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Justice Breyer on Retirement and the Role of Politics at the Supreme Court – The New York Times



In an interview prompted by his new book, the 83-year-old leader of the court’s liberal wing said he is working on a decision about when to step down.

WASHINGTON — Justice Stephen G. Breyer says he is struggling to decide when to retire from the Supreme Court and is taking account of a host of factors, including who will name his successor. “There are many things that go into a retirement decision,” he said.

He recalled approvingly something Justice Antonin Scalia had told him.

“He said, ‘I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years,’” Justice Breyer said during a wide-ranging interview on Thursday. “That will inevitably be in the psychology” of his decision, he said.

“I don’t think I’m going to stay there till I die — hope not,” he said.

Justice Breyer, 83, is the oldest member of the court, the senior member of its three-member liberal wing and the subject of an energetic campaign by liberals who want him to step down to ensure that President Biden can name his successor.

The justice tried to sum up the factors that would go into his decision. “There are a lot of blurred things there, and there are many considerations,” he said. “They form a whole. I’ll make a decision.”

He paused, then added: “I don’t like making decisions about myself.”

The justice visited the Washington bureau of The New York Times to discuss his new book, “The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics,” scheduled to be published next month by Harvard University Press. It prompted questions about expanding the size of court, the so-called shadow docket and, inevitably, his retirement plans.

The book explores the nature of the court’s authority, saying it is undermined by labeling justices as conservative or liberal. Drawing a distinction between law and politics, Justice Breyer wrote that not all splits on the court were predictable and that those that were could generally be explained by differences in judicial philosophy or interpretive methods.

In the interview, he acknowledged that the politicians who had transformed confirmation hearings into partisan brawls held a different view, but he said the justices acted in good faith, often finding consensus and occasionally surprising the public in significant cases.

“Didn’t one of the most conservative — quote — members join with the others in the gay rights case?” he asked in the interview, referring to Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s majority opinion last year ruling that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.

Justice Breyer made the point more broadly in his new book. “My experience from more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that anyone taking the judicial oath takes it very much to heart,” he wrote. “A judge’s loyalty is to the rule of law, not the political party that helped to secure his or her appointment.”

That may suggest that judges ought not consider the political party of the president under whom they retire, but Justice Breyer seemed to reject that position.

He was asked about a remark from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005, in response to a question about whether it was “inappropriate for a justice to take into account the party or politics of the sitting president when deciding whether to step down from the court.”

“No, it’s not inappropriate,” the former chief justice responded. “Deciding when to step down from the court is not a judicial act.”

That sounded correct to Justice Breyer. “That’s true,” he said.

Progressive groups and many Democrats were furious over Senate Republicans’ failure to give a hearing in 2016 to Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court nominee. That anger was compounded by the rushed confirmation last fall of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald J. Trump’s third nominee, just weeks after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and weeks before Mr. Trump lost his bid for re-election.

Liberals have pressed Mr. Biden to respond with what they say is corresponding hardball: expanding the number of seats on the court to overcome what is now a 6-to-3 conservative majority. Mr. Biden responded by creating a commission to study possible changes to the structure of the court, including enlarging it and imposing term limits on the justices.

Justice Breyer said he was wary of efforts to increase the size of the court, saying it could erode public trust in it by sending the message that the court is at its core a political institution and result in a tit-for-tat race to the bottom.

“Think twice, at least,” he said of the proposal. “If A can do it, B can do it. And what are you going to have when you have A and B doing it?”

Such a judicial arms race, the justice said, could undercut public faith in the court and imperil the rule of law. “Nobody really knows, but there’s a risk, and how big a risk do you want to take?” he said.

“Why do we care about the rule of law?” Justice Breyer added. “Because the law is one weapon — not the only weapon — but one weapon against tyranny, autocracy, irrationality.”

Term limits were another matter, he said.

“It would have to be a long term, because you don’t want the person there thinking of his next job,” he said.

Term limits would also have a silver lining for justices deciding when to retire, he added. “It would make my life easier,” he said.

Justice Breyer said the court should be deciding fewer emergency applications on its “shadow docket,” in which the justices often issue consequential rulings based on thin briefing and no oral arguments. Among recent examples were the ruling on Tuesday that the Biden administration could not immediately rescind a Trump-era immigration policy and a ruling issued a few hours after the interview striking down Mr. Biden’s eviction moratorium.

In both, the three liberal justices were in dissent.

