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Forensic News Roundup: Courts rule against voting rights across the country

July 6, 2020 8:39 am Adrienne Cobb

Statues over people

Over the past week, we’ve seen the crystallization of Trump’s apparent re-election strategy: protect statues at all costs. During his two public speeches (clip 1 (clip 2), Trump focused on confederate monuments and “cancel culture” while the nation grapples with a record-breaking number of coronavirus cases and a struggling economy.

Trump promised to veto this year’s annual defense bill if an amendment is included that would require the Pentagon to change the names of bases named for Confederate military leaders… Sen. Elizabeth Warren sponsored the amendment that would change the names of 10 bases named after Confederate generals as well as remove Confederate likenesses, symbols, and paraphernalia from defense facilities nationwide within three years.

  • The amendment is unlikely to be removed, however, as it passed the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee with bipartisan support. This means that it would require 60 votes on the Senate floor to get rid of it.
  • Warren: “The decision to remove the names of Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States in defense of slavery was a bipartisan decision that came out of the committee, and it’s going to stay in the defense budget. The president can do what he wants, but it stays.”

Trump signed an executive order on June 26 directing the Department of Justice to “prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal law” people who damage federal monuments. He took to Twitter to announce the order: “Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!” Damaging federal property can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation withholding federal funding for states and cities that don’t adequately protect statues and monuments. Trump’s executive order included a provision to do the same, but the White House is not in a position to enforce such a clause.

The Department of Homeland Security announced a new task force to protect “American monuments, memorials, and statues.” DHS said it was launching rapid deployment teams to federal monuments over the July 4th weekend. “DHS should not be prioritizing the protection of property over the wellbeing of Black and Brown communities,” the ACLU responded.

  • Just want to point out: The federal government apparently has the resources to spare to guard monuments but not to conduct thorough contact tracing and isolation.

During Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech, he announced an executive order establishing a “national garden” for statues of “American heroes” (video). The choice in statues proves that the idea is meant as a divisive wedge issue. Indeed, there is already a “Hall of Fame for Great Americans” in existence in the Bronx.


Appointee controversies

Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Norway was involved in the creation of a racist campaign flyer in the 1990s and failed to disclose subsequent legal action associated with it. Mark Burkhalter helped create a flier that distorted the features of a black politician in Georgia, darkened his features, gave him a large afro, and prompted a libel suit.

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez is urging the White House to withdraw Burkhalter’s nomination: “During this time of national trauma and reckoning over violence and racist actions against African-Americans, however, it is unthinkable to nominate for a position of public trust an individual who participated in such a despicable, racist scheme,” Menendez wrote in a letter.

Trump appointee Michael Pack fired the top officials of the USAGM’s internet freedom group. In less than a decade, the Open Technology Fund has quietly become integral to the world’s repressed communities. Over two billion people in 60 countries rely on tools developed and supported by the fund, like Signal and Tor, to connect to the internet securely and send encrypted messages in authoritarian societies.

The White House directed Defense Department officials to hire former National Security Council staffer Rich Higgins, who was fired for circulating a conspiratorial memo and known for Islamophobic tweets… The move is part of an aggressive push to staff the Pentagon with figures loyal to Trump and with connections to Michael Flynn.

White House is conducting “loyalty test” interviews with political appointees at the Pentagon. The interviews will be conducted by two subordinates of John McEntee, Trump’s former body man who now runs the personnel office: John Troup Hemenway, an undergraduate student, and Jordan Hayley, who graduated from university last month.

House Democrats call for firing of USAID political appointee with history of Islamophobic statements… Religious freedom adviser Mark Kevin Lloyd shared a Facebook post calling Islam “a barbaric cult” and accused Obama of being connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. Reps. Joaquin Castro and Ilhan Omar: “He does not represent the values of our country, and he should not be in a position to betray our nation’s constitutional promise of religious freedom.”

A second USAID Trump appointee is under fire for hate-filled rhetoric, including anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ comments. Merritt Corrigan, the recently appointed deputy White House liaison at USAID, said “women shouldn’t be in office” and urged followers to “speak out now about the transsexual agenda before it becomes normalized.”


Court cases

The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear arguments this fall about Mueller’s grand jury evidence, postponing the House Judiciary Committee’s potential access to the material until after the election. SCOTUS could have declined the hear the case, preserving the lower court ruling granting the committee access.

Last week, SCOTUS struck down a Louisiana law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The ruling should be seen only as a momentary win, as Chief Justice Roberts didn’t rule on the merits of a constitutionally protected right to abortion—rather he deferred to the power of the court itself, leaving the door open for future challenges.

