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Ginsburg’s death could ignite a political firestorm – The Globe and Mail

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In this July 31, 2014, file photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers in at the Supreme Court in Washington.

The Canadian Press

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who became a folk hero to the left for her staunch defence of gender equality and civil liberties, died Friday evening. Her death threatens to ignite a political firestorm if President Donald Trump tries to replace her with a conservative jurist less than seven weeks before an election whose outcome might be determined by the court. Such a move would solidify right wing control with a six to three majority.

Ms. Ginsburg, 87, died of metastatic pancreatic cancer surrounded by family at her Washington home, the Supreme Court said.

The President reacted with surprise when informed of her death shortly after finishing a rally in Minnesota. He did not respond to questions on whether he will seek to fill her seat before the Nov. 3 vote.

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Analysis: The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg adds a new element of bitterness to the political season

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies of cancer at 87

“She just died? Wow. I didn’t know that. You’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say?” Mr. Trump told reporters. “She was an amazing woman.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, signalled that an appointment is coming. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” he said in a statement. Under the process for appointing Supreme Court justices, the Senate, currently under Republican control, must confirm or reject the President’s choice. The Democratic-run House of Representatives does not get a say.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question as he speaks to reporters after the Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020.

ALEXANDER DRAGO/Reuters

Mr. McConnell’s position is an about-face from 2016, when he refused to allow a confirmation vote on Merrick Garland, then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. This held open an empty seat until after Mr. Trump took office and appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill it. Mr. Trump later appointed Brett Kavanaugh, giving the political right control of the court for the first time since the 1930s.

In a statement dictated this week to her granddaughter Clara Spera, National Public Radio reported, Ms. Ginsburg called for Mr. Trump not to appoint another justice before his term expires. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ms. Ginsburg’s statement read.

If Mr. Trump makes an appointment, he will almost certainly face a Democratic revolt in Congress and protests from liberal voters in an already deeply divided country. The President has released a list of people he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court, including senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.

The court faces a series of crucial cases in the coming months, including an attempt by Texas and other Republican states to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama’s signature health care law, and several efforts by conservative states to impose more restrictions on abortion.

In this file photo taken on February 24, 2009 Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives for President Barack Obama address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber of the Capitol in Washington.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AFP/Getty Images

The country is currently riven with legal battles over the rules for conducting the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than 50 election-related lawsuits across the country, mostly concerning the scope of mail-in voting, with Democrats favouring easier access to the ballot and Republicans seeking to restrict it.

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This raises the possibility that, in the event of a close result, the Supreme Court could have to decide which ballots would be counted in crucial swing states, determining the winner of the White House.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called on Mr. McConnell to follow his own precedent.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon arrival at New Castle County Airport after a trip to Duluth, Minnesota on September 18, 2020 in New Castle, Delaware.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“There is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” he told reporters in Delaware. “This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That’s the position the U.S. Senate must take today. The election is only 46 days off.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday repeated, word for word, Mr. McConnell’s 2016 statement. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he tweeted.

In this file photo taken on August 09, 1993 Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist (R) administers the oath of office to newly-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (L) as U.S. President Bill Clinton looks on.

KORT DUCE/AFP/Getty Images

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ms. Ginsburg worked as a law professor and advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union before president Jimmy Carter made her a federal judge in 1980. President Bill Clinton elevated her to the Supreme Court in 1993.

She authored important decisions in United States v. Virginia, which struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of refusing to admit women; Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, which expanded the ability of citizens to sue industrial polluters; and Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which allowed states to appoint non-partisan commissions to draw electoral maps in a bid to end gerrymandering.

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Ms. Ginsburg, however, was just as well known for her dissents. These included Bush v. Gore, as well as cases on gender pay discrimination, abortion access and the Voting Rights Act.

She fought four previous bouts with cancer, but repeatedly insisted on remaining on the bench.

Her ardent liberalism and strong writing style gave her an unusually high profile for a jurist. Supporters nicknamed her “the Notorious RBG,” murals of her adorn walls around Washington and one public-service campaign implored the city’s residents to wear masks to protect Ms. Ginsburg from catching the novel coronavirus. At the news of her death, hundreds of mourners gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court Friday night.

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Parliamentary showdown looms as Conservatives, Liberals dig in heels over anti-corruption committee – CBC.ca

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The prospect of a snap election hangs in the balance as the Liberal government and the opposition Conservatives spar over a proposal to create a parliamentary committee to probe the Liberal government’s pandemic response spending and possible ethical lapses.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canadians will go to the polls if his government loses a confidence vote on the Conservative motion.

