nor cast a vote over the next four years are removed from voter registration. This has obvious implications in an era fraught with voter suppression, particularly if the policy is not well-publicized; if you can’t show up and you don’t know you need to mail in confirmation, how are you supposed to stay on the voter rolls? But even without the threat of widespread suppression, given the sharp dip in voting during non-presidential election years — only 36% of registered US voters cast ballots in 2014 — this does not bode well for the voting future of Ohio.
  • Better Yet, Let’s Not Have Elections. Better Yet, Let’s Not Have Elections. In response to Republican assertions about voter fraud, the Washington Post ran a survey to investigate the question: If Donald Trump said that the 2020 election should be suspended in order to make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote, would you support his proposal? Among Republican-affiliated respondents, a whopping fifty-two percent thought this was a good idea — and the number went up to fifty-six percent if Republicans in Congress said they would back this play. Fortunately, this was a hypothetical situation that has not been floated publicly in the GOP. Unfortunately, if the Washington Post thought of it, Trump will probably think of it too. Especially because there’s a survey now giving him the idea. Way to spill the free election beans, Washington Post.
  • Ratcheting Tensions with North Korea.* The last couple of days of interaction with North Korea have been increasingly tense, as North Korea threatens America and nearby countries like South Korea and Japan in response to new sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. Adding depth to the threat, American analysts concluded on Tuesday that North Korea has successfully produced a nuclear warhead capable of fitting inside missiles. Trump responded to the threats with threats of his own, saying that the United States would respond to a missile strike “with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded within a few hours by threatening to send “an enveloping fire” around Guam. Then Trump said some asinine stuff about “military solutions” being “locked and loaded,” which appeared to simply refer to standard (and preplanned) American cooperation with South Korea. It’s important to note that experts still doubt that North Korea has mastered all of the technologies needed to deliver a nuclear payload on an intercontinental ballistic missile. The July test resulted in an ICBM that might reach California, and it stands to reason that if a reliable strike were within reach, Kim Jong-un would have included that in his threat to Guam. But more importantly, South Korean news sources are noting that “North Korea is likely to continue its bellicose threats as Seoul and Washington will conduct their annual joint military drills starting in late August.” Though this is a delicate time, to be sure, and South Korea and Japan are considering improving their military capabilities, experts do not appear to believe war is imminent. But Trump’s bluster doesn’t help anything. When Congress returns, they will potentially be considering a bill that would limit Trump’s ability to unilaterally use nukes, so now is a great time to call your representatives.

The Good :

  • Opiates Declared A National Emergency. In response to urging from the Governors of Arizona, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, the CDC, the FDA, Congress, physician groups, the insurance industry, and just about everyone else paying attention, the White House eventually declared a national emergency over the opiate epidemic this week. This action could have a whole range of possible results, and some of them (such as more draconian drug laws or crackdowns on prescribers) definitely don’t go in the ‘good’ column. But at minimum, it’s likely it will make the anti-overdose drug known as naloxone more available and inexpensive, and create groundwork for legislators to authorize additional funding for the issue; if he follows the precedents set by the six states that have already declared an emergency, he could potentially do a lot of good. We’ll just have to keep an eye out and see what develops from here, and for the moment I’m cautiously optimistic.
  • NYC Dismisses 644,000 Warrants for Minor Charges. In a coordinated effort to address a black cloud lingering over NYC police (as well as the people being haunted by old warrants), New York City prosecutors dismissed over half a million warrants this week for very minor offenses like drinking in public or riding a bike on a sidewalk. The move is particularly beneficial to immigrant populations who had old warrants for these very minor offenses — though it’s by no means full insulation from ICE activity, a clean criminal record can dramatically reduce liability to exposure. Even for people with no immigration exposure, as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio noted, old warrants from decades ago “can derail lives, disrupt families and lead to job loss” without real contribution to public safety. This is only a necessary first step to address decades of stop and frisk abuses, but it’s a welcome one.
  • Charlottesville Responses. Though the President and White House’s astoundingly lackluster (and delayed) response to this tragedy has been jaw-dropping, it’s equally striking just how many varied voices immediately condemned the attack. At least three major GOP figures have referred to Saturday’s events as “domestic terrorism,” a completely new characterization of white perpetrators of crime as far as I know; the DOJ also has declared an investigation (though I’ll believe that one when I see it). Even the tiki company that made the torches has scrambled to distance themselves from Saturday’s events, and Kenneth Frazier, Merck CEO, resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council over the events of the weekend and Trump’s non-response. But more importantly, a number of people are doing things in response. Several different medical funds organized for the 35 people injured and the deceased have been wildly successful as I write this, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in only one day. I’ve also seen multiple articles outlining concrete steps people can take to help, and a huge number of organizations have been organizing vigils, rallies, and other events to show solidarity in addition to concrete steps of support. America is listening, and America is responding.

And that’s the week’s news! We’re all a bit shell-shocked and the hits are coming in fast, but I’ll do my best to keep touching on all the key points every week no matter how bad and frenetic it gets. In the meantime, daily news summaries like WTFJHT are an excellent resource until we meet again. (Today in Resistance is a pause while Storm enjoys a much-earned vacation, although its summary of news sources is still worth reading.)

National News Roundup: Week 18 (May 21–27)

This past week was a major sine wave; we had some big wins but we also had some really rough sailing. (Sailing…wave…see what I did there?). The news is still coming in at a rocket-fueled rate, so who only knows where we’ll be this time next week. For now, the Russia section stays in place, though I’m broadening it to talk about Constitutional issues generally, because that doesn’t seem to be slowing down much (and we now have at least three different potential Constitutional crises in play).