  • The Supreme Court also gave Indiana a second chance to revive two restrictive abortion laws – one imposing an ultrasound requirement and the other expanding parental notification when minors seek abortions – by throwing out a lower court’s rulings to block them.
  • Related: Missouri Supreme Court denies attempt to defund Planned Parenthood
  • More on Roberts: “[H]e is moving the ball steadily down the constitutional field, toward the conservative end zone. Of the dozen 5-to-4 cases decided by the Supreme Court this term, Roberts is the only justice to have been in the majority each time. He sided with the liberals just twice.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is constitutionally valid but the director can be removed by the president at will. The outcome is a mixed bag, but Elizabeth Warren – creator of the agency – highlighted the fact that the conservative court ruled “the CFPB is here to stay.” Furthermore, if Biden wins in November, the decision allows him to fire Trump’s director before her term would have ended.

The Supreme Court declined to take up the case of federal death row prisoners who had challenged the government’s lethal injection protocol, paving the way for the Trump administration to carry out the first executions at the federal level in nearly two decades.

The Supreme Court ruled that states must allow religious schools to participate in programs that provide scholarships to students attending private schools, a decision that opened the door to more public funding of religious education.

The upshot: Taxpayers in most of the country will soon start funding overtly religious education—including the indoctrination of children into a faith that might clash with their own conscience. For example, multiple schools that participate in Montana’s scholarship program inculcate students with a virulent anti-LGBTQ ideology that compares homosexuality to bestiality and incest…

A New York appellate court lifted the temporary restraining order against Simon & Schuster, allowing the publisher to continue printing and distributing Mary Trump’s book. The next hearing regarding the restraining order against Mary herself is scheduled for this Friday. This morning, Simon & Schuster announced they are moving up the publishing date: “Due to high demand and extraordinary interest in this book, Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump will now be published on July 14, 2020.”

In court filings, Mary Trump argues that the confidentiality agreement she signed 19 years ago was an unenforceable fraud. Her lawyers state that when she signed the NDA, she believed the asset amounts in it were accurate but learned they were bogus from a New York Times expose. Essentially, Mary says the president and his siblings of engaging in systematic fraud by devaluing assets.

“The Times found that the Trump family had engineered ‘friendly’ appraisals for Beach Haven and Shore Haven Apartments—two of the largest ‘crown jewels’ of Fred Trump’s empire—that were significantly and deliberately undervalued to avoid a variety of tax payments,” the memo stated. “Those undervalued appraisals, part of the Trump tax avoidance scheme, were relied upon in the Settlement Agreement—which Ms. Trump has testified she would not have signed if she had known about the fraudulent appraisals.”

See also “Voting Rights” section below


Trump campaign and properties

Health secretary Alex Azar focuses trips on swing states needed by Trump… Azar’s travel priorities appear to be related to politics, not the states fighting the worst outbreaks, according to Obama-era officials.

Last year, the Republican National Convention began cutting checks to a former producer of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice who was accused of having, as one contestant put it, “all the dirt” on Donald Trump. The RNC’s disbursements to Labella’s firm appear to be the first payments ever made by a federal political committee to either Labella personally or his company. But a RNC spokesperson described his role for the convention as that of a standard event producer.

Trump is planning on holding a $580,600-per-couple campaign fundraiser in Broward County this week. Last month, Trump resumed in-person fundraising with two events, including a June 11 gathering in Dallas that cost $580,600 per couple. The campaign said it raised more than $10 million through that event.

A t-shirt for sale on Trump’s official campaign website displays an “america First” logo with a striking similarity to the Nazis’ Iron Eagle symbol (comparison). A little over two weeks ago, Facebook removed numerous Trump campaign posts and ads featuring an upside down red triangle symbol once used by Nazis to identify political opponents.

  • Let’s not forget that a little over a week ago, Trump retweeted a video that included a Trump supporter shouting “white power.” The president commented that his supporters in the video are “great people.” Staffers tried for three hours to reach Trump to get permission to delete the tweet, but Trump was on the golf course.

Speaking of Trump and golfing, this weekend Trump spent his 365th day as president on one of his own properties. In fact, on the day the U.S. set a daily global record for the coronavirus pandemic – surpassing 55,000 new cases – Trump was golfing.

Further reading: “Pence donors, allies helped finance vice president’s legal defense fund for Mueller probe” and “The owner ‘The Hill’ helped secure an unpaid White House position for his wife — a fact the publication did not disclose to readers.”


Voting rights

The Supreme Court blocked a trial judge’s order that would have made it easier for voters in three Alabama counties to use absentee ballots in this month’s primary runoff election. State officials had asked the court to block a lower court’s order that eased photo ID and witness requirements for absentee voting during the pandemic.

The Supreme Court declined to fast-track a bid by Texas Democrats to decide whether all Texas voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic… Texas law allows voters to mail in their ballots only if they are 65 or older, confined in jail, will be out of the county during the election period, or cite a disability or illness.

A federal appeals court halted the voting registration of thousands of Florida felons who cannot pay fines or fees, just weeks after a lower court threw out the state law mandating payment of all legal financial obligations before voting. The 11th Circuit decision granted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to suspend voter registration until the full court hears the case.

  • Reminder: Late last year, the Senate confirmed Judge Barbara Lagoa to the 11th Circuit, flipping the court to majority GOP appointees.