“We have rolled out unprecedented measures to support Canadians, to support small businesses, to support families, to support communities right across the country, and we feel that parliamentarians should in this exceptional time have an ability to look very carefully at all that spending. And that’s why we’re proposing this special committee,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa.

“But it will be up to parliamentarians and the opposition to decide whether they want to make this minority Parliament work, or whether they’ve lost confidence in this government’s ability to manage this pandemic and continue to govern this country during this crisis.”

The government had proposed striking a special committee with a narrower mandate to review federal COVID-19 program spending.

WATCH / Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on possible election:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians will go to the polls if his government loses a confidence vote on a Conservative motion this week. 1:46

The Bloc Québécois has pledged to support the Conservative motion, which means the Liberals must have the NDP’s support to survive the confidence vote.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said late Tuesday that the government’s decision to make the committee motion a confidence matter was “outrageous” and “absurd.” He would not say how his party’s MPs might vote on the motion, or whether they would abstain. He also accused Trudeau of trying to force an election while blaming it on the opposition parties.

“I will not let the prime minister use this discussion over a committee as an excuse to go into an election,” Singh said.

“I don’t understand how he can justify going to people and plunging this country into an election for an opposition day motion about a committee … I will not be any part of this farce.”

Singh said he continues to engage with other parties to find a solution.

WATCH / NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on committee motion:

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke with reporters today about the upcoming confidence vote in the House of Commons. 0:52

Earlier today, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole argued that creating a special committee to probe possible misuse of tax dollars during the coronavirus pandemic would not constitute legitimate grounds for triggering a general election.

During a news conference in Ottawa, O’Toole said his party’s push to strike a so-called “anti-corruption” committee to scrutinize government spending, lobbying and the delivery of federal aid programs is simply about holding the government to account on possible misspending and ethical lapses.

The Liberal government says the motion to create the parliamentary committee will be considered a confidence vote — meaning it could lead to a snap federal election.

MPs will vote on the motion tomorrow.

O’Toole said the Conservative motion being debated today has been amended to include language specifying that creating the committee should not be deemed grounds to order an election.

He said he’s also open to changing the name of the committee if that would bring other opposition parties on board.

Liberals have dodged accountability: O’Toole

“Canadians expect the truth. They deserve accountability. That’s what this committee will do,” he said, adding that the Liberals have dodged accountability by withholding documents, proroguing Parliament and shedding a key minister embroiled in the WE Charity controversy.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he supports the Conservative motion. He said what the Liberals propose would not be enough to get answers on the ethical questions surrounding the government.

He said his team is “absolutely ready” to go if there is an early election.

“I still doubt that the government would be irresponsible enough or light-headed enough to precipitate Quebec and Canada into an election, but they sure feel the temptation. They just do not want to be responsible for it,” Blanchet said. 

“They want to provoke, challenge, force the Parliament to remove its confidence, its trust in favour of the government to be in elections without being responsible for it, which nobody will believe, of course.”

Trudeau says election not in Canadians’ best interest

In an interview with Toronto radio station RED FM Tuesday, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of playing political games as the government tries to focus on supporting Canadians through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve said if they think we’re so corrupt, then maybe they don’t have confidence in the government, and I think that’s something very important. If they want to make criticisms, they have to be willing to back it up in the House,” he said.

Trudeau said he does not want an election and that holding one now would not be in the best interests of Canadians.

“But if the Conservatives are saying that this government is completely corrupt, then I think they have to face the consequences of that,” he said.

Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez called the Conservative motion “totally irresponsible” and confirmed the government will deem it a confidence motion.

He said the committee will detract from the government’s efforts to help Canadians through the health and financial crises.

“Their motion is nothing more than a dangerous political plan to paralyze the government, and they’re doing this at a time when we should all be focusing on keeping Canadians safe and healthy during the pandemic,” he said.

The Conservative motion would give the new committee a mandate to examine the Canada student service grant and the ties between WE Charity — which had been selected to administer the program — and members of the Liberal government and their family members.

It also would be tasked to examine other issues related to the government’s COVID-19 response.

The Conservatives say the committee would have the power to call Trudeau as a witness, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and other cabinet ministers.

Weeks ago, the NDP pitched a special committee that would focus exclusively on pandemic-related spending — an idea the Tories’ anti-corruption probe would amplify.

The Liberals countered with their own proposal for a COVID-19 committee, detailing their pitch Monday in a letter to the House leaders of the other parties.

They’re proposing one that focuses on pandemic-related spending, with six Liberal MPs and six members of the opposition parties. The Tories’ version would have 15 MPs, with the opposition holding the majority.

Documents dropped Monday

More light was shed Monday on the interactions between WE Charity and the government with the release of dozens of pages of documents previously demanded by the finance committee. The documents include details of fees paid to, and expenses covered for, members of the Trudeau family who participated in WE events.

