Barrett is a Committed Conservative Jurist, But How Will She Rule on Hot-Button Issues?

By nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday to replace the late liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Donald Trump unquestionably has chosen a committed conservative jurist.In announcing his choice in the White House Rose Garden, Trump described Barrett as “one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds,” a woman with sterling credentials and “unyielding loyalty to the Constitution.”A one-time protégé of Antonin Scalia, the late conservative icon on the high court who opposed abortion and gay marriage, Barrett, more than Trump’s two earlier Supreme Court appointments — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — is expected to push the bench much further to the right by creating a new 6-3 conservative-liberal split.That much most legal and political expert agree on.What no one can predict with any certainty is how she’ll vote on hot-button social and economic issues that are likely to come up before the court and determine the rights and freedoms of millions of Americans – including the fate of the Affordable Care Act that currently insures more than 20 million people amid the worst pandemic in over a century.During her confirmation hearing for a seat on a federal appeals court in 2017, Barrett faced two broad questions — whether she can separate her Catholic faith from her decision-making on the court, and whether she will she accept court precedent on abortion, LGBTQ rights and other issues that might be at odds with her understanding of the Constitution.Those questions will likely dominate her confirmation hearing, which reportedly could begin as soon as October 12, and shed light on how she might come down on key issues before the high court.Catholic faith versus jurisprudenceBarrett, 48, is a devout Catholic and the mother of seven children. Her Catholic faith came up during her 2017 confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Democrats suggested that her religious beliefs on abortion and same-sex marriage would influence how she votes on those issues on the court.She sought to reassure the lawmakers that she would not allow her faith to affect her vote on the federal bench. “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” she said.She also said that she would follow all Supreme Court precedents “without fail” and would regard decisions such as Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortions, as binding precedent.Democrats were not persuaded.“I can’t tell you how many nominees have been before this panel . . . and virtually all say the same,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said. “‘I’m following the precedent, I’m following the law, I’m following the Constitution. Don’t worry a thing about who I am. How I was raised. What my religion is. What my life experience has been. Put it all aside.’ I don’t believe that for a second.”Today many critics, including Senate Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and liberal advocacy groups, harbor similar doubts about her professed impartiality.“I think her viewpoint would ensure that people who share her ideas about religion would be dominant,” said Caroline Fredrickson, a former president of the left-leaning American Constitution Center who now teaches law at Georgetown University.Her defenders say Barrett is committed to keeping her religious beliefs and jurisprudence separate.“There’s no doubt that Judge Barrett is conservative,” said Andrew Hessick, a University of North Carolina professor who endorsed Barrett’s appellate nomination in 2017. “I think it’s important to separate out the claim that she’s conservative and that she is looking to impose her religious views on the world.”Where she stands on precedentPrecedent, or deference to past court decisions, is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence. Lower courts are bound by precedents set by the Supreme Court and the high court often upholds its own precedent.However, the Supreme Court sometimes reverses past decisions, and in her scholarly writings and speeches over the years, Barrett has stressed that stare decisis — the legal principle of following precedent — is not an absolute principle.“There is a time when cases should be overruled and errors corrected,” she said on a panel at the Federalist Society, a highly influential organization of conservatives and libertarians that advises the Trump White House on judicial nominations.In a 2013 law journal article, Barret singled out the type of precedents that could potentially be overturned, drawing a distinction between Supreme Court decisions that serve as simple precedent and so-called “super-precedents” – cases that “no justice would overrule.”Among super precedents, she cited Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that ended racial segregation in public schools, but not Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. In 2017, she declined to say whether the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage qualified as a “super-precedent.”That worries LGBTQ rights advocates.“She is on record as saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman which indicates to us that she is hostile to the Obergefell ruling and could potentially seek to undermine or overturn it,” said Kevin Jennings, president of Lambda Legal, the largest LBGTQ rights legal advocacy organization in the country. He was referring to the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.Hessick said Barrett’s stance on precedent is “a little bit more aggressive” than other jurists’.“She’s written multiple articles saying that there are good reasons to allow litigants to challenge precedent and for courts to reconsider precedent, that It’s important to get it right,” Hessick said.On the other hand, just because a decision is not considered a super-precedent, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be overturned, Hessick added. “It just means that there’s less restriction on overturning it, that judges should be more willing to re-examine it.”However, while Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be overturned anytime soon despite a fervent campaign by religious groups, Obergefell may be more at risk.“It’s a very important decision, but it’s a recent decision,” Hessick said. “And I think that that probably opens the door for some people to think that it’s more amenable to a challenge than some of the precedents that have been around for a really long time.”Another major issue whose outcome Barrett could influence is the Affordable Care Act. On November 10 — a week after the presidential election — the court is set to hear oral arguments in the latest case challenging the program.As a professor at Notre Dame in 2012, Barrett signed a protest statement denouncing Obamacare, saying a religious exemption from the law’s contraceptive coverage mandate “changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty.”Later, Barret criticized a high court decision upholding the law, taking Chief Justice John Roberts to task for construing as a tax Obamacare’s penalty on individuals lacking health insurance coverage.Ultimately, court watchers say there is no way to know with certainty how she’ll vote on hot-button issues. Justices evolve over time and sometimes break ranks with their ideological cohorts.Going back to the 1950s, a number of Republican justices have gone on to embrace liberal positions much to the chagrin of many on the right.“I don’t know if anyone could have predicted the way Chief Justice Roberts has been voting or the way Justice [Anthony] Kennedy voted in his later years or go back to Chief Justice [Earl] Warren, who Eisenhower apparently said was his worst decision as president,” said Saikrishna Prakash, a University of Virginia law professor who endorsed Barrett three years ago.During her three years on the federal bench, Barrett, according to her defenders, has demonstrated her independence as a jurist. While she has ruled in favor of the Trump administration in two immigration cases and backed restrictions on abortion in two other cases, Barrett has also rejected a police officer’s claim of immunity and a Republican Party challenge to the Illinois governor’s coronavirus pandemic economic and social limits. 

