The 2020 U.S. presidential election: HLS faculty and scholars weigh in

The White House at dusk, American flag on the roof, spotlighted. Trees covered in light snow.

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HLS faculty and legal scholars consider the legal concerns and challenges that have emerged—including those involving election misinformation, voting by mail, and COVID-19—as the United States prepares for the 2020 presidential election and its aftereffects.

The following collection of election-related coverage from Harvard Law Today and the Harvard Law Bulletin, along with a selection of the Harvard Law faculty and legal scholars’ articles, interviews, and op-eds, will be updated regularly.

Election 2020: Outsized and Unprecedented

Sound On: Trump Election Strategy, Biden Transition (Podcast)

Bloomberg Chief Washington Correspondent Kevin Cirilli delivers insight and analysis on the latest headlines from the White House and Capitol Hill, including conversations with influential lawmakers and key figures in politics and policy. Bloomberg’s June Grasso served as guest host. She was joined by Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School and founder of Equal Citizens, Jennifer Rie, Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Antitrust Litigation Analyst, John Sitilides, Geopolitical strategist at Trilogy Advisors and diplomacy consultant to the State Dept, and Kevin Walling, Democratic Strategist at HG Creative media.

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Trump undercuts American democracy as he clings to power

President Donald Trump is trying to steal a free and fair election that he lost by a wide margin to President-elect Joe Biden by tearing at the most basic principle of American democracy: He’s trying to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes. Trump’s latest escalation of his attempt to subvert the result of the election followed a string of knock-backs in the courts and after a statewide audit in Georgia confirmed Biden’s victory in the crucial swing state. He asked state Republican leaders in Michigan to visit him Friday, hinting at a possible attempt to convince them to ignore Biden’s big win in the state and send a slate of electors to the Electoral College that backs him and not the President-elect… Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said Michigan lawmakers visiting the White House on Friday could be walking into an illegal meeting. “I am worried that any lawmakers who attend this ridiculous meet and greet are really attending a conspiratorial meeting to steal the election,” Tribe told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “There’s no question that the meeting that is being held is illegal. There is no question that it really is designed quite corruptly to take away people’s right to vote.” Tribe says the Trump campaign has lost more than two dozen lawsuits.
“It’s quite clear that Republican, as well as Democratic judges, are going to follow the law when there is no ambiguity,” Tribe said. “The only guy who seems to be uninterested in the law is Rudy Giuliani, and God knows what he is auditioning for.”

Continue Reading at CNN »

Michigan Canvassers Try To Rescind Votes Certifying Biden Win After Trump Calls Them

Two Republican canvassers in Michigan’s largest county are attempting to rescind their votes certifying that Joe Biden won there after President Donald Trump personally called them, The Associated Press reported. Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, who represent half of the four-member Wayne County canvassing board, initially refused to certify the election results on Tuesday ― an unprecedented move ― despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. They quickly backtracked, voting later that day to certify the results. Trump reportedly reached out to Palmer and Hartmann later that night after the board certified the results. Now, the two GOP canvassers say they want to rescind their votes. The president’s decision to call them and the canvassers efforts to walk back their votes drew swift backlash from some election and law experts, who raised questions regarding the legality and ethics of it all…Deepak Gupta, a lawyer and Harvard Law School lecturer, called Trump’s actions “truly shocking.” … Biden won nearly 70% of the votes in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit. But Trump and his allies have falsely declared victory in the state. Trump has baselessly claimed there was widespread voter fraud in Detroit, alleging Wednesday that there were “FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE” in the city. (That’s false: More than 670,000 people live in Detroit. The city said a little more than 250,000 ballots were cast there.) Palmer and Hartmann have said they decided to vote in favor of certification after facing backlash and accusations of being racist over their initial opposition.

Continue Reading at HuffPost »

Samantha Power: ‘Putin was denied’ interfering in the 2020 election

Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, joins Lawrence O’Donnell to explain how foreign actors like Vladimir Putin were unable to “delegitimate the democratic process” through foreign interference in the 2020 election and why fired Trump admin. official Christopher Krebs “did such important work keeping the election straight.”

Continue Reading at MSNBC »

Fixing the cracks in America’s foundation

In the face of enormous obstacles, democracy looks likely to survive 2020. A record number of Americans went to the polls this year, despite spiking COVID-19 rates, rampant misinformation, and an ongoing campaign by the Trump administration to weaken America’s faith in the electoral process. In the end, the result was clear: Joe Biden won about 80 million votes nationally, more than any other candidate in history, defeating Trump by more than five million votes… “There was a real risk in this election of the country degenerating into a soft totalitarianism,” says Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at Harvard Law School. “So getting rid of this president is very important. But we still have a long way to go towards perfecting our democracy.” … Stephanopoulos argues that since there is no evidence of voter fraud, it is far more useful to focus attention on real, documented problems with our democracy. “I don’t worry about voter fraud because it isn’t true,” Stephanopoulos says. “Voter suppression and gerrymandering are not a figment of imagination: We can trace them.” … Stephanopoulos notes that the main obstacle to any electoral reform is that it requires new legislation, which Republicans will likely block. “The American system is not designed to work well under conditions of polarization,” he says. “When you combine polarization with our checks and balances, it is almost impossible to get things done. Democrats will have to wait for landslide victories to enact sweeping changes that will make the political playing field fair.”

Continue Reading at Fast Company »

Politics And Pandemic: The Legal Strategies At Play

Everything in our lives this past month has existed at the intersection of the coronavirus, or the election. In the past two weeks, there’s been a slew of legal questions around both. President Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge his defeat by President-Elect Joe Biden. And his team and other Republicans have turned to the courts, citing unverified and unproven claims of voter fraud in key battleground states. Plus, as the coronavirus surges nationwide and here in Massachusetts, there are renewed legal questions about the balance between individual freedom and actions state and federal government can take to curb infections and hospitalizations. We take listener calls with Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge, senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, and WBUR’s Legal Analyst. And with John Fabian Witt, a professor of law and history at Yale University, is author of the new book “American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to COVID-19.”

Continue Reading at WBUR »

Attorneys representing Trump criticized by fellow lawyers for backing his false claims of widespread election fraud

Lawyers nationwide are demanding that their colleagues stop representing President Trump since he is falsely claiming widespread voter fraud and such unfounded allegations are in violation of his duties under the US Constitution. The Nov. 10 open letter is signed by more than 1,100 lawyers, many of them in with Massachusetts ties, including retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Fernande RV Duffly, former federal judge Nancy Gertner, and Pamela Bergman, president of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus. “There has never been a more important time for America’s lawyers to acknowledge the importance of these solemn commitments, and to demand accountability for those lawyers and federal officials who do not live up to their oaths and ethical obligations,” the open letter demands. The legal profession has ethical rules that bar attorneys from filing lawsuits when they know the claim being made is false or untrue, according to Lawyers Defending American Democracy, the group leading the campaign. “We join in this letter to demand that public office holders and lawyers uphold their oath to defend the Constitution,” the letter states. “To do that, they must cease making false or unfounded claims and implementing actions – including those actions taken by Attorney General William Barr on November 9 – that undermine our presidential election process.”

Continue Reading at Boston Globe »

What is President Trump’s best case to overturn the vote count?

Kenneth Starr, former Whitewater independent counsel, and Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard, weigh in on ‘Fox News Sunday.’

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Republicans are playing with fire. And we all risk getting burned

An op-ed by Laurence Tribe: Imagine raiding Versailles with a herd of bulls. You probably won’t make it past the gates, and you certainly won’t wind up King of France, but you would irreparably trample the gardens and might well erode the foundation. That’s more or less how I view Donald Trump’s current assault on the election. Let’s begin with the obvious: Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States on 20 January 2021. As Benjamin Wittes recently explained, “It is exceedingly difficult to steal an election in the United States.” I encourage interested readers to look through his analysis, which I believe is spot on. I’ll quickly sum up the legal arguments. Trump’s lawsuits will not award him the presidency. To win, Mr Trump must prove systemic fraud, with illegal votes in the tens of thousands. There is no evidence of that so far, and evidence of widespread fraud is unlikely to arise in an election that Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security just labeled “the most secure in American history”. His lawsuits are, as one commentator aptly put it, “too absurd to be even dignified as frivolous”. As of this writing, he is 0-12 in court, a batting average that would shame even a little league baseball player. His lawsuits are also mathematically useless. He has focused on 2,000 ballots in Michigan where, at the time of this writing, Biden leads by 148,645 votes. He’s challenging a whopping 180 ballots in Arizona, a state recently called for Biden with a lead of 11,434. Georgia’s short-lived lawsuit sought to shave 53 ballots off a 14,057-vote lead. Elsewhere, the math is much the same.

Continue Reading at The Guardian »

Twitter says it labeled 0.2% of all election-related tweets as disputed.

Twitter said on Thursday that it had labeled as disputed 300,000 tweets related to the presidential election, or 0.2 percent of the total on the subject, even as some users continued sharing misleading information about the outcome. The disclosure made Twitter the first major social media platform to publicly evaluate its performance during the 2020 election. Its revelations followed intense criticism by President Trump and other Republicans, who have said Twitter’s fact-checking efforts silenced conservative voices…The high-profile changes showed that social media companies are still evolving their content moderation policies and that more changes could come. Misinformation researchers praised Twitter for its transparency but said more data was needed to determine how content moderation should adapt in future elections. “Nothing about the design of these platforms is natural, inevitable or immutable. Everything is up for grabs,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who focuses on online speech. “This was the first really big experiment in content moderation outside of the ‘take down or leave up’ paradigm of content moderation,” she added. “I think that’s the future of content moderation. These early results are promising for that kind of avenue. They don’t need to completely censor things in order to stop the spread and add context.” Facebook, which initially said it would not fact-check political figures, also added several labels to Mr. Trump’s posts on its platform. Although Twitter was more aggressive, other social platforms may copy its approach to labeling disputed content, Ms. Douek said.

Continue Reading at New York Times »

Trump’s Desperate Assault on American Democracy

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and allow an orderly transition doesn’t violate our Constitution, as his Republican allies have pointed out. But it does violate unwritten norms that have attained a quasi-constitutional status in American elections. His defiance is dangerous. Even without violating the letter of the law, Trump’s resistance has the capacity to undercut the democratic legitimacy of this election, and the election process as a whole. From the standpoint of the Constitution (the 12th Amendment, if you’re following along at home), the transition to a new president doesn’t officially begin until the states send their slates of electors to be opened in the presence of the vice president and both houses of Congress. Once those electoral college votes are counted, the candidate who gets a majority “shall be the president.” This election cycle, the electors are supposed to vote in their states on December 14, 2020. Congress is supposed to meet in joint session to count the votes on January 6, 2021. In fact, the modern practice of peacefully transferring power operates quite differently. Concession is usually triggered by a custom that appears nowhere in the Constitution, namely the decision desks of the TV networks and newspapers calling the election for the candidate who amasses an unbeatable lead. That custom has developed into a quasi-constitutional norm, one that has been repeatedly followed for many election cycles. There is even a federal statute that arguably relies upon this norm without expressly mentioning it. The law that governs transitions says that the transition begins when the director of the General Services Administration “ascertains” the “apparent” winner of the election and issues a letter saying so, triggering the statute’s transition provisions. The statute doesn’t give the director of the GSA any guidance on how to ascertain the apparent winner, perhaps because the drafters of the statute — and those who have applied it — think it’s obvious: The winner is apparent by the consensus of the networks and newspapers, and the subsequent concession of the loser.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Nine legal experts say Trump’s lawsuit challenging election results in Pennsylvania is dead on arrival

President Donald Trump’s campaign launched its broadest challenge yet to the results of the election that appears destined to push him from office, accusing Pennsylvania officials of running a “two-tiered” voting system – in-person and mail – that violates the U.S. Constitution. Legal experts said the case has little chance of succeeding, for a variety of reasons: Courts are wary of invalidating legally cast ballots. The issues raised, even if true, don’t represent a constitutional question. And mail voting, used in many states, is both common and constitutional…Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard Law School, said the lawsuit “fails to allege facts sufficient to support a conclusion that the relief sought would alter the election’s result – a key difference between this complaint and the submission leading the Supreme Court to intervene in the state recount in Bush v. Gore” in 2000. As of Monday, Biden led in Pennsylvania by more than 45,000 votes – greater than Trump’s lead when he won Pennsylvania in 2016.

Continue Reading at USA Today »

YouTube Election Loophole Lets Some False Trump-Win Videos Spread

On Monday, cable outlet One America News Network posted two videos to its YouTube account titled “Trump won.” The clips echoed several others telling viewers, falsely, that U.S. President Donald Trump was re-elected and that the vote was marred by fraud. YouTube added a label noting that the Associated Press called the election for Joe Biden. But the world’s largest online video service didn’t block or remove the content. That approach differs from Twitter Inc., which has hidden conspiratorial election posts behind warnings. A few months ago, YouTube released a detailed policy prohibiting manipulated media and voter suppression, but left one gap: Expressing views on the election is OK. The result has been an onslaught of videos aiming to undermine the legitimacy of the election, according to online media and political researchers. Some of this material has spread on other social networks. And several clips, like the two OANN videos on Monday, ran advertisements, profiting from a Google policy that lets content framed as news reporting or talk shows cash in. “YouTube saw the inevitable writing on the wall that its platform would be used to spread false claims of election victory and it shrugged,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who studies content moderation and the regulation of online speech. One YouTube video claiming evidence of voter fraud in Michigan has more than five million views. Another posted by Trump was selectively edited to appear as if Biden is endorsing voter fraud. That has over 1.6 million views. One of the OANN clips was watched 142,000 times in seven hours on Monday, while the other got 92,000 hits in that time.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Dust is starting to settle after election, yet the way forward is unclear

The street parties and protests across the nation ignited on Saturday by the presidential election results have quieted, for now. President Trump and the vast majority of Republican political leaders have steadfastly refused to concede, with some vowing to pursue congressional investigations of the balloting and a notable few like, former President George W. Bush and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, offering their congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris…The dust is beginning to settle, but much is still unclear. The Gazette turns once again to scholars and analysts across in the University to get their views of what happened and what comes next…Sandy Levinson: “The election of Joe Biden certainly means that a majority of the electorate has had it with Donald Trump. That being said, one should acknowledge that Biden’s ‘coattails’ were minimal. Although we won’t know for sure about control of the Senate until the two Georgia runoffs in January, it would be near-miraculous if Georgia fired both of its incumbent Republican senators in favor of distinctly more liberal Democrats. So we should assume that once again we will be faced with a ‘divided government,’ where Republicans in the Senate will be able to stymie most legislative programs passed by the House and supported by the president. And Republicans will have the power to do that only because of the scandalously undemocratic (and not only un-Democratic) reality of the U.S. Senate, which allocates equal voting power to Wyoming and California, Vermont and Texas. President Biden, like his immediate predecessors, will draw on all of his purported executive powers. That will not be good for the country inasmuch as it will only further confirm the reality of a truly dysfunctional Congress and exaggerated hopes placed in presidents who, even if they are not authoritarians, feel compelled to push the envelope of what might be described as near-dictatorial powers.“

Continue Reading at Harvard Gazette »

Trump’s Supreme Court Comments Put Barrett in a Bind

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanIf the Supreme Court takes on a case connected to the outcome of the presidential election, Justice Amy Coney Barrett will face the most important decision of her career: not how to vote, but whether to participate at all. The situation is unprecedented. Never before has a president explicitly stated that he is choosing a justice so that she will be able to adjudicate that president’s own immediate re-election. And while there are arguments both for and against recusal, the argument for recusal is stronger. The one Supreme Court case that is most directly relevant is 2009’s Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. It involved a West Virginia judge who was elected after receiving $3 million in campaign contributions from the chairman of a company appealing a $50 million penalty. The chairman knew whichever judge won the election would review his appeal. The Supreme Court held, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that the due process clause of the Constitution was violated when the judge chose not to recuse himself and participated in the appeal that reversed the $50 million verdict against the company. The vote was 5 to 4, with Kennedy joining the court’s (then) four liberals to form a majority. In a fascinating op-ed in the Washington Post last month, retired conservative judge J. Michael Luttig — who didn’t care for the outcome in the Caperton decision — nonetheless argued that the decision likely obligates Barrett to recuse herself from participating in a 2020 election decision involving President Donald Trump. He emphasized the crucial sentence from Kennedy’s opinion: “Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, similar fears of bias can arise when — without the other parties’ consent — a man chooses the judge in his own cause.”