The charity said previously that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, had been paid a $1,500 speaking fee for one appearance. The documents released Monday also disclosed that the charity covered $23,940.76 in expenses for eight appearances between 2012 and 2020.

The Commons’ ethics committee also has demanded to know how much money Trudeau and his family received in speakers’ fees over the last several years. Trudeau released details of his own fees Monday — amounting to about $1.3 million — which he disclosed when he ran for leadership of the party in 2013.

But the Liberals said his family’s records were off limits.

WATCH / Leaders spar in Commons over Conservative motion:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau debated Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Charlie Angus over the confidence vote set for Wednesday afternoon. 2:36

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John Roberts put the country before politics – CNN

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After sitting for a remarkable several weeks on a Pennsylvania election-law case — the longest the Court has taken with any election case this year — the Court in the end chose to say nothing at all. Instead, it simply released a 4-4 order rejecting the Republican Party’s effort to overturn a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a decision that permits absentee ballots to be counted even if received three days after Election Day.
The Court’s silence here is exceptionally wise. Often when divided 4-4, the justices do not write, but, at times, at least some of them do. Why did Chief Justice Roberts and the justices who voted with him not explain their reasons? Why did the other conservative justices, in dissent, not speak either? The reason, paradoxically, is likely precisely because the stakes were too high to say anything at all; the issues are too momentous; the election too imminent.
This case has a clear link to Bush v. Gore: It centered on an issue that Bush v. Gore had addressed but not fully resolved. That is almost certainly why the Court spent so long trying to figure out how to handle the case. And also why Roberts might have suppressed his probable agreement with the dissenters: to preclude the Court from deciding such consequential issues, implicitly or explicitly, on the eve of the election.
The monumental issue in the case was what the word “legislature” means in the Constitution. That might sound simple, but the answer has ramifications that reverberate throughout the Constitution. That’s because the term “legislature” appears in the Constitution 17 times. Each time it does, the legal question is whether “legislature” is best understood to mean (1) the ordinary lawmaking processes of a state or (2) only the formal institution of the legislature itself. That is a fundamental question of political power and who has it.
If the Constitution gives these powers to the formal institution of the legislature alone, that means state legislatures would be free of many of the normal constraints when they exercise these unique powers the Constitution assigns them. And these powers are central to control over the democratic process. The Constitution, for example, gives the state “legislature” the power to regulate national elections. It also gives the “legislature” the power to decide how to structure presidential elections. The question the Pennsylvania case posed is exactly how much power legislatures have to do that.
State constitutions normally, of course, limit a legislature. Suppose, though, a state constitution requires seven days of early voting in national elections. Yet, if only “the legislature” can regulate national elections, the state constitution would be of no effect; a legislature that preferred a different number of days of early voting would be free to impose that policy.
This was the claim of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. The state’s election code as enacted by the legislature requires absentee ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on election night. But the state court held that in these unusual times the state constitution required that deadline to be pushed back three days. If only “the legislature” can regulate the presidential process, as the Republican Party claimed, the legislatively-chosen deadline of election night would have to prevail.
Here’s another example, from a case the Court has decided already. Arizona, like many states, permits voters to enact state law through what’s known as direct democracy. Through that process, voters in Arizona created an independent commission to draw congressional districts, rather than have the state legislature do so.
But the Constitution gives the “legislature” the power to regulate congressional elections. If that means the lawmaking process of the state, as the state defines it, then voters can regulate these elections, including by requiring that commissions draw districts. But if it means only the formal institution of the legislature, then voters have no power over these issues.
In a 5-4 decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote five years ago, the Court held that “legislature” means the general lawmaking process of a state. That meant a state can give voters the power to regulate national elections. But who wrote the impassioned, vehement, lengthy dissent for four Justices, arguing that “legislature” means just the institution? Roberts.
That is why he almost certainly believes, as a matter of first principle, that “legislature” means the institution, nothing more. And that belief would have led him to a 5-3 decision blocking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision and re-imposing the legislature’s election night deadline for absentee ballots.
But a 5-3 decision doing that would have led Biden supporters to believe the conservative majority was aligning with the Republican Party, for partisan reasons, in favor of restrictive absentee ballot rules — in a critical swing state like Pennsylvania. On top of that, the Court might well have felt obligated to explain its reasons for such a significant action. That would have required the Court to resolve the meaning of “legislature,” with all the implications doing so would entail.
In suppressing his almost certain view about the proper meaning of the Constitution, Roberts chose to let these issues, like sleeping dogs, lie — at least for now. A 4-4 decision says nothing. It settles nothing. Surely a tough vote for the Chief Justice, but exactly the right call, on the eve of an election that is roiling the country like few others.

