WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, awaiting the result of a partisan confirmation battle, opened its new term on Monday with a fitting argument on the impact of politics on judicial appointments.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. opened the session, which took place by telephone in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with a tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month. “We at the court will remember her as a dear friend and a treasured colleague,” he said.
In the argument that followed, the eight remaining justices considered whether states may take account of the political affiliations of judges to try to achieve something like ideological balance on their courts.
The case concerned Delaware, whose court system is both widely admired and idiosyncratic.
The state’s Constitution includes two unusual provisions. One says that judges affiliated with any one political party cannot make up more than a bare majority of the state’s five main courts. The other says that only judges affiliated with one of the two major parties may sit on the Delaware Supreme Court and two other courts.
James R. Adams, a registered independent, challenged the two provisions, saying they violated the First Amendment. The federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled in his favor.
Michael W. McConnell, a lawyer for Delaware’s governor, John C. Carney, a Democrat, said the provisions were both constitutional and sensible. “The state is doing something that is actually quite commonsensical,” he said, “if you believe in a bipartisan judiciary.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether judges’ partisan affiliations predicted their voting.
Mr. McConnell asked her to consider “experience and reality.” Political scientists, he said, universally use political party affiliations as proxies for philosophy and ideology.
“In the last 20 or 30 years,” he said, “parties have been through what they call partisan sorting. Today, the most liberal Republican is at least similar to but probably more conservative than the most conservative Democrat.”
David L. Finger, a lawyer for Mr. Adams, said Delaware’s requirements “are based on the assumption that a judge’s political affiliations are determinative of how that judge will vote in a case.”
“This court can look to its own history as a refutation of that premise,” he said. “If this court accepts the premise, it’s the end of the idea of an independent judiciary.”
Several of the justices seemed troubled by the provision of the state’s Constitution that prevents members of minor parties or political independents from serving as judges.
“The Green Party need not apply,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said. “It can’t.”
Mr. McConnell said the provision was a “necessary backstop” to the other one, which limits judges from any one political party to a bare majority on a court. “Without it,” he said of the exclusion, “it would be just too easy for the governor to name a political ally from an allied party.”
Indeed, Mr. McConnell said, Mr. Adams, a longtime Democrat who now calls himself a “Bernie Sanders independent,” was an example of that problem. “If there were already a Democratic majority on the court, and the governor were able to name Mr. Adams,” he said, “it would just fly in the face and frustrate the purpose of the political-balance provision.”
But Justice Neil M. Gorsuch questioned the lawfulness of the requirement that only Republicans and Democrats may apply.
“This is a novel thing, and it does prohibit a great percentage of the population from participating in the process,” he said.
Mr. McConnell acknowledged that “Delaware is the only state that does this.”
“But it is also the only state that has created a judiciary of a particular sort that is fair,” he said. “The Delaware judiciary is a jewel.”
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh agreed that “the results in Delaware have been superb” and suggested that the Supreme Court might want to “leave well enough alone.”
He also asked whether a state could exclude Democrats and Republicans from judicial service, allowing only independents to be judges.
Mr. McConnell said it was conceivable that such a requirement would be constitutional.
Justice Elena Kagan asked whether it would be unlawful for a governor voluntarily to decide to appoint judges to achieve political balance. Mr. Finger responded that categorically excluding people unaffiliated with the major political parties would violate the Constitution.
Much of the argument in the case, Carney v. Adams, No. 19-309, concerned whether Mr. Adams had suffered the sort of injury that gave him standing to sue given that he failed to apply for judicial positions that would have been open to him. A ruling on that ground appeared possible, as did one that would strike down only the provision limiting appointments to candidates affiliated with the major parties.
Bipartisan Politics | Politics and Public Affairs – Denison University
But the ties that bind these four individuals are stronger than most. They, and several other Big Red alumni, are connected through Forbes Tate Partners, a bipartisan, full-service government and public affairs advocacy firm, founded by Forbes and his partner Dan Tate.
In today’s divisive political landscape it might be difficult to imagine that colleagues from opposite sides of the aisle can be, well, collegial. But according to Forbes, who has worked on Democratic campaigns since Al Gore’s presidential bid, that’s the whole point.
“People forget about the moderate factions in politics — and that’s where real work can be done,” says Forbes. So it made sense to build a firm that could work well with both parties and provide positive results for everyone.