Justice Breyer said the court should take its foot off the gas. “I can’t say never decide a shadow-docket thing,” he said. “Not never. But be careful. And I’ve said that in print. I’ll probably say it more.”

Asked whether the court should supply reasoning when it makes such decisions, he said: “Correct. I agree with you. Correct.”

He was in a characteristically expansive mood, but he was not eager to discuss retirement. Indeed, his publisher had circulated ground rules for the interview, saying he would not respond to questions about his plans. But he seemed at pains to make one thing clear: He is a realist.

“I’ve said that there are a lot of considerations,” Justice Breyer said. “I don’t think any member of the court is living in Pluto or something.”

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Canadians head to the polls as political wildcards leave election outcome up in the air –



Canadians head to the polls today for the final day of voting in this 44th general election and surveys suggest the result is far from certain with as many as six parties in contention for seats in Parliament.

More than 5.8 million Canadians have already voted in the advance polls, and Elections Canada has received nearly one million special ballots — a record-setting early turnout that suggests there’s an energized electorate.

Poll workers will start the vote count tonight, but the outcome may not be known until tomorrow after the many mail-in ballots are verified at hundreds of returning offices nationwide.

This 36-day election featured policy talk on everything from housing and the COVID-19 response to Canada’s place in the world, but there were also heavy doses of partisan sniping as the leaders jockeyed for front-runner status in a very close race.

Here’s a look at the closing arguments from the main party leaders.

Trudeau says he’s best to lead Canada through COVID

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called this election on Aug. 15 saying he wanted Canadians to weigh in on who should finish the fight against COVID-19 and lead the country into a post-pandemic recovery.

“Canada is today at a crossroads — a moment where we have to make a really important choice,” Trudeau said at a rally in Maple, Ont., on Sunday, the last day of campaigning. “It’s not just about what we’re going to do in the coming months to end this pandemic for good, but also how we’re going to meet the challenges of the future.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau leaves Montreal, on Sunday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Trudeau has asked Canadians to reward his party for steering the country through the darkest days of this health crisis. He has also presented himself as a vaccine champion, the man who secured enough doses to get everyone eligible for a shot fully vaccinated by July, and the leader who will keep people safe in the fourth wave of this pandemic by pushing mandatory vaccines for federal public servants and the travelling public.

As Alberta grapples with another public health emergency under the leadership of Premier Jason Kenney, Trudeau said Sunday that conservative leaders can’t be trusted to lead the country at this critical juncture.

In addition to hammering the opposition on pandemic management, Trudeau said his party has the best plan to fight climate change and get more Canadians into a home at a time when eye-popping real estate prices have kept so many out of the market. “Let’s keep Canada moving forward as a progressive country,” he said.

O’Toole asks voters to punish Trudeau for calling an election

The August election call came at a time when the Liberals were enjoying a sizable lead in opinion polls, but that support cratered as some voters recoiled at the thought of an election when COVID cases are on the rise.

Since day one, opposition leaders have focused their criticisms of Trudeau on the election call itself. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a relative unknown at the start of the race, sought to capitalize on the frustration, slamming Trudeau as “privileged,” “entitled,” divisive and untrustworthy.

To shake off lingering concerns about a “secret agenda” from a man who once branded himself a “true blue” Conservative, O’Toole released the party’s platform on the first full day of the campaign. Pitching a more moderate form of conservatism, O’Toole made a play for disaffected Liberal voters in central and eastern Canada.

The platform, with its slogan “secure the future,” lays out a plan for a post-pandemic Canada. He’s promising some $60 billion in new health-care funding over 10 years, a mental-health strategy to help the millions of Canadians battling mental anguish after lockdowns and one million new homes to help with a pandemic-fuelled housing supply crunch.

O’Toole has also promised to balance the budget in 10 years’ time, a commitment made to neutralize past Liberal criticism that a Conservative-led government would result in big cuts to public spending.

According to the CBC Poll Tracker, Conservative support surged five points in the two weeks after the platform release as some voters started buying what O’Toole was selling. But the campaign hit a snag when the Conservative leader was forced to defend his firearms policy.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole gives the thumbs up to supporters as he leaves a campaign stop in Brantford, Ont., on Sept. 17. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Tory platform initially promised to repeal a ban on assault-style weapons such as those used in mass shootings. The Liberals pounced on that pledge and on O’Toole’s past association with the gun lobby. With his support softening in Ontario, the Tory leader shifted his position, promising to maintain the Liberal ban until an independent review by firearms experts was completed.

O’Toole also faced questions about his support for vaccines at every one of his campaign press conferences.

