Guest: Legal journalist Mark Joseph Stern; Also: Dow tops record high; Chutkan pauses Trump case; Hunter Biden pushes back at U.S. Capitol; House GOP votes to open revenge Impeachment inquiry...
By Brad Friedman on 12/13/2023, 6:32pm PT  

We couldn't keep up with everything as it kept breaking all day and throughout today's BradCast. But we tried. Even while welcoming back one of our favorite guests. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

We're happy to joined once again today by Slate's top shelf legal journalist, the great MARK JOSEPH STERN, who is now back from his recent parental leave. (That, thanks, in no small part, to an excellent contract by his union, the Writers Guild of America!) And, while we had previously planned to talk with Mark today about far-right Trump appointees to the lower federal courts undermining voting rights and even the Supreme Court itself, the news just kept coming today out of SCOTUS. Thankfully, Stern was here to hold our hand through it all.

After indicating earlier this week they were prepared to move quickly in response to Special Counsel Jack Smith's request for an expedited hearing on Donald Trump's ridiculous appeal regarding Presidential Immunity, the Supremes announced on Wednesday they would be taking up a challenge to the federal law used to charge hundreds of January 6 insurrectionists, including Trump himself. Two of the four charges he is facing in his federal election interference case are related to unlawful obstruction of an official proceeding. But a lower federal court Trump judge, Carl Nichols, has decided those obstruction charges --- adopted by Congress as part of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, focused mostly on white-collar crime --- are inappropriate for use against J6 rioters.

What will that mean for the pending charges against Trump and his trial currently scheduled for March 4 next year? Stern describes it today as "a troubling development", if only because "there wasn't a significant dispute over the interpretation of this particular statute" which has been used to convict hundreds of J6 attackers. While he explains that it is not necessarily fatal to either Smith's indictment against Trump in D.C. or the ability for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to complete the trial before next year's election, Stern regards it as "an ominous sign for those of us who wanted Chutkan to be able to move forward on her own timeline."

Nonetheless, it is, once again, another example of a lower court Trump judge "try[ing] to wield their power in aggressive and truly unprecedented ways." That similar effort to go "beyond the judicial power to essentially act as a free-floating veto over any Democratic policy, and trying to smuggle in Republican policies under the guise of judicial review," as Stern characterizes it, was similarly on view today as the High Court also announced plans to hear a challenge to the use of the widely prescribed abortion drug Mifipristone. That, after abortion opponents filed their case specifically so that it would be taken up earlier this year by Trump-appointed anti-choice activist Matthew Kacsmaryk, the only U.S. District Court Judge in the Northern District of Texas.

But where the "dead hand of the Trump Administration," as a recent article by Stern describes it, may be most troubling is in a series of recent rulings by Trump judges focused on undermining the Voting Rights Act, which is facing a tenuous moment at the stolen, packed and corrupted GOP-majority Supreme Court. Stern details three different recent cases --- one of them "almost too painfully stupid to explain" --- where jurists appointed by Trump in the lower courts are targeting and/or undermining the landmark civil rights law, even in violation of both long-standing SCOTUS precedent and very recent opinions by the High Court.

But, the news just kept on breaking today. Chutkan declared that Trump's Jan. 6 case would have to largely be "paused" until Trump's ridiculous immunity appeal is resolved, further imperiling next year's scheduled March 4 trial date.

The Dow hit a record high on Wall Street, as investors became jubilant at news from the Federal Reserve that it is likely to finally begin lowering interest rates next year --- even more aggressively than previously expected.

The 200 nations meeting in Dubai for the U.N.'s COP28 finally came to an agreement on their final statement after this year's climate conference. They deigned to mention the phrase "fossil fuels" for the first time ever. But more on that (hopefully!) tomorrow.

And the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, in a strict party-line vote, adopted a resolution to officially open an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden for...well...something or other. It remains unclear.

In truth, it's a revenge impeachment inquiry meant to placate the disgraced, twice-impeached former President, and to distract from the many failures of a corrupted, dysfunctional GOP-run House in advance of next year's elections. The vote was held on the same day that Republicans again refused to accept Hunter Biden's offer to testify in a public hearing. He had a few words about that for assembled media on the U.S. Capitol steps earlier today...


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