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Trump, Biden Prepare for Contested Election Over Mail-in Voting

President Donald Trump’s continued attacks on the legitimacy of voting by mail and refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power has raised concerns that a bitterly contested presidential election in November could provoke a constitutional crisis.Experts predict nearly 80 million people will vote by mail this year, and recent polling indicates that nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans will send in absentee ballots.Trump, who is trailing in national presidential polls, has repeatedly – and without evidence – denounced mail-in voting as fraudulent and a scam. Many states have expanded absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic to reduce the potential for spreading the highly contagious and deadly disease.In particular, the president has been critical of states that proactively sent mail-in ballots to all registered voters, even those that did not request one.Twice last week, Trump refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, citing concerns over the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.”We are going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” said Trump during a news conference on Thursday.Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was not surprised by Trump’s equivocation on ensuring a peaceful democratic transition. “Look, he says the most irrational things,” Biden told reporters Wednesday evening. “I don’t know what to say about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.”U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans on Thursday reiterated their support for the democratic principle of peaceful transition, without directly criticizing the president.Rejection rateAnalysts note that while there is no evidence of widespread vote-by-mail fraud as the president has alleged, mail-in ballots do have a higher rejection rate, mostly because voters fail to fill them out properly.Also there have been cases of ballots getting lost in the mail, and as happened during this year’s primary elections in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some states experienced long delays in counting the surge of mail-in ballots.“The more you encourage people to vote by mail, the larger the number of people who will be disenfranchised and their votes aren’t going to count,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner, now with the Republican leaning Heritage Foundation.Von Spakovsky also raises security concerns over mail-in ballots, that they could be intercepted and altered, or that polling staff may not properly check that ballot signatures match the registration signatures on file.Supreme CourtTrump predicts there could be legal challenges to the ballot count that would ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. This is one reason he has cited for his intention to nominate a replacement for recently deceased liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election.In the closely contested 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court ruled on a vote recount dispute in Florida that essentially provided Republican George W. Bush a victory over former Democratic Vice President Al Gore by one electoral vote.Gore then conceded, saying it was for the good of the country, despite winning the overall popular vote.The Supreme Court’s role this year in all of this – if any – remains to be seen.“Hopefully we won’t be in a situation in which we’re asking justices to rule on a case that will decide the outcome of the election. I think that would be very problematic for democracy,” said Sam Berger, a Democratic political analyst at the Center for American Progress.Red MirageOne contested election scenario called the Red Mirage or Blue Shift could sow doubt over the legitimacy of the election and lead to legal challenges to mail-in voting.A Democratic polling firm called Hawkfish projected that because the mostly Democratic mail-in ballots could take days longer to tabulate than in-person voting, Trump may take the lead on election night, but eventually lose to Biden as absentee ballots are counted.Democrats reportedly fear Trump would claim victory early and refuse to later concede by challenging the legality of mail-in ballots.Also, according to a report last week in The Atlantic, the Trump campaign, citing possible vote-by-mail fraud, is considering asking Republican-controlled state legislators, “to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly.”In the complicated U.S. Electoral College system that gives added weight and influence to smaller, rural states, the popular vote in each state is used to select a slate of electors who pledge to cast their ballots for the winning candidate.Democrats would almost certainly challenge in court any Republican attempts to override the popular vote in Biden’s favor by installing electors pledged to vote for Trump.Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center For Justice at New York University Law School, says there is long established legal precedent, “that made it clear that when it comes to the electoral votes, it’s the voters’ will, not the legislators’ or the tweets of any candidate that decide.”A protracted legal battle over a contested election, analysts fear, could undermine public confidence in the American democratic system and provoke political violence from both right-wing militias and radical leftists. 

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Trump Nominates Barrett for Supreme Court Post

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving him an opportunity to make the court more conservative, 37 days before the November 3 presidential election.”Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation’s most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court … Judge Amy Coney Barrett,” Trump said to a gathering in the White House Rose Garden.“This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation,” he said, urging lawmakers and media to refrain from personal and partisan attacks on Barrett.The president also noted that should Barrett be confirmed, she would be the first mother of school-age children to serve on the nation’s highest court.In brief remarks, Barrett praised Ginsburg’s life of service, to women and the court.Trump had promised to nominate a woman to succeed Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87. Barrett, a conservative appeals court judge, had been a front-runner for the seat along with another appeals court judge, Barbara Lagoa, both of whom were appointed by Trump earlier in his administration to the federal bench.The president’s decision to make an appointment ahead of his heated reelection contest with former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden instantly sparked a fierce political battle in Washington, with Senate Republican leaders arguing the confirmation process should proceed as quickly as possible and Democrats contending the nomination should be delayed until the winner of November’s presidential election is known.At stake is the political leaning of the Supreme Court, to which justices are appointed for life. The court had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s death. If a conservative justice is confirmed to replace Ginsburg, the conservative majority could shift to 6-3.President Donald Trump walks along the Colonnade with Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a news conference to announce her as his nominee to the Supreme Court, at the White House, Sept. 26, 2020.Whoever fills Ginsburg’s vacant seat will play a role in making key Supreme Court decisions in the coming years on a range of important issues, likely including abortion rights, health care, gun laws, religious liberty, immigration and freedom of speech.Election Day loomingSenate Republican leaders are planning to move quickly to confirm Trump’s court nominee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to confirm the choice by Election Day on November 3.Trump has said that it is important to have a full court on Election Day in case there are legal challenges regarding the vote.“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Trump said Wednesday of the general election, adding, “and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”A flurry of election litigation has already begun in states across the country amid an expectation of large increases in mail-in ballots and early voting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.Judge Amy Coney Barrett reacts as President Donald Trump announces her as his nominee to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat, at the White House in Washington, Sept. 26, 2020.Support for BarrettBarrett has drawn wide support from the conservative legal establishment in the United States.She is a 48-year-old devout Catholic who is very popular among conservative evangelical Christians, arguably Trump’s most loyal supporters.Barrett taught law at the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prominent U.S. Catholic universities, for 15 years before Trump named her in 2017 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which covers the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.Religious conservatives hope Barrett would vote to overturn the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion rights in the United States. While Barrett has in the past expressed criticism of the ruling, she also said during her 2017 confirmation hearing to the appeals court that she would view previous Supreme Court rulings as binding precedent.Democrats opposed her confirmation in 2017, voicing concerns about the role she places on religion in her life. They cited comments Barrett made at Notre Dame, saying a “legal career is but a means to an end … and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”Vice President Mike Pence told ABC News this week that Barrett faced “intolerance” about her faith in her last confirmation hearing.Political battleRepublicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, the legislative body that is responsible for confirming judicial appointments.Two Republicans have said they oppose filling Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before November: Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. However, two more Republican senators would have to join them to give Democrats the ability to block a potential nominee, and it appears the remaining Republicans are united in their bid to see a confirmation hearing take place.Democratic leaders in the Senate charge Republicans with hypocrisy because they refused to allow consideration of former President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee in 2016. At that time, Republicans argued that high court vacancies should be left unfilled during an election year so the American people can weigh in on the choice.Now, Democrats are arguing Republicans should apply that same logic and hold off on filling the Supreme Court seat until after the presidential election.Republicans have defended their actions, arguing that the situation was different in 2016 because at that time there was divided government — one party held the presidency, and the other party held the Senate — whereas in 2020 Republicans control both bodies.Trump’s Supreme Court nominee would be his third, following Senate approval of two other conservative justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both of which came after contentious confirmation hearings.