While personally pro-vaccine, O’Toole has called a Liberal plan to implement a vaccine mandate for federal bureaucrats, transportation workers and most passengers travelling by air and rail a divisive program that will lead to the “politicization of the pandemic.”

O’Toole has also repeatedly dodged questions about just how many people carrying the Conservative banner in this race have had at least one shot. As a result, Trudeau has characterized O’Toole as a leader beholden to the “far-right, anti-vax” wing of the Conservative Party.

O’Toole hit back, saying Trudeau was trying to distract from his “scandal-shredded” reputation after six years in government.

“Justin Trudeau hasn’t talked about the future of our great country. He hasn’t provided a plan for Canada. Instead, he has veered into personal attacks, dividing Canadians and using American-style, misleading politics in an election that is only about himself,” O’Toole said Saturday at a rally in Kitchener, Ont., asking Canadians to punish Trudeau for triggering “an unnecessary $600 million pandemic election.”

People’s Party could complicate Conservative path to power

O’Toole’s path to power may also be complicated by another party leader. For the first time in nearly two decades, conservative-minded voters have two viable options to choose from in this election: the Conservatives and the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) led by former Tory MP Maxime Bernier.

Public health measures such as lockdowns slowed the spread of COVID-19 — and likely saved lives — but they also prompted anger and frustration among some Canadians who saw their livelihoods destroyed as economic and social life ground to a halt.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier attends a rally in Calgary on Sept. 18. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The PPC welcomed those voters with open arms. A party promising a radically smaller government with fewer regulations was suddenly embraced by people who saw government as an oppressive force.

Bernier, a libertarian who has long railed against government overreach, became a champion of the “no more lockdowns” crowd, routinely appearing at well-attended protests against these restrictions. He is also vehemently opposed to vaccine passports — a position that has given the PPC a boost in the polls. Thanks to new support from the unvaccinated, Bernier’s movement is expected to perform much better than the 1.6 per cent of the national vote it fetched in the 2019 election.

“O’Toole has flip-flopped and adopted the Liberal program on the few remaining issues where there were still differences between the two parties, such as the carbon tax, gun bans and COVID passports,” Bernier said in an emailed statement to CBC News. “Mr. O’Toole will have to live with the consequences of his failing strategy.”

It’s not just right-wing parties that will have to contend with vote splits. The CBC Poll Tracker suggests Liberal support is marginally lower than it was after the 2019 election, while NDP support is roughly three points higher than it was following that campaign. This NDP strength could result in Liberal losses, particularly in Ontario and the Lower Mainland of B.C.

In the past, groups looking to stop vote-splitting on the left have called on progressive voters to ignore their party preferences and rally behind the candidates with the best chance of defeating Conservatives.

It’s a message Trudeau reiterated in the last two days of this campaign as he told progressive voters that only Liberals can keep the Conservatives out of power.

“You can vote both with your desire to stop the Conservatives and your desire to bring forward the most progressive government in the history of the country if you vote Liberal,” Trudeau told a crowd of supporters in Markham, Ont., on Saturday.

Singh says Trudeau is ‘bad for Canada’

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who, polls suggest, is personally popular with voters, has tried to improve his party’s fortunes after a disappointing 2019 campaign. He has urged voters to reject Liberal warnings about a fractured left-wing vote and instead pick the party they really want to govern.

From the opening bell, Singh has branded Trudeau as a failed leader who doesn’t deserve another term. Those attacks have only become more pointed in the dying days of this campaign as Singh looks to keep progressive voters in the NDP fold and pick off Liberals frustrated with Trudeau’s performance.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reacts to finishing his final campaign media availability in Burnaby, B.C., on Sunday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

“We think Mr. Trudeau is bad for Canada, because he’s failed on the crises and made things worse, not better,” Singh said Friday, condemning Trudeau for voting against non-binding NDP motions on pharmacare and long-term care homes.

Singh has also pointed to higher greenhouse gas emissions and a tax system he said is skewed toward the “ultra-rich.”

“He is bad for Canada. He was an abject failure,” Singh said of Trudeau.

Singh’s campaign has been laser-focused on promoting a plan to make the wealthy pay much more in taxes to help cover the cost of new social programs. He has brandished his party’s record in the last Parliament — NDP MPs pushed for more generous pandemic-related welfare programs — as proof that only New Democrats “will fight for you, will lift you up.”