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What next for Trump? The defeated president faces difficult moments

Since Election Day, President Trump has stayed on the attack, repeatedly accusing Democrats of seeking to steal the election and calling the continued counting of votes a “fraud on the American public.” He has said he would appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene, and promised to carry on the fight. Now, with Joe Biden declared the next president, Trump has a choice: Will he concede, making the hard and humiliating choice all his predecessors as presidential also-rans have had to make? Or will he continue to wage a scorched-earth battle in an effort to overturn the results or to poison the well as Biden takes over? … No matter what he hears, Trump is facing legal peril if he leaves office and loses his immunity from prosecution as a sitting president. Trump is facing two investigations by law enforcement officials in New York. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, have been independently investigating potential crimes in Trump’s business practices before he became president…Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, said it’s unclear whether a president could pardon himself. “The question is entirely novel,” he said. “The Justice Department has suggested in passing, without analysis, that a president cannot self-pardon. Scholars are all over the map.” But presidential pardons don’t extend to charges emerging from state investigations. If Trump were to try to escape charges by fleeing to another country, it’s unclear what would happen. Trump has mused about leaving the country if he loses. “Extradition treaties will determine this,” Goldsmith said. As the president continues to discredit the election results, the future of the nation’s democracy could hang in the balance.

Continue Reading at Boston Globe »

After days of waiting, Boston area Biden fans breathe a sigh of relief

Years of anger and anxiety over Donald Trump’s presidency were released in a giant nationwide rush of elation Saturday as throngs of supporters celebrated in the streets of Boston, Washington, and other cities within moments of Joe Biden being declared the winner of the 2020 election. Dancing down the sidewalks of Harlem, fireworks in Atlanta, champagne toasts in Louisville. In the nation’s capital, a defeated Trump was greeted on his return from a morning of golfing by a throng of jeering protesters outside the White House, while a brass band entertained a jubilant crowd nearby. Even for those who were not ardent Biden supporters, the day brought a sense of relief. After four excruciating days of the presidency hanging on the slow drip of returns in just a few cities, Americans had closure on one of the great questions facing a torn nation…Mazelle Etessami ‘22, a second-year student at Harvard Law School, said Biden’s victory felt like “a weight off your shoulders,” even as she wondered what would come of the country’s deep partisan divides. “We have a lot of work to do across the aisle, but I think this is a moment for democracy,” Etessami, 24, said on Saturday afternoon as she weaved through a lively crowd assembled in Harvard Square. “Today we celebrate, and tomorrow we get to work.”

Continue Reading at Boston Globe »

What a Joe Biden presidency means for taxes, health care, housing, student debt — and another COVID-19 stimulus package

Joe Biden was projected Saturday to become the nation’s next president, according to the Associated Press, after campaigning on an ambitious domestic agenda he hopes will improve voters’ finances and invigorate an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Tax hikes for the rich, broadened health care coverage and student loan forgiveness were some of the projects on candidate Biden’s to-do list…Even before the pandemic, Americans’ $1.6 trillion in student loan debt was a financial crisis that chipped away at borrowers’ capacity to buy homes, start families or pursue the careers of their choice. Biden is proposing to cancel $10,000 of a borrower’s student loans; the debt forgiveness would erase loan balances for 30% of borrowers, according to one analysis. Biden would also overhaul a debt forgiveness program that, critics say, has helped too few public sector workers. Biden also says families making less than $125,000 shouldn’t have to pay for their child’s education at a public college. This would apply to approximately 80% of families, his campaign has estimated. Though the plans for free public college would require new laws, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have said the president can cancel debt by himself. Some education law experts say the same. Lawyers at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending have previously said the president’s Secretary of Education has “specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs in the Higher Education Act (HEA) itself.”

Continue Reading at Market Watch »

Biden’s DOJ Must Determine Whether Trump Should Be Prosecuted

Joe Biden won the presidency promising to bring Americans together. But now his administration is sure to come under pressure from some Democrats to risk exacerbating divisions by investigating and prosecuting Donald Trump. It would be a turnabout of the “Lock him up!” chants regularly directed at Biden by Trump’s supporters at campaign rallies. Although Biden has said that prosecuting a former president would be a “very unusual thing and probably not very good for democracy,” he also vowed in an NPR interview in August that he wouldn’t “interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment of whether or not they think they should pursue the prosecution of anyone that they think has violated the law.” … Mark Tushnet, a Harvard law professor, said some potential charges against Trump would probably be seen as far more political than others. The Biden administration should go after only the most “egregious” crimes, Tushnet said, rather than pursue charges based on Mueller’s findings, which the president’s supporters have dismissed as a hoax. “If there is classical bribery, that should be prosecuted,” he said…Some liberal academics and former government officials have proposed another alternative to a federal criminal investigation: a bipartisan fact-finding panel, often described as a “truth and reconciliation committee,” that would focus on documenting any abuses that may have taken place during the Trump administration rather than recommending charges. Tushnet, the Harvard law professor, said he sees such a panel as a middle path between prosecuting Trump and granting him impunity — a way to hold the previous administration accountable without creating a partisan firestorm. “We need to get back to normal,” Tushnet said. “The question is, ‘What’s the best way?’”

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Biden to Move Fast to Strike Down Trump’s Environmental Agenda

The EPA and Interior Department under President-elect Joe Biden will have a range of tools at their disposal to start undoing President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda on the environment, according to former agency officials, lawyers, and environmentalists. Many of the administration’s more ambitious environmental goals, such as reviving regulations on climate pollutants from power plants and automobiles, will take longer to change or put into place. But most observers expect Biden’s team to get working immediately after inauguration on smaller measures, such as the “secret science” rule that would block the EPA from using scientific research that isn’t or can’t be made public. “They’ll be starting right out of the gate,” predicted Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. But some who support Trump’s rollbacks warn that Biden will pay for being too ambitious in efforts to reverse them… One of the fastest and easiest actions the environmental agencies can take is to strike down Trump-era guidance that the Biden team disagrees with, said Sam Sankar, senior vice president for programs at Earthjustice. “That can be done with the stroke of a pen,” Sankar said. Dozens of such guidance documents are now on the books. Among the candidates for immediate rescission is an October memo from the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that the Clean Air Act gives states flexibility to administer air pollution requirements and saying some exemptions are appropriate, Sankar said.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Will the Supreme Court Overturn the Election Result?

Harvard Law professor Michael Klarman is a legal historian and scholar of constitutional law. He clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she was a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Klarman’s book From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality received the 2005 Bancroft Prize in History. Will the new 6-3 Republican Supreme Court intervene to help Donald Trump steal what now looks to be a convincing Biden win? And will Democrats be able to put America back on course to reclaim its democracy? Harvard Law professor Michael Klarman provides reassurance on both counts. Robert Kuttner: “Do you think the Supreme Court has enough of a regard for its own credibility and enough respect for basic democratic norms that even this Court will be hesitant to overturn the results of the 2020 election, assuming Biden does win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin? When will we have some sense of whether the Court is unwilling to do Trump’s political bidding by overturning the election results?” Michael Klarman: “The Court isn’t going to overturn the election result. The election isn’t close enough for any of Trump’s litigation to affect the result. What the president wants is to stop the counting of votes in Pennsylvania (while demanding that vote counting continues in Arizona!). But there is no legal controversy about the votes in Pennsylvania. They were received before election night. There is no question they should count. The Pennsylvania legislature should have changed the law to allow them to be counted before Election Day, as many other states permit, but Republicans in the legislature would not allow this, perhaps because they wanted to support Trump’s fraudulent claim that votes counted after election night are fraudulent.”

Continue Reading at Prospect »

Demoted FERC chair sees himself, agency playing big post-election role

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Neil Chatterjee defended his actions on clean energy and climate after President Donald Trump on Nov. 5 unexpectedly replaced him as chair of the independent agency. Chatterjee said he also sees an outsized role for FERC, and himself, if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency and Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate…FERC issued a news release late Nov. 5 announcing that Chatterjee had been replaced as chair by fellow Commissioner James Danly, who in various dissents and statements has conveyed a narrow view of the quasi-judicial regulator’s authority. Chatterjee has promised to stay on through the end of his term at the end of June 2021 or potentially longer if the Senate is unable to confirm a replacement before the next U.S. Congress is sworn in. Chatterjee speculated that the decision to hand Danly the gavel may have been related to a draft policy statement issued by FERC last month outlining the commission’s legal authority to approve wholesale power market rules that accommodate state-determined carbon pricing. Danly penned a partial dissent to the policy statement, arguing it was issued prematurely…In the meantime, observers should not expect Danly to initiate proactive rulemakings in the same way FERC did for energy storage and distributed energy resources following the 2016 election, said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at Harvard Law School. “Danly has explained that he is not a proactive regulator, so I don’t expect him to launch any agenda,” Peskoe said in a Nov. 6 email.

Continue Reading at S&P Global »

US elections 2020: What happens if Donald Trump refuses to concede defeat?

Joe Biden has won the US presidential election, securing more than the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the race for the White House. Biden was projected by CNN, the Associated Press and other major news outlets, including the right leaning Fox News, as the winner of Pennsylvania on Saturday, taking his total to more than 284 electoral votes, above the threshold needed to clinch victory. But over the past few days, incumbent US President Donald Trump has repeatedly made it clear he won’t consider a Biden victory legitimate…It’s unlikely Trump will give Biden a congratulatory or concessionary phone call anytime soon, but what happens if he refuses to concede defeat? Following Saturday’s announcement, Biden is expected to be sworn in as president at noon on 20 January 2021. At that point, Trump would become a private citizen with no authority or standing in the White House…Laurence Tribe, an American legal scholar and professor at Harvard University, said that regardless of what Trump says he will do, his “concession isn’t necessary or even relevant”. “The law is clear that the Joint Session of the new Congress that convenes on January 6, 2021, counts the Electoral Votes and designates the winner as the president-elect, who takes the oath as the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20, 2021,” Tribe told Middle East Eye. “Having been defeated, Trump will have no way to exercise presidential power after that point. Federal law makes it a crime for any private citizen to purport falsely to act as an executive officer. That law would apply to Trump, Pompeo, Barr, Mnuchin, DeVoss, and the entire Trump cabinet. Each member’s term ends no later than noon next January 20.”

Continue Reading at Middle East Eye »

A Chaotic Election Ends—Maybe?

No matter the vote count, legal challenges and resistance in Washington continue to make this election historically fraught. David Remnick speaks about the state of the race with some of The New Yorker’s political thinkers: Susan B. Glasser, Evan Osnos, Jeannie Suk Gersen, and Amy Davidson Sorkin. Plus, Jill Lepore on threats to democracy in the past and how they were addressed.

Continue Reading at New Yorker »

Where The Whirlwind Of Trump Election Lawsuits Stand

President Donald Trump and the Republicans have launched a number of lawsuits against battleground states where vote-counting continues, although judges in two states — Georgia and Michigan — had rejected their claims by Thursday afternoon. To discuss, Jim Braude was joined by Margery Eagan of GBH News and Jeannie Suk Gersen, a professor at Harvard Law School and a contributing writer at the New Yorker magazine.

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Hard lessons from a tough election

It was a presidential election befitting the past four years, unprecedented and contentious…The Gazette asked scholars and analysts across the University to reflect on lessons learned in a variety of areas…Tomiko Brown-Nagin: “This election crystalized American promise and American peril. Fifty-five years after passage of the Voting Rights Act and 100 years after ratification of the 19th Amendment, the fundamental right to vote — the essence of a democracy —remains ferociously contested and deeply cherished. Turnout was extraordinary! An estimated 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots — almost 160 million people — the greatest number in more than 100 years…At the same time, we witnessed a concerted effort to suppress the vote, to intimidate voters, and to delegitimize legally cast votes.” … Sandy Levinson: “What we learned was that the uncertainty of this election is entirely a function of the crazy way that Americans elect their president, which is through the Electoral College. This means, for example, that [President] Trump gets nine electoral votes for carrying the two Dakotas plus Wyoming, which collectively have only about 200,000 more residents than New Mexico, which contributed only five votes. What remains an ‘interesting’ question, if one is an academic, is why Americans persist with such a truly dysfunctional system of presidential election.” … Carol Steiker: “What I have learned in this election is that despite, or perhaps because of, the anger and divisiveness that have marked this political season, it is possible to substantially shift the needle on popular political engagement. We are seeing levels of voter turnout in this election not seen in more than a century, since William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan in 1908.” … Kenneth Mack: “What I have learned from this election so far is both a lot and a little. Historians typically look at elections as vehicles for possible political, economic, or social change. Certainly in the run-up to this year’s election we’ve seen some things change significantly. We have the first woman of color on a major party ticket (who now seems poised to become vice president), Black candidates seeming to run competitively statewide in several Southern states, and efforts to suppress minority voting of a kind we haven’t seen in decades.” … Yochai Benkler: “ The right-wing propaganda feedback loop, anchored in Fox News and talk radio and supported by online media, has played two critical roles in the election. The first, and most foundational, is that throughout the presidency of Donald Trump it offered an alternative reality, in which the president was a strong, effective leader hounded by an alliance of Democrats who hate America and Deep State operatives bent on reversing the victory of Trump, the authentic voice of the people.”

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How Vote-Counting Became a Job for the States

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: The current confusion and anxiety surrounding presidential vote-counting, with different states using different rules and procedures, make it natural to wonder: Wouldn’t it have been better to let the federal government oversee the process? The framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t think so, for reasons of principle. Some of the foundations of their thinking can be found in the Federalist Papers, written mostly by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (with a few by John Jay), among the greatest works in all of political science and the most important contemporaneous explanation of the framers’ thinking. Federalist No. 51, written by Madison, may be the best of the 86 essays, and it speaks, with great specificity, to the situation following this week’s national election. The least famous passage in that essay, and the most relevant today, is about one thing: federalism. It tells us a lot about how to think about vote-counting — and about the role of the president and Congress in that process. The essay is mostly a celebration of the system of checks and balances. As Madison put it, “Dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” The system of separated powers — Congress, the president, the judiciary — provides some of those precautions. But that was not nearly enough. Madison drew attention to “considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America.” Ours is a “compound republic,” he wrote, in the sense that “the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments.” There is the national government, and then there are the states, and this division creates essential security for “the rights of the people.” In important cases, “the different governments will control each other.” These are abstract ideas, but they bear directly on presidential elections, and they help explain the constitutional provisions that govern them.

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Trump’s Supreme Court Threat Will Backfire in a Legal Battle

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: Regardless of what happens in the vote counting, President Donald Trump has said he is going to the Supreme Court to ask for … something or other. When he does, he will have to overcome a hurdle of his own making: his claim to have “already” won the election, made during his rambling speech at 2:30 a.m. The justices — including the crucial conservatives like Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — will not like the speech, which puts them in the position of being asked to validate an obviously preposterous claim and an effort to steal the election before all the votes are tallied. Trump of course didn’t specify exactly what he would ask the Supreme Court to do, stating only that the “voting” must stop. But voting is already over. It’s vote-counting that’s continuing. So it seems reasonable to assume he meant his lawyers would ask for some sort of stop to the counting. There are three things Trump’s lawyers might do. They can go straight to the Supreme Court and ask for a general shutdown in counting. But that won’t work. There is no legal basis for not counting votes. What’s more, you normally can’t just go to the Supreme Court without first going to lower courts. Worst for Trump, he’s now behind in the count in states he needs to win — so it would make no sense to ask for a general stop to counting. Trump’s lawyers can also try to challenge individual ballots in states where they are trying to eke out victory. This is slow work — done retail, not wholesale. It makes sense when an election comes down to a few votes in a few key states. In addition — the most plausible reading of Trump’s comments — Trump can ask the justices to block the counting of Pennsylvania ballots that arrived after 8 p.m. on Election Day. This issue has already been before the court, which declined to intervene. But three conservatives invited Trump’s lawyers to come back and try again. If the election comes down to Pennsylvania, we would have the scenario for Bush v. Gore redux.