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Consistent Conservative, Devout Catholic Could Serve on Court for Decades

Amy Coney Barrett is a 48-year-old devout Catholic and an apparent abortion-rights opponent who is popular among conservative evangelical Christians, arguably President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters.Barrett has authored more than 100 opinions since her 2017 confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which covers the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.Her opinions have consistently reflected her conservative values.She was a front-runner for Trump’s third nomination to the Supreme Court, to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18. He nominated Neil Gorsuch in 2017 to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. After the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat.Barrett, a New Orleans native, earned a degree in English literature from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and then entered Notre Dame Law School in Indiana in the fall of 1994.She began teaching at the law school in 2002 at age 30 and served as a judge for the first time when confirmed for the 7th Circuit.Seen as Scalia successorReligious conservatives and others salute Barrett as an ideological successor to the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she worked as a clerk. She is the ideological opposite of Ginsburg.Scalia was a leading advocate of originalism, in which justices attempt to interpret constitutional laws by what they meant at the time they were written. Barrett has for years expressed sympathy for originalism, which many liberals oppose on the grounds the approach is too rigid and does not allow the Constitution to evolve in contemporary times.As a law professor, Barrett expressed some criticism of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which protects a pregnant woman’s right to have an abortion.Barrett has been a member at times of the conservative Federalist Society. She has long been associated with People of Praise, a small spiritual Christian community in Indiana, although her current status with the group is not publicly known.If confirmed by the Senate, Barrett would become the youngest justice on the nation’s highest court, a position she could maintain for decades.

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Ginsburg’s Casket Leaves Capitol After Mourners Pay Respects

Mourners paid their last respects Friday to late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol after she became the first woman to lie in state there.Her flag-draped casket drew officials from across government along with friends and family who wanted to pay their respects.Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were among those to attend a relatively brief and solemn ceremony in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, center, and his wife Jill Biden stand as the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 25, 2020.After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told those in attendance she had the “high honor to welcome Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Capitol of the United States,” Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt delivered the eulogy.“All of the days of her life she pursued justice. Even in illness, she changed the course of American law,” Holtzblatt said. “And even when her views did not prevail, she still fought.”Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, also paid tribute to Ginsburg at the ceremony, which was attended by a limited number of invited guests because of the coronavirus pandemic.Ginsburg’s casket rested on the same wooden platform built for the casket of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in 1865.Following the ceremony, mourners were able to pay their respects before a motorcade carrying her casket departed from the Capitol.Burial at ArlingtonA statement by the U.S. Supreme Court said Ginsburg, who was also the first Jewish person to lie in state at the Capitol, would be buried next week in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.Ginsburg had lain in repose for two days at the Supreme Court.U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, appeared Thursday at the Supreme Court to pay their respects to Ginsburg. The president, wearing a face mask, made no remarks as he stood briefly a short distance from Ginsburg’s casket at the top of the court building’s steps.Vice President Mike Pence paid his respects to Ginsburg as she lay in state at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pay respects as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at the Supreme Court building, Sept. 24, 2020, in Washington.Ginsburg was honored Wednesday with a private ceremony in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall attended by her family and fellow justices. Her casket was then moved to the front steps for members of the public to file past and pay their respects until Thursday night.Civil rights icon Rosa Parks lay in honor in the Capitol’s historic Rotunda after her death in 2005, a distinction given to eminent private citizens.27 years on courtGinsburg died last Friday at age 87 of metastatic pancreatic cancer, ending a 27-year tenure on the nation’s highest court. Her status as leader of the court’s liberal minority, along with her prejurist work seeking legal equality for women and girls in all spheres of American life, made her a cultural icon, earning her the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.”Her death has sparked a political battle over her replacement. Trump and Senate Republicans vowed to name and confirm a new justice before the November 3 presidential election, which would give the court a solid 6-3 conservative majority.Trump announced Tuesday that he would name his nominee for the lifetime appointment on Saturday.

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Trump Extends Drilling Ban Off North Carolina

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday extended a ban until 2032 on offshore oil drilling off the coast of North Carolina, weeks after a similar extension affecting drilling in the waters off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.The Republican president ordered the extension in a memo to his interior secretary that did not exempt any of the Northeastern, Democratic-majority states that also have asked to be removed from the next five-year offshore oil and gas drilling leasing plan.The Trump administration, which has worked to expand U.S. oil and gas drilling and roll back Obama-era rules on pollution from fossil fuels, originally wanted to expand offshore drilling off many of America’s coasts, including Florida.But proposals for drilling off Florida prompted fierce opposition from tourism, real estate and environmental interests.  

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‘Dark Money’ Groups Pump Millions Into Battle Over Supreme Court Vacancy

