Guest: Slate's legal reporter Mark Joseph Stern; Also: Virginia is no longer for death penalty lovers...
By Brad Friedman on 2/24/2021, 6:24pm PT  

On today's BradCast: Try as they did, Donald Trump and the Republican Party were unable to steal the 2020 Presidential election. But they've got their plans in place for how to try and do it next time. They just need their currently stolen and packed Republican U.S. Supreme Court majority to help them pull it off. This week, SCOTUS chose not to do so --- even if they may in the future. But, in a separate decision, the Court did radically help increase the odds that our disgraced former President could be headed to jail before he's even able to run for office again. [Audio link to show is posted below summary.]

But first up today, some good news out of Virginia, where more people have been put to death by the Commonwealth's government than in any other state in the nation. Since their founding as a colony in 1608, some 1,390 people have been executed by the government there. Since SCOTUS reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has executed 113 people. That is more than any other state but Texas. This week, however, following Democrats gaining majorities in both chambers of the legislature, Virginia will now become the first Southern state --- and the 23rd in the union --- to abolish the abhorrent practice. And not a moment too soon, particularly given the systemic racism of their death penalty practices. For example, as the Death Penalty Information Center pointed out to Washington Post this week, "From 1900 to 1969...Virginia did not execute a single White person for any offense that did not result in death, while 73 Black men were executed for rape, attempted rape or robbery." So, yeah. Very good news out of Virginia this week, as Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam prepares to sign the long-overdue measures finally adopted by the state legislature.

Speaking of state legislatures, on yesterday's BradCast, we reported on this week's decision by SCOTUS to purge a bunch of held over Trump/GOP challenges to the 2020 election. Cases from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona were all dismissed as moot. But dismissal of the Pennsylvania cases found three Justices --- Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch --- in dissent [PDF]. The two nearly identical cases in question had challenged the PA state Supreme Court's decision to extend the deadline [PDF] for the return of absentee ballots by three days after Election Day, due to the pandemic, slowdowns by the U.S. Postal Service and a provision in their state constitution mandating fair elections.

With all of their many other attempts to steal the 2020 election having failed, the GOP has now latched on to a radical interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause to argue that only state legislatures --- not Governors, not Secretaries of State, not State Elections Board or even state Supreme Courts --- may set any procedure for federal elections. Therefore, the Trumpers argued in their now-dismissed Pennsylvania challenges, the three day extension by the PA Supreme Court to enforce their state's Constitution by allowing for the arrival of late mail-in ballots cast by Election Day, was an unlawful violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Though no SCOTUS majority has ever affirmed this extreme reading of the federal Constitution, this is what many Republicans have now decided to believe to make themselves feel better after losing last November. In Pennsylvania, however, there were only 10,000 late arriving ballots and Joe Biden won the Keystone State by about 80,000. So SCOTUS decided the issue was moot and dismissed the cases. But Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch argued the case should have been heard anyway.

"A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election," Alito wrote in dissent. "But a decision would provide invaluable guidance for future elections." On yesterday's program, I actually agreed with Alito and explained why.

Today, for a counter-point, we're joined by Slate's great legal journalist MARK JOSEPH STERN who offered a very different view from mine in his own coverage of Monday's decision by the high court. While justifiably destroying Justice Thomas' solo dissent in which he argued that mail-in ballots are bad even if there is no fraud, simply because people may think there is fraud, Stern also argued that SCOTUS was right to dismiss the case, rather than hear it. In part, he argues, that's because this Court has been packed so far to the extreme right. "We should be very afraid of what the Court would say," he tells me. "And that fear is enough for us to just hope that the Justices put off a decision on this matter for as long as humanly possible."

But I disagree with Stern and, in a very spirited debate, explain why. Who wins that one? Tune in and decide for yourself.

Stern also comments today on whether our failed former President should be concerned that his own packed and stolen U.S. Supreme Court, in an apparently unanimous decision on Monday, finally allowed Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to obtain Trump's financial and tax records as part of Vance's grand jury criminal probe into alleged bank, tax and insurance fraud by Trump and his organization. In short, Stern asserts, "the answer is yes," Trump should be very concerned. "They're looking at felony offenses here, not just civil offenses, run-of-the-mill white collar stuff, but serious crimes. I do think there's a serious chance that we could see an indictment of Donald Trump coming down the pipeline in the near future." Though he does add a caveat or two.

Of even more immediate concern, Stern recently wrote, Trump's efforts to interfere with Georgia's election results --- for example, cajoling and threatening the state's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to declare him the winner --- could spell trouble, and even jail time, even sooner.

"You'll see some people argue that Trump can't be convicted under this law --- the ban on criminal solicitation of election fraud --- because he didn't have the requisite state of mind, because he didn't actually want the Sec. of State to falsify records because he was deluded enough to believe that there were actually 12,000 secret votes for him out there that could be found. That's a question for the jury, that's not a question for the prosecutors or the grand jury. That is something Trump could argue at a criminal trial," says Stern, before adding: "I think that any reasonable reading of that transcript proves that Trump was, in fact, looking for the Secretary of State to falsify records, to commit election fraud. It is very difficult to read those sentences in any other way."

He explains why Trump could soon be looking at anywhere from 1 to 3 years in that criminal probe by the Fulton County (Atlanta) District Attorney and whether he thinks it is actually possible that a former President of the United States may actually receive prison time before all of this is said and done...

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