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In a close election, some Black Americans see a clear winner: Racism

Chad Williams, chair of the department of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University, admits he was optimistic heading into Tuesday night. He had hoped “America would get it right this time” and that Joe Biden would win resoundingly. But as he watched President Trump gain an edge in key swing states like Florida and North Carolina, it became apparent to Williams that the president hadn’t lost his appeal. Indeed, in some counties, Trump did better Tuesday night than he did in 2016. At 9:44 p.m. Williams tweeted, “Damn, white supremacy is resilient.” As results trickled in, it became evident that neither candidate would be able to claim a quick and decisive victory. But to some Black Americans, muddled voting tallies signaled a clear victor: American racism…A critical voting bloc for Democrats who overwhelmingly rejected Trump in 2016, many Black voters felt the choice for 2020 was clear: A vote for the incumbent would be a vote in favor of racist policy and rhetoric. But even given the stakes — and following a summer that saw millions march for racial justice — the country overall was split roughly down the middle, a fact that several exasperated Black voters called “disappointing but not surprising.” “The impulse in this country for the status quo never ceases to amaze me . . . and on some level, that’s a strength — that’s how we get stability,” said David Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. “But that stability is a system of white supremacy and racial oppression.” In the last few months of the campaign, Trump capitalized on the fears of white suburbanites, with inflammatory talk of law and order and rising crime. Long before final results were set to be called in Michigan, Wisconsin, and several other key states, social media was already abuzz with lessons drawn from the close contest.

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Why Pennsylvania should take its time counting votes

An op-ed by Van Jones and Lawrence LessigElection night is over, but the election is not. And given the unexpectedly tight race, Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes may be those that decide who wins the White House. To be sure, Biden still has a path to victory that doesn’t involve Pennsylvania, but he could end up needing the state if he suffers reverses elsewhere. The key for Pennsylvania to have an orderly and complete vote count is for the state to take its time. And the key precedent that should show Pennsylvania that it may take its time is not Florida in 2000, but Hawaii in 1960. Even though Richard Nixon said it should not be a precedent, what he did in 1960 should be the model for this election in 2020. In 1960, Hawaii’s vote was incredibly close. On the first count, Nixon had beaten John F. Kennedy by 141 votes.On November 28, the acting governor certified a Republican slate of electors. They met on December 19 and cast their ballots for Nixon. But a recount showed that, in fact, Kennedy had won the popular vote by an even closer margin of 115 votes. That recount had been completed on December 30, 11 days after the Republican electors from Hawaii had cast their votes for Nixon. Five days later, the governor sent Congress a new certification of electors, this time naming the Democratic electors as the electors properly chosen by Hawaii’s voters. That certification arrived in Congress on January 6, the day that Congress was to count the electoral votes. When then Vice President Nixon, who the Constitution had set as the custodian of the electoral votes, began to “open all the certificates” as the Constitution directs him, and came to Hawaii in the list of states, he announced that there were two slates of electors from Hawaii, one Republican and one Democratic.

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Legal experts shake their heads at GOP election suits

President Trump has made no secret of his intention to file legal challenges in key states where election results were close, citing the possibility of voting fraud. For months, he has criticized the nationwide expansion of mail-in balloting, a longstanding practice that gained ground rapidly because of social-distancing concerns during the pandemic. Trump filed lawsuits Wednesday to stop vote counts in Pennsylvania and Georgia, along with Michigan, shortly before the Associated Press said his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, had won the state. Officials are still counting votes in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, which only started tallying more than 3 million mail-in ballots on election night…But scholars are not convinced there’s a plausible argument that the president’s legal team could make in these new actions that would prove successful in court. “There’s no claim I can think of that would shut down the counting of lawful, valid mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania,” said Harvard Law School Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, who studies election law…Though the president nominated hundreds of judges to the federal bench during his tenure, the courts aren’t likely to simply go along with the president’s demands, analysts said. “I think the very fact that the president has advertised that they are ‘his’ judges that he’s relying on to stop the counting both dares them to assert their independence in a way that is going to make it less likely that they will depart from what is a normal legal way of thinking about this and, ironically, undermines the effort he’s likely to make, [which is] to claim that Biden is somehow an illegitimate president because it will be Trump’s own judges who will be rebuffing his attempts,” said Laurence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.

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The Election and the Courts

A podcast by Noah FeldmanRichard Pildes, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in legal issues affecting democracy, discusses the role that the courts could play in this election.

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Trump’s Election Lawsuits Are Legally Hollow

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: Legally speaking, President Donald Trump’s various election lawsuits amount to nothing. On Wednesday the Trump campaign announced an array of different legal efforts to fight Joe Biden’s apparently impending Electoral College victory. This included attempts to stop the vote counting in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and a motion to be heard by the Supreme Court in the case about ballots that arrived or will arrive in Pennsylvania after 8 p.m. on Election Day. The campaign also filed a lawsuit in Georgia claiming a poll worker improperly mixed up absentee ballots, and asked for late-arriving ballots to be segregated. Although Georgia is close, this isn’t the stuff of which election-changing lawsuits are made. (Trump’s lawyers also say they will seek a recount in Wisconsin; but that is extremely unlikely to erase Biden’s roughly 20,000 vote margin there.) Start with the attempts to stop the counting. These are legally vacuous and don’t pass the laugh test. Trump’s Michigan filing asks the state courts to stop tallying votes, alleging that the state’s absentee vote counters are proceeding without the presence of election inspectors and vote “challengers” from each party, as Michigan law requires. The problem with this argument is that, as far as is possible to determine, Michigan is indeed allowing Democratic and Republican inspectors and challengers. So the Trump campaign is further arguing that the state violated the law because it has not shown the Trump “challengers” the video of the drop-off boxes from which the absentee ballots are being taken. Strange as it sounds, the Trump campaign seems to be arguing that the counting of votes should be stopped because his representatives haven’t been able to see video of the drop-off boxes.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Election robocalls: what we know and what we don’t

Millions of voters across the US received robocalls and texts encouraging them to stay at home on Election Day, in what experts believe were clear attempts at suppressing voter turnout in the closely contested 2020 political races. Employing such tactics to spread disinformation and sow confusion amid elections isn’t new, and it’s not yet clear whether they were used more this year than in previous elections—or what effect they actually had on turnout. However, there is some speculation that given the heavy scrutiny of election disinformation on social media in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, malicious actors may have leaned more on private forms of communication like calls, texts, and emails in this election cycle…The use of robocalls for the purpose of political speech is broadly protected in the US, under the First Amendment’s free-speech rules. But the incidents described above may violate state or federal laws concerning election intimidation and interference. That’s particularly true if the groups that orchestrated them were acting in support of a particular campaign and targeting voters likely to fall into the other camp, says Rebecca Tushnet, a law professor at Harvard Law School. The tricky part is tracking down the groups responsible, says Brad Reaves, an assistant professor in computer science at North Carolina State University and a member of the Wolfpack Security and Privacy Research Lab. The source of such calls is frequently obscured as the call switches across different telecom networks with different technical protocols.

Continue Reading at MIT Technology Review »

Don’t Invoke Bush v. Gore to Challenge 2020 Voting

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: It’s Election Day, and there are already lawsuits challenging votes and voting procedures. Some of them are invoking the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, which effectively handed that year’s presidential election to George W. Bush. We should expect a lot more to come. Bush v. Gore is widely misunderstood. It rested on exceedingly narrow grounds. As the court put it, the key issue was “whether the use of standardless manual recounts violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.” The Florida Supreme Court had ordered a recount that would require votes to be counted in accordance with the “intent” of the voter. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem was that Florida’s high court failed to lay down specific standards to ensure “equal application” of that principle. And indeed, the standards for accepting or rejecting ballots ended up varying widely, not only from one county to another, but even from one recount team to another. Back in 2000, many Florida voters used punch cards, and many of their votes produced only partly punched ballots, leaving those famous “hanging chads.” Should those ballots have counted? Different recount teams used different standards. That meant that whether a person’s vote would count depended on a kind of lottery — the specific recount team that was doing the counting. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s view, this was unequal treatment, and it violated the equal protection clause. At the same time, the court was careful to say that its ruling was limited to very rare and specific circumstances. “The recount process,” it said, “is inconsistent with the minimum procedures necessary to protect the fundamental right of each voter in the special instance of a statewide recount under the authority of a single state judicial officer.”

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Deep Background Presents: Axios Today Election Special

A podcast by Noah FeldmanNoah Feldman is a guest on this episode of Axios Today, giving listeners a taste of what to expect for election night.

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Where Is US Election Misinformation Coming From? Hint: It’s Not Russia

A new report finds that President Trump and the Republican Party are driving online misinformation this election, not shady actors on Facebook or Russian trolls. When it comes to false claims about mail-in voting, Trump’s Twitter account functions as a press release, says Yochai Benkler, who led the team of researchers at Harvard University’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society. Trump’s tweets make their way into headlines, which are amplified by the Republican National Committee, his campaign staff and the White House communication team, Benkler says. Both right-wing outlets and mainstream media have helped Trump spread false messages, Benkler says. Journalists don’t want to take sides or appear biased, he says, so Trump’s “outrageous” claims are put in headlines with a fact-check saying they’re false a few paragraphs down in the story. In August, the researchers started seeing more use of the truth sandwich. “Early on, this basic desire to grab a headline really helped him get his message outside of those inside the propaganda feedback loop and into the more mainstream,” Benkler says. A Cornell University study that analyzed 38 million articles about the pandemic found mentions of Trump made up nearly 38% of what they call “the misinformation conversation.” This makes the president the largest driver of falsehoods about the pandemic around the world. And here in the United States, Benkler’s team finds Trump and other Republicans are the biggest drivers of falsehoods about voting. Many media outlets have adopted a “dual-track” where they report Trump’s claims to look balanced and then go back to fact check, Benkler says. But what’s initially reported matters most, he says. “Nobody reads the fact check except for people who already want to find out that the president is lying,” he says. “You really do need to do the fact-checking before the headline is written. And the headline and the lead need to teach the audience what you’re about to hear is false. Then you can really contain it.”

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Podcast: Election Day is here

Axios’ Margaret Talev and Mike Allen walk us through what they’re preparing for on election night. Plus, how the election could come down to Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots. And, why voting is a sacred right. Guests: Axios’ Margaret Talev and Mike Allen; Noah Feldman, constitutional law professor at Harvard University; and Rev. Otis Moss, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

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What If This Election Ends in Another Bush v. Gore?

An op-ed by Jeannie Suk GersenDuring Donald Trump’s Presidency, we have called political events “constitutional crises” far more often than in any period in memory. Before 2016, the term was used rarely, and the last time there was concern about a possible constitutional crisis was in the aftermath of the Presidential election of 2000, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, more than a month after Election Day. As we approach the decision’s twentieth anniversary, with a President who has promised to take the election results to the Court, we may be facing a possible repeat of those events—and perhaps a genuine constitutional crisis around the Presidential election, which could prove much more chaotic and difficult to resolve. A constitutional crisis is not merely an instance of the Constitution being disobeyed or going unenforced. It is, rather, a much more confounding situation, in which two branches of government are in an active conflict with each other but our constitutional rules and norms do not tell us how to resolve it. There was a true constitutional crisis around the Presidential election of 1876, when neither Samuel J. Tilden, a Democrat, nor Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, won a majority of the Electoral College. (Tilden won the popular vote.) In Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana, where vote counts were close and products of manipulation, rival Democratic and Republican electors attempted to get Congress to recognize their votes. To end a months-long political conflict, which was marked by intimidation, disenfranchisement, and threats of violence, Congress appointed a bipartisan electoral commission, consisting of members of each house and the Supreme Court. The commission reached an ugly compromise, to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction, in exchange for awarding the disputed states’ electoral votes to Hayes, who became President.

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Remaking the Federal Courts

Donald Trump has changed the ideological cast of our entire federal court system, appointing the most appellate-court judges in a single term since Jimmy Carter, along with three conservative Justices to the Supreme Court. Jeannie Suk Gersen, a contributing writer and a professor at Harvard Law School, unpacks the complicated question of court-packing. Joe Biden’s cautious engagement with the strategy, she thinks, is smart politics. The Supreme Court’s members “do not want to see Congress mess with the number of Justices on the Court or the terms,” she tells David Remnick. “So they now also understand . . . that they’re being watched with an idea that the institution can change without their being able to control it.”

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Will Bill Barr Place His Thumb on the Scale to Tip the Election to Trump?

Lawsuits over voter access and vote counts have already become a major battleground of the 2020 general election. If results are close, then post-election court rulings may be the deciding factor in whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden is sworn in as president next year. This past week the president said he wants courts to step in and prevent ballots from being counted beyond election night. The Trump and Biden campaigns ought to be on a level playing field in any court dispute, just as they should be at the ballot box. But what if the president wields the Justice Department as a sword to influence the courts’ decision-making? … The first way Barr could co-opt the Justice Department to aid Trump’s reelection campaign would be by having the department directly intervene in any resulting litigation. This would be an unparalleled and deeply inappropriate action, but one that is not a terribly far leap from Barr’s current attempt to use the Justice Department to personally defend and protect Donald Trump. When asked about the possibility of such a court intervention, constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, who served as a lead counsel for then-Vice President Al Gore in litigation over the 2000 Florida election recount, told us, “I would’ve been shocked and appalled to see Clinton’s DOJ weighing in during Bush v. Gore.” … However, the extreme nature of Justice Department intervention in the issue might not be enough to stop Barr … This would cause a variety of harms. First, having the Justice Department intervene would improperly aid the Trump campaign’s arguments in court, granting an added air of legitimacy and potentially tipping the scales of justice in what is supposed to be an even dispute between campaigns. According to Tribe, “the credibility, personnel, and financial resources of the department exceed those of any private attorney or firm, and the fact that it speaks in the name of the United States gives it enormous influence. Its arguments come with the cloak of official legitimacy even when its interests are in fact those of the incumbent president who seeks reelection.”

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All the president’s crooks: Trump faces same legal peril as his cronies if he loses election

Don could run out of Teflon if he loses the election. Trailing in the polls a day before the election, President Trump faces the very real prospect of swapping the White House for the Big House. He’s directly implicated in campaign finance crimes and is under investigation by both Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and New York State Attorney General Letitia James for alleged fraud in his business dealings. On top of that, he faces civil defamation lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual assault…Harvard University constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said the James and Vance investigations should be of “greatest concern” to Trump. The scholar, who advised top House Democrats during Trump’s impeachment, said it’s “almost inevitable” that the president will be criminally charged should he lose the election. “The investigations of greatest concern would focus on Trump’s seemingly criminal financial manipulations — bank and insurance fraud in knowingly falsifying his income, his wealth and the value of various assets,” Tribe said… “The degree to which post-presidential prosecution is discussed during the current election tells us that this has been a presidency so mired in apparent criminality, from the top on down, that just about everyone knows a major incentive for Trump to stay in office as long as he can is to exploit the Justice Department’s policy against indicting a sitting president,” Tribe said.