Well-funded, secretive political groups are getting into the high-stakes battle over filling a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Known as “dark money” groups because they aren’t required by law to disclose the names of their donors, these influential organizations are pumping millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to influence voter perceptions of what is expected to be one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in modern American history.Just hours after Ginsburg, the 87-year-old liberal icon, died of cancer last Friday, Demand Justice, a progressive dark money group with ties to the Democratic Party, said it would spend $10 million to challenge President Donald Trump’s push to quickly replace Ginsburg with a conservative jurist.The group’s conservative counterpart, Judicial Crisis Network, quickly responded by launching a $2.2 million advertising campaign to support Trump’s push, with the goal of eventually matching or exceeding spending by Demand Justice.Judicial Crisis Network previously pledged to spend $20 million to help confirm Trump’s first two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a political finance watchdog.Spokespeople for Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice confirmed their new spending plans to VOA.Trump plans to announce his choice of a conservative female jurist to succeed Ginsburg on Saturday, with Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th District, and Barbara Lagoa, a federal appeals court judge for the 11th District, among the leading contenders.Early this week, Trump lined up sufficient Republican support in the Senate to confirm his choice before the November 3 election.FILE – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address Feb. 4, 2020, in Washington.While Demand Justice and other liberal groups have no way of blocking Senate confirmation of Trump’s choice, they can use their ads to make talking points in campaigning against Trump and GOP congressional candidates ahead of the general election.A major complaint of Democrats and liberal groups is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky refused to allow former President Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016 more than eight months before the general election, saying it should be left to voters to decide. Yet he is strongly supporting Trump’s effort now to fill Ginsburg’s seat with only 40 days before the election.“Donald Trump has hijacked our Supreme Court,” one Demand Justice ad declares. “The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.”Judicial Crisis Network responded in an ad, “Tell the Senate, when a strong nominee is named, follow the precedent, confirm the judge.”While the dark money being spent by Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice represents a small fraction of the billions of dollars spent each election cycle, its use has proliferated since a landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision.Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice are not the only ones spending on the Supreme Court nomination.Across the political spectrum, other groups, from the conservative Article III Project to the liberal Fix Our Senate, have announced ad buying campaigns to influence the confirmation process, said Anna Massoglia, a researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog.Dark money is a term for political spending by nonprofit organizations and shell corporations that, unlike political action committees and candidates, are not required to disclose their donors.Proponents of such anonymous spending say disclosure can stifle speech and subject donors to harassment. But critics say it allows special interest groups and wealthy individuals to exert undue influence on elections without revealing their involvement.Issue One, a bipartisan watchdog organization, warned in a recent report that unregulated shell companies can serve as a convenient conduit for illegal foreign campaign contributions into U.S. elections. In recent years, the Justice Department has charged several individuals with funneling millions of dollars in foreign money into U.S. elections.The 2010 Supreme Court ruling, known as Citizens United and opposed by Ginsburg and the court’s three other liberal justices, lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions, giving rise to dark money groups and so-called super PACs.In the early years following Citizens United, dark money was a “Republican problem,” said Zach Wamp, a former Republican congressman from Tennessee – meaning Republicans made the greater use of the unidentified political funding.In the last two election cycles, however, liberal dark money groups have outspent their conservative counterparts as Democrats have resorted to some of the same tactics they once denounced as corrupt.“It’s about power,” Wamp said in an interview. “It’s about who is in, who is out.”A fierce critic of dark money, Wamp now co-chairs Issue One’s bipartisan “ReFormers Caucus.”According to the Center for Responsive Politics, dark money groups are on track to top $1 billion in direct spending reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) since Citizens United.Massoglia, of CRP, noted that over this time period, dark money groups have funneled billions more into political ads, political committees such as super PACs and issue advocacy ads that seek to influence electoral outcomes.”We really are seeing millions of dollars pouring in every day,” Massoglia said. 

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Ginsburg is First Woman, Jewish Person to Lie in State at US Capitol

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, paid their respects to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she became the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Biden and his wife were among the last of the attendees to approach Ginsburg’s casket to bid her farewell at a relatively brief and solemn ceremony in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the gathering she had the “high honor to welcome Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Capitol of the United States,” Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt delivered the eulogy.“All of the days of her life she pursued justice. Even in illness, she changed the course of American law,” Holtzblatt said. “And even when her views did not prevail, she still fought.” Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, center, and his wife Jill Biden stand as the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 25, 2020.Ginsburg’s casket arrived from the Supreme Court building on the plaza outside the Capitol. After Ginsburg’s casket was moved inside, a private ceremony for her family and invited guests began at the hall, where her casket rested on the same wooden platform built for the casket of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in 1865. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, also paid tribute to Ginsburg at the ceremony, which was attended by a limited number of invited guests because of the coronavirus pandemic.Lawmakers who were not invited to the private ceremony are able to pay their respects before her body is removed later Friday.A statement by the U.S. Supreme Court said Ginsburg, who is also the first Jewish person to lie in state at the Capitol, will be buried next week in a private ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony. Ginsburg has lain in repose for two days at the Supreme Court.President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pay respects as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at the Supreme Court building, Sept. 24, 2020, in Washington.U.S. President Donald Trump was met with boos and chants of “vote him out” as he and his wife, Melania, appeared Thursday at the Supreme Court to pay their respects to Ginsburg. The president, wearing a face mask, made no remarks as he stood briefly a short distance from Ginsburg’s casket at the top of the court building’s steps. Vice President Mike Pence paid his respects to Ginsburg as she lay in state at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Ginsburg was honored Wednesday with a private ceremony in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall attended by her family and fellow justices. Her casket was then moved to the front steps for the public to file past and pay their respects until Thursday night. Rosa Parks
Civil rights icon Rosa Parks lay in honor in the Capitol’s historic Rotunda after her death in 2005, a distinction given to eminent private citizens. Ginsburg died last Friday at age 87 of metastatic pancreatic cancer, ending a 27-year tenure on the nation’s highest court. Her status as leader of the court’s liberal minority, along with her pre-jurist work seeking legal equality for women and girls in all spheres of American life, made her a cultural icon, earning her the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.” Her death has sparked a political battle over her replacement. Trump and Senate Republicans vowed to name and confirm a new justice before the November 3 presidential election, which would give the court a solid 6-3 conservative majority. Trump announced Tuesday that he will name his nominee for the lifetime appointment on Saturday. 