“You can vote for Mr. Trudeau, who is all for show, who supports the ultra-wealthy, supports the super-rich and lets you down. Or you can vote for New Democrats. We are fighters and we are here for you,” he said at a Saturday campaign stop in Saskatoon.

But Singh has faced criticism for putting out a platform that calls for $200 billion in new spending with few details on how any of this transformative change would actually be implemented.

The party’s climate policy has been panned by experts, who say it’s both vague and unrealistic. A wealth tax like the one the NDP is proposing has been tried in other countries only to be repealed because it fell well short of revenue projections.

Greens won’t be on the ballot in nearly a third of ridings

For months, the Green Party has been beset with internal squabbling that has hampered their electoral efforts.

The party’s leader, Annamie Paul, has spent nearly all of the campaign in the riding of Toronto Centre, where she is running for a third time.

Some Green candidates said they didn’t want Paul in their riding during this race. But the leader was out stumping for the two Green incumbents, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, over the weekend as the party looks to maintain its parliamentary delegation.

“I am hoping again to see some of these candidates elected on Monday because their Green voices are needed in Ottawa to talk about the climate, to be champions for the climate and for their communities,” Paul said at a Sunday campaign stop in Toronto.

Unlike in 2019, when the party ran candidates in all 338 ridings, there won’t be a Green on the ballot in nearly a third of all local races — which could give some Liberal and NDP candidates a boost in this nail-biter election.

Federal Green Party Leader Annamie Paul at a campaign stop in Victoria, P.E.I. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

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Who has faith in politics? In 2019, some Toronto areas saw nearly half their electorate skip out – Toronto Star



The first and only time Charmaine Weir voted in an election, a single conversation spurred her to the polls. A candidate was canvassing in her neighbourhood, and took time to hear out the issues Weir faced on a day-to-day basis, including the challenges she experienced living in public housing. But the vote came and went — and Weir’s world felt just the same.

She found herself disenchanted, feeling her vote hadn’t made a difference. “You see (political parties), they come around and solicit at the door to try to get your vote, and then you never see them again. Nothing has ever changed in this neighbourhood,” she said. This fall, she’s tuned out of federal election talk. “I didn’t listen because honestly, you get really let down.”

Come Monday, she told the Star she doesn’t intend to cast a vote.

Weir’s situation illustrates a broad issue in Toronto. In an election cycle, candidates look to charge up the masses — promising policy changes and funding injections. But faith in the democratic process, or simply the ability to get to the polls, is unevenly distributed across the city.

A Star analysis of poll data from the 2019 election, in several central Toronto ridings, shows that while some areas turn out to vote in droves — like Runnymede-Bloor West Village, where 78.3 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots — other areas, like Weir’s North St. James Town, had far lower rates.

Voter turnout in 2019 federal election


North St. James Town


Cabbagetown-South St. James Town

Source: Elections Canada/Star analysis

The high-density, lower-income piece of Toronto Centre, where several other residents recently told the Star their faith in federal leaders ran low, saw a voter turnout of 52.1 per cent in the fall of 2019. In nearby Regent Park, another lower-income area, turnout for that federal vote was 58.5 per cent. By comparison, the neighbouring Cabbagetown-South St. James Town area saw turnout of 68.5 per cent. Across the country, voter turnout for the last federal election was 67 per cent.

And while North St. James Town had more eligible voters — 11,989 versus 9,831 — the polling stations set up in Cabbagetown-South St. James Town saw more ballots cast than its neighbour.

“It’s always the rich people and the rich neighbourhoods that are being taken care of,” Weir told the Star. “You really want (a politician) here who’s going to follow through, and support this neighbourhood, but they tend to just move a little bit south from here and you’re left there, like, ‘what about us?’”

The reasons why someone doesn’t vote can vary widely, but a Statistics Canada survey found the top reason that Canadians gave for skipping the 2019 federal vote was disinterest in national politics — which experts say can stem from a feeling of being left out of political discussions and policies.

“They don’t perceive that the stakes are very high — that it doesn’t matter who wins, so why bother?” said Richard Johnston, a University of British Columbia professor emeritus who, until his retirement last year, held the position of Canada Research Chair in public opinions, elections and representation.

“To some extent, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Daniel Rubenson, a principal investigator for the Canadian Election Study, cautioning that the problem could become cyclical. If politicians saw a neighbourhood as plagued by voter apathy, they might pay less attention to its needs, leading to fewer policies aimed at addressing its local problems. That, in turn, could compound the apathy issue.

“If that’s how you feel, then it’s perfectly reasonable that you don’t participate in that process.”