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Why Trump Can’t Afford to Lose

The President was despondent. Sensing that time was running out, he had asked his aides to draw up a list of his political options…The downfall of Richard Nixon, in the summer of 1974, was, as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relate in “The Final Days,” one of the most dramatic in American history…No American President has ever been charged with a criminal offense. But, as Donald Trump fights to hold on to the White House, he and those around him surely know that if he loses—an outcome that nobody should count on—the presumption of immunity that attends the Presidency will vanish…Though Trump doesn’t have the power to pardon or commute a New York State court conviction, he can pardon virtually anyone facing federal charges—including, arguably, himself. When Nixon, a lawyer, was in the White House, he concluded that he had this power, though he felt that he would disgrace himself if he attempted to use it. Nixon’s own Justice Department disagreed with him when it was asked whether a President could, in fact, self-pardon. The acting Assistant Attorney General, Mary C. Lawton, issued a memo proclaiming, in one sentence with virtually no analysis, that, “under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.” However, the memo went on to suggest that, if the President were declared temporarily unable to perform the duties of the office, the Vice-President would become the acting President, and in that capacity could pardon the President, who could then either resign or resume the duties of the office. To date, that is the only known government opinion on the issue, according to Jack Goldsmith, who, under George W. Bush, headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and now teaches at Harvard Law School. Recently, Goldsmith and Bob Bauer, a White House counsel under Barack Obama, co-wrote “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency,” in which the bipartisan pair offer a blueprint for remedying some of the structural weaknesses exposed by Trump. Among their proposals is a rule explicitly prohibiting Presidents from pardoning themselves. They also propose that bribery statutes be amended to prevent Presidents from using pardons to bribe witnesses or obstruct justice. Such reforms would likely come too late to stop Trump, Goldsmith noted: “If he loses—if—we can expect that he’ll roll out pardons promiscuously, including to himself.”

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The Last Check on Presidential Power: We the People

An 0p-ed by Noah Feldman: After four years of President Donald Trump’s assault on the Constitution, it comes down to this. The courts have done what they could to limit the damage; the House impeached him; and the Senate let him get away with it. Now all that remains is the final check provided by the Constitution: a vote of the people. James Madison would have seen this coming. While the Constitution was being ratified, he argued that its checks and balances would preserve the liberty that the document was supposed to enshrine. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” he wrote in the most famous of the Federalist Papers. Yet within a few years, Madison had come to believe that the system he did so much to design was vulnerable to subversion. The checks and balances written into the Constitution were not enough to withstand a powerful president like George Washington if he was backed by an organized political party with a monarchic ideology. The only possible check on partisan power, Madison came to believe, was the people, voting en masse to restore their liberties. With Thomas Jefferson, he formed the first Republican Party (sometimes called the Democratic-Republicans) to fight the Federalists of Washington and Alexander Hamilton. In 1800, when the Republicans won, Madison and Jefferson saw it as a moment of salvation. The people had restored the constitutional balance when the Constitution itself could not. The first lesson for 2020 is obvious: The only way Trump’s constant attacks on the Constitution can now be repudiated is by voting him out. The people can do what the courts and Congress could not or would not. They alone can send the message that Trump’s sustained and systematic attack on our institutions is dangerous, wrong and anathema to small-r republicanism. It’s not inevitable that the people will save the Republic. Madison understood that a republic could only survive if the people possess political virtue.

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The Supreme Court shouldn’t decide voting cases. It keeps getting them wrong.

An op-ed by Nicholas StephanopoulosOver the past few months, election lawyers who litigate in the Supreme Court have hit the jackpot. The court has decided one election-related case after another — more than a dozen, in total, since the pandemic began. Among other things, the court barred Wisconsin from counting mail-in ballots postmarked after April’s primary Election Day, required Alabamians and South Carolinians to find witnesses for their mail-in ballots, and stopped Idaho from accepting digital signatures for ballot initiatives. Just this past week, the court also held that Wisconsin can’t tally mail-in ballots returned after the general election on Tuesday, while North Carolina and Pennsylvania can (for now). But the court didn’t have to resolve any of these voting disputes. And it shouldn’t have resolved them. By intervening so often, the Supreme Court has become a body that corrects perceived lower-court errors, not one that decides major legal issues. By stepping in without explaining its actions, it has tarnished its institutional legitimacy. And by proceeding in haste, the court has made factual and legal mistakes — bad, not just unnecessary, law. All the recent electoral cases have deviated from the court’s normal procedure, the one used for its regular “merits” docket. Ordinarily, after a lower court (generally a federal appeals court or a state supreme court) has reached a final judgment, the losing party may file a certiorari petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. The court grants only about 1 percent of these requests. When it does, written briefing unfolds over several months, followed by an oral argument. After the argument, the court usually takes several more months to announce its decision, which is signed and reasoned, often at great length. In contrast, the cases about the 2020 election have been part of the court’s “shadow” docket. They haven’t arrived at the Supreme Court through cert petitions. Instead, their vehicles have been emergency applications filed with the court before lower-court proceedings have even finished.

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Conservative Supreme Court justices are threatening a post-election coup

An op-ed by Laurence H. Tribe and Steven V. Mazie: After handing down orders in a spate of challenges to states’ efforts to make voting easier during the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court is catching its breath. But the pause may be short-lived. In several opinions that conservative justices have issued over the past week, a radical idea is rising from the ashes, resurrecting language from one of the most fraught decisions in the court’s history. Four justices — Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas — have resuscitated a half-baked theory three justices espoused in Bush v. Gore to let Republicans trash ballots after Election Day. Chief Justice John Roberts has not joined his four colleagues in this misadventure. But if the recently seated Justice Amy Coney Barrett sides with the quartet, America could be in for a battle that makes Bush v. Gore look tame. By shutting down a recount in Florida that could have put Al Gore over the top in the 2000 election, the Supreme Court effectively handed George W. Bush the keys to the White House. The majority reasoned that disparate methods for interpreting the infamous “hanging chads” on Florida’s punch-ballots denied the state’s voters the equal protection of the laws, violating the 14th Amendment. But then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, joined only by Scalia and Thomas, would have gone further. In a concurring opinion, he scolded Florida’s Supreme Court for misapplying the state’s election law. He leaned on the electors clause of the Constitution, which says “each State shall appoint” its slate of presidential electors “in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct.” By meddling with what Florida’s legislature had done, Rehnquist concluded, its highest court had violated the Constitution.

Continue Reading at Boston Globe »

What A Biden Versus Trump Presidency Could Mean For Coal

Biden’s stance on fracking has been all over the news; that the Democratic presidential candidate would prohibit the practice on federal land, while allowing current permits to continue. The presidential election is also expected to impact U.S. coal markets – either way it breaks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Cooper McKim spoke with Caitlin McCoy, a staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s environmental and energy law program, about what that might look like. Caitlin McCoy: “It’s almost hard to describe what the potential impact of a Biden administration is without the contrast, I think of a potential Trump administration, because I think… I don’t want to sound insensitive, because I know that people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake. And it’s really easy for people who don’t live in communities that currently depend on coal mining, to just say, ‘for the sake of climate, we have to stop using coal.’ And that said, the writing is on the wall and it has been for a while now. And the market forces that we’ve seen at play under the Trump administration have been really powerful despite what the Trump administration has done to try to preserve demand for coal. So, I really think the big difference in a potential Biden administration and a second term Trump administration comes in this, in this sort of sense that, I think Trump would essentially leave the industry to just kind of wither on its own, which is somewhat what he’s done over the last four years. Yes, there have been actions that have lowered compliance costs and loosened requirements a little bit. But there hasn’t really been any big action by the Trump administration to revive demand for coal or to actively support coal mining. And so I think really, the big difference is that a Biden administration will seek to, as Biden has said, accelerate the transition away from coal.”

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Overestimating the foreign threat to elections poses its own risks, U.S. officials and experts say

Iranian government-backed hackers last week pulled off a feat few were expecting. They became the first foreign adversary to interfere in the 2020 election by sending threatening emails to voters. But that action — so far the only confirmed intelligence operation by a foreign government that directly targeted specific voters in this election — had far less impact than Moscow’s hacking and leaking of Democratic emails four years ago. Officials and disinformation experts warn that overestimating the threat posed by foreign spies and hackers plays into their narrative that they have the power to sow chaos, and undermines the ability to fashion the most effective and proportionate response…Much of the disinformation circulating today is driven by domestic actors, including the White House, said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at HarvardUniversity. Occasionally the Russians may have amplified some of President Trump’s false claims that mail-in ballots are insecure or the pandemic has been stanched, he said. “But I haven’t seen anything meaningful.” To overstate the effect of Russian efforts, he said, is to enable their success. If policymakers respond out of fear or anger, they risk compounding the problem, he said. A number of researchers have concluded that the effects of Russian efforts on social media in 2016 likely were overstated, and that by contrast, the Russian hack and subsequent leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta in 2016 arguably had an impact. The leaks led to the resignation of the DNC leadership and disrupted the Democratic convention, and also shaped the media and debate narratives in ways that undermined Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

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How Amy Coney Barrett Could End Up Deciding the Election

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanThere has been much worried Democratic speculation about how the Supreme Court might intervene to hand the election to President Donald Trump. Many scenarios are possible, but one is much more probable than the others. After Monday’s Supreme Court ruling blocking late-arriving mail-in ballots from being counted in Wisconsin, we can now say very concretely what the Bush v. Gore redux scenario looks like. The scenario would arise in Pennsylvania. And the decisive vote would likely be cast by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. That’s because of Pennsylvania’s distinctive legal dispute about whether to count mail-in ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day. First, it’s important to understand that a Supreme Court decision about Pennsylvania will only truly determine the outcome of the election if the electoral vote is close enough to make Pennsylvania decisive. If either candidate can win without Pennsylvania, this scenario wouldn’t decide the presidency. But if the electoral tally is close, and late-arriving ballots in Pennsylvania could provide the margin of victory, we could be in for a legal nightmare. As I explained in an earlier column, Pennsylvania state law says that ballots can’t be counted if they are received after the polls close on Election Day. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, relying on the Pennsylvania Constitution, ruled that under current conditions created by the combination of Covid-19 and U.S. mail delays, the state must count ballots received for three days after the statutory deadline.

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Will Pa. be at the center of another Bush v. Gore? These 8 lawyers and scholars weigh in.

A too-close-to-call election night. A supreme court and a legislature at odds with each other. A pivotal swing state with a large number of electoral votes up for grabs. A challenge over which ballots should be counted. A barrage of lawsuits. Sound familiar? Two decades ago, all eyes were on Florida as Election Day came to a close and the fate of the presidency rested in the hands of the Sunshine State. What followed was weeks of litigation over a recount of 537 votes, and an election ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. In 2020, Pennsylvania has been called the “tipping-point” state— the state that could give either Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or Republican candidate Donald Trump the edge to capture enough electoral votes to be declared the winner… This combination of factors — the litigation, the misinformation, and the likely delay in getting millions of mail ballots counted, thus delaying final results — could give Pennsylvania the spotlight on Election Day and beyond, much like Florida received in 2000…Mark Tushnet, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, said looking at the presidential election one week out, he’s not sure whether the race is going to be close anywhere. But if it were to come down to Pennsylvania, the days following the election would be similar to Florida in 2000, where the state Supreme Court would be the initial actor on a lot of litigation. “At the outset, everything is going to be up for grabs,” he said. “The challengers will use every available challenge to get the initial vote to change in a way favorable to them.”

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What Does Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Mean For The Election, Health Care, And More?

The confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Justice on Tuesday cemented a 6-3 conservative majority that will shape the country for generations to come, starting with expected rulings on the Affordable Care Act, immigration, abortion, voting rights, and possibly even the results of the upcoming presidential election. To discuss, Jim Braude was joined by retired federal judge Nancy Gertner, who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School.

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What the Democratic Playbook Might Look Like in 2021

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein“The Untouchables,” the 1987 movie about gangsters and cops in Prohibition-era Chicago, was defined by these lines, spoken by police officer Jim Malone (played by Sean Connery) to his protégé, Eliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner): He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way. Connery’s character was speaking of Al Capone. But his lines capture something more universal. If you are in some kind of fight, your best response might be to up the ante. If your opponents know that’s what you’ll do, they might back off — in which case you win. And if they don’t back off, they’ll get hurt — in which case you also win. Has the Chicago way become the American way? You could make the argument, at least in Washington. No one should speak of literal violence. But in multiple domains, we have witnessed an escalating political arms race, transgressing longstanding norms. In 2010, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell clearly set the tone with this remarkable statement: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” With respect to Supreme Court appointments, Republican efforts culminated in the sprint to confirm Amy Coney Barrett — on the heels of the Senate leadership’s refusal even to allow a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2016. Something much worse is suggested by President Donald Trump’s claim that Joe Biden, his opponent in the presidential race, “should’ve been locked up weeks ago” for unspecified crimes. If Biden is elected president, and if Democrats gain control of the Senate, both the White House and the Democratic leadership will face a crucial decision on what to do about the spiraling conflict between the parties. This decision would be important in any period. But it has special urgency in light of the public-health crisis and the serious economic downturn produced by the pandemic — in addition to Democrats’ and progressives’ high-priority issues, including climate change, health care, economic inequality and tax reform. There would be three options. In the abstract, none of them could be ruled out.

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Election 2020: Trump’s FERC may need to shift course on clean energy, though Biden’s road will not be easy

The rapid evolution of the power grid will require the attention of one critical agency —  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And observers say no matter what happens Nov. 3, the agency will have no choice but to address the industry’s transition, even if it means backing away from some of its more controversial policies. Over the past four years, the commission has been accused of trampling on state efforts to move away from fossil fuels and toward zero-carbon, renewable resources…The Biden Administration has an ambitious plan to bring the grid to zero-carbon electricity by 2035, an ambitious target that exceeds the goals of utilities’ mid-century decarbonization plans, already considered aggressive by some in the industry. Getting that type of plan through Congress will be difficult in itself, dependent, in part, on which party secures the majority in the Senate. “FERC’s role could really hinge on whether Congress does enact any clean energy legislation, even if that energy legislation doesn’t specifically task FERC with anything,” said Ari Peskoe, director of the Electricity Law Initiative at the Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program. For example, if Congress were to pass any sort of clean energy standard, FERC would be beholden to that law, regardless of who was in charge of the commission. FERC’s efforts over the past few years have been centered around “leveling the playing field” for energy resources, much of it said by NGOs and others to be aimed at state clean energy policies and subsidies, which Chatterjee and fellow conservative Republican-appointed commissioners have characterized as “distorting” the markets by giving renewable or zero carbon resources an advantage over fossil fuel generators. But under a federal clean energy standard, “everybody is under the same obligation,” said Peskoe. “I don’t think FERC could ignore that.”

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We May Need the Twenty-fifth Amendment If Trump Loses

An op-ed by Jeannie Suk Gersen Throughout the past four years, there has been chatter about Donald Trump’s mental health and stability, but little political will to make use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which allows Congress to deem a President “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and remove him from power. The discussion resurfaced more seriously this month, however, in light of Trump’s hospitalization for covid-19 and the White House’s lack of transparency around his treatment. The news that he was medicated with the steroid dexamethasone, used for seriously ill covid-19 patients, also alarmed many because its known side effects include aggression, agitation, and “grandiose delusions”—behaviors that, judging from the President’s Twitter account, at least, he already seemed to exhibit. On October 9th, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a new bill to establish a Commission on Presidential Capacity to Discharge the Powers and Duties of the Office, which would help carry out the Twenty-fifth Amendment process in the event that the President becomes incapable of doing his job. (Sponsored by the Democratic representative and former constitutional-law professor Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, the House bill is similar to one he introduced in 2017.) Announcing the bill only a week after disclosure of the President’s covid-19 diagnosis and three weeks before the election, Pelosi invoked the Amendment as a “path for preserving stability if a President suffers a crippling physical or mental problem.” She added, “This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of the voters, but he shows the need for us to create a process for future Presidents.” Section four of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provides two distinct avenues for removing a President against his will. In one, the Vice-President joins with a majority of the Cabinet to send Congress a written declaration that the President is unable to serve. In the other, the Vice-President does so along with a majority of “such other body as Congress may by law provide.”

