On today's BradCast, after what seems like a too-long absence, we're joined again today by Slate legal reporter MARK JOSEPH STERN for insight on the first batch of U.S. Supreme Court opinions issued at term's end this week. [Audio link to show follows below.]
But first today, mercifully brief coverage of Donald Trump's re-election campaign launch in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday night. While the rally followed the same tired pattern of pretty much all of the campaign rallies he's held non-stop since becoming President --- (Remember when the GOP and Fox 'News' used to complain that Obama was holding campaign rallies as President, rather than governing? That was darling.) --- the usual recitation of Trump lies and nonsense also included a fascinating reference to Republican opposition to "socialism" just one mere breath before Trump (falsely) touted GOP support for protecting much-beloved socialist programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The irony, no doubt, was lost on most of his brain-poisoned followers on hand or watching via the Fox "News" disinformation channel.
On Capitol Hill today, Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee finally heard testimony from a former Trump official in the aftermath of the damning Robert Mueller Special Counsel report. Longtime Trump aid Hope Hicks --- who worked with him before his campaign, during it, during the transition and in the White House --- cooperated with the Mueller probe and is cited within it as a witness about 180 times. She agreed to testify today, though only behind closed doors, with a transcript to be released later. However, White House and DoJ Attorneys were also on hand to continue what Committee member Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) described as "obstruction of justice in action". The lawyers issued objections to any and all questions related to Hicks' service with Trump as President, asserting "absolute immunity" from such questions. That is a newly invented "privilege" from the White House and DoJ which Lieu described as "not a thing. It doesn't exist." Lawmakers suggest the result will be court action to force Hicks' testimony on her time at the White House, now that she is a private citizen (who works for Fox "News"). Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is still opposed to opening an official impeachment inquiry, reportedly described the new White House offensive as "obstruction of justice", which --- in case she needs a reminder --- is one of the offenses included in the Articles of Impeachment for both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Also in D.C. today, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency, now headed by "former" coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, officially replaced President Obama's Clean Power Plan, meant to curb global warming greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, with a new rule that makes the reduction of emissions optional for states. Even while coal plants have been shutting down across the country over the past two years in favor of cheaper, cleaner natural gas and renewable energy production, the Administration is implementing the new rule which, according to the EPA's own analysis, will result in thousands of unnecessary deaths per year. The new rule parallels a similar effort by the Trump Administration to roll back new mileage standards implemented by Obama with the cooperation of the auto industry, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says will save thousands of lives as well. So, yes, Trump is now purposely killing Americans and lying about it by claiming U.S. air and water has never been cleaner. That, according to actual findings from the Government, is also untrue, as pollution has increased over the past two years since Trump became President.
We're then joined by Slate's Stern for a review of this week's SCOTUS rulings and an explanation for some of the "strange bedfellow" partnerships found in several of them. Among the opinions discussed today...
- A Supreme Court "punt if I've ever seen one," according to Stern, on a case involving yet another bigoted baker, this time in Portland, who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The Justices sent that case back down to the lower court for review, though Stern suggests they are largely buying time before being forced to determine, once and for all, whether discrimination against LGBTQ people is Constitutional. "The Court can't duck this forever," says Stern;
- The largely good news ruling of the week is for voters in Virginia, where a 5 to 4 majority opinion results in new, fairer, more competitive legislative districts in advance of the Commonwealth's statewide elections this November. The Justices held that the GOP-gerrymandered House of Delegates did not have standing to appeal new legislative maps implemented by lower courts to correct 11 districts found to have been unlawfully and unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered following the 2010 Census. Only the state's Attorney General, a Democrat, who initially challenged the ruling on behalf of the state but later declined to appeal the lower court's ultimate ruling, has such standing, the majority determined.
But the majority opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was joined, unsurprisingly, by Justices Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, and much more surprisingly by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch! Moreover, the minority dissent, penned by rightwing Justice Samuel Alito was also joined by the normally progressive Stephen Breyer. Stern offers an explanation for what appears to be very strange bedfellows on this opinion, and whether the ultimate outcome --- while very good news for Democrats who hope to take control of one or both chambers in the VA legislature this November --- will be good news or bad news for Democrats and Republicans in the future;
- We then move to what Stern describes as "a tough but interesting case", for his explanation of the Court's affirmation of what has long been considered a loophole in the U.S. Constitution allowing an exception to its restriction on double-jeopardy cases. In fact, as the Court held in a 7-2 decision, virtually identical indictments may be brought against the same person, for the same crime, so long as they are brought in separate State and Federal jurisdictions, which are considered to be "separate sovereigns". On the minority in this case was another odd couple, Ginsberg and Gorsuch, while Thomas --- who previously decried the Double-Jeopardy Loophole by calling for a "fresh examination" of it --- chose not to vote for ending it when he had the opportunity. He did, however, take the opportunity to write a concurrence in the case, calling for reversing other long-held SCOTUS precedents, such as those which allow women the right to choose to have an abortion. "He used his opinion to launch into this crazy attack on precedent, that was clearly laying the groundwork for an attack on cases like Roe. vs. Wade" and marriage equality;
- Finally, Stern offers some thoughts on the Court's expected opinion, due any day now, regarding the Administration's attempt to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census. That determination is still expected, despite evidence unearthed after oral argument that proves the Administration lied about their reasons for adding the question, which, according to the Census Bureau itself, will reduce participation. That, in turn, is expected to radically shift government funding and citizen voting power from Democrats and minorities toward white Republican jurisdictions. We discuss that bizarre matter --- and how SCOTUS can possibly rule on the case now, given the new evidence revealed from the hard drive of a now-deceased GOP gerrymandering expert following the Court's hearing months ago --- and a few of the other expected important decisions to come in the next two weeks before the Justices leave town for Summer vacation...
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