When the Star spoke with numerous North St. James Town residents midway through this fall’s federal campaign, many lamented the focus placed on home ownership in numerous parties’ election platforms, as a neighbourhood where 90 per cent of residents rented their homes according to the 2016 federal census.

Beyond the disenchanted, some prospective voters simply didn’t have the time to invest in political issues, Rubenson added.

Voter turnout in 2019 federal election




South Parkdale

Source: Elections Canada/Star analysis

He, Johnston and Elisabeth Gidengil, a professor with McGill University’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, all noted that residents of lower income communities were statistically less likely to participate in the democratic process.

Voters’ age and level of education were also determining factors, the experts said. Nationally, 18-to-24 year olds had the lowest voter turnout among age groups through the 2011, 2015 and 2019 election races, Statistics Canada found. Voter turnout increased continually with age, until it dipped down slightly after the age of 75.

“It’s partly to do with resources, like just having time and the luxury of being able to inform yourself better about politics,” Rubenson said, noting that “socialization and mobilization” also played a role. While it was “somewhat difficult” to say precisely how low turnout affected vote outcomes, he said, he believes the onus is on politicians to “pay more attention to these people who aren’t voting.”

“It’s certainly not a good outcome if there are groups in society, or areas in society, where people aren’t being listened to and policies aren’t being developed to take their concerns into account,” he said.

While political disinterest was found by Statistics Canada to be the most common reason for skipping the polls in 2019 for most age groups — having been cited by 35 per cent of non-voters — that shifts for people over 75, at which point the most common reason reported was an illness or disability.

Across all age groups, illness or disability were cited by 13 per cent of responding non-voters. Another 22 per cent said they were too busy to vote, and 11 per cent said they were out of town. Just five per cent reported having problems with the voting process itself, like being unable to prove their identity.

Asked about the turnout data, Elections Canada spokesperson Nathalie de Montigny said turnout wasn’t part of its mandate — which focused on making the vote accessible to eligible electors. That job included outreach to different communities to make sure they had information about voting, like delivering it in different languages.

To combat voter apathy, both Johnston and Gidengil said candidates going door-to-door can make a difference. But Johnston cautioned that effort could be complicated in lower-income neighbourhoods, where many residents may work long hours or do shift work and not be home to answer the door, and where that means traversing an apartment versus ground-level homes.

In Toronto’s waterfront and island neighbourhood, where the median household income is higher than the citywide rate but the resident population also skews younger than other neighbourhoods, around 20,000 eligible voters didn’t cast ballots in the 2019 race. The area — which is divided between two federal ridings — had a 64.1 per cent turnout rate. In nearby South Parkdale, the rate was nearly as low as North St. James Town, at 56.4 per cent.

Cole Webber, a housing advocate who works for a South Parkdale-based legal clinic, cautioned that residents of the area were still actively involved, with local groups forming to push back against things like rent increases, or to organize community food programs.

But casting a vote didn’t always garner the same vigour or faith.

“For many working-class people in Parkdale, sustained, independent organizing is a more substantial and meaningful form of activity than voting in elections,” Webber said.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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The far right’s new focus on local politics, briefly explained –



On Saturday, a rally by supporters of former President Donald Trump came and went peacefully, with a heavy police and media presence and only a handful of arrests. Before the event, officials in DC were focused on preventing a repeat of January 6 — but more than eight months after the insurrection, far-right groups have shifted their focus to more local causes that could nonetheless have a major impact on national politics.

According to Jared Holt, who researches domestic extremism for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, right-wing extremists like those who stormed the Capitol building were “scared shitless” of creating another event like January 6 on Saturday — to the point that several conservative leaders, including Trump, warned their followers to stay away from the rally, claiming it was a trap.

Ultimately, only about 100 people showed up, according to an estimate by the Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon — far fewer than some pre-rally predictions — and the protesters were at times outnumbered by members of the media.

But anemic participation at Saturday’s event doesn’t reflect fading right-wing enthusiasm for Trump’s election lies — his supporters are just changing tactics, pushing to elect like-minded politicians and change state legislation to fit a false narrative of election fraud.

“Many are instead … applying that political energy into local and regional scenes,” Holt told Vox’s Aaron Rupar last week.

Specifically, that energy has manifested itself in a far-right push to intimidate current state and local election officials, many of whom played a major role in pushing back on Trump’s election fraud conspiracies in 2020, and to install a new wave of pro-Trump election officials.