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The Big Legal Threats Trump Will Face If He Loses the Election

President Trump has more at stake in this election than whether he remains in the White House. Holding the highest office in the land grants him effective immunity from federal criminal prosecution and gives him wide powers to stymie lawsuits against him and his business. That all changes once he becomes an ordinary citizen again. “Whatever shelters he has had as an occupant of the White House would vanish,” says Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard and frequent Trump critic. “His ability to throw his weight around in terms of the deference that judges exercise—all of that is gone.” A federal prosecution of Trump would be political dynamite, and a President Joe Biden may choose not to detonate it. But a new administration could decide to revive Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice by Trump or launch a new probe into the questionable tax deductions the New York Times revealed in a recent investigative report. Trump is also facing an active investigation by the Manhattan district attorney that could result in state criminal charges…Here are the major legal threats facing Trump, and how a defeat in November would affect them…Trump has long been able to argue that he’s too busy as president to deal with lawsuits, and courts have generally given him broad deference as head of the federal government’s executive branch. He would not get that deference as a former president and could be forced to sit for a deposition. Like Vance, James would probably find it easier to get information or cooperation from others. “The hesitation on the part of third parties who are the holders of potentially very incriminating information will evaporate once he’s no longer president,” Tribe says.

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Fearful calls flood election offices as Trump attacks mail-in voting, threatening participation in GOP strongholds

Weber County, a majority-Republican community of 260,000 on the eastern shores of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, held its first by-mail election in 2013. The process gained such widespread confidence that by June of this year, more than 99 percent of ballots cast in the primary were placed in the mail or deposited in a drop box. But something has changed in Weber County, which now requires three full-time phone operators to field calls from residents “suddenly worried about voting by mail,” said Ricky Hatch, the county clerk and auditor… In many cases, the worries can be traced to baseless or alarmist statements by President Trump and posts on his Twitter feed. Others have been fed by headlines stripped of context and misleading reporting in the mainstream media, according to election administrators, voting rights advocates and experts in online communication…A study released this month by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society offered fresh evidence of the dangers posed by homegrown misinformation. For months, Trump has generated entire news cycles that serve to cast doubt about mail-in voting, which mainstream outlets have at times covered uncritically, the report found. The president’s influential allies have eagerly shared these and other stories with their vast online audiences, enhancing their reach and fomenting fresh doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 vote. “With respect to mail-in voter fraud, the driver of the disinformation campaign has been Trump, as president, supported by his campaign and Republican elites,” said Yochai Benkler, who leads the center and co-wrote the report. In these and other cases, ­Benkler said, misconceptions and hoaxes that take root in the White House come to frame reporting in mainstream and partisan news sources alike. Any development related to the process of voting becomes fodder in a competition for narrative control. “The question is, who picks up that formal announcement and reframes it, or retells it, as a narrative of rampant fraud,” he said.

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Opportunity Knocks: Canvassing in the Time of Covid

An article by Daniel Judd and Maxwell Ulin ‘22With less than two weeks to Election Day and early voting already underway, Joe Biden’s campaign is finally resuming in-person canvassing in battleground states. It’s about time. The Biden team’s decision earlier this year to impose a moratorium on door-knocking—a party line that local candidates, too, felt pressure to follow—and opt instead for an “invisible campaign” of ads, calls, and texts was a costly blunder. In-person canvassing is one of the most effective tools a campaign has at its disposal: It motivates volunteers, persuades undecided voters and increases turnout up and down the ballot. Which may be why the Trump campaign—and state GOP organizations—never stopped knocking. So it’s welcome news that, after months of condemning canvassing as both dangerous and ineffective, top Democratic operatives have suddenly changed their tone. The challenge now, especially in the midst of a spike in Covid cases across Midwest battleground states, will be to canvass responsibly—to protect voters’ and canvassers’ health. That will take careful planning and a rigorous set of safety protocols, but it can be done. We know, because we’re doing it. For the past month, we have been knocking on doors for Democrats in Arizona with CASE Action, a political advocacy group affiliated with the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 11. When the pandemic hit in March, more than 85 percent of UNITE HERE members lost their jobs. At the same time, CASE Action halted its in-person campaigning. But as the summer wore on, union members remained jobless—and phone-banking proved inadequate.

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I Was Reagan’s Solicitor General. Here’s What Biden Should Do With the Court.

An op-ed by Charles FriedJoe Biden got it exactly right in expressing an ambivalent openness to pushing for legislation — entirely constitutional — enlarging the number of Supreme Court justices, if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate in November. Such a move would make blazingly clear what some of us hope is not quite true: that the court is a partisan political institution, a conception that would invite further rounds of enlargement in a different political moment. But to paraphrase Churchill, such a maneuver is a bad idea, except for all the alternatives. Here the alternatives boil down to just one: a predictable, reactionary majority on the Supreme Court for perhaps as long as another generation. I write reactionary, not conservative, because true conservative judges like John Marshall Harlan II are incrementalists, not averse to change, respectful of precedent and unlikely to come into the grips of radical fantasies like eliminating or remaking the modern regulatory-administrative state. But with the seemingly inevitable rise of Amy Coney Barrett to the court, this impending six- person majority is poised to take a constitutional wrecking ball to generations of Supreme Court doctrine — and not just in matters of reproductive choice. Just look at the record. In the 2018 Janus labor law case, Justice Samuel Alito took the first long step to undoing years of legislation that allowed majority unions to compel not membership, but payment of dues — an arrangement first found constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1977. And his decision was based on constitutional grounds — protecting First Amendment freedoms — so a legislative remedy is no longer possible.

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Biden’s court commission strikes the right balance

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced on Thursdaythat he would create a bipartisan commission to study the Supreme Court and federal judiciary because the system is “getting out of whack.” Biden expressed (as he has previously) his reservations about expanding the Supreme Court, but he did not rule it out…Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe tells me, “I’ve strongly supported this bipartisan expert commission idea for quite some time. It accurately reflects the substantive difficulty of the issue — both for the Supreme Court’s institutional role and for the future of constitutional democracy writ large.” He continues, “It might well be true, as you implicitly suggest, that this announcement could empower the chief justice to hold his colleagues in check, but I don’t see that as one of its principal benefits or motivations.” Tribe concludes, “From my perspective, it’s a good way to avoid a premature decision that would suck up more oxygen than it should at a time when the management of the pandemic and the restoration of decency in government ought to be front and center.” Even if the commission does not come up with a solution that passes political muster, Biden is smart to at least try to reach consensus. If the Supreme Court goes on a tear and the commission comes up dry, Biden would then be in a better position to argue that expanding the Supreme Court is the only available option.

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Chief Justice Roberts Is Holding the Line on Elections

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: Chief Justice John Roberts is bending over backwards to try and show that the Supreme Court is nonpartisan when it comes to the 2020 election. The latest evidence is his vote in a 4-4 decision that, because it was a tie, upheld a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extending the deadline for counting mail-in ballots for three days after Election Day. In my view, Roberts got the law right. And it is certainly true that the 4-4 tie shows how the court’s election decisions could potentially be affected by the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. But there is another takeaway, one that liberals and conservatives would do well to keep in view: An alternative decision overturning the Pennsylvania ruling would not have been crazy. That’s because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision could itself be interpreted as partisan. It interpreted Pennsylvania law against its plain meaning. To be clear, I think Roberts was right not to revisit the Pennsylvania court’s judgment. It was a state court decision interpreting a state statute, and the Supreme Court is supposed to accept a state court’s interpretation of its own law. But the alternate view, namely that the Pennsylvania decision violated federal law by deviating from the requirement that votes be cast by Election Day, was plausible, even if it wasn’t the best interpretation of what was going on. I realize — all too well — that in the heat of the election season, no one wants to hear the message that Roberts was correct but that the alternative would also have been defensible. Democrats just want to fret over the possibility that the Supreme Court will give the election to Trump. Republicans just want to declaim on the outrageousness of Roberts’s apparent defection to the left, driven by his desire to maintain the Supreme Court’s legitimacy. The reasonable middle position has exactly zero friends in the pre-election frenzy.

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The Election Pollster’s Song

A podcast by Noah Feldman: Anthony Salvanto, CBS News’ director of Elections and Surveys, discusses the latest polling data and how to make sense of it.

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Trump’s ballot fraud allegations embellished and not widespread: Experts

President Donald Trump has made the possibility of widespread voter fraud — an unsubstantiated assertion that even members of law enforcement in his administration have not supported — a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. Out on the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly described ballot irregularities to illustrate what he said is a grave risk of election fraud during the COVID pandemic, when record numbers are turning to mail-in ballots. He even suggested that if he does not win the election, the contest is “rigged.” But records and interviews with parties involved in the episodes Trump has cited show he has taken small, often innocuous events and exaggerated or embellished them to fit his narrative. Trump made similar unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud in 2016, claiming millions had voted illegally, but his election integrity commission shut down without finding evidence of that…Election officials in Democrat and Republican states alike have been clear that they have confidence in their election process, and experts agree that the risk of fraud is very low. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, an expert on election law and constitutional law and a professor at Harvard Law School, said “all available evidence indicates that mail-in voting in the United States is safe and secure. In states that use mail-in voting, there are infinitesimal rates of problems. More importantly, in these states, there are more people who vote; turnout is higher and so democracy is more robust.”

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Trump Calls on Barr to ‘Act’ Against Biden Before Election

President Trump on Tuesday called on William P. Barr, the attorney general, to take action before Election Day against his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., over his son’s foreign work, an extraordinary attempt to pressure the government’s chief law enforcement to help him politically. The president made the remark during an interview with “Fox + Friends,” after days of caustic criticism of Mr. Biden, the moderators of the presidential debates, the news media and, increasingly, Mr. Barr. He recently said the attorney general would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Democrats like Mr. Biden and former President Barack Obama…Critics have accused Mr. Barr on a number of occasions of intervening on issues to help Mr. Trump politically. But for the president to publicly call on him to take action against a political opponent was remarkable, especially two weeks before a presidential election. On Monday, Mr. Trump repeatedly called Mr. Biden “a criminal.” “He is sounding desperate,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard Law professor who was solicitor general in the Reagan administration. “He’s been urging the attorney general in several ways to investigate his political opponents and to somehow validate his preposterous charges of criminality.” “And even as loyal a henchman as Barr seems to have been able to draw the line somewhere — and it’s driving Trump crazy,” added Mr. Fried.

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California officials see boon in Biden’s climate plan

Even as California aspires to a more sustainable, climate-friendly economy, the environmental degradation Bahram Fazeli witnesses daily is an unwelcome reminder of how much the state is held back by a federal government pushing in the other direction. The oil wells, refineries, metal-finishing businesses and hazardous waste facilities in Wilmington and Huntington Park, where the environmental activist works, leave residents of those primarily Latino communities acutely exposed to health risks. Fazeli has lost patience with the pace of change…That urgency gives the state a particularly large stake in the outcome of an election that poses a drastic contrast on climate issues — a White House steeped in climate denial and closely allied with fossil fuel companies versus a Democratic candidate who has embraced a $2-trillion climate plan that would rely heavily on California innovation and ambition as a template for fighting global warming across the country. The Trump administration has spent billions of dollars in an almost entirely unsuccessful effort to prop up the nation’s coal industry and has given priority to coal and oil production over renewable sources. The administration’s policies have put the economic interests of regions heavily dependent on coal and oil production ahead of states like California. Biden would largely reverse that. California’s senior elected officials — all Democrats — believe Biden’s election would unleash a flurry of initiatives in the state designed to reshape the energy and transportation sectors and shift money to low-income communities suffering the most from pollution caused by fossil fuels. “It would be going from pushing a rock up a mountain to running downhill with the wind at your back,” said Jody Freeman, who was President Obama’s advisor on climate change and now directs the environmental law program at Harvard.

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A Back-to-Basics Primer for Conservatives

An op-ed by Cass SunsteinA well-functioning democracy requires at least two parties, armed with different ideas and approaches. If Republicans lose the White House to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, what ideas and approaches should they champion? Many Republicans might want to go back to basics and recover some of the foundations of conservative thought, as laid out by such thinkers as Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott and Russell Kirk. They might not be eager to seek advice from anyone who is not a trusted conservative. But one of the most clarifying accounts of the conservative tradition comes from a remarkable book, “The Rhetoric of Reaction,” written by the economist Albert Hirschman in 1991. Hirschman himself was no conservative. His aim was to offer a catalog of standard rhetorical “moves” by those opposed to social reform. But Hirschman paid careful attention to centuries of conservative ideas, and he was aware of the power of those moves. He had too much integrity to deny that, some of the time, those who make them are entirely correct. If Biden is elected and tries to deliver on his campaign promises, those on the right would find Hirschman’s catalog useful. Hirschman divided the objections to progressive reforms into three different categories: perversity, futility and jeopardy. Of these, the most effective is the perversity argument. The basic claim is that many seemingly appealing reforms are self-defeating; they hurt the very people they are supposed to help. Societies are systems, and if you interfere with one part of them, you might not like what happens.

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Week In Review: Pandemic, Politics, And Policing

Here is the Radio Boston rundown for Oct. 16. Tiziana Dearing is our host. This week was about the pandemic, politics and policing. There are now 63 cities and towns designated as high risk for the coronavirus in Massachusetts, which is 23 more than last week. In Washington, just three weeks before the presidential election, the Senate Judiciary Committee started Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, while the presidential candidates held dueling town halls. Back here in Boston, Mayor Walsh announced that he would adopt all four prongs of a police reform task force report, making changes to police oversight, addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, the use of force and police body cameras. We take listener calls and discuss it all with our Week in Review panelists: retired federal judge Nancy Gertner and Joe Battenfeld, political columnist at the Boston Herald.

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The Post-Trump Clean-Up (with Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith)

On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “The Post-Trump Clean-Up,” Preet answers listener questions about the hypothetical pardoning of President Trump, the presidential native-born citizen requirement, and the process for impeaching a Supreme Court Justice. Then, Preet is joined by legal scholars Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, authors of After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency, to discuss their ideas for strengthening the rule of law and reforming our government. In the Stay Tuned bonus, Bauer (who reportedly played President Trump on Biden’s debate prep team) gives his observations of the first presidential debate, and Goldsmith offers his concerns about the line of presidential succession. To listen, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram.

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Trump Can’t Ignore the Election Results Without a Lot of Help

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanLast night, President Donald Trump took a tiny step back from his repeated refusals to say he’ll leave office if he loses the election. Yet he continued to portray a fair election as nearly impossible. The result is to continue to cast doubt on the election result and give himself room to challenge it if he loses the election “unfairly.” These claims are deeply harmful to our democracy — that much should be obvious. But it’s useful to divide the harm into two parts, to understand how worried we should be and figure out what we should do about it. Merely saying that he might not agree to leave office violates our unwritten democratic norms. Actually not leaving would violate our written laws. The first Trump can do alone, and he already has, on several occasions. That alone throws public confidence in our system into disarray. But the second would be far worse. Claiming election fraud and refusing to accept a clear loss would precipitate a constitutional crisis on a scale not seen since the Civil War. Fortunately, Trump can’t do it alone. He would need the collusion of hundreds, maybe thousands of other people in the government, from poll officials to state legislators to members of Congress. If that happens, our democracy will not just be under threat from an irresponsible leader. It will be on the edge of collapse. This possibility is vanishingly small.