A federal appeals court in Wisconsin has reaffirmed voting restrictions favored by Republicans, limiting early voting to 2 weeks before an election and barring voters from receiving ballots via email or fax.

In some good news, the Atlanta Hawks is going to turn its arena into the largest polling site in state history. Hundreds of Hawks employees and arena staff will be trained as election workers at the 700,000-square-foot venue, which hosts more than 16,000 spectators for basketball games and 21,000 for concerts. The team says parking will be free for voters and more than 1,500 spaces will be made available.


Immigration

ICE unlawfully jails unaccompanied migrant children once they turn 18, judge rules… Many of ICE’s largest field offices “nearly automatically” send minors to adult jails, even when in extreme cases their parents in the United States or other sponsors would take them, the judge wrote.

The week before last, a federal judge ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails and denounced the Trump administration’s prolonged detention of families during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Prior to the ruling, it was reported that eleven immigrants held inside a detention facility for families in Texas have tested positive for COVID-19
  • Further reading: ICE Asked Parents to Choose Between Family Separation and Prolonged Detention—During a Pandemic

A government watchdog agency responsible for overseeing the conditions that federal agencies hold immigrants in said it will not be visiting facilities because of the coronavirus, which observers worry will diminish independent inspections.

‘Suddenly they started gassing us’: Cuban migrants tell of shocking attack at Ice prison… Refugees say protest against risk of Covid-19 was violently suppressed at New Mexico facility run by private firm CoreCivic.

A federal judge overturned a Trump border rule requiring immigrants to first claim asylum in another country… Trump-appointee Judge Timothy J. Kelly of Washington, D.C. ruled that the administration’s rule violated the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Trump administration is preparing broad new immigration restrictions that would deny humanitarian refuge to anyone from a country with a disease outbreak, deeming those asylum seekers to be a danger to public safety.

  • Meanwhile, travelers from the U.S. are banned from entering countries in Europe, must quarantine when visiting England, and will have to pass through health checkpoints to visit Sonora (the Mexican state that borders Arizona).

The US agency that oversees and administers key facets of the immigration system, including the processing of citizenship, green cards, and asylum applications is about to come to a near halt. If Congress does not provide US Citizenship and Immigration Services with emergency funding before Aug. 3, the employees, who make up more than 60% of all staffers, will be furloughed.

Border wall built by Trump’s hand-picked contractor is in danger of falling into the Rio Grande… Trump supporters funded the private border wall on the banks of the Rio Grande, helping the builder secure $1.7 billion in federal contracts. Last December, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called for the Pentagon’s inspector general to review Fisher’s first $400 million fence contract, awarded in December over concerns of “inappropriate influence.” The audit is ongoing.

Fun fact: All but 3 of the 216 miles of border wall constructed by the Trump administration are essentially much larger replacements of existing, dilapidated fences or vehicle barriers


Environment

  • Pro-pipeline letters by key legislators, including North Dakota’s governor, were actually ghostwritten by a fossil fuel company
  • The Fed Is Bailing Out Polluters While Cities Struggle: Fossil fuel interests have readier access to stimulus money than many local governments.
  • Trump’s trade war hurt Maine’s lobster industry. He falsely blames Obama: The president has moved to bail out the state’s all-important seafood industry. But his policies caused the problem.
    • White House directs Agriculture Department to extend farmer bailout money to lobster industry
  • Trump’s EPA balks at a chance to save black lives: Soot sickens and kills people of color disproportionately. The EPA has decided to not tighten standards that would protect them and others.
  • A Democratic U.S. senator says he has written to Attorney General William Barr outlining his concerns about potential “political interference” by the Trump administration in an investigation of a private espionage firm that targeted environmental groups in the United States.
  • The Trump administration proposed to open more than two-thirds of the nation’s largest piece of public land to oil and gas drilling, removing wildlife protections for the Alaskan tract that have been in place for more than four decades.
  • Trump Has Dismantled More Monuments Than Any Protest: Trump has done the most damage to national monuments, dismantling or desecrating four federally protected land and water sites with significant cultural, archeological and natural resources.

Other

These stories didn’t fit in a previous category, but I think it’s important to include…

A new Trump administration proposal would let government-funded, single-sex homeless shelters keep transgender people out for religious reasons, and advocates worry that could subject them to more violence than they already face.

In the past, Secretary Carson has called transgender women “big, hairy men” intruding on women’s shelters and referred to “Biblical principles” to justify misgendering transgender women.

President Trump has taken aim at an Obama-era program intended to eliminate racial housing disparities in the suburbs, a move proponents of the policy see as an attempt to shore up his sagging support among white suburban voters by stoking racial division.

The Trump administration is in discussions to end a decades-old practice of informally notifying Congress of major arms sales to foreign countries… Administration officials say they are tired of regular efforts by Capitol Hill to review arms exports to Saudi Arabia and other nations.

The White House asked a Republican senator to block a bill that punishes China over its encroachments in Hong Kong. That senator, Kevin Cramer, obliged, blocking unanimous passage of the bill last week — even though he’s a co-sponsor of it.



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