Now, the 2020 effort to fill the Supreme Court seat once held by a jurist famed for her love of the opera takes on the air if not the arias of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1867 Don Carlo: a mix of death and politics.
Already, Washington is braced for dramatics worthy of La Scala, created by a set of unlikely stage circumstances worthy of the most imaginative librettos.
A year ago, nobody expected the leitmotif of this U.S. election year to be a once-obscure respiratory ailment with the ungainly name COVID-19. Seven months ago, few expected former vice-president Joe Biden, three-quarters of a century old and looking every year of it, to be the designated saviour of the Democrats in the Donald Trump era.
And only a week ago, nobody expected the election to turn on the destiny of Amy Coney Barrett.
Amy Coney Barrett? An Indiana jurist known to few Americans outside conservative legal circles until late last week, Justice Barrett, 48, was expected to be nominated Saturday by Mr. Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death just more than a week ago of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And if the scales of justice require an elegant balance, then Mr. Trump’s selection fits comfortably opposite Justice Ginsburg on the weighing pan of U.S. jurisprudence.
Though both are women, Justice Barrett – like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Ginsburg’s opera companion, and the conservative jurist for whom Justice Barrett clerked – is a judicial originalist, the opposite of Justice Ginsburg’s profile as a judicial activist.
Justice Barrett was educated at tiny Rhodes College and the University of Notre Dame, and is a product of Memphis and the Midwest. Justice Ginsburg was educated at Cornell, Harvard and Columbia, the product of the Ivy League and the Eastern establishment. Justice Barrett has qualms about what she derided in a Notre Dame speech as abortion-on-demand and has an expansive view of the Second Amendment that is the basis of widespread gun ownership. Justice Ginsburg was a fervent supporter of abortion rights and didn’t believe the Second Amendment should be interpreted to permit widespread ownership of guns.
It is those differences – the positioning of Justice Barrett on the opposite side of virtually all the vital judicial issues of 21st-century America – that makes her “the nominee that social conservatives have been waiting and fighting for,” as John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney-general in the George W. Bush administration and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, put it.
And that is what so energizes conservatives in the United States and so horrifies liberals.
It is, moreover, those differences that add definition, passion and perhaps direction to an election that, like virtually no other in U.S. history, could turn on the future of the Supreme Court.
Already, Mr. Biden has tied the Supreme Court confirmation battle to the survival in the high court of the Obamacare health-insurance law, emphasizing the urgency that the issue possesses in the time of the coronavirus. And already, both sides in the abortion battle are stoking passions among their adherents, declaring that abortion rights, established in 1973, now could be in the balance.
To be sure, throughout the past 90 years, the composition of the Supreme Court has been an important issue: in the New Deal years, when the high court ruled on the Great Depression remedies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; in the Dwight Eisenhower years, when the first important racial-integration rulings were handed down; in the Richard Nixon years, when abortion was legalized and the President’s prerogatives were curtailed.
Polls show Mr. Biden holding as much as a 17-point advantage over the President among women, raising the prospect of a record gender gap. Choosing a jurist such as Thomas Hardiman – a moderate that Mr. Trump has considered in the past and whose ideological profile would be less onerous to conservative Democrats in the Senate – would only make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to narrow that gap.
If the very prospect of replacing Justice Ginsburg is a flashpoint in U.S. politics, the selection of Justice Barrett is a lightning strike – a perfect reflection of the divisions in U.S. politics today and of the tensions that define the struggle for the White House. In every way that this nomination mobilizes Democrats infuriated at the President’s selection and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s determination to hold a confirmation vote for Justice Barrett, it also galvanizes conservatives.
She is, in the characterization of conservative Hoover Institution scholar Peter Robinson, “committed to the originalist interpretation of the Constitution, with an extensive and brilliant written record, the correct gender, and has demonstrated the character, resolve and sheer cussed stubbornness to withstand the calumnies of the confirmation hearings.”
Justice Barrett also “helps Trump in the culture wars, especially on behalf of white Christians, and she’s based in the Midwest, where he needs to do well,” said Daniel Urman, a constitutional scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University. Indeed, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California helped ignite sympathy for Justice Barrett and for devout Catholics when she told Justice Barrett during her 2017 nomination hearings for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”
Ms. Feinstein concluded that “dogma lives loudly” phrase with the words “and that’s a concern.” But that phrase – swiftly seized upon by Catholic and conservative groups, appearing on T-shirts and coffee mugs – is an enormous advantage on the American right.
