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While Many Cheer Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP Pick, Others Scrutinize Her Past as California’s AG

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  • After Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) as his running mate, many celebrities and Democrats cheered the decision.
  • On the other side of the aisle, President Donald Trump immediately attacked Harris, sharing an ad that called her part of the radical left and “phony Kamala.” That phrase was then echoed by Fox News and trended on Twitter.
  • Some who identify as Democrats or liberals have also questioned Biden’s pick, noting that Harris’ time as attorney general has proved to be controversial.
  • Still, some analysts have argued that a vice presidential pick will likely not substantially affect an election, and many already planning to vote for the Democratic candidate have said despite reservations, they don’t plan on changing their vote. 

Celebrities and Major Democrats Cheer Harris Pick

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected Kamala Harris (D-CA.) as his running mate. Immediately, the response to that decision was strong and widely varied, even within the Democratic party. 

Many congratulated Harris for being both the first Black and first Asian-American women to run as vice president on a major political party’s ticket. 

“Was there ever more of an exciting day?” actress Mindy Kaling tweeted.

“For our entire country of course, but especially for my Black and Indian sisters, many of us who have gone our entire lives thinking that someone who looks like us may never hold high office? We work so hard and contribute to the fabric of our lives in America, & now to see @SenKamalaHarris rise to the top like this? It’s thrilling!! I am filled with hope and excitement. Thank you @JoeBiden. Let’s do this!⁣” 

Kaling was also joined by numerous other celebrities, including Kerry Washington, LeBron James, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend.

Alongside celebrities, a number of major Democrats have backed Harris, including some who are seen as possible candidates to join Biden’s administration should he win the November election.

Trump Denounces Harris as “Phony”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump immediately took aim at Harris, tweeting an ad that called her part of the “radical left” and “phony Kamala. 

The same night, similar sentiments made their way to Fox News, where commentator Jesse Watters said, “She’s kind of a phony who never caught on.” Alongside that, “Phony Kamala” trended on Twitter Tuesday night. 

Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee Chair, has also blasted Biden for picking Harris, saying he “chose the person who would actually be in charge the next four years if he is somehow able to win.”

“Kamala Harris’ extreme positions, from raising taxes to abolishing private health insurance to comparing law enforcement officials to the KKK, show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president,” McDaniel said. “These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans.”

She added that Harris should expect “an unprecedented level of scrutiny and attention.”

Scrutiny Into Harris’ Time as California AG

Regardless of political views, McDaniel’s prediction has proved right: scrutiny has already been widespread since Tuesday. 

Most of that stems from Harris’ time as the “top cop” attorney general of California, and it’s come from both sides of the aisle. The difference? While many conservatives have painted Harris as too extreme for America, some liberals have argued that she is simply too moderate and that her actions as attorney general don’t align with the current cultural flashpoint America is in — especially for what they want to see out of the Democratic Party.

For example, many online have taken issue with the fact that Harris used to be a police officer, a career that has become increasingly polarized as calls to defund police departments are receiving more support than ever.

Some hoping to oust Trump have feared that Biden’s choosing of her could cause a split in the party, leading to Trump’s re-election. Many experts have shut that idea down, saying that a vice presidential candidate isn’t likely to make or break the election. Others online have echoed that sentiment, saying that even if they aren’t enthused, they still plan to vote for Biden and Harris.

Many have also attempted to ease concerns from liberals by pointing to a Propublica report that shows Harris voting alongside the much more progressive Bernie Sanders 93% of the time in 2017 and 2018. 

Police Shootings in San Francisco

Harris was first elected as California’s attorney general in 2011, and she served in that role until 2017 when she won her current Senate seat. 

For her part, Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” who’s tough on crime but also addresses inequities in the criminal justice system. She has long-claimed that she became a prosecutor because she wanted to change that system from within.

But her role as attorney general carries a significant amount of baggage. For example, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, many urged her to launch an investigation into a series of police shootings in San Francisco.

Despite this, Harris said that her office did not have the power to initiate those types of investigations except in extreme circumstances. In 2015, she refused to back a bill that would have required her office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate cases involving police misconduct.

In 2016, Harris proposed what The New York Times described as a “modest” expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police use of force. By that time, she had also begun reviewing two municipal police departments and backed a Justice Department investigation in San Francisco.

“Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo,” The New York Times reported. 

Critics have similarly held Harris accountable for saying in her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”

“Virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat,” she added. “This is as true in economically poor areas as in wealthy ones.”

However, earlier this summer following the death of George Floyd, she said, “It is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

Likely, this plays into the reason why Trump and other conservatives have attacked Harris as being “phony.” For liberals, the opposing comments (along with other controversies) have similarly raised questions about whether she is a “pragmatic progressive” or if she has genuinely shifted ideology over the last 11 years. 