And the work has become more complicated. “Lobbying has changed,” he says. “It’s not as much who you know – though that still matters. Today, you have to run a full-fledged campaign with traditional PR, social media, news updates. You have to make sure the people back home see the reason for what you are doing, to create that support before you move forward.”
So how did all these Denisonians find their way to Forbes Tate? You can credit another Denison tie, the Hilltoppers men’s a cappella group. Forbes was a member of the popular campus group, and several years ago a student Hilltopper reached out to him, struggling to figure out what to do for the summer. Forbes’ impulsive response, “Why don’t you come here?” became the beginning of an internship program that has brought scads of students from Denison’s hill to Capitol Hill.
US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – CKPGToday.ca
The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press
How Virus Politics Divided a Conservative Town in Wisconsin’s North – The New York Times
MINOCQUA, Wis. — When coronavirus cases began to spike in Wisconsin this fall, Rob Swearingen kept his restaurant open and let customers and employees decide whether they wanted to wear masks.
Mr. Swearingen, a Republican seeking his fifth term in the Wisconsin State Assembly, didn’t require other employees at his restaurant in Rhinelander to be tested after a waitress and a bartender contracted the virus because, he said, nobody from the local health department suggested it was necessary.
Kirk Bangstad, Mr. Swearingen’s Democratic opponent, took the opposite approach at the brewpub he owns in Minocqua, 30 miles away. He has served customers only outdoors, and when a teenage waiter became infected after attending a party, Mr. Bangstad shut down for a long weekend and required all employees to get tested.
Mr. Bangstad has since turned his entire campaign into a referendum on how Republicans have handled the coronavirus. On Facebook, he has served as a town shamer, posting lists of restaurants and stores in Wisconsin’s Northwoods that have disregarded state limits on seating capacity and don’t require masks.
With just days until the election, the contest for Mr. Swearingen’s Assembly seat in this lightly populated area in the Northwoods of Wisconsin serves as a microcosm for the way coronavirus politics are playing out across America. Mr. Bangstad is unlikely to prevail in a Republican-heavy district that covers parts of four counties stretching south from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but his effort to make the campaign a referendum on the virus echoes that of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has sought to make President Trump’s handling of the pandemic the central issue in the presidential contest.
Mr. Bangstad, a 43-year-old Harvard-educated former professional opera singer, moved back to Wisconsin six years ago from Manhattan, where he was a technology consultant and served as the policy director for Anthony Weiner’s 2013 mayoral campaign. Like Mr. Biden, he has eschewed traditional campaigning. He has moved his entire effort online, including in email and on the Facebook page of his brewpub, the Minocqua Brewing Company.
But unlike the former vice president, Mr. Bangstad has made little effort to win over voters who aren’t already appalled by Republicans’ handling of the coronavirus. Many of them, he said, are being duped by false or misleading statements by the president and the conservative news media.
“A lot of them, I feel, haven’t been equipped with the tools of media literacy or critical thinking skills to be able to discern if they’re being told something that doesn’t quite jell or is not true,” he said during an interview this week at his shuttered restaurant overlooking Lake Minocqua.
Oneida County, which includes Minocqua and Rhinelander, where Mr. Swearingen operates the Al-Gen Dinner Club and has lived his entire life, has a virus rate nearly twice the state average over the past two weeks.
Scott Haskins, whose wife, Pamela, is a waitress at the Al-Gen, is among the county’s recent fatalities. Ms. Haskins contracted the virus after working a restaurant shift in mid-September and was hospitalized in early October. Mr. Haskins, 63, checked into the hospital with the virus four days after his wife, according to his daughter, Kelly Schulz.
Two days later, Mr. Haskins suffered a stroke and died.
“The day after my dad passed, Governor Evers put in the 25 percent capacity limit, and they weren’t abiding by it,” Ms. Schulz said of the Al-Gen. “People were posting pictures of themselves there on Facebook and it was pretty busy for a Friday night.”
Republicans who control the state legislature this month successfully sued Mr. Evers to overturn the capacity limits on bars and restaurants he ordered. In Oneida County, local sheriffs and town police departments weren’t enforcing them anyway.
Before winning election to the Assembly, Mr. Swearingen, 57, was the president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the powerful lobbying group for the state’s bars. He fought the state’s efforts to ban smoking indoors at businesses, lift the drinking age to 21 from 18 and increase the legal blood alcohol limit to drive.
He said his restaurant is not responsible for employees who caught the coronavirus. No one from the local health department ever called with questions, he said, and no contact tracers contacted the restaurant. Mr. Swearingen said he has not had a test himself.
