Saturday, December 11, 2021

Courting Disaster, Gilead Edition

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has been observing the Supreme Court for as long as I can remember, and her judgment of the Roberts' Court on Texas's abortion ban is about as devastating as it comes: Chief Justice John Roberts is now wholly irrelevant, and so is about 75 years of stare decisis.

Perhaps now is as good a time as any to put to rest the soothing notion, floated last spring, of a 3–3–3 court, with a temperate and amiable Brett Kavanaugh as the median justice and a youthful Amy Coney Barrett inclined to pump the brakes on the most radical elements of the Federalist Society’s pet projects. Neither Barrett nor Kavanaugh appears to be swayed by the chief justice’s concerns for institutional legitimacy or even, in fact, institutional supremacy. If red states want to go ahead and choke off federally protected rights, they have been given the comprehensive road map. We will certainly see red states do precisely this.

The mistake we’ve been making for over a year lay in believing that John Roberts’ worries with respect to the reputation, independence, and legitimacy of the court were both an end in themselves and shared by the imaginary centrists Barrett and Kavanaugh. We have for too long confused Roberts’ concern for the appearance of temperate independence (the “lie better next time” instruction to litigants) with a concern for actual temperate independence. Faced with public outcry about the way in which S.B. 8 was handled on its emergency docket in September (in the dark of night, without explanation), the court scheduled real-life arguments and real-life briefings, then waited yet another month, and then somehow produced a decision with substantially the same outcome. This time it came with an elaborate warning to abortion providers that they can go ahead with their lawsuit but they will likely fail again in the future—while the majority still congratulated itself on having treated the plaintiffs with “extraordinary solicitude at every turn.”

I have used up my quota of the word gaslighting for 2021, but to be clear, abortions after six weeks are still unlawful in Texas. Real people are suffering the real consequences, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor opens in her own partial dissent: “For nearly three months, the Texas Legislature has substantially suspended a constitutional guarantee: a pregnant woman’s right to control her own body.” Five conservative justices think this is just fine. Clever, even. The stratagems by which Texas’ abortion ban was diabolically effectuated have been blessed yet again by five justices on the Supreme Court, who tell you once again that this enforcement mechanism was just too brilliantly innovative to be enjoined and possibly even too brilliant to be successfully challenged in the future. And only the chief justice seems to be willing to say that this constitutes “nullification” of a fundamental constitutional freedom, and should perhaps be addressed accordingly.

he problem at the heart of the perception of John Roberts’ moderating influence on the court was that it was always about public perception. When he was still theoretically in charge of the conservative supermajority, his approach was in fact that it could do anything, so long as it didn’t look too radical. Some of us came to confuse that with moderation. But public perception is malleable and can be measured on a sliding scale. Five justices want you to call a narrow loss a “win” for abortion rights, and they want you to think of state nullification as “novel.” They will keep saying that over and over until one concedes that it’s true, and when Dobbs comes down this summer, they will tell you there is nothing radical in doing away with the right to choose. They will assume that if you accepted nullification in September, you’ll be open to overt bans come spring.

Roberts is credited with soothing us that Supreme Court justices are never doing anything more than calling balls and strikes. But under his watch, a conservative supermajority has changed the strike zone, corked the bats, and set the whole infield on fire—all while telling us that the game remains the same. They managed all that with the help of one Chief Justice John Roberts. What this tiny, narrow, wholly radical ruling reveals is that Roberts is now alone in his concern that the fans might soon figure all this out. His problem? He’s not the one calling the game anymore.

Roberts is the baseball umpire reigning over a demolition derby with monster trucks. He's reduced to pleading with the other five conservatives not to unravel the last sixty years of civil rights, but at this point nobody's going to listen.

I'd say he has nobody to blame but himself, but actually there are a lot of people to blame, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump Susan Collins, 2016 presidential voters, and a whole lot more.

The months and years ahead are going to be the end of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights eras. How America chooses to react to this may not matter, as Republicans will steal enough elections to get control of the country again, and then never give it back. Roberts has no power to save us.

We now have to save ourselves.

A Bad Night In Kentucky

Tornadoes ripped through four states last night, including a massive F4 or F5 that rent a 300 mile-long path of carnage from Jonesboro, Arkansas to almost Louisville, leaving scores dead in its wake.