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Secretive Political Lobbying Groups Target Battle Over Supreme Court Vacancy

Well-funded, secretive political groups are getting into the high-stakes battle over filling a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Known as “dark money” groups because they aren’t required by law to disclose the names of their donors, these influential organizations are pumping millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to influence voter perceptions of what is expected to be one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in modern American history.Just hours after Ginsburg, the 87-year-old liberal icon, died of cancer last Friday, Demand Justice, a progressive dark money group with ties to the Democratic Party, said it would spend $10 million to challenge President Donald Trump’s push to quickly replace Ginsburg with a conservative jurist.The group’s conservative counterpart, Judicial Crisis Network, quickly responded by launching a $2.2 million advertising campaign to support Trump’s push, with the goal of eventually matching or exceeding spending by Demand Justice.Judicial Crisis Network previously pledged to spend $20 million to help confirm Trump’s first two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a political finance watchdog.Spokespeople for Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice confirmed their new spending plans to VOA.Trump plans to announce his choice of a conservative female jurist to succeed Ginsburg on Saturday, with Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th District, and Barbara Lagoa, a federal appeals court judge for the 11th District, among the leading contenders.Early this week, Trump lined up sufficient Republican support in the Senate to confirm his choice before the November 3 election.FILE – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address Feb. 4, 2020, in Washington.While Demand Justice and other liberal groups have no way of blocking Senate confirmation of Trump’s choice, they can use their ads to make talking points in campaigning against Trump and GOP congressional candidates ahead of the general election.A major complaint of Democrats and liberal groups is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky refused to allow former President Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016 more than eight months before the general election, saying it should be left to voters to decide. Yet he is strongly supporting Trump’s effort now to fill Ginsburg’s seat with only 40 days before the election.“Donald Trump has hijacked our Supreme Court,” one Demand Justice ad declares. “The future of the Supreme Court is on the line.”Judicial Crisis Network responded in an ad, “Tell the Senate, when a strong nominee is named, follow the precedent, confirm the judge.”While the dark money being spent by Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice represents a small fraction of the billions of dollars spent each election cycle, its use has proliferated since a landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision.Judicial Crisis Network and Demand Justice are not the only ones spending on the Supreme Court nomination.Across the political spectrum, other groups, from the conservative Article III Project to the liberal Fix Our Senate, are buying ads to influence the confirmation process, said Anna Massoglia, a researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog.Dark money is a term for political spending by nonprofit organizations and shell corporations that, unlike political action committees and candidates, are not required to disclose their donors.Proponents of such anonymous spending say disclosure can stifle speech and subject donors to harassment. But critics say it allows special interest groups and wealthy individuals to exert undue influence on elections without revealing their involvement.Issue One, a bipartisan watchdog organization, warned in a recent report that unregulated shell companies can serve as a convenient conduit for illegal foreign campaign contributions into U.S. elections. In recent years, the Justice Department has charged several individuals with funneling millions of dollars in foreign money into U.S. elections.The 2010 Supreme Court ruling, known as Citizens United and opposed by Ginsburg and the court’s three other liberal justices, lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions, giving rise to dark money groups and so-called super PACs.In the early years following Citizens United, dark money was a “Republican problem,” said Zach Wamp, a former Republican congressman from Tennessee – meaning Republicans made the greater use of the unidentified political funding.In the last two election cycles, however, liberal dark money groups have outspent their conservative counterparts as Democrats have resorted to some of the same tactics they once denounced as corrupt.“It’s about power,” Wamp said in an interview. “It’s about who is in, who is out.”A fierce critic of dark money, Wamp now co-chairs Issue One’s bipartisan “ReFormers Caucus.”According to the Center for Responsive Politics, dark money groups are on track to top $1 billion in direct spending reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) since Citizens United.Massoglia, of CRP, noted that over this time period dark money groups have funneled billions more into super PACs and issue advocacy ads that seek to influence electoral outcomes.”We really are seeing millions of dollars pouring in every day,” Massoglia said. 

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Lawmakers Criticize Trump Administration Changes at US-funded Media Networks

U.S. lawmakers from both parties said Thursday that they feared the Voice of America and other U.S.-funded broadcasters were at risk of losing credibility with foreign audiences because of actions by new CEO Michael Pack.Pack, the first presidential appointee to serve in a new position that Congress created to streamline and modernize U.S.-funded broadcasting efforts, has faced bipartisan criticism for his actions since taking charge in June.Thursday’s hearing was the first time that lawmakers have had the opportunity to publicly examine Pack’s changes at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the parent agency of VOA, Radio Free Asia, and other U.S.-funded broadcasters.Pack said he had a scheduling conflict and could not attend, despite a subpoena from House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York.”He has shown tremendous disrespect for the committee, our committee, and its role overseeing USAGM. He’s the wrong person for the job. He should resign. And if he doesn’t, the president should fire him,” Engel said.Audience of 350 millionUSAGM’s annual budget of around $800 million funds news programming that each week reaches an estimated 350 million people in 62 languages.Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, said Pack’s decision to not attend “ignored the will of Congress.”McCaul singled out USAGM’s decision to freeze $18 million in funding to the Open Technology Fund (OTF) as a particularly dangerous decision.“I believe his actions damaged support during the height of unrest in Hong Kong. And they are continuing to do so today in Belarus. Their tragic lack of support to freedom and democracy movements is also regrettable,” McCaul said Thursday.FILE – Michael Pack is seen at his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019. Pack’s nomination to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media was confirmed June 4, 2020.Since arriving at the agency, Pack has fired the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network; attempted to replace the board of the Open Technology Fund, a group that uses federal grants to promote internet freedom technologies; and has not renewed J-1 visas for international journalists.Review of renewalsUSAGM announced a review of the J-1 renewal process in early July, resulting in work permits expiring for several foreign journalists working in VOA’s language divisions. At least five have left the United States.Witnesses at Thursday’s hearing included Grant Turner, the USAGM chief financial officer placed on administrative leave last month; Amanda Bennett, former VOA director, who resigned two days before Pack joined; Jamie Fly, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president, who was dismissed by the incoming CEO; Karen Kornbluh, chair of the OTF’s board of directors; and Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador and board member of the OTF.They testified on how changes implemented since June affected the ability of the broadcasting networks to function and risked endangering the editorial firewall that shields the agency’s journalists from political interference in their reporting.FILE – Then-U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Dec. 10, 2011.“I am very worried that the cracks in the firewall are going to just destroy the whole image of USAGM,” said Crocker, who has served as the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon. “Our reputation for telling the truth has been a core element of our strength as a nation. Now, it is in danger, putting at risk not only our national values, but also our national security.”Witnesses said apparent firewall violations include the request to place editorials on the entities’ homepages; attempts by USAGM to attend editorial meetings on U.S. election coverage; the removal of Steven Springer, VOA’s standards editor; mass firings of agency heads; the nonrenewal of J-1 visas; and Pack’s statements in radio interviews that the agency would be “a great place to put a spy.”Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and witnesses said those comments could endanger agency journalists.’Incredibly dangerous’“It’s incredibly dangerous for the USAGM head to start basically writing a press release that the Kremlin can then turn around and use the next week about USAGM journalists,” Fly said.Turner also raised concerns about damage to the credibility of the network, telling the committee, “Nothing in my 17 years comes even close to the gross mismanagement, the abuse of authority, the violations of law that have occurred since Michael Pack assumed the role of CEO at USAGM.”Pack, a former independent film and television producer and head of a conservative foundation, has defended his actions in interviews and in communications with USAGM staff, saying he wants to protect the agency’s editorial independence and make it more effective in achieving its mission.Pack has also said that government audits revealed serious, yearslong security problems that were left unaddressed by the agency’s previous leaders.In his confirmation hearing last September, Pack pledged to uphold U.S. law mandating VOA’s editorial independence.“The whole agency rests on the belief reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news,” Pack told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.Pack’s two-year confirmation process in the Senate ended up in a partisan battle after Senate Democrats alleged he misused funds for his documentary production company. However, Senate Republicans praised his experience as a filmmaker and former media executive.FILE – Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa, speaks during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing Sept. 16, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.’Poor vetting procedures’On Thursday, Republican Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania defended Pack’s actions, pointing to a recently released Office of Personnel Management (OPM) report that found 40% of the agency’s staff had been improperly vetted over the past 10 years.“The reforms undertaken by Mr. Pack have undergone a significant amount of public scrutiny, as they should,” Perry said. “But USAGM’s poor vetting procedures over those last decades continue to threaten U.S. national security, and it’s entirely the fault of those who mismanaged the process.”Perry also criticized practices by OTF, which he said presented security risks and a misuse of government funds.Kornbluh disputed Perry’s comments.“I believe that the congressman has been misinformed,” she said. “The security claims are just not true.”Kornbluh said the funding freeze had caused OTF to halt 49 of its 60 ongoing internet freedom programs.Several committee members questioned the witnesses about the impact of Pack’s comments about spies within the agency.“Mr. Pack, without evidence, has made libelous claims, really, that were these journalists to go get a job somewhere else in another country, could threaten not only their livelihoods, but their safety,” Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas said.Who will trust them?“When somebody from the United States government has labeled a journalist a spy, who is going to go trust them in another country? Who is going to go hire them somewhere else? This man has acted incredibly recklessly, and even for that alone, he should be dismissed from his job,” Castro said.Fly made recommendations for ways to rein in the CEO’s powers, suggesting Congress pass new international broadcasting legislation to clarify the roles of the networks and how best to explain U.S. foreign policy to audiences.Lawmakers pledged to continue oversight of U.S. international broadcasting even as Congress deals with a myriad of issues related to the upcoming election and the pandemic.VOA’s Jessica Jerreat contributed to this report.