“There’s been no connection to the restaurant to all these cases,” he said during an interview in the dining room of the Al-Gen, which is bedecked with taxidermied heads of deer and black bears. “These people are part-time, coming from different jobs and different things.”
Of all the places where Democrats barely bothered to compete in 2016, Wisconsin’s Northwoods may have been the most neglected. Not only did Hillary Clinton skip Wisconsin altogether, county Democrats in this region didn’t even have yard signs to distribute, not that there was much demand for them.
Mrs. Clinton was a “polarizing’’ candidate, said Matt Michalsen, a high school social studies teacher who ran against Mr. Swearingen in 2016. “Personally, did I support her? No.”
Four years later, Mr. Bangstad has few expectations that he will win. He sees his campaign largely as an effort to increase Democratic turnout for Mr. Biden and cut into Mr. Trump’s margins by focusing attention on the impact of the coronavirus on northern Wisconsin.
Mr. Bangstad wrapped the side of his restaurant in a giant Biden-Harris sign that attracted the ire of the Oneida County Board, which sent a letter informing him that it exceeded the allowable size of 32 square feet. After Mr. Bangstad used the fracas to raise money and get more attention for himself in the local press, the board backed down.
At the same time, the Biden campaign and local Democrats have put far more resources into northern Wisconsin than they did four years ago. There are twice as many organizers focused on the area than in 2016. And though the Clinton campaign swore off yard signs as an unnecessary annoyance, the state party has made efforts to get them in every yard that would take one.
“We distributed approximately 50 Hillary yard signs four years ago, and we’re at more than 1,200 so far for Joe,” said Jane Nicholson, the party chairwoman in Vilas County, just north of Oneida County.
There’s some evidence that Mr. Biden is making up ground. A poll taken for Mr. Bangstad’s campaign this month found Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden in the district by five percentage points — a far cry from his 25-point margin of victory in 2016. The same survey found Mr. Swearingen ahead by 12 points, less than half his 26-point margin over Mr. Michalsen four years ago.
Mr. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes statewide. His gap in Mr. Swearingen’s district alone was 14,000 votes.
“If we’re in the low 40s there, that means that we have blocked Trump’s path to pulling in the votes that he’d need to cancel out other areas of the state,” said Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
The Assembly race has engendered hurt feelings and worsened political divisions in Minocqua, a town of about 4,000 full-time residents. Down the street from the Minocqua Brewing Company, Tracy Lin Grigus, a Trump supporter who owns the Shade Tree bookstore, shook her head at Mr. Bangstad’s attempts to shame local businesses.
“On his Facebook, he’s calling all of us up here idiots, like a mini Joe Biden,’’ said Ms. Grigus, who doesn’t wear a mask in her store and doesn’t ask her customers to do so. “It’s insulting to people that share the space with him and other business owners. He’s like the only one in this town and surrounding towns that went this far.”
Across Oneida Street, the main drag through Minocqua’s small downtown, Casie Oldenhoff, an assistant manager at the Monkey Business T-shirt shop, where signs instruct customers to wear a mask, said Mr. Trump was to blame for the current wave of the pandemic.
“He’s just not taking care of us,” Ms. Oldenhoff said. “He doesn’t care about what’s going on with the pandemic.”
Mr. Swearingen said he had little doubt that Mr. Trump would do just as well in the Northwoods on Tuesday as he did in 2016. Enthusiasm for the president is higher, he said, as evidenced by the regular boat and car parades adorned with Trump flags and carrying young men concerned foremost about a Biden administration taking away their guns.
But he said he had never been involved in a campaign as ugly as his own this year.
“We’ve been targeted by my opponent as a den of Covid and all sorts of rumors in Facebook,’’ he said. “I’ve never quite had to fight against Facebook in an election. He went after a couple of other bars in the area, and one of the bar owners was livid that that bar was on the list. It’s like, ‘Well, who are these people? It’s the mask police or something.’”
For Mr. Bangstad, shaming Mr. Swearingen and other Republicans who have fought against public health guidelines is exactly the point.
“If you’re a citizen in this state, and there’s one branch of government that’s trying to keep people healthy from Covid, and you have the legislative branch and the judicial branch trying to stymie him every single time he does it, it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen,” he said. “As a Wisconsinite, I’m just completely ashamed.”
Andy Mills and Luke Vander Ploeg contributed reporting.
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