- On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in as the new justice on the Supreme Court, ending a highly contentious partisan battle just a week before the election.
- In the weeks following the election, the new justice is set to hear several landmark cases, including the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and another lawsuit that involves LGBTQ discrimination protections.
- Many critics have expressed concerns that Barrett will push the court to overrule the ACA and try to roll back LGBTQ protections based on her previous public statements and personal views.
- As soon as the end of this week, the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to hear two election-related cases regarding mail-in ballots extensions in key battleground states.
Barrett Appointed to Supreme Court
The Senate officially approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday with a vote of 52 to 48.
The decison fell almost entirely along party lines, and though her nomination was hotly contested, this outcome was largely expected.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) was the only Republican to vote against the appointment. No Democrats voted to confirm Barrett, marking the first time in 151 years that not one member of the minority party voted to confirm a justice.
The confirmation marks the end of the historic, lightning-fast nomination process defined by partisan divisions. Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for breaking the precedent they themselves set when they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination ten months before the 2016 election.
That decision was made under the premise that the nomination came too close to the election and that the next president should get to pick the nominee.
Now, with just seven days to go before the election, Republicans have their new Supreme Court justice, as well as a solid conservative majority on the highest court for the first time since the 1930s.
Here’s a look at what happens next.
Affordable Care Act
Judge Barrett is being seated right as the court is scheduled to hear some highly consequential cases. Arguably the most significant is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The court will begin hearing oral arguments on starting Nov. 10, just one week after the election.
With Barrett assuming her role on the bench right as the court is set to hear the landmark case, many expressed concerns that she could still sway the court to get rid of the ACA, thus leaving more than 20 million Americans without health insurance during a pandemic.
The new justice has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional. In a 2017 article, she argued that under an originalist reading of the Constitution — interpreting it the way it was originally written — Obamacare would not be allowed.
In that same article, Barrett also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on the ACA and claimed that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution
Notably, when pressed on the topic during her Senate confirmation hearings, she did give some supporters of the law hope when she outlined her views on the legal doctrine known as severability, which allows for parts of a law to be struck down without getting rid of an entire law.
Barrett told the Senators that the presumption is to always favor severing parts of a given law rather than scrapping the whole thing. Some argued that opinion would be favorable for how she may rule on Obamacare, but others remained skeptical.
Even before hearing the ACA arguments, the Supreme Court is also set to take up another key case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer funding to provide government services to deny those services to people based on their sexual orientation.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the City of Philadelphia by Catholic Social Services (CSS) in 2018. City officials canceled a contract with the agency to provide foster care services to children after learning that CSS refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents because of its own religious objections.
A lower court ruled that the city was allowed to end the contract because it fell under the enforcement of its anti-discrimination policy, and an Appeals Court upheld that decision. Now the case is set to go before the Supreme Court, and the consequences could highly significant.
“A broad ruling could decide when religious organizations deserve exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that the groups say would cause them to violate deeply held beliefs, such as what constitutes a marriage,” The Washington Post explained.
Many Democrats and activists have criticized Barrett for her controversial views on LGBTQ rights, specifically pointing to a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal.
Others have also noted a separate speech she gave, where she argued that Title IX — the law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in education programs or other activities that receive federal funding — does not apply to trans people.
During the Senate hearings, Barrett was largely tight-lipped about her views on key Supreme Court decisions. At one point she refused to say whether she believed the case that established gay marriage as legal had been decided properly.
There are also some other legal battles that Barrett could rule on as early as later this week. This Friday, the justices are expected to meet privately to decide what cases could still be added to this term’s docket.
Two of the cases they are considering are emergency orders regarding ballot extensions in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Last week, the Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican Party to shorten the deadline in which state election officials could receive absentee ballots. The highest court took up the case after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sided with Democrats and allowed them to extend the deadline that mail-in ballots could be received to three days after the election.
Notably here, the Supreme Court did not directly rule against the Republicans, but instead split the decision 4-4, meaning the court was deadlocked, and thus the decision from the lower court would stand.
But now, with the ninth seat filled, Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the court to reconsider blocking the extension and to fast-track the decision.
In a very similar legal battle, the high court has also been asked to consider whether or not to hear a case brought by the Trump campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party asking them to block a mail-in ballot extension approved by the State Board of Elections last month.
The extension would allow officials to receive ballots postmarked by Election Day for nine days after the election. So far, that new deadline has already been held up by a district court and a federal appeals court.
Wisconsin and Kavanaugh
Currently, it is unclear if the court will hear either case, though it is worth noting that they have taken up a number of similar election-related legal battles in recent weeks.
On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject attempts by Democrats in Wisconsin to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots to six days after the election. Instead, the court ruled that mail-in ballots in the state can only be counted if they arrive on Election Day.
While the court did not provide a reason for this decision, as is normal in cases like this, some justices filed opinions including Brett Kavanaugh, who sparked controversy in his defense of his decision to strike down the extension.
“Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election,” he wrote, arguing for the importance of deadlines. “And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”
Many condemned the justice, accusing him of issuing a shockingly partisan opinion and arguing that the situation he detailed would not be considered “flipping” the election, including Justice Elana Kagan, who took aim at Kavanaugh’s argument here in a footnote in her own opinion.
“But there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted,” she wrote. “And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”
Some also pointed out the fallacy in Kavanaugh’s argument that mail-in ballots that arrive after election day will change the outcome that a majority of voters wanted.
“If Trump leads by 10 votes on Nov. 3 but 6,000 ballots arrive the day after having been sent on Oct. 24, most of them preferring former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Kavanaugh worries that this constitutes an unfair rejection of the will of the public,” The Post wrote.
Others still argued that Kavanaugh’s opinion is especially concerning given the fact that currently, election officials in at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., do count ballots that arrive after Election Day.
“In these states, there is no result to ‘flip’ because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted,” Slate reported, noting that Kavanaugh’s opinion echoes false claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump about absentee voting.
In fact, early that same day, the president posted a tweet that mirrored the justices’ argument almost exactly.
“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” he wrote. “Must have final total on November 3rd.”
The post was quickly flagged by Twitter as election-related misinformation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Slate) (CNN)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
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.
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)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
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)
Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck
Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.
Paxton on the Run
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.
Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.
According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.
Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.
“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”
Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.
“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”
“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.
The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.
Process Server or Lingering Stranger?
Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.
“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”
“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.
On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.
His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.
In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”