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US House Democrats Crafting New $2.2 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are working on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that could be voted on next week, a key lawmaker said Thursday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that she is ready to negotiate with the White House.With formal COVID-19 relief talks stalled for nearly seven weeks, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said new legislative efforts got under way this week after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in congressional testimony that lawmakers needed to provide further support for an economy reeling from the pandemic.”The contours are already there. I think now it’s about time frame and things like that,” Neal told reporters when asked about the potential for new legislation.He predicted a vote could come within days.”I assume, since the House is scheduled to break for the election cycle, then I think next week’s … appropriate,” said Neal, adding that Pelosi would determine when a legislative package might be introduced.House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed the new initiative as partisan. Pelosi also faces pressure from moderate House Democrats who say they want to see bipartisan aid proposals that have a chance of becoming law.”If it’s a messaging exercise, it’s worthless,” Rep. Dean Phillips, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, told CNN. He said the effort risked looking like Senate Republicans who had unsuccessfully pushed their own partisan coronavirus aid bill.”Many of us are getting sick of that,” Phillips said.Stocks reacting positively to the announcements from Congress, with the S&P reaching a session high shortly after, before paring some gains.Formal talks between Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows broke down without a deal on August 7, with the two sides far apart. Pelosi and Mnuchin have since spoken by phone.”We’re ready for negotiation,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday, saying she had last spoken to Mnuchin on Wednesday.Pelosi and Schumer, who initially sought a $3.4 trillion relief package, have since scaled back their demands to $2.2 trillion. Neal said a new legislative package would be somewhere near $2.2 trillion. Some media reports said it could be $2.4 trillion.But it was not clear whether the White House would agree to such a sum. Meadows has said that Trump would be willing to sign a $1.3 trillion relief package.Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who have not been involved directly in the negotiations, initially proposed a $1 trillion bill, which was rejected by many Republicans who thought it too large and by Senate Democrats who said it was too small.Senate Republicans later tried and failed to bring a smaller $300 billion bill to the floor.

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Key Republicans Push Back on Trump Hesitance to Assure Peaceful Transfer of Power

Leading Republicans are stressing the importance of a peaceful transition of power in the U.S., a day after President Donald Trump declined to commit to one if he loses his bid for re-election to Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden.  
 
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” said the president in response to a reporter’s question during a White House news conference on Wednesday evening. “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.”  
 
Trump, without evidence, has repeatedly predicted massive fraud with tens of millions of mail-in ballots, which Democrats have encouraged amid the coronavirus pandemic.   
 
“We want to have — get rid of the ballots,” continued the president, explaining if that happens “there won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation.”Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 4 MB480p | 5 MB540p | 6 MB720p | 10 MB1080p | 21 MBOriginal | 31 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday tweeted “The winner of the November 3 election will be inaugurated on January 20th.  There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
 
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said “at noon on January 20, 2021 we will peacefully swear in the President.”
 
Congresswoman Liz Cheney said Thursday on Twitter “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival or our Republic.”
 
Longtime Republican Senator Lindsay Graham told Fox and Friends “If Republicans lose, we will accept the result.”
 
Trump’s Democratic rival Biden also responded to Trump’s remarks on Wednesday.
 
“What country are we in? I’m being facetious,” said the former vice president. “I said what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”FILE – Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden departs after voting early in Delaware’s state primary election at the New Castle County Board of Elections office, in Wilmington, Delaware, Sept. 14, 2020.One of the country’s oldest constitutional rights groups also weighed in.  
 
“The peaceful transfer of power is essential to a functioning democracy. This statement from the president of the United States should trouble every American,” said David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.  
 
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said he thinks the November election “will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
The president plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday to fill the seat of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died this past Friday.
 
If the Senate confirms the president’s nominee before the election that would give the conservative wing a 6-3 majority on the court.
 