Storms unleashed devastating tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday across parts of the central and southern US including Kentucky, where the governor says the death toll will exceed 50 after "one of the toughest nights in Kentucky history." 
More than 30 tornadoes have been reported in at least six states. A stretch of more than 200 miles from Arkansas to Kentucky might have been hit by one violent, long-track twister, CNN meteorologists say. 
Among the most significant damage: Tornadoes or strong winds collapsed an occupied candle factory in Kentucky, an Amazon warehouse in western Illinois, and a nursing home in Arkansas, killing people at each site and leaving responders scrambling to rescue others.
The extent of destruction will not be known fully for hours, but video emerging from those three states alone -- flattened buildings, overturned vehicles and workers scouring rubble for trapped people -- speak of breathtaking damage in some areas. 
"We believe our death toll from this event will exceed 50 Kentuckians, probably end up closer to 70 to 100 lost lives," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at a briefing Saturday morning
"This will be one of the most significant, the most extensive disasters that Kentucky has faced," Kentucky emergency management director Michael Dossett said, adding this was "one of the darkest days in the state's history." 
Tornadoes also have been reported in parts of Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.
One of the most devastated sites is the southwestern Kentucky city of Mayfield, where a tornado hit a candle factory Friday night while about 110 people were inside, Beshear said.
"We believe we'll lose at least dozens of those individuals," the governor said. 
Video from Mayfield showed what remained of the factory: a massive debris field, largely of twisted metal, several feet high. 
First responders have pulled "many, many" people out of the rubble, some alive and some apparently dead, storm chaser Michael Gordon told CNN Saturday morning from the scene. 
"It's kind of hard to talk about. ... They're digging in that rubble by hand right now," Gordon said.
I'm glad I don't have to worry about Trump cutting Kentucky off because he's mad at Andy Beshear Mitch McConnell or something. I know President Biden will help make the state whole again, but it was a bad night that none of us will forget anytime soon.

Just remember, more nights like this are coming in the years ahead thanks to climate change.

A lot more.

Insurrection Investigation, Con't

At least we know why former Trump WH Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suddenly stopped cooperating with the January 6th Committee and now faces a Contempt of Congress vote: it's because some of the evidence Meadows turned over was a comically incriminating PowerPoint presentation where Meadows and his merry band of Trump regime coup-coup birds spelled out their plan to overturn the 2020 election.

The 36-page document, which was intended to be presented to members of Congress before they met in a joint session to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral college victory, opens with an allegation that the Chinese government “systematically gained control” over the US election system through “compromised” electronic voting machines which could not be trusted to provide an accurate vote count.

It further singles out eight states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico — as having had their results corrupted through “domestic voter fraud”.

The specific charges of how vote totals were “fixed” in favour of Mr Biden are largely in line with a grab bag of outlandish and false claims promulgated by people in former president Donald Trump’s inner circle during the period between 7 November — when most news organisations called the 2020 race for Mr Biden — and 6 January, when a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in hopes of stopping Congress from carrying out its statutory duty to count each state’s electoral votes.

The presentation lays out a theory identical to that which was offered up by Trump campaign attorneys Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell at a now-infamous press conference held at Republican National Committee headquarters on 19 November 2020.

At the time, Ms Powell alleged that she had uncovered the “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China, in the interference with our elections here in the United States”, and further claimed – without offering evidence – that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems used software from a different voting system builder, Smartmatic, with both having been developed “at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election”.

None of what Ms Powell alleged about either Dominion or Smartmatic had any basis in reality, and both companies have subsequently filed billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against her.

The presentation also makes recommendations that match up with drastic demands made to a Defence Department official by another erstwhile ally of Mr Trump, ex-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Several slides lay out a scenario under which ballots in all 50 states would have been seized by the US Marshals Service and held for a 50-state hand recount conducted by “select federalized National Guard units” under supervision of a “trusted lead counter” to be appointed by Mr Trump.
In other words, they had an entire presentation ready to go about how Trump was going to overturn the election by having US Marshals seize ballots in all 50 states, and the goal was to justify it to the congressional GOP. It was planned for months. The only reason in failed was because of lack of execution and will, not lack of planning. They knew exactly how they were going to force a massive crisis and then stay in power.

All these scoundrels need a lifetime in prison. If they get back in power, we are undone, and millions will be killed.

It really is that simple.
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