Saturday, 31 Oct 2020

The Latest Elusive Supreme Court Nominee

By Giovanni Russonello

Barrett won’t say how she’ll vote, and the defense secretary won’t say whether federal troops will be sent to the polls. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

Judge Amy Coney Barrett upheld precedent in at least one way yesterday: She declined, as other Supreme Court nominees regularly have in recent decades, to give senators a straight answer about how she would rule on some of the biggest issues that the court may be asked to address.

Roe v. Wade. The Affordable Care Act. L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Gun control. Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Barrett on all of these topics during the first day of questioning in her confirmation hearings. But she artfully evaded firm responses on each one.

“If I give off-the-cuff answers, I would basically be a legal pundit,” Barrett said. “And I don’t think we want judges to be legal pundits.”

Democrats were left to continue in much the same way they had on Monday, when senators on the committee had offered introductory speeches: They used their questions to denounce Republicans’ effort to move Barrett speedily through the nomination process while warning that Barrett could overturn the Affordable Care Act in one of the first cases she hears from the bench.

Though short-handed after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court remains in session. And yesterday it handed down a victory to the Trump administration, ruling that it could end the census count ahead of schedule.

That could allow the Census Bureau to move ahead with a count that excludes undocumented immigrants before the end of the year, potentially tamping down the population tally in primarily Democratic areas ahead of the decennial redistricting process.

This year, the administration initially extended its census deadlines to accommodate the difficulties imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. But it later reversed itself, restoring the original Dec. 31 target date to deliver census totals; that led to a legal challenge, brought by voter advocacy organizations and local governments.

A federal district court judge compelled the administration to continue counting through Oct. 31, the extended deadline it had announced and then reneged on. But yesterday the Supreme Court called that an overreach — and said the administration could stop the census count as it moves forward with its appeal. The decision, from which Justice Sonia Sotomayor fervently dissented, effectively puts an end to the enormous government effort, which involves hundreds of thousands of workers and would be hard to restart before the end of the month.

Joe Biden visited Florida yesterday as he targets older voters, whose support of President Trump has slipped. The relatively small events provided a sharp contrast to Trump’s appearance in Sanford, Fla., the day before, when he held his first major campaign event since testing positive for the coronavirus, and to his rally last night in Jonestown, Pa.

It was a contrast that Biden was eager to highlight as he labeled Trump reckless and irresponsible for his handling of the pandemic — on a personal level as well as a national one.

“While he throws super-spreader parties at the White House where Republicans hug each other without concern of the consequences, how many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids in the last seven months?” Biden asked an audience at a community center in Pembroke Pines, in the heavily Democratic Broward County.

Trump won Florida four years ago partly thanks to his double-digit lead among seniors, a crucial voting bloc in the state. But he has lost much of his support with these voters, and many recent polls have shown him trailing Biden over all in the Sunshine State.

A recent New York Times/Siena College poll of Florida showed Biden with an advantage of five percentage points among likely voters, including a two-point edge with seniors. A Quinnipiac University poll last week was even kinder to Biden, putting his lead over Trump in the double digits — powered by a 15-point spread among voters 65 and over.

With Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the November election, Democrats in Congress appealed to the defense secretary, Mark Esper — asking him to promise that he wouldn’t send federal troops to polling places if election disputes led to civil unrest, and to commit to ensuring a peaceful transition.

But Esper declined, instead replying to both queries with a single broad statement. “The U.S. military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law,” he wrote in a letter released Tuesday.

Those comments differ from the statements of Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been more explicit about his intention to keep the military out of the election.

“In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military,” Milley wrote to Congress in August. “I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process.”

Last week, federal and state officials in Michigan announced terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against 13 men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Yesterday the F.B.I. revealed that another governor, Ralph Northam of Virginia, had been considered as a possible target by the same group.

Like Whitmer, he became a subject of antigovernment activists’ ire partly because of his aggressive shutdown policies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s press secretary, said in a statement that the “rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences,” adding, “It must stop.”

Photo of the day

People lined up to cast their ballots at an early voting site in San Marcos, Texas.

In Michigan, ministers plan a response to voter intimidation.

By Kathy Gray

DETROIT — Even before President Trump urged his supporters to “carefully” watch polling places on Election Day, ministers in Detroit were devising a plan to ensure a peaceful experience for voters who choose to show up at the polls on Nov. 3, rather than mail an absentee ballot.

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