National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 35 (September 13–19)
Okay. I know I said the news was going to keep getting worse as we head into the election season, but the news this week is Capital-B-Bad, y’all. I’m running out of ways to say “I’m here if anybody needs anything,” but I am. And we all have a lot of work to do.
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 injunction!–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:
I know I say this every week, but this week really was a new low for Disregard of Governing Norms. Here’s what I have for you:
- Administrative Anarchy. First Attorney General William Barr signaled he wants to charge protesters who damage property with sedition, which is… a disturbing expansion of governmental power, to say the least. But I’m guessing it was intended to be an opening salvo, because he followed that up by declaring New York City, Portland, and Seattle “anarchist jurisdictions”–evidencing either further fascist tendencies or the fact that his house lacks a dictionary. Per the declaration itself, this is really just a fancy way of announcing that the administration is about to pull federal funding from those cities because people have been protesting there. Folks, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how illegal all of this; it runs counter to our First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, and a comparable attempt to punish cities that support immigrants in 2017 was enjoined as illegal by several courts because the move violates separation of powers. That said, a joint statement from the three mayors of impacted cities notes this declaration’s unconstitutionality as well.
- Your Regularly-Scheduled Illegality. Even before Barr made his announcements, this wasn’t a great week for governmental behavior. News broke that DC military police considered using a heat ray against protestors back in the summer when they cleared out a peaceful assembly so that Trump could take a photo in Lafayette Square. An HHS spokesperson accused CDC scientists of sedition because their work on COVID “undermines President Trump.” (Said spokesperson is now “taking a medical leave” to sit in a corner and think about what he’s done.) Trump called teaching about systemic racism “child abuse” and announced he would sign an executive order against the practice. And just as the cherry on top of it all, he’s also now facing yet another sexual assault allegation from the 1990s, this time by model Amy Dorris. For those of y’all playing the home game, Dorris joins over a dozen women to have made similar allegations.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). Needless to say, things keep taking further turns for the bizarre and we’re still about forty days away from Election Day as I type this. At a campaign rally, Trump threatened to sign an executive order that prevented Biden from being elected, because jokes about authoritarianism are hilarious, amirite? He also indicated he expects a winner declared on election night, despite states’ need to accommodate remote voting during a pandemic. Watchdogs are so alarmed by this that they’ve started pressing media to detail how they will handle Election Night reporting–and in particular, what they will do if one party (read: Trump) simply declares himself the winner before counting is done. And of course, the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg above creates a whole new spectre as we enter the final days of the election process, but we’ll talk about that more below.
- State of the COVID-19.* COVID news remains dispiritingly terrible for another week, and much of it is outright bizarre. DHHS Secretary Alex Azar declared himself in charge of FDA policy this week, indicating that new matters will require his approval and signature before they can be finalized. His announcement comes on the heels of yet more shifts in the CDC’s posted rules; namely, information about aerosol transmission that was added on Friday was then removed on Monday as an “error.” This change comes as more news trickles out about last month’s changes, also reversed this week, which removed recommendations for asymptomatic testing–apparently, that change was made without CDC scientists’ review and over their objection. These developments, unsurprisingly, leave people worried about the CDC’s functionality as a scientific entity. Meanwhile, many countries in Europe and South America are experiencing a surge in cases, making experts worry about another wave of outbreaks. And in Oregon, wildfires have apparently exacerbated COVID infection.
- Immigration Updates. There’s a lot of immigration news to watch right now, and almost all of it is pretty dire. The Ninth Circuit undid protections for people sheltering in the United States due to catastrophe in their home country, which throws the fate of nearly 400,000 people into limbo. Meanwhile, the Second Circuit undid protections for people seeking lawful permanent status in its jurisdiction, permitting blanket denial of disabled and indigent applicants to be enforced across the country. In Georgia, an ICE whistleblower alleges that an ICE medical vendor performed so many medically unnecessary hysterectomies on detainees they started calling him “the uterus collector,” and subsequent reporting suggests he wasn’t even a board certified gynecologist. News also broke that the U.S. has expelled nearly 9,000 unaccompanied minor children since the pandemic began, which is an incredibly high number and strongly suggests that legal process has not been followed. A witness in an ongoing sexual assault case against ICE officers in El Paso was deported in apparent retaliation for her testimony. And finally, the Washington Post reported that high coronavirus numbers in ICE custody can be partially linked to failure to follow protocols about transporting patients, which were themselves brought about so that ICE agents could be deployed at protest sites.
- The Passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Long-time Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday evening, apparently from complications due to pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, the nation is devastated, and this has a lot of implications for the Supreme Court and our government. NPR reports that a few days before her death, she informed her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to act immediately, despite his refusal to confirm Obama nominee Merrick Garland under less extreme circumstances. Trump has also signaled he will nominate a new justice “without delay,” apparently meaning before the next Presidential debate (let alone the election). It’s still an open question whether the Senate has the votes needed to confirm an unknown nominee, and it’s also possible the identity of the nominee will prove relevant. (The nominee is very likely to be Amy Coney Barrett, by the way, which is definitely my nightmare fuel for the week.) It is extremely important that we call our Senators repeatedly to urge them to postpone a Senate vote until after the election, and ideally until the next Presidential term.
- Recent Court Resilience. We had a few promising court cases this week. In Seattle, a federal judge blocked the current Postmaster General’s attempted operational changes to the mail system, calling them “a politically motivated attack.” (This is particularly welcome news as a report was also issued this week estimating that the policies disrupted up to 7% of total first class mail.) In unrelated but also positive news, an order scheduled to go into effect on Sunday that banned WeChat and Tiktok is already blocked by federal court, who noted that the ban would likely infringe on First Amendment rights.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this laptop ballad and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully more tolerable) 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 cozy blankets for autumn napping!