It’s a tactic that could have major implications for future US elections, and one that extremism experts have been raising the alarm about.

“Going local, [far-right movement figures] suggest to each other, might also help solidify power and influence their movements gained during the Trump years,” Holt wrote in his Substack newsletter last week. “After all, few people are truly engaged in local politics. That’s a lot of influence up for grabs to a dedicated movement.”

The local impact of Trump’s election lie has been most visible in some of the battleground states that swung to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, election officials from both parties have been deluged with harassment from Trump supporters, including explicit death threats. And it’s not a small-scale problem: Reuters has identified hundreds of similar threats all across the US, though the victims have found little recourse with law enforcement.

The harassment has been so severe that about a third of all election workers now feel unsafe in their jobs, according to a poll conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year.

And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, there’s now a legal defense committee, the Election Official Legal Defense Network, specifically to support election officials facing harassment and intimidation.

In many of the same states where officials have faced relentless harassment, far-right figures are also looking to put them out of a job. In Georgia, for example, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who repeatedly defied Trump to confirm that Biden won both Georgia’s electoral votes and the 2020 election, will face a Trump-endorsed primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).

According to Politico, Hice voted against certifying the 2020 electoral college results in January, and he has continued to promote voter fraud lies since then. Just after Hice announced his bid in March, Trump issued a statement lauding Hice as “one of our most outstanding congressmen.”

“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in the statement. “Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”

Hice isn’t the only secretary of state candidate to have embraced Trump’s election fraud rhetoric, either. Candidates like Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan, both of whom have been endorsed by Trump, could have substantial oversight of how elections in those states are run if they win office, though actual vote counting is done by counties and municipalities.

Finchem has parroted the claims of voter fraud and endorsed a spurious “audit” of the vote count in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the AP reports. Finchem, a current state representative, also admitted that he was at the Capitol on January 6, but claims to have stayed 500 yards away and that he didn’t know about the attack until later.

Like Finchem, Karamo has also endorsed false election fraud claims: According to the Detroit News, she pushed voter fraud claims during the 2020 election, telling Michigan state senators that she witnessed two cases of election workers misinterpreting ballots to the advantage of Democrats, and she appeared alongside MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell at a June rally, spreading further unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

As Politico pointed out earlier this year, the actual power of secretaries of state varies by state, and is often more “ministerial” than anything — but the danger of pro-Trump election officials having a high-profile platform to espouse election conspiracies is very real.

“There’s a symbolic risk, and then there’s … functional risk,” former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, told Politico in May. “Any secretary of state who is a chief elections official is going to have a megaphone and a media platform during the election. A lot of the power is the perception of power, or that megaphone.”

Candidates like Hice, Finchem, and Karamo all still have to win primaries and general elections — by no means a sure thing — if they want to become the top election officials in their states. But even without election conspiracists in secretary of states’ offices, some states, like Arizona and Pennsylvania, have already started chipping away at the framework of their states’ election laws.

On Wednesday, the GOP-held Pennsylvania legislature’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee took another step toward a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election results like the one currently ongoing in Arizona when it voted to issue a subpoena for voter information — including information that’s typically not public, like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security Numbers.

And in Arizona, where a bizarre “audit” of the 2020 election has already been shambling along for months, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also taken steps to limit the power of the Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs. In June, Ducey signed a law stripping Hobbs of her power to defend the results of an election in court.

“This is a petty, partisan power grab that is absolutely retaliation towards my office,” Hobbs, who is running for governor, told NPR.

“It’s clear by the fact that it ends when my term ends,” she said. “It is at best legally questionable, but at worst, likely unconstitutional.”

Democrats, though, are making some attempts to push back against the right’s attempts to subvert future elections. In August, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently introduced her own voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, which is aimed at preventing the very election subversions the Republicans are trying to enact in multiple key states.

That bill, however — like the Democrats’ previous voting rights legislation, the For the People Act — has essentially no chance of becoming law under current Senate rules, since the filibuster means it would require at least 10 Republican votes to pass.

Senate Democrats could end the filibuster, or create a carve-out for voting rights legislation, using their simple 50-vote majority, but that path also appears unlikely thanks to continued opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

And with efforts like these tied up in a deeply polarized Congress, Trump supporters peddling election fraud conspiracies can continue to make inroads in local races and legislation.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been at a point that’s been quite this tenuous for the democracy,” Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and co-chair of the States United Democracy Center, told CNN last week. “I think it’s a huge danger because it’s the first time that I’ve seen it being undermined — our democracy being undermined from within.”

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