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Twitter Changes Course After Republicans Claim ‘Election Interference’

President Trump called Facebook and Twitter “terrible” and “a monster” and said he would go after them. Senators Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn said they would subpoena the chief executives of the companies for their actions. And on Fox News, prominent conservative hosts blasted the social media platforms as “monopolies” and accused them of “censorship” and election interference. On Thursday, simmering discontent among Republicans over the power that Facebook and Twitter wield over public discourse erupted into open acrimony. Republicans slammed the companies and baited them a day after the sites limited or blocked the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr…Late Thursday, under pressure, Twitter said it was changing the policy that it had used to block the New York Post article and would now allow similar content to be shared, along with a label to provide context about the source of the information. Twitter said it was concerned that the earlier policy was leading to unintended consequences. Even so, the actions brought the already frosty relationship between conservatives and the companies to a new low point, less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which the social networks are expected to play a significant role. It offered a glimpse at how online conversations could go awry on Election Day. And Twitter’s bob-and-weave in particular underlined how the companies have little handle on how to consistently enforce what they will allow on their sites. “There will be battles for control of the narrative again and again over coming weeks,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who studies social media companies. “The way the platforms handled it is not a good harbinger of what’s to come.”

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How a Biden White House can hold Trump accountable by holding itself back

An op-ed by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Geltzer: There are many ways a future presidential administration could pursue accountability for Trump-era transgressions. Inspectors general at a range of federal agencies, the Office of Government Ethics, investigators and prosecutors at the Justice Department, or even some new truth commission might each lay claim to some aspect of what is sure to be a considerable task. Here’s who should stay out of it: the White House. The next president will face intense pressure to meddle in the quest for accountability, and he may be tempted — for good reason. Accountability for the Trump years is essential. Under President Trump, the government’s political leaders have abused their powers and the public’s trust in appalling ways, including for personal profit, political benefit and even sheer indulgence. The next administration must not, for our democratic future, treat Trump as having simply made some foolish policy calls or adopted some lousy legal positions. Trump is something worse: a president who has exploited the country rather than serving it; whose behavior in office has been corrupt, improper, unethical and possibly criminal. We need to know how it happened so we can stop it from happening again. But the whole point of such work is to get beyond politics. Political differences on, say, health care, foreign policy and immigration account for the ordinary swings between administrations of different parties. The White House drives those changes, because they represent the campaign platform that got the new president elected, and because it frequently takes White House leadership, even pressure, to steer the federal bureaucracy in a new direction.

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These Are The Nightmare Scenarios For The 2020 Election

The 2020 presidential election could be so tight, and the result so hotly contested, that the losing party refuses to concede, triggering a chaotic free-for-all in which Congress, the courts, and, in the most extreme case, the military could determine the winner. It may sound far-fetched, but the Constitution has major gaps when it comes to deciding a contested presidential race…Now let’s take the alternative scenario from above, where the Florida legislature replaces the pro-Biden slate of electors with a pro-Trump slate. Congress oversees counting the Electoral College votes. Both slates of electors from Florida — those ready to vote for Biden, and those for Trump — would surely show up in Washington claiming to represent the true will of the people. Who chooses which set of votes to count? Some say it would be Vice President Mike Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate. But most experts agree that decision falls to Congress. What happens if a split Congress can’t agree on which votes to count? The Constitution has no answer. In a true nightmare scenario, Pelosi declares the electors invalid, refuses to count the votes, and claims, in the scenario laid out above, that the House has the power to declare Biden the winner. Then, Senate Republicans rally behind Trump while Pelosi and the Supreme Court face off over who has authority. “If it’s a contest between Nancy Pelosi and the Supreme Court, we have no idea,” said Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law and leadership at Harvard Law School. “At some point, it’s the military’s judgment — because if Trump refuses to leave, who’s going to show up at the White House on Inauguration Day and escort him out?” …Lessig said he believes the courts would ultimately get involved to avoid the appearance of a stolen election. “These are people who think about history. That’s what their whole lives are about,” he said. Still, at a time when norms are being shattered and the president is openly talking about neutering the United States Postal Service’s ability to count millions of mail-in ballots, Lessig says unimaginable scenarios have become very imaginable. “The question is not what’s reasonable or fair,” he said. “The question is what’s possible.”

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Trump, lagging in polls, pressures Justice Dept. to target Democrats and criticizes Barr

President Trump publicly pressured the Justice Department on Friday to move against his political adversaries and complained that Attorney General William P. Barr is not doing enough to deliver results of a probe into how the Obama administration investigated possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. The delayed report is “a disgrace,” and Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be jailed, Trump said in a rambling radio interview, one day after he argued on Twitter that his current Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, is a criminal who should be barred from running. Three weeks before the election and as he trails Biden in polls nationally as well as in key states, Trump is issuing a new torrent of threats and demands for federal action against Democrats, including former president Barack Obama, that go beyond his familiar and often erroneous claims of wrongdoing by his perceived political enemies…The president’s calls for the Justice Department to target his political opposition in the heat of a presidential campaign is a jarring moment without precedent in modern American history. But it is in keeping with Trump’s actions when he has faced adversity, which now includes testing positive for the coronavirus last week after for months minimizing the threat posed by a deadly virus that has killed more than 213,000 Americans. “The behavior would be shocking in a normal presidency, but Trump has literally been doing this for years,” Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, a Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, said of Trump’s calls to go after Democrats. “So it is reprehensible, but not shocking.”

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Twitter’s answer to election misinformation: Make it harder to retweet

Twitter announced on Friday — less than 30 days ahead of the US election — that it’s enacting a series of significant changes in order to make it harder to spread election misinformation on its platform. It’s one of the most aggressive series of actions any social media company has taken yet to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms… “As always, the big question for both platforms is around enforcement,” wrote Evelyn Douek, a researcher at Harvard Law School studying the regulation of online speech, in a message to Recode. “Will they be able to work quickly enough on November 3 and in the days following? So far, signs aren’t promising.” Twitter already has a policy of adding labels to misleading content that “may suppress participation or mislead people” about how to vote. But in recent cases when President Trump has tweeted misleading information about voting, it’s taken the platform several hours to add such labels. Facebook has similarly been criticized for its response time…Douek said that platforms “need to be moving much quicker and more comprehensively on actually applying their rules.” But, she added, if “introducing more friction is the only way to keep up with the content, then that’s what they should do.” The concept of “friction” to which Douek is referring is the idea of slowing down the spread of misinformation on social media to give fact-checkers more time to correct it. It’s also an ideal that many misinformation experts have long advocated. Overall, misinformation experts, including Douek, lauded Twitter for introducing friction by nudging users to think twice before sharing misleading content.

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How Not to Cover Voter Fraud Disinformation

An article by Yochai BenklerNo group of people has a more important role to play in shaping how Americans think about mail-in voter fraud than editors and journalists who write for local and regional newspapers, local television news, the broadcast networks, and for those who produce the syndicated news these outlets use. My team and I at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society came to this remarkable conclusion in a report about the months-long disinformation campaign that Donald Trump and the Republican Party mounted to sow doubt about mail-in voting. We analyzed tens of thousands of online stories and Facebook posts, and millions of tweets, using network analysis, text analysis, and qualitative research. Contrary to widespread concern with Russia or Facebook as vectors of election disinformation, our findings told a different story. All peaks in attention and coverage of mail-in voter fraud were triggered by statements or actions of political elites, particularly Donald Trump through three channels: his Twitter account, press briefings, and television interviews on Fox. Trump was, in turn, reinforced by his staff, the RNC, and other Republican leaders. Social media played a secondary role, recirculating stories published by major media outlets about the actions or statements of the political actors pushing the false narrative. President Trump perfected the art of harnessing mass media to disseminate and reinforce his disinformation campaign.

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Tracing the disinformation campaign on mail-in voter fraud

A new report from Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler ’94 and a team of researchers from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society shows that the mail-in voting fraud disinformation campaign—intentionally spreading false information in order to deceive—is largely led by political elites and the mass media.

Trump doesn’t need Russian trolls to spread disinformation. The mainstream media does it for him.

Voting fraud, according to study after study, is rare. Mail-in ballots are, with a few exceptions, a safe way to vote. But millions of Americans have come to believe something radically different: They think the Nov. 3 election could very well end up being stolen. That the outcome — especially if it relies on counting the votes that come in later than in a normal election year — might well be illegitimate. Where would they get such an idea? Conventional wisdom might say it comes from false stories and memes spread on social media, originating from foreign troublemakers trying to influence the election results…Not so, says a major new study: It’s the American mainstream press that’s doing most of the dirty work. Eager to look neutral — and worried about being accused of lefty partisanship — mainstream news organizations across the political spectrum have bent over backward to aid and abet Trump’s disinformation campaign about voting by mail by blasting his false claims out in headlines, tweets and news alerts, according to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University… “If Biden wins clearly by mail-in voting and not in-person voting, you may well have tens of millions of people persuaded that the election was stolen,” Yochai Benkler, the center’s co-director and a Harvard Law School professor, told me. And their outrage could translate into violence. The disinformation campaign “is transmitted primarily through mass media, including outlets on the center-left and in the mainstream,” Benkler said. In particular, it may be those outlets that try hardest to seem unbiased that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting, he said — in part because of their broad reach and their influence on less-partisan voters.

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Simulating responses to election disinformation

In an effort to combat multiple potential vectors of attack on the 2020 U.S. election, two Berkman Klein Center affiliates have published a package of “tabletop exercises,” freely available to decisionmakers and the public to simulate realistic scenarios in which disinformation threatens to disrupt the 2020 election.

Will Trump Concede?

A podcast by Noah Feldman: Adam Przeworski, a politics professor at New York University and one of the world’s foremost scholars on democratic transitions, explains his worries about a peaceful transfer of power.

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A new Electoral College nightmare: We may face a constitutional crisis if either candidate dies

Both of the two major parties’ presidential candidates are septuagenarians; one of them, former Vice President Joe Biden, was recently in close proximity to a group of coronavirus-positive people, while the other, President Donald Trump, has contracted COVID-19 and is currently in the most crucial phase of infection. The two men’s age, and their proximity to a disease that kills about 12% of those in their mid-70s and older, has prompted many outside observers and legal experts to be forced to confront the unthinkable: if President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden dies before Election Day — or after the election but before the Electoral College convenes — will America enter a constitutional crisis? … Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, when asked what might happen if Donald Trump were to pass before Election Day, warned that things could get messy. “The likeliest outcome of the death you’re imagining is that the Republican National Committee would convene in an emergency session,” and, utilizing the best legal advice available to them, would “decide how best to accommodate their respective deadlines for qualifying candidates, or more precisely the electoral slates committed to particular candidates, for the presidential election to be held this November 3,” Tribe said over email. This process would be complicated, of course, by the fact that millions of Americans have already voted by mail — and their ballots cannot be retroactively changed. To accommodate this, and since it would be “lunacy” to ask people to resubmit their ballots, “my hope would be that the state chapters of the RNC would all agree simply to revise the instructions given to the electors committed at that time to the Trump/Pence slate in each of those States so as to conform those instructions to whatever new ticket the RNC were to choose – say, [Vice President] Mike Pence and [former United Nations Ambassador] Nikki Haley.” Yet according to Tribe, that might not be the end of the matter. He noted that some electors could declare that they are only legally bound to support a Trump-Pence ticket and, if they do not want Pence to be president, resign rather than be compelled to cast their ballot for him.

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Biden would face hurdles undoing Trump environmental rollbacks

Biden’s climate plan lays out actions he would take on Day One like implementing “aggressive” methane pollution limits from the oil and gas sector and developing “rigorous” fuel economy standards. Environmental advocates say the former vice president should target rules that have the biggest effects on climate change and those that are most harmful to marginalized communities. Yet because of complexities in the rulemaking process — along with structural changes implemented by the Trump administration — undoing even just some of Trump’s environmental rollbacks could take years…If a Biden administration must rely on the rulemaking process to undo Trump’s actions, it could set up a long battle and possible court challenges. Joseph Goffman, an Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, said the rulemaking process usually takes 18 to 36 months. Goffman, now the executive director of Harvard Law’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, said it may be slightly quicker to undo rules that are still facing court challenges when Biden takes office since the new administration can choose not to defend them. However, he said, Biden administration rules could get tied up or halted in court, meaning implementation could take even longer. The Trump administration has taken or is in the process of carrying out changes that could further hamstring a Biden administration. It is changing how the benefits of emissions reductions are calculated, and it has proposed a rule aimed at changing what scientific studies are considered in rulemaking. “Some of these changes would require the successor administration to have to do more homework,” Goffman said.  “A lot of these changes would not ultimately stop a Democratic, pro-environment administration from taking the actions it wanted to take,” he said, though he acknowledged it would make it “more challenging.”

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What happens if a nominee dies shortly before or after the election? It’s complicated.

An op-ed by Jason Harrow and Lawrence LessigWhat would happen if a presidential candidate were to die close to an election? All of us should hope President Trump recovers quickly from covid-19, and that this difficult situation never arises. But the president’s illness underscores the reality that this outcome is within the realm of possibility — and that our existing election architecture needs fine-tuning to deal with it. This scenario arose when we argued Supreme Court cases last spring about the role of presidential electors. Based both on history and current state and federal law — including the Supreme Court’s decision in the so-called faithless-elector case, Chiafalo v. Washington— it’s not clear what would happen if a presidential candidate dies either shortly before Election Day or before the electoral college has gathered to ratify the election results. That dangerous ambiguity can be closed if states act quickly to make sensible modifications to their laws, and if the political parties and state officials in the remaining states commit to letting the electoral college carry out the will of the people, as the Supreme Court envisioned in Chiafalo. Many states have laws that, if read literally, would force presidential electors to cast votes for candidates who have won the state’s popular vote — even if the candidate were deceased. Take Colorado, whose law was before the Supreme Court. Colorado law says “each presidential elector shall vote for the presidential candidate . . . who received the highest number of votes” in the general election.

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Should Big Tech Be Setting the Terms of Political Speech?

In the run up to the US presidential election on November 3, digital platforms are releasing a number of new or updated policies related to disinformation, election advertising and content moderation. We asked five experts if big tech should be setting the terms of political speech. And if it does, how might this ad hoc and disjointed approach to platform governance impact democracy? … Evelyn Douek, the Berkman Klein Center: “We are now firmly in a world of second or third or fourth bests. No one’s ideal plan is the current patchwork of hurriedly drafted policies written and enforced by unaccountable private actors with very little transparency or oversight. Nevertheless, here we are. So platforms should be as clear and open as possible about what they will do in the coming weeks and tie themselves to a mast. Comprehensive and detailed policies should not only be the basis for platform action but a shield for it, when inevitable charges of bias arise. Platforms have been talking tough on the need to remove misinformation about election integrity, and rightly so — it’s an area where relying on democratic accountability for false claims is especially inadequate, because the misinformation itself interferes with those accountability mechanisms. You can’t vote someone out if you’re scared or misled out of voting at all.” … Dipayan Ghosh, the Berkman Klein Center: “The political discourse is increasingly moving online, and particularly to dominant digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube — we know that. Internet companies have variously enforced new policies — such as Facebook’s new restrictions against certain hateful ads, and Google’s limitations on the micro-targeting of political ads. These are half-measures: they are not enough. Dominant digital platforms should be liable for facilitating the dissemination of political advertising at segmented voting audiences. In the absence of such a policy, we will never diminish the disinformation problem — let alone the slate of related negative externalities that have been generated by the business models at the core of the consumer internet.”

Continue Reading at Centre for International Governance Innovation »

High court in Trump mold could undercut key law for climate

President Trump might not win the November election, but he could still strip his opponent, Joe Biden, of a dominant tool to limit greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court and its reshaping by Trump, who is verging on his third appointment of an anti-regulatory justice, would be a warning to Biden to rely less on the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases. Expansive readings of the landmark environmental law — like the one EPA used to regulate the power sector under President Obama — are unlikely to pass muster with the court’s likely 6-3 conservative majority. That would be a problem for former Vice President Biden, who has offered the most ambitious climate change platform in the history of U.S. presidential elections…Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard University Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and a former EPA official under Obama, said Biden’s environment agency would be forced to write legally conservative rules that nonetheless aim for aggressive emissions reductions. “If eventually it is challenged in court, the challenge won’t be about whether the agency had too expansive an interpretation of the law,” he said. “But would focus on technology issues where I think even a conservative judiciary would be likely to defer to the agency.” Goffman, who helped oversee the development of the Clean Power Plan, said it was too early to guess what ambitious inside-the-fence-line regulations would look like. “But it’s a little easier to speculate that the agency would look there first rather than to something that would be perceived by the court as an overly creative reading of the statutory language,” he said.