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The return of austerity politics – Washington Post

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Here is a prediction that you can take to the bank. I’m not in the business of handicapping, but if anyone offers to bet against the following proposition, don’t just take the bet. Double down on it.

Should Joe Biden win the election, the moment he puts his hand on the Bible on Inauguration Day, the Republican Party will suddenly remember that there is nothing more threatening to America than budget deficits.

Note that I label this the return of austerity politics, not economics. Although garments will be rended and dire warnings will be made, this isn’t about the economics of debt. At one level, it’s about blocking Democratic priorities. At a deeper level, it’s about kneecapping a Biden presidency before it has a chance to take off. (Disclosure: I informally advise the Biden campaign.)

This outcome must be avoided and not just because the evolving economics of fiscal debt — one of the most interesting, evolving and inherently progressive areas of economics — says so. The main reason the return of austerity politics must be resisted is its human cost.

The equation couldn’t be simpler: Austerity equals human suffering. And such suffering will not be equally distributed. It will fall on those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and the economic damage it has unleashed.

The new economics of public debt underscores the urgency of this equation. The old argument that public borrowing competes with private borrowing, leading to higher interest rates and slower growth, has lacked empirical support for decades. Right now, we have a historically huge budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP (over $3 trillion) and debt about the same size as the economy. Yet the yield on the 10-year Treasury bill is below 1 percent (its average since the 1960s is 6 percent). More to the point, because these are unusual economic times, interest rates on government debt have been uncorrelated to the magnitude of that debt for decades now, as I discussed in recent testimony on the topic.

In fact, this has been the case in most advanced economies, regardless of debt levels, with Japan as the most notable example (its public debt has long been multiples of its economy). One reason is that these economies have operated below capacity, with both low inflation and excess savings relative to investment putting downward pressure on rates. That dynamic has drawn central banks, like our Federal Reserve, into the mix, trying to close output gaps by aggressively holding down the benchmark rates they control.

Inequality also plays a role. When growth flows disproportionately to those who are already wealthy, they tend to save, not spend, marginal dollars relative to middle and lower-income households. This, too, has boosted savings and lowered interest rates, while restricting the spending and the living standards of lower-income families.

But whatever the reason, the fact of persistently low rates offers new opportunities for near-term relief to those who need it and longer-term public investment to meet the existential challenges we face right now, from climate change to racial injustice.

One strong piece of evidence for this contention of ample fiscal space is that the most recent Congressional Budget Office forecast of what it will cost the government to service its debt has gone down, not up, since its previous forecast. And that earlier forecast didn’t include that $3 trillion of new debt incurred to offset the pandemic. How can we have more debt yet pay less to service it? Lower rates, of course.

This doesn’t mean that deficits never matter. They do, not least because when we carry such high debt levels, we’re a lot more vulnerable to an unforeseen spike in interest rates. So piling on wasteful debt is as economically wrongheaded now as it has ever been, which is why the highly regressive, deficit-financed Trump tax cuts were such a mistake. This also implies that the suddenly hawkish Republicans will be guilty of two fiscal crimes: piling on bad debt while refusing to countenance good debt.

But isn’t bad and good debt in the eye of beholder? No, because good debt does three things that bad debt doesn’t: It promotes growth, relieves hardship and advances racial equity. Investing in affordable housing for racial victims of housing segregation: good debt. Cuts in capital gains taxes: bad debt. Enhanced benefits for the unemployed and nutritional support for the millions not able to meet this basic need: good. Tax breaks for profitable corporations: bad.

Still, even with low rates and the ensuing low debt service, it is essential to raise the necessary revenue to pay for permanent measures, such as lasting investments in clean energy, standing up an affordable child-care sector and providing universal pre-K and free college for those of limited means — all of which are Biden proposals. Especially as these programs are both growth- and equity-inducing, paying for them through deficit financing is better than not doing them at all, but to stop there would severely undercut their political sustainability.

Should the election outcome break our way, how can progressives achieve these goals in the face of the forthcoming fiscal flip?

First, we must ignore the phony caterwauling of the deficit chicken hawks. One rule to be aggressively enforced is that anyone who voted for the Trump tax cuts has zero credibility on deficits and should be summarily ignored, if not ridiculed.

Second, we must help politicians with austere muscle memory understand these new dynamics. Here again, that’s not just an economic argument; it’s a political one. If conservatives ignore austerity when they’re in power but Democrats embrace it when they take control, then conservatives will consistently meet the demands of their constituents in the donor class while Democrats consistently fail to meet the needs of their constituents.

That is a not just a recipe for facilitating reckless fiscal policy and wasteful debt. It’s also a recipe for losing progressive support and political power — something no Democrat should want.

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