“This scam that the Democrats are pulling, it’s a scam, the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court, and I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation,” said Trump.The president has repeatedly expressed concern about plans by a number of states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington, to automatically dispatch mail-in ballots to all state residents for the election.
 
Benjamin Ginsberg, a top election lawyer who has represented four Republican presidential candidates, has been quoted this month saying Trump’s prediction of fraud with such ballots lacks evidence.  
 
“The president’s words make his and the Republican Party’s rhetoric look less like sincere concern — and more like transactional hypocrisy designed to provide an electoral advantage,” Ginsberg wrote in a Washington Postopinion article. “And they come as Republicans trying to make their cases in courts must deal with the basic truth that four decades of dedicated investigation have produced only isolated incidents of election fraud.”  VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report from Wilmington, Delaware. 

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Trump Pays Respects to Late Justice Ginsburg

U.S. President Donald Trump was met with boos and chants of “vote him out” as he and his wife, Melania, appeared Thursday at the Supreme Court to pay respects to late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.The president, wearing a face mask, made no remarks as he stood briefly a short distance from Ginsburg’s casket as she lay in repose at the top of the court building’s steps.Ginsburg was honored Wednesday with a private ceremony in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall attended by her family and fellow justices. Her casket was then moved to the front steps for the public to file past and pay their respects until Thursday night.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 5 MB480p | 7 MB540p | 9 MB720p | 16 MB1080p | 34 MBOriginal | 44 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioFriday, there will be another tribute to Ginsburg, as her casket will be taken across the street to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where it will rest on the same wooden platform built for the casket of President Abraham Lincoln after his assassination in 1865. Ginsburg will be the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol.Civil rights icon Rosa Parks lay in honor in the Capitol’s historic Rotunda after her death in 2005, a distinction given to eminent private citizens.   A statement by the U.S. Supreme Court said Ginsburg will be buried next week in a private ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony.Chief Justice John Roberts offered the court’s “heartfelt condolences” on the loss of Ginsburg, which he said “is widely shared, but we know that it falls most heavily on the family. Justice Ginsburg’s life was one of the many versions of the American dream.”Ginsburg died last Friday at age 87 of metastatic pancreatic cancer, ending a 27-year tenure on the nation’s highest court. Her status as leader of the court’s liberal minority, along with her pre-jurist work seeking legal equality for women and girls in all spheres of American, made her a cultural icon, earning her the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.”Her death has sparked a political battle over her replacement. Trump and Senate Republicans vowed to name and confirm a new justice before the Nov. 3 presidential election, which would give the court a solid 6-3 conservative majority. Trump announced Tuesday that he will name his nominee for the lifetime appointment on Saturday.

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Trump Hedges on Committing to Peaceful Transfer of Power

U.S. President Donald Trump has declined to confirm he is willing to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses his November 3 bid for re-election to Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden.  “We’re going to have to see what happens,” said the president in response to a reporter’s question during a White House news conference on Wednesday evening. “I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.”  Trump, without evidence, has repeatedly predicted massive fraud with tens of millions of mail-in ballots, which Democrats have encouraged amid the coronavirus pandemic.   “We want to have — get rid of the ballots,” continued the president, explaining if that happens “there won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation.”  
  
Biden, after his campaign plane landed in Delaware on Wednesday evening, was asked to respond to Trump’s remarks.  “What country are we in? I’m being facetious,” said the former vice president. “I said what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”At least one of Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate, expressed alarm about the president’s remark.  “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” said Senator Mitt Romney of Utah on Twitter. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) September 24, 2020Romney was his party’s nominee for president in 2012 and has been one of the few Republicans in the Senate to occasionally take issue with Trump’s rhetoric and actions. “There is no question that he means exactly what he said,” Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC about the president’s comment, adding that it was time for those serving in the Trump administration “to resign” in protest.  One of the country’s oldest constitutional rights groups also weighed in.  “The peaceful transfer of power is essential to a functioning democracy. This statement from the president of the United States should trouble every American,” said David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Earlier Wednesday, Trump said he thinks the November election “will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.” The president plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday to fill the seat of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died this past Friday.  If the Senate confirms the president’s nominee before the election that would give the conservative wing a 6-3 majority on the court. “This scam that the Democrats are pulling, it’s a scam, the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court, and I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation,” said Trump. The president has repeatedly expressed concern about plans by a number of states, including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington, to automatically dispatch mail-in ballots to all state residents for the election. Benjamin Ginsberg, a top election lawyer who has represented four Republican presidential candidates, has been quoted this month saying Trump’s prediction of fraud with such ballots lacks evidence.  “The president’s words make his and the Republican Party’s rhetoric look less like sincere concern — and more like transactional hypocrisy designed to provide an electoral advantage,” Ginsberg wrote in a Washington Post opinion article. “And they come as Republicans trying to make their cases in courts must deal with the basic truth that four decades of dedicated investigation have produced only isolated incidents of election fraud.”  

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US Adversaries, Cybercriminals Put 2020 Election Results in Their Crosshairs

U.S. election security officials are bracing the American public for a new type of worst-case scenario for the Nov. 3 presidential election — a flood of disinformation in the hours after the polls close, casting doubt on the results and on the process itself, as voters wait to learn who will lead the country for the next four years.  
 
Making matters more precarious, officials warn the potential attacks are likely to be pervasive, designed to make Americans suspicious of any information they get, even from normally trusted sources.  
 
“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA) warned in a public service announcement issued late Tuesday.   
 
“The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials,” the announcement said. “The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cybercriminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.”
 
The fears are not new. For months, federal and state election security officials have been trying to prepare voters, telling them that because of an expected increase in the use of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, it could be days before a presidential election winner can be declared.US Voters Told to Be Patient with Presidential Election Results US election officials warn the expected increase in mail-in and absentee ballots could delay reporting of official resultsU.S. counterintelligence officials have also warned in recent months that countries like China, Russia and Iran, as well as other cyber actors, have been carrying out influence operations to “undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”Official: US Adversaries Taking Sides, Wielding Influence Ahead of Election  US counterintelligence officials, splitting with President Trump, warn Russian-linked actors are pulling for his reelection as China and Iran aim to put Democrat Joe Biden in the White HouseBut the new warning from the FBI and CISA goes further, laying out how adversaries may try to mislead the American public on the internet and through social media.
 