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To secure elections, paper ballots, risk-limiting audits and fighting misinformation are required: IU study

To secure elections, paper ballots and risk-limiting audits are needed and systems have to be established to contain the spread of misinformation, a recent Indiana University Bloomington study has found…Election security is discussed in two interconnected yet separate areas of research: the security of the system itself, like voting machines and tabulation systems, and digital repression, which includes misinformation on social media platforms…Beginning to follow other countries, the U.S. did create an information sharing and analysis center for election officials to share cyber threat information and best practices, Shackelford said. Abbey Stemler, an author of the study and a faculty associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, said academics, computer scientists and hacktivists – hackers who use their skills to bring about political and social change – should be apart of discussions on how to secure elections “to detect vulnerabilities.” “We need to figure out a way to solve that problem together, because when you have each jurisdiction trying to do the best they can we’re not enjoying the efficiencies of collective action and collective focus on the problem,” Stemler said. “We need computer scientists, hackers and other academics to be heard because they often feel ignored.”

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What if Trump Can’t Run? Many Steps Are Clear, but Some Are Not

President Trump’s positive coronavirus test has raised the possibility, however remote, that he could become incapacitated or potentially die in office if his symptoms worsen. While that outcome remains highly unlikely, and few in Washington were willing to discuss it on Friday, when Mr. Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment, the Constitution and Congress long ago put in place a plan of succession to ensure that the nation is protected from adversaries and internal conflict when the elected president cannot serve. The Constitution makes clear that the vice president is first in line to succeed the president should he or she die in office, and can step in to temporarily take on the duties of the presidency should the commander in chief become incapacitated. Vice President Mike Pence, 61, tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday…Some constitutional scholars have raised doubts about whether the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate are eligible to step in for the president, arguing that the framers intended for only executive branch officials — an “officer” is the term in the Constitution — to qualify. Jack L. Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor, warned this year that the seemingly arcane dispute could cause a clash. It is possible, for instance, that Ms. Pelosi and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the next executive branch official in line, could make competing claims to the presidency. “These are all nightmare scenarios because these points of constitutional law have really never been tested,” Mr. Goldsmith said… “You think about ambiguity in the chains of command when we have adversaries around the world,” he said. “We could end up with some real issues and a government in effect adrift with some competing power players.”

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President Trump Tests Positive For The Coronavirus

We bring you live coverage of the developing news regarding President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump testing positive for the coronavirus, and take your calls with our panel of experts. Guests: Shira Doron, infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. Anthony Brooks, WBUR senior political reporter. Michael Curry, Deputy CEO & General Counsel of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, former head of the Boston NAACP, and a member of the national NAACP Board of Directors. Nancy Gertner, WBUR legal analyst, retired federal judge, and senior lecturer at Harvard Law School. David Gergen, advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, and founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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At least 33 states will ask voters to wear masks at polling stations

For Frances Smylie Brown, the upcoming presidential election will mark the fifth time she has worked the polls as an election judge in Denver. But with the novel coronavirus still lurking, she knows that this experience will be like no other. Preparations include a raft of increased safety protocols at polling sites, such as separating voters and judges with plexiglass separators, spacing outlines and disinfecting surfaces…Like Brown, election officials around the country are gearing up for the unique challenges of opening polling places during a global pandemic. Out of the 12 states ABC News did not receive information from, seven have a state-wide mask mandate in place. And 33 — plus Washington, D.C. — of the 39 states reached out to by ABC News confirmed that they plan to require or strongly recommend voters to wear face coverings. For them, one of the thorniest challenges has been figuring out what to do with voters who refuse…Some don’t agree that election officials are out of line when asking voters to mask up. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, an expert on election law and constitutional law and a professor at Harvard Law School, told ABC News he did not think it would be unconstitutional to turn away a voter who refused. “For challenges like these, the law asks how heavy is the policy’s burden on voting?” he said. “Here, the burden on voting is trivial; it’s perfectly easy to cast a ballot while wearing a mask.”

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Could Trump steal the election? Here’s one way to find out.

The disastrous debate that unfolded in Ohio should prompt us to take the possibility that President Trump will try to steal the election far more seriously — even as it also renders that outcome much less likely to succeed. Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots…The short version is this. At Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Democrats can press a line of questioning that might illuminate whether Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state…Could this work? To be clear, it shouldn’t. The Constitution does assign to each state the authority to “appoint” its electors, in a “manner” that the legislature “may direct.” But in a terrific piece, three legal scholars — Grace Brosofsky, Michael Dorf and Laurence Tribe — explain that precedent shows this means the legislature must “direct” how the state appoints its electors by making laws that create and define the process for doing so. Virtually all states have made laws that provide for electors to be appointed in accordance with the popular vote outcome in them. (Maine and Nebraska do this by congressional district.) Thus, those scholars argue, legislatures can’t appoint pro-Trump electors without making a new law providing for appointment of electors based on legislators’ own will, not that of the voters.

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Disinformation, QAnon efforts targeting Latino voters ramp up ahead of presidential election

Disinformation targeting Latino communities is ramping up ahead of Election Day, when the demographic is expected to play a crucial role in key battleground states. Advocacy groups and election security experts alike say material is circulating on social media platforms and online messaging apps that pushes false conspiracies that echo larger disinformation campaigns in English. The misinformation efforts, some of which reflect the QAnon conspiracy theory, are especially critical in Florida, a crucial swing state where polls show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is running behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 support among Latino voters. Advocates said the misinformation could dissuade Latino voters, who have historically low levels of voter participation, from voting in this year’s election…Oumou Ly, a staff fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, said foreign actors are likely propping up these narratives. Officials have warned against similar foreign interference efforts from four years ago heading into the 2020 election. FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House panel last week that Russia is seeking to denigrate Biden’s campaign through social media interference. Much of the disinformation targeting Latino voters has the intent to dissuade their participation in the election, advocates said, including pushing unsubstantiated claims that vote by mail is not secure or the election system can be hacked. The disinformation is targeting Latino voters beyond Florida.

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Election and Supreme Court Fight Will Decide Trump’s Environmental Legacy

President Trump has initiated the most aggressive environmental deregulation agenda in modern history, but as his first term drives to a close, many of his policies are being cut down by the courts — even by Republican-appointed jurists who the administration had hoped would be friendly. Those losses have actually heightened the stakes in the election and the fight over a replacement on the Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A second term, coupled with a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court, could save some of his biggest environmental rollbacks. Since January courts have dealt a series of blows to the Trump administration’s plans to ramp up fossil fuel development and undo decades of environmental protections. This month, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked implementation of a major rollback of methane emissions standards for the oil and gas industry while it considers permanent action… if Joseph R. Biden Jr. gets into the White House in January, he will have to provide a written explanation of the reasons he wants to roll back each Trump administration action. Eliminating Trump’s executive orders will be relatively easy, but going through the regulatory process all over again on issues like fuel efficiency…James E. Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who now teaches courses at Harvard Law School on the role of attorneys general, said that they are “institutionally designed to be independent watchdogs, independent brakes on power.” Their relative independence from executive power, whether in their own state or the federal government, goes back to the thirteen original colonies, and, before that, English common law. “If there’s a Democratic president, roll up your sleeves and wait for Texas to file lawsuits against President Biden,” he said.

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What The US Needs To Do To Secure Election 2020

With just over two months before the 2020 election, intelligence officers in the US have warned that Russia and other rivals are again attempting to undermine the nation’s democracy. But these concerns over election security extend far beyond safeguarding insecure voting machines and questions about voting by mail in the United States. Based on an analysis of election reforms in Australia and European Union nations, the researchers outline steps to address election infrastructure security—such as requiring paper ballots and risk-limiting audits—as well as deeper structural interventions to limit the spread of misinformation and combat digital repression…Aside from appropriating sufficient funds to replace outdated voting machines and tabulation systems, the researchers say that Congress should encourage states to refuse to fund voting machines with paperless ballots. The researchers also suggest requiring risk-limiting audits, which use statistical samples of paper ballots to verify official election results… “The international community has the tools to act and hold accountable those actors that would threaten democratic institutions,” says Abbey Stemler, assistant professor of business law and ethics, who also is a faculty associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. “Failing the political will to act, pressure from consumer groups and civil society will continue to mount on tech firms, in particular Facebook, which may be sufficient for them to voluntarily expand their efforts in the EU globally, the same way that more firms are beginning to comply with its General Data Protection Regulation globally, as opposed to designing new information systems for each jurisdiction.”

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Biden’s Day 1 Assignment: Order the Government to Follow Science

An article by Cass Sunstein: Imagine, if you would, that it is Jan. 21, 2021, and that Joe Biden is president of the United States. The nation awaits his first executive order — a formal presidential decree, binding on the executive branch, that directs departments and agencies what to do. At 9 a.m., the executive order appears. Its name? “Scientific Integrity.” Here are its opening words: “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security.” It continues: “The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public.” But that’s just the start. President Biden’s order gives unprecedented authority to the director of a relatively obscure White House office, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, to make scientific integrity real. It requires federal agencies to put new procedures in place, designed “to identify and address instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may be compromised.” To ensure that political leaders do not politicize science, it calls for protection of whistle-blowers.

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Trump Gutted the Department of Justice. Biden Can Restore It.

An article by Noah FeldmanIt’s too soon to say with any confidence that Joe Biden will be the next president of United States. But it’s not too soon to start determining what he needs to do on day one if he is elected. Once you get beyond addressing the coronavirus pandemic, it’s pretty clear that the highest priority Biden should have is reversing the disastrous direction that the Department of Justice has taken under President Donald Trump. To regain its credibility, the department needs leaders who will publicly and systematically demonstrate that they are committed to restoring the values, norms and practices established in the nearly half-century since Watergate. The near-total failure of the Justice Department to engage the pressing concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter protesters is only the most recent and dramatic manifestation of how rudderless the once-great department has become. Looking at the violent clashes between federal agents and protesters this summer, you would hardly know that the Department of Justice once worked to desegregate schools and prosecute civil rights violations in the South. Trump’s Department of Justice has taken its cues from a president who ran for office by directing the “lock her up” chant at his opponent. It has increasingly undermined the all-important principle that enforcement, investigation and prosecution should be removed from partisan politics. Trump’s project of delegitimizing the department through politicking goes back to his extended efforts to paint the Russia investigation as politically motivated. His goal was to convince ordinary people that the FBI and DoJ were already completely partisan, in order to undercut any evidence implicating him or his campaign. Hence Trump’s pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to break Department of Justice norms and reveal the progress of his investigation of the Russia investigation. The very existence of this investigation is a terrible sign of how Trump has successfully turned the initial investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election into a political football.

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Worried About a Disputed Election? Steel Yourself

An article by Cass SunsteinSuppose that on Nov. 3, and for weeks thereafter, no one knows whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden has won the presidential election. To be more specific, suppose that as of Nov. 4, Trump is unquestionably ahead in the key states — say, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. But suppose, too, that as those states count absentee and mail-in ballots, it becomes clear that Biden has won. Predictably, Trump alleges fraud — and tweets that his supporters, and the country as a whole, should not allow “THE GREATEST FRAUD IN HISTORY.” Everything will ultimately turn on the vote of the Electoral College, scheduled for Dec. 14, and on what happens on Jan. 6, when Congress meets to declare the winner. But if we have a fierce dispute in late November and early December, how on earth do we get to a final decision in early January? The Electoral Count Act of 1887 was designed to answer that question. In my first column on this issue, I described what the ECA requires in the event of contested elections, and explained what the law is clear about. By giving the major authority to the states, and by outlining, step by step, what is supposed to happen, it sharply limits room for political maneuvering in Washington. Unfortunately, the act also leaves some important questions unresolved. A leading political scientist of the late 19th century even described it as “very confused, almost unintelligible.” That’s too harsh. But exactly how would the law handle an objection, by Trump and his campaign, that the election was “rigged” and that mail-in voting resulted in rampant fraud? The first question, and the most fundamental, is whether the act is constitutional. Many people think that it isn’t, and the Supreme Court has never ruled one way or another.

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Congress should warn Trump’s lawbreakers that there will be consequences

With about two months to go until Election Day, President Trump has abandoned any pretense of following, let alone enforcing, the laws he has sworn to uphold. He directed government employees to assist him in putting on a political extravaganza at the White House. His secretary of state dialed in from Jerusalem for a purely political role as Trump’s cheerleader at the Republican National Convention, in violation of both the Hatch Act and his own departmental guidelines. Trump instructed his director of national intelligence to refuse to brief members of Congress in person on efforts to disrupt the 2020 election, a choice House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) declared “a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy.” And Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has instituted measures that have slowed the mail, even as more Americans will rely on the Postal Service to cast their ballots. The way to handle Trump is to beat him at the polls. But what about the aides who participate in illegal activities or block Congress from performing oversight? … “It’s well past time for Congress to lose its subpoena inhibitions, now that the Roberts court has unanimously rejected the administration’s claims of absolute presidential immunity in a ringing reaffirmation of the principle that no executive official is above the law,” says constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. “The White House participants who engaged in flagrant Hatch Act violations should all be held in contempt if they defy facially valid congressional subpoenas, and there’s no legitimate basis for the new administration to give such participants a bye just because the president personally isn’t covered by the Hatch Act.”

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TV Ratings for Biden and Trump Signal an Increasingly Polarized Nation

Americans who watched the political conventions on television opted for news networks with partisan fan bases to a degree unseen in recent years, another sign of an increasingly divided electorate as the nation hurtles toward the November election…Television viewers’ turn to perceived safe spaces raises questions about the ability of political conventions — which reached a broader TV audience in the pre-internet era — to persuade undecided voters. And it underscores fears about a polarized information environment where Americans can receive little exposure to political ideas that run counter to their own…On MSNBC, three Trump critics — Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace — lambasted the president’s address and interrupted the convention for several fact-checking segments. The channel’s ratings for the Republican convention were among its lowest prime-time weeks of the year. For the Democratic convention, the picture was sharply reversed. MSNBC clocked its highest-rated prime-time week in the network’s 24-year history, with a 10 p.m. average of 5.7 million viewers. Fox News’s viewership fell far below its usual prime-time average. “What we saw in the last presidential election was that Clinton supporters distributed their attention much more evenly among a broader range of outlets, and Trump supporters concentrated much more heavily on Fox News,” said Yochai Benkler, a co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. “The fact you have such a high proportion of viewers of the Democratic convention on MSNBC does suggest, to some extent, a gravitation on the Democratic side toward a more partisan, viewpoint-reinforcing network,” Mr. Benkler said.

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Responding to a Contested Election, Step by Step

An article by Cass Sunstein: After Nov. 3 — Election Day — there is a chance of constitutional chaos. It could take the form of acute uncertainty, not only about who won the election but also about the process by which that question will be settled. We might have a perfect storm: close contests in key states, issues with mail-in voting, allegations of voter suppression and fraud, and an incumbent president who is unwilling to accept a loss (and who is already paving the way toward contesting the results as “rigged”). To see the problem, it is essential to understand that Nov. 3 is only the first of three defining days. The second is Dec. 14, when members of the Electoral College cast their votes. The third is Jan. 6, 2021, when Congress meets in joint session to declare the winner. What happens on Nov. 3 is almost always enough to decide the presidential election. That isn’t because victory goes to the candidate with the most votes nationally, but because the popular vote, within the states, settles the outcome in the Electoral College. In nearly every state, the candidate who receives the most votes statewide is entitled to the vote of all of the state’s electors. Suppose, for example, that President Donald Trump receives 47.3% of the vote in Ohio, and that former Vice President Joe Biden receives 47.2% of the vote there. All of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes would be allocated to Trump. But what if we don’t know on Nov. 3, or even a month later, who won Ohio? Or Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida? What if it takes a long time to count the votes, and what if the results are disputed?