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 also contains multiple headlines outside my area as a legal generalist — still a lawyer, not a spy! — 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 Contenders:

It’s starting to get legitimately hard to keep track of all the various unconstitutional things happening, so this new section is probably here to stay. Your handy-dandy neighborhood legal generalist turned announcer is here for you — let me just get my megaphone…

Okay, are you ready? Yeah, me neither, but here we go. In the first corner: The Russia Collusion Investigation! Come for the sketchy backdoor dealings, stay for Flynn’s likely flight from the country!

In the second corner: Remember the Emoluments Clause? Still a thing, at least on Constitutional paper!

  • Oh, That Pesky Constitution. The by-now-traditional weekly “I can’t believe I’m not making this up” award goes to the Trump Organization announcing that it’s not going to bother to comply with the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Specifically, the organization noted that compliance “is impractical” and “would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.” Unsurprisingly, Elijah Cummings (ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight Committee) shot back a very angry three-page letter explaining how and why this was unacceptable. The legal dream team suing Trump over this issue, meanwhile, has probably already mailed Cummings a fruit basket and a subpoena.

And in the third corner, because technically a ring has four of them: Reigning champion Free Press!

Which the first two contenders are joining forces to beat down; ouch, that’s gotta hurt. Here’s hoping the First Amendment team can tag in partner Judicial Enforcement before it’s too late!

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Official Word on Haitian TPS. The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it plans to extend Haitian temporary protected status — but only until until January 2018. This six-month extension is considerably shorter than the customary eighteen months, though it does give Haitian families — some of whom have been living here in the United States for seven years — more time to plan. The move is probably intended to be a compromise between letting the status expire outright and extending it through the normal process. Either way, it’s an odd move likely to leave literally everyone displeased, as is the way of compromises.
  • Poverty State of Mind. Ben Carson continues to be a walking font of bad quotes and no housing experience, this time announcing that “poverty is a state of mind” that people can overcome “in a little while” if they have the right mindset. Needless to say, people were less than impressed by this opinion; my favorite is the person who wants to know if they can pay their rent with the power of positive thinking. (Also, though Carson’s statement was laughably, painfully asinine, I do want to make an important subtext into text here: Simply rising to the top of the waiting list to access the public housing offered by Carson’s department frequently takes several years. It is irresponsible and concerning in the extreme to hear the director of the program publicly deny that reality, and it doesn’t really matter whether he honestly believes what he is saying — his words belie a fundamental lack of concern and empathy for his department’s recipients either way.)
  • Who Wants to Be an FBI Director? Apparently not many people, if the list of candidates withdrawing from consideration the position is any indication. Most notably, Joe Lieberman and Richard McFeely withdrew from consideration this week, despite being among the four candidates to interview at the White House. This leaves only two interviewed candidates in the running from an original list of about fourteen — acting director Andrew McCabe and former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating. The withdrawals may put former Republican Rep Mike Rogers back on the list, since he’s apparently popular with the FBI, if Trump doesn’t want to appoint McCabe or Keating; we’ll have to see what happens from here. At any rate, having six people drop out from consideration on a position this high-up in government is incredibly bizarre, and speaks to how little people now want to work with this administration.

The Bad:

The Good:

  • Voting Rights Win. The Supreme Court published a really important opinion on voting rights this week, affirming the North Carolina appeals court’s view of illegal gerrymandering in two districts 5–3 (with Gorsuch, who was not yet a justice during oral argument, recused). The court held that racially motivated redistricting is unconstitutional even when those districts also reflect political party affiliations, and rejected the government’s ridiculous argument that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required racially motivated redistricting. Basically, the court said that race can’t be the strongest consideration in redistricting, and it also can’t be used as a proxy for political affiliation. The case potentially paves the way for more robust voting rights protections by linking racial discrimination to party affiliation, especially because redistricting needs to be done for 2020. Texas, you’re on notice now.
  • Travel Ban Still Illegal. The fourth circuit upheld an injunction put in place on the travel ban by a federal district court this week, leaving the stay on enforcement in effect. The opinion is very long — about 200 pages, all told — but it focuses primarily on the Establishment Clause in its substantive reasoning, saying the Executive Order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination” and the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional challenge. Much like earlier court cases, the fourth circuit case focuses on the extensive public statements made by the President and his advisers to determine a bad faith intent to discriminate against Muslim people in both executive orders. Sessions has indicated that he plans to appeal the order to the Supreme Court.
  • Modest Sanctuary City Win. Sessions issued a memo finally defining just what “sanctuary jurisdiction” actually means, and backing off of previous threats to cut funding in the process. The memo was likely in response to a recent federal court opinion that found the order unconstitutional. The new version applies only to federal grants from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security (though that still covers a lot of ground), and specifically defines sanctuary as “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with [federal law requiring disclosure of legal status to federal officials].” This means that cities fighting with the federal government about whether to hold individuals on “immigration detainers” are not considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” on that basis alone. This new version will probably still be challenged in courts, because restrictions on grant funding are traditionally a legislative matter. In the meantime, we now have a definition of what compliance is actually being mandated, and many, many grant recipients can breathe a bit easier because their funding is not tied to the provision at all.

Though it may not be immediately obvious, all of these court cases are really big wins, especially the voting rights case; for now, it seems apparent that our court system is still functioning normally, and is taking steps to limit the ongoing creep of fascist infrastructure and preserve free elections and religious freedoms. It will also be very interesting to see what the current Supreme Court does with the growing body of travel ban cases.

And that’s all the news at this very moment, though I bet that will change within an hour of posting. Onward we row along…