Prison Labor

One of the most notable concerns surrounding Harris stems from 2011 when the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce prison crowding. In that decision, justices ruled that conditions in state prisons were so bad they violated the 8th Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Then-justice Anthony Kennedy further wrote that the prison system in the state had failed to deliver the minimum level of care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems, producing “needless suffering and death.”

At the time, Harris created a division in her office to help counties devise alternatives to incarceration, and in February 2014, the state agreed to reduce its prison population by releasing nonviolent prisoners with only two felonies after serving half of their sentences.

However, by November 2014, Harris’ office unsuccessfully argued in court against releasing too many prisoners eligible for parole — prisoners it had agreed to release — because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”

At the time, Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney also argued against releasing those prisoners because many were being used as firefighters to combat California’s fire season.

According to The Los Angeles Times, most of those prisoners were earning only between 8 and 37 cents an hour. 

Harris later denied that she ever knew such an argument was being used in court and later directed her lawyers not to make that argument in the future. 

“The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities,” she told the website ThinkProgress. “The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”

Mass Incarceration

Also related to prisons, Harris has faced criticism involving her arrest record regarding marijuana offenses. 

In fact, on Tuesday, a clip of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) from a presidential debate last year resurfaced. In that clip, Gabbard attacks Harris’ policing of marijuana offenses. 

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. 

Gabbard’s claims are a little misleading. It appears Gabbard was citing an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet that ran the headline: Kamala Harris Packed California Prisons With Pot Peddlers.”

However, during Harris’ time as attorney general, around 1,900 marijuana and hashish offenses were recorded. Though that’s actually higher than what Gabbard claimed, a few points should be clarified.

For one, marijuana offenses dramatically dropped after Harris’ first year in office. 

The vast majority of those cases also weren’t directly prosecuted by her office. Instead, lower-level attorneys prosecuted those cases.

Both former lawyers in her office and defense attorneys who’ve worked on drug cases have also argued that most of those people were never locked up. In fact, they contend that only a few dozen were sent to state prison for marijuana convictions while Harris was in office.

Blocking DNA Evidence

In the resurfaced Gabbard clip, the Hawaii rep. also claims that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” 

Gabbard is likely referring to a Black man by the name of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of hacking and murdering four people in a family in 1983. In 1985, he was then placed on death row but has continued to maintain his innocence ever since.

Along with his claims, there have been serious concerns over his conviction. For example, an 8-year-old witness described the perpetrators as three white men.

According to an investigative column from The New York Times, brown and blond hairs were found in the victims’ hands, yet Cooper had black hair and an afro at the time. In fact, sheriff’s deputies never found Cooper’s hair or even his fingerprints at the scene.

One woman even called police and told them that she believed the murderer was her boyfriend — a man who was already a convicted murder — after she found his bloody overalls and noticed that a hatchet had gone missing.

Still, police proceeded to investigate Cooper, who had been found hiding near the family’s home after escaping from a prison on a burglary conviction.

Decades later, in 2016, Cooper’s attorneys filed a clemency petition insisting that newly available DNA testing would exonerate him; however, Harris’ office refused to allow that DNA testing.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Harris — now in the Senate — said in a Facebook post that she hoped the state would allow DNA testing for Cooper’s case. That finally moved forward last year after Gavin Newsom (D) was elected governor of California.

While Harris was never forced to lift the block on that evidence like Gabbard claimed, her office did still block it all the same.

Following the attack from Gabbard last year, Harris’ campaign spokesperson denied that she was ever directly involved in that decision.

“Senator Harris ran an office of 5,000 people and takes responsibility for all the actions of the [California] Department of Justice during her tenure,” he said.

“Most of the legal activity around this case occurred before her terms in office, but this specific request was made to and decided by lower level attorneys. When the case was brought to her attention, she publicly called for further DNA testing. She has always been a strong proponent of DNA testing and again, an opponent of the death penalty.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (SF Weekly) (CNN)

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Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low

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The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.


High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.

The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.

The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.

The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.

Cases Involving Race

Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.

The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.

Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black. 

States’ Power Over Elections 

Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.

The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.

“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.

In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.

LGBTQ+ Rights

Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.

That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.

As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.

Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”

Record-Low Approval Rating

The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.

A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.

Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.

“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill

“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event

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The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.


“Where’s Jackie?” 

Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.

The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.

The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.” 

The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.

“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

The Age Maximum Question

Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.

Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.

While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.

These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.

There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.

Source: Business Insider

What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.

As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.

Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.

However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)

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Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds

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In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.


A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse

More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.

Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.

All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.

“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”

“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.

“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”

Abuses Go Unreported

Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.

Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.

Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.

In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.

In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.

The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)

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