Shutting down a wave of disinformation as the polls close could prove challenging.
 
Still, some election officials see reason to hope based on the willingness of social media companies to meet with them periodically over the past several months to address disinformation campaigns, with some efforts already paying off.  
 
On Tuesday, Facebook took down more than 150 accounts, pages and groups tied to China, some of which targeted the U.S. election.NEW: @Facebook takes down 155 accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups linked to #China for “violating our policy against foreign or government interference”Most of the focus was on #SouthChinaSea#HongKong#Philippines-#Duterte BUT some activity focused on #Election2020— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 22, 2020 Per @Facebook, the #China-linked activity that targeted the US “gained almost no following””They posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete #Buttigieg, Joe #Biden and Donald #Trump” per FBSome examples of the material as provided by FB: pic.twitter.com/Qeme5HnQYu— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 22, 2020 
Facebook and Twitter have also announced takedowns of accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency troll farm.DEVELOPING: @Facebook@Twitter announce takedowns of accounts linked to #Russia’s Internet Research Agency (#IRA) or to Russian state actors— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 1, 2020Earlier this month, Microsoft went public with information about how hackers linked to China, Russia and Iran actively targeted the campaigns of U.S. President Donald Trump and that of his main challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
 
Some experts worry it may not be enough.
 
“Many of the dominant platforms have decided to step up and be much more proactive,” Emily Fry, director for Cyber Integration at The MITRE Corporation, said Tuesday during a forum hosted by Auburn University’s McCrary Institute.  
 
“But at the same time, what they are doing here is unilateral, and unilateral platform-by-platform activity is only one part of what we need in order to understand and combat systemic problems across the social media ecosystem.”FILE – An election official talks on the phone near voting booths set up ahead of a 7th Congressional District special election, at Edmondson High School, in Baltimore, Maryland, April 27, 2020.Some state officials are similarly uneasy about their abilities to combat a massive disinformation campaign.”I do worry about in those last couple of days and on Election Day,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who also spoke at the Auburn University event.“I keep telling people, don’t click retweet,” she said. “It’s so easy to perpetuate. And of course, that’s what our foreign adversaries, that’s what our domestic adversaries, that’s what they want us to do to undermine confidence in the election.”
 
CISA and state election officials have been pushing back, trying to inoculate voters against the expected wave of disinformation, urging them to prepare, participate and, especially, to be patient.🚨 New statement out on the reports of voter registration info on the dark web. My main takeaway: it’s going to be critical over the next few months to maintain our cool and not spin up over every claim. The last measure of resilience is the American Voter. https://t.co/sVPVDpi1kf— Chris Krebs (@CISAKrebs) September 1, 2020“This is probably going to take a little bit longer to do the counting because of the increase in absentee ballots,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs, said last week at the virtual Billington Cybersecurity Summit. “Have a little bit of patience. Democracy wasn’t made overnight.” 

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Republican Senate Report on Biden’s Son Alleges Conflict of Interest

Two Republican-led Senate committees issued a politically charged report Wednesday alleging that the work Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son did in Ukraine constituted a conflict of interest for the Obama administration at a time when Biden was engaged in Ukraine policy as vice president.
But the report said it was ultimately “unclear” what impact Hunter Biden’s position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company had on Obama administration policy with regard to Ukraine. And it offered no evidence to support one of President Donald Trump’s more incendiary allegations — that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor as a way to protect his son.
Biden’s campaign immediately panned the report, released six weeks before the election, as an effort by an ally of Trump to damage his election opponent.
Trump has repeatedly drawn attention to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine even as his own administration has warned of a concerted Russian effort to denigrate Joe Biden and asserted that a Ukrainian lawmaker who is involved in spreading anti-Biden claims is an “active Russian agent.”
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, whose Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is one of the two panels that released the 87-page report, had acknowledged in interviews his goal of making the document public before the election, telling The Associated Press last month that the “American people deserve the truth” about his probe.
The investigation produced stark political divisions, with Democrats accusing Johnson of a politically motivated initiative at a time when they said the Homeland Security Committee should be focused on the coronavirus pandemic response and other, less partisan issues. Even before the report was released, the Biden campaign issued a detailed statement aiming to rebut point-by-point allegations that it said had long been debunked by media organizations as well as by U.S. and Ukrainian officials.  
The Senate report examines Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, where he held a paid seat on the board of gas company Burisma, and alleges that work posed a conflict of interest because Biden was vice president at the time and dealing with Ukraine policy.
It references a 2016 email from George Kent, the former acting deputy chief of mission at the Kyiv embassy, that described the presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board as “very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine.” Kent testified about his concerns during the impeachment proceedings against Trump last year.  
Another State Department official, Amos Hochstein, is described in the report as having raised concerns directly to Biden because he was concerned that Russians were using his son’s role with the company to sow disinformation.
The report says that even though State Department officials regarded the head of the company, Mykola Zlokevsky, as corrupt, Biden did not confront him.
“What the Chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” the report says.  
“Moreover, this investigation has illustrated the extent to which officials within the Obama administration ignored the glaring warning signs when the vice president’s son joined the board of a company owned by a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch,” it adds.
Even so, the Republican senators acknowledge that the extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on the board affected Ukraine policy is “unclear,” and the report does not describe how, if at all, specific policy decisions were influenced by Biden’s position.
Notably, the report makes limited mention of the claim by Trump and some supporters that Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, as a way to stymie an investigation into Burisma’s owner. The allegations were central to the impeachment case against Trump after he asked Ukraine’s president in a telephone call last year to investigate the Bidens.  
The report includes only six references, including in footnotes, to Shokin and does not expose new information about any role Biden may have had in his ouster.
The Biden campaign pointed to news reports and public statements showing there was no active investigation into Burisma at the time of Shokin’s ouster in 2016, and that the firing of Shokin was broadly sought by U.S. and European officials and reflected the official Obama administration policy.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens, and Hunter Biden has denied using his influence with his father to aid Burisma. But Republicans who came to Trump’s defense in this year’s impeachment trial asked for further investigations of his activities. Johnson, a close ally of Trump, took the lead.
“As the coronavirus death toll climbs and Wisconsinites struggle with joblessness, Ron Johnson has wasted months diverting the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee away from any oversight of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic, a threat Sen. Johnson has dismissed by saying that ‘death is an unavoidable part of life,'” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

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