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Boris Johnson used to be the Teflon man of British politics, brushing off scandals, gaffes and mistakes. Not any more – CNN
Who Won the Debate? Political Observers Weigh In – The New York Times
Like other presidents who have slipped in the polls after a widely panned first debate, President Trump was the beneficiary of low expectations on Thursday night in the final debate before the election, a more civil and lower-decibel affair than the last.
But his effort to demonstrate greater discipline was most likely too little, too late to deliver the jolt to the race that he needs to lift his chances for re-election, some of the nation’s top political strategists and other observers said.
Where some saw hope for Mr. Trump, others saw the same candidate facing the same challenging campaign dynamics.
“Nothing changed,” Matthew Dowd, a former top aide to President George W. Bush, said on ABC News. “He wasn’t a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t mean he won the debate.”
Though Mr. Trump needed some kind of breakthrough to overcome former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead in the polls, Mr. Dowd said later that he did not see that happen during the course of the 90-minute encounter. “Biden had a lead going in and has a lead leaving,” he wrote on Twitter.
The size of Mr. Biden’s lead, double digits in some national polls, is so large that any good Mr. Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by Mr. Biden’s even performance. “Biden did not do a face plant,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “That is all he needed to do.”
Ahead of the debate, many analysts saw parallels between Mr. Trump’s underdog position and the high stakes President Barack Obama faced before his second debate in 2012, when he delivered sharper and more forceful rebuttals to Mitt Romney than he had before, and soon rebounded in the polls.
Certainly, many of Mr. Trump’s defenders sought to portray his performance that way on Thursday. Many claimed that he had triumphed over Mr. Biden, seizing on the former vice president’s statement about phasing out fossil fuel use as a devastating misstep.
Some praised the president merely for not interrupting. “Trump’s self-control is very impressive right now,” said Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative writer and podcast host.
And others claimed that Mr. Biden had reinforced stereotypes of him as a career politician who inspires little passion.
David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said on Twitter that the president “has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: ‘what have you done Joe during all your time in DC? You’re all talk no action.’”
Mr. Brody concluded, “That message will have traction.”
But it was not certain that the evening would have much effect on a race in which few undecided voters remain. Nor was it clear that the debate did anything other than reaffirm what most people already felt about both men.
Here is what observers from across the political spectrum said.
Mr. Trump’s supporters believed they had the moment that every campaign dreams of in a debate: those 20 or so seconds when your opponent makes a gaffe that can be spliced into an attack ad that can run repeatedly over the final stretch of the race.
It was not clear, however, that this is what Mr. Trump had after Mr. Biden challenged the president to produce video proving that he had said he would ban fracking, and then expressed support for phasing out fossil fuels and ending federal subsidies for oil companies.
“I’m not sure much is going to change or can at this point in the race, in this year, but if anything were to, that oil line is the one that will haunt him,” said Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative analyst.
Republicans quickly began circulating one such video showing Mr. Biden describing what he would do about fracking, saying, “We would make sure it’s eliminated.” The former vice president has since said repeatedly he does not support ending the practice, a major source of jobs.
“Biden thinks PA is stupid,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Republican strategists also saw something to like in Mr. Trump’s response on how he plans to handle the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country, revealing the deep divide between many conservative supporters of the president, who want a generally more hands-off approach from the government, and most other Americans, who believe in taking steps such as mandating mask-wearing in public.
Ari Fleischer, a former aide to Mr. Bush, said many Americans would find something more hopeful in the president’s message, versus what he saw as the pessimism of Mr. Biden’s words. “Trump is right about learning to live with the virus,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We can and must fight the virus, and live our lives. I suspect Trump’s message about living with it beats Biden’s message about dying with it.”
Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, echoed that point, saying that many Americans are wary of stringent lockdowns. “Biden talks bailouts and shutdowns – Trump talks re-opening. That’s a good contrast for the President and he should hold this fight here,” Mr. Todd said.
But Tony Fratto, who also worked for the Bush administration, raised what some strategists have said is Mr. Trump’s Achilles’ heel: his drop in support among seniors. “Continuing to press the fact that young people are less likely to die will not help to close that gap with old people,” Mr. Fratto said.
Mr. Biden’s defenders appeared to anticipate that Mr. Trump would be graded on a curve. But they tried to remind people that any perceptions of a vast improvement were relative.
“I’ve watched more Trump debates than any human,” Ron Klain, an aide to Mr. Biden who helped him prepare for the debates, said less than an hour into the event on Thursday. “The ‘new’ Trump never lasts more than 40 minutes.”
And Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who is supporting Mr. Biden, said the president’s ability to demonstrate self-control should not be confused with good policy. Describing the president’s response to being challenged by Mr. Biden on his handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Miller asked: “Was the president’s task there to convince Americans he has a plan to deal with this pandemic or to convince Americans that he can behave like a good boy for 4 minutes? Because it was a whiff on the first one.”
One of the biggest unknowns going into the debate was how Mr. Trump might try to unnerve Mr. Biden by raising unsubstantiated claims about the business pursuits of his son Hunter in China and elsewhere.
But when Mr. Trump raised the issue, he found himself on the defensive when Mr. Biden turned the question back around, asking about Mr. Trump’s taxes and noting a recent New York Times report that brought to light a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account belonging to the president. Even some conservatives conceded that Mr. Biden had played his hand well when Mr. Trump had to spend time explaining why he had not released his tax returns.
“Biden had a shrewd strategy on Hunter allegations to get it on Trump’s taxes and bank account, and it worked,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.
Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, said that Mr. Trump appeared thrown off by Mr. Biden’s response. “It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances,” he said. “It’d be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency.”
Paul Davis's political return sparks Conservative Party turmoil – CBC.ca
Former premier Paul Davis has announced his decision to re-enter politics, this time at the federal level — but that move isn’t welcome news to some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with some local riding executives stepping away from their duties because of it.
On Thursday night, Davis posted on Facebook that he will seek the party’s nomination in the riding of Avalon in a future general election. Early Friday morning, Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Conservative Association, made an announcement of his own: that as Davis didn’t notify party executives first prior to posting, Power was stepping aside from his party duties, at least temporarily.
“I strongly feel that he should have first given notice to CPC nominating committee before any public announcement was made,” Chris Power said in a letter to fellow members of the association board.
In an interview with CBC News, Power said others on the board feel similarly and some executives have resigned, although he said Davis was not required to give a heads-up to the party before making his announcement.
“That’s your people on the ground, and the general consensus [is] that if we’re on the ground, that our opinion should matter, you know, and it didn’t seem like it really did,” Power said Friday.
Power himself has decided on a temporary leave of absence from his role while the nomination process is underway, as Power said he and other executive members support the other candidate, Matthew Chapman, over Davis.
“We just thought at this time that we’d be better served with fresh blood. And we frankly didn’t think experience as a provincial politician was necessarily a positive thing right now,” said Power, who said he will be taking a “very active role” campaigning for Chapman during his leave.
‘Airing their dirty laundry’
Davis departed politics in November 2018, and in his resignation announcement at the time said he had no intention of running federally. But on Friday, Davis said the last six months — with troubles besieging small businesses and large industries, particularly oil and gas, as well as the omnipresent uncertainty — changed his mind.
“Someone needs to step up to the plate. I just can’t sit by any longer,” he told CBC News.
“There’s no plan to fix it. We don’t even hear any empathy or concern being communicated by our MPs in Ottawa.”
Davis said he’s had positive discussions with the local party ranks about running, and was caught off guard by their reaction to his announcement.
“Many of them are supporters of the other candidate. So it’s not unusual … for a candidate to have their own supporters on a district association. It happens provincially, it happens federally, it’s not unique to Avalon,” he said.
“I’m a little bit surprised that they’re airing their dirty laundry publicly, or their views on that, because some of them have been open arms welcoming and encouraged me to be in the process.”
A grassroots revival
Chapman, the other candidate, said he’s open to the competition.
“I wish Paul nothing but the best, and I’ve told him that. I believe that the membership and people of Avalon are going to recognize that I ran when nobody else would,” he said.
Chapman ran in the 2019 general election and lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, who has been the riding’s MP since 2015. In that race Chapman garnered significant support, capturing 31 per cent of the vote, compared with McDonald’s 46 per cent.
Chapman credited that to grassroots support, as he and a few dedicated volunteers spent the last year rebuilding the Conservative Party’s base in the riding.
“I’ve spoken to all of people who are upset, because they’ve recognized I’ve literally put hundreds of hours of work into rebuilding this,” he said.
“People had the opportunity to run and turned it down, people had the opportunity to get involved and rebuild their association, and they didn’t.”
In the last year, the party’s grassroots in the Avalon have grown, added Power, to an executive board of 25 people with more than 280 party members, but Davis’s announcement and its resulting inner turmoil could prove to be a setback for the party.
“It’s sad because we had a number of initiatives that we were working through as a district that now all has to be put on hold,” said Power.
The call for nominations in the riding is still open, and Davis said the party would give two weeks’ notice before it closes and the candidate election process kicks in.
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