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Can the Post Office Handle the Election?

A podcast by Noah Feldman: Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the post office and electoral politics, discusses whether the agency can handle a pandemic election.

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VERIFY: Fact-checking speeches from final night of Democratic National Convention

The VERIFY team fact-checked what Joe Biden and other speakers said during the final night of the DNC. …  Claim:  Biden said “He’s (President Donald Trump) proposing to eliminate a tax that pays for almost half of Social Security without any way of making up for that lost revenue.” Biden was likely referring to the […]

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Bloomberg ‘Balance of Power’

“Bloomberg: Balance of Power” focuses on the intersection of politics and global business. A preview of night 3 of the Democratic National Convention, as vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris takes the stage. Guests: Rep. Joyce Beatty, National Urban League CEO Marc Morial, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, Pattern Energy CEO Mike Garland.

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How to Block Foreign Subversion of U.S. Elections

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: In the near future, Congress should create a Commission on Electoral Integrity, with only one task: protecting the U.S. from foreign interference in its elections. That is the unmistakable lesson of Volume 5 of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence report on “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 Election.” Put to one side your own political convictions. Don’t ask whether members of Donald Trump’s campaign worked in concert with Russian officials to turn the election to him.

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Florida voters must be climate voters in 2020

An article by William McConnell ’22Florida is one of the epicenters of the climate crisis already raging in the United States and, unless Florida voters do something about it, the situation will only get worse. Climate change is making hurricanes stronger. Although Palm Beach County dodged Hurricane Isaias, more hurricanes will follow, and we will not always be lucky. With stronger hurricanes and storms, flooding is now commonplace and will become even more destructive in the coming years. Soon, Florida could experience as many as 105 days with a heat index over 100 degrees. These heat waves will kill — yes, kill — seniors and destroy agriculture. And, as climate change ravages Central American and Caribbean countries, Florida will become the destination for thousands of climate refugees. These are not the predictions of alarmists. This is the consensus of scientists, the U.S. military, Florida state and federal officials, and the same companies that are at the center of America’s carbon footprint. It is clear that one presidential campaign is serious about stopping the climate crisis and the other is not. President Trump, whose campaign is funded by fossil fuel money, neither understands nor cares about the risk to Florida’s seniors and younger generations. His administration has ignored investment in clean infrastructure and disintegrated America’s global leadership in addressing the crisis. The U.S. once pressured China, India and other polluting countries to reduce their carbon emissions, but now we are silent, floundering in the backwash, as other countries shape the new green economy. But President Trump’s mistakes do not have to be our own.

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Trump Is Abusing His Power Again

An article by Noah FeldmanPresident Donald Trump is pressuring Attorney General William Barr to announce the results of the ongoing Russia probe, which would violate Department of Justice guidelines designed to prevent the department from influencing elections. Of course, influencing the election is exactly what Trump wants Barr to do. Trump is once again using the unique power of the presidency to gain an unfair advantage in the 2020 election. The pattern is by now eerily familiar. It’s the same impulse manifest in Trump’s undermining of the U.S. Postal Service at just the moment it faces the responsibility of handling a surge of mail-in ballots. And it’s identical to the conduct for which Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although it may seem like eons ago, it was only last December that Trump was impeached for abusing the power of the presidency to distort the 2020 election by harming the candidacy of Joe Biden. That was, the House determined, the purpose of Trump’s call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. And in Trump’s Senate trial, which ended with Republicans declining to remove him from office, the president’s supporters all but admitted to the pattern. As you’ll remember, their main defense was not that the president hadn’t used his office to try to gain an advantage, but that even if he had, the abuse of power didn’t count as an impeachable offense. The latest Barr affair is about as explicit an abuse of presidential power as you can imagine. Long-standing Department of Justice guidelines issued under the authority of the attorney general say explicitly that “politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges.” The guidelines are implemented via a norm that the department should not make disclosures about politically sensitive investigations in the 60 days before an election.

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The Bush-Gore Recount Is an Omen for 2020

Twenty years ago this fall, the United States was plunged into 36 days of turmoil as lawyers, judges, political operatives, and election workers grappled with the uncertain result of the presidential contest in Florida. Whoever won the state would win the presidency. In the end, after start-and-stop recounts and the intervention of courts at every level, Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, was declared the victor, edging out Vice President Al Gore, the Democrat. The story of the 2000 Florida recount offers a reminder of just how chaotic the electoral process can become—and of how disarray in a single state can undermine faith in the democratic process nationwide…The account here, drawn from interviews with more than 40 people with firsthand experience of the Florida-recount saga, is both a history and a warning…On Friday, November 24, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Gore. Two days later, on Sunday night, Katherine Harris certified the vote tally in Florida, and Bush’s lead stood at 537 votes. Some recount results were excluded—the results from Palm Beach County had arrived two hours late. Miami-Dade had stopped its recount. Laurence Tribe (Gore lawyer): Ron Klain called, and he said, “We really need help. It looks like there is an issue about federal-court intervention with the electoral recount, and we need you to fly down to Florida immediately.” The question of whether, as a matter of federalism, this is an appropriate intervention was very much up in the air. The next morning, I appeared in federal court, and I remember arguing that it was inappropriate for a federal court to intervene at this point. If there were any constitutional issues about the recount, they could be properly handled at the state level and in the state court.

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The 10 Scariest Election Scenarios, Ranked

As the election nears, anxieties are growing over the possibility that President Donald Trump will try to cling to power if he loses to former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump, for his part, is strongly hinting he will not accept any loss as a legitimate result. On Thursday, the president said that he’s deliberately blocking funding to the United States Postal Service in order to prevent people from voting by mail in the midst of the pandemic, which he claims, without evidence, will result in mass fraud…All this has led many Americans to wonder: What can proponents of democracy do to prevent a stolen election? …Mark Tushnet, professor of Law at Harvard Law School, warns that results on election night may be misleading due to a close race and the slow counting of mail-in ballots. In 2018, late-counted mail-in ballots after Election Day caused a “blue shift” that understated the depth of the Democratic victory on election night. Trump could take advantage of this delay, aided by overeager—or friendly—media outlets. Tushnet writes: “ ‘Close’ and ‘slow’ are concepts that will be developed on the fly, and with an eye to electoral advantage, but my current version is that margins of around 10,000 votes or fewer will be [construed] to be close. And what counts as slow will depend in part upon whether states provide interim updates from election-night reported outcomes.” Countermeasures: “Immediate popular mobilizations in the form of street demonstrations near but not in the venues where mail-in ballots are being counted (so not the ‘Brooks Brothers’ Republican riot from 2000), with the theme ‘Count every vote.’” Likelihood: This scenario depends on the race tightening in the weeks ahead, the difficulty of counting mail-in ballots, and willingness of the GOP to weaponize an indecisive election night outcome against democracy. Which is to say, it is highly plausible.

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Trump will almost certainly challenge the results if he loses — here’s how that could play out

As he did in 2016, Donald Trump is constantly claiming that if he loses in November it will be proof that the vote was rigged against him. He tweets regularly, contrary to the available evidence, that mail-in voting will lead to massive amounts of voter fraud when such fraud hasn’t been a significant problem in any presidential election in modern history. Because Trump seems unlikely to accept the results of the vote if he loses, there is widespread speculation that Trump’s will litigate every ballot it can. But Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University, tells AlterNet that the Trump campaign might not have to file a challenge itself, as his supporters might claim that they had been disenfranchised by some sort of fictitious scheme to “rig” the vote…And Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard University, tells AlterNet that he can imagine a scenario where the Democrats are the ones suing over election results. “One bad scenario is that a swing state’s election is close and that many mail-in ballots — enough to maybe change the result of the election — arrive too late to be counted because of deliberate delays by the post office,” Stephanopoulos says. “The disadvantaged side (probably Democrats) would then sue, arguing that the mail-in voters’ right to vote was burdened by the post office delays and by the state’s policy of not counting late-arrived ballots.” Stephanopoulos says he expects that the current Supreme Court would be “hostile to this claim despite its normative appeal.” He says the Court has never ruled in favor of a voting rights plaintiff, and it “would be unlikely to start when its decision might benefit a Democrat and when it could plausibly deny the claim.”

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Kamala Harris Is Eligible to Be VP. Shout It From the Roof.

An article by Noah Feldman: The theory that Kamala Harris is ineligible to be vice president because her parents were not U.S. citizens is xenophobic and false. But it’s not exactly the same as the birther conspiracy theory that said President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States at all. Birtherism was a conspiracy theory based on a factual lie. Even debunking that kind of theory can be a bad idea because it tends to help the falsehood reach more people — some of whom then believe the lie. The anti-Harris theory, in contrast, is based on a fringe constitutional claim about the meaning of the words of the 14th Amendment. When it comes to constitutional claims, even extreme ones, it’s important to explain why they are wrong in order to refute them. It’s therefore both valuable and necessary to explain carefully why this theory is incorrect as a matter of constitutional law. To do that, you need to start with the theory itself. It starts with the constitutional provision of Article II that says, “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” (To be vice president, you have to meet the eligibility requirements to be president.) According to the attack theory, the meaning of “natural born” should be derived from the 14th amendment, which says: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The attack on Harris’s eligibility focuses on the words “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The basic idea is supposed to be that those words modify the words “born in … the United States.” The theory asserts that children of non-citizens aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. If that is so, runs the argument, they aren’t citizens.

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Fact check: Kamala Harris is a natural-born U.S. citizen and eligible to serve as president

A post on Facebook claims Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., cannot serve as president because of her parents’ citizenship…Harris is a citizen of the United States and has been since birth. She was born in Oakland, California, on Oct. 20, 1964, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Her parents were both immigrants — her father from Jamaica and her mother from India. By virtue of her birth in California, Harris is a natural-born U.S. citizen. The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” And that’s not dependent on their parents’ citizenship. “Anyone born on U.S. soil and subject to its jurisdiction is a natural born citizen, regardless of parental citizenship,” according to the Cornell Legal Information Institute. Parental citizenship is relevant to an individual’s citizenship status only if the individual is born outside of the United States…When Harris ran for president, similar claims about her citizenship and eligibility circulated online. At the time, Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, condemned the notion. “I can’t believe people are making this idiotic comment,” Tribe told the Associated Press in 2019. “She is a natural born citizen and there is no question about her eligibility to run.”

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Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory About Kamala Harris

President Trump on Thursday encouraged a racist conspiracy theory that is rampant among some of his followers: that Senator Kamala Harris, the presumptive Democratic vice-presidential nominee born in California, was not eligible for the vice presidency or presidency because her parents were immigrants. That assertion is false. Ms. Harris is eligible to serve. Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters on Thursday, nevertheless pushed forward with the attack, reminiscent of the lie he perpetrated for years that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya…Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to a widely discredited op-ed article published in Newsweek by John C. Eastman, a conservative lawyer who has long argued that the United States Constitution does not grant birthright citizenship. Ms. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, was born in 1964 in Oakland, Calif., several years after her parents arrived in the United States…In an interview on Thursday, Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, compared Mr. Eastman’s idea to the “flat earth theory” and called it “total B.S.” “I hadn’t wanted to comment on this because it’s such an idiotic theory,” Mr. Tribe said, “There is nothing to it.” Mr. Tribe pointed out that the theory still quickly landed in the hands of a president who has used his pulpit to spread a number of conspiracies against his political enemies, particularly those who do not have white or European backgrounds.

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Inside Joe Biden’s race of a lifetime

It was late afternoon on February 2, the eve of the Iowa caucuses. We were jammed into a high-school gymnasium in Des Moines, the state capital, for Joe Biden’s closing rally. No one thought he would win the primary season’s talismanic opening contest the following day. Nor was he expected to come close to beating Bernie Sanders, the socialist Vermonter, in New Hampshire the next week. Though he was still ahead in the national polls, the 77-year-old former vice-president was treated as yesterday’s news…Should he make it to the White House, Biden would have completed the longest marathon in US political history. No other serious figure has tried this long to make it over the finishing line in recent history. A majority of Americans were not born when Biden first entered national politics. At 30, he was the fifth youngest senator in the country’s history after he won office in 1972. Biden’s 48-year political career is older than John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama when they were elected…In another cycle, Biden’s lachrymosity might have been an albatross. During coronavirus, his emotional antennae look like a virtue. More than 165,000 Americans have now died in the pandemic. That toll is likely to be approaching a quarter of a million by early November. Trump’s inability to express condolences for America’s grieving families could not be further apart from Biden’s. In 2016, anger was the dominant political emotion. In 2020, it feels more like sadness. “If Trump were matter, then Biden is anti-matter — their characters are opposites,” says Laurence Tribe, a ­Harvard law professor who has been advising Biden on ­constitutional matters since the mid-1980s.

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One Tough Question For DOJ If Biden Is Elected: Whether To Prosecute Trump

If Joe Biden wins the presidency, his Justice Department will face a decision with huge legal and political implications: whether to investigate and prosecute President Trump. So far, the candidate is approaching that question very carefully…Based on those remarks, Biden seems to be on the way to adopting the position of former President Barack Obama. Back in 2009, the newly elected Obama said he didn’t want to get hung up on prosecuting wrongdoers. He was referring to people who had engaged in torture and warrantless wiretapping during the previous administration. Instead, Obama told ABC News at the time, his instinct was to make sure those practices never happened again. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he said, “On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” …”It’s not at all clear that looking forward and not looking backward is an available option,” Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith said. Goldsmith said most people aren’t talking about how a Biden Justice Department might handle Trump but said he thinks they should be…But the Justice Department twice has opined that prosecutors can’t seek an indictment against a sitting president. That’s left open the question about whether he might face prosecution once he leaves office. It’s never happened before, and it’s a political time bomb. Bringing a criminal case against a former president could widen the divide in the country. “Whether that’s good for the country is a very hard question that’s going to be very messy,” Goldsmith said. “Whether it’s good for the Biden administration, whether it wants to be, you know, absorbed in being the first administration to ever prosecute a prior president — those are very hard questions.”

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Meet Joe Biden’s Likeliest Picks for the Supreme Court

An article by Noah FeldmanJoe Biden has fulfilled his promise to choose a woman as his running mate. Let’s turn our attention to another promise he made: to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court. A number of women with different kinds of legal experience have been suggested by NGOs and journalists. But to legal insiders, Biden’s options narrow down very quickly to two names: Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the federal district court in Washington, D.C. Both are extremely accomplished, with gold-plated resumes that are reminiscent of the justices picked by President Barack Obama, and for that matter by President Donald Trump. Both are also super-smart and well-liked. And realistically, they are the only two Black women who are young enough to serve for the long haul and have the relevant judicial experience to make their confirmation straightforward, even boring — which is just what a nominating president wants. To be clear, there are many more than two Black women qualified to sit on the court. They include legal activists, law professors, judges and government officials with experience at all levels. And in prior decades, it wasn’t unheard of for justices to come from the Senate, the cabinet, or even private corporate law firms. They didn’t all have fancy educational backgrounds, either. But that’s changed in recent years, partly as a product of bruising confirmation battles and partly as an effect of elite consensus on what a nominee’s record should look like. Today’s nominees tend to have attended an Ivy League law school; clerked for a Supreme Court justice themselves; and served as a high-level judge by a relatively young age. That’s one reason the possible Biden nominees are, in reality, so few. There are just not that many Black women who both fit that incredibly narrow mold. With a Democratic Senate — likely the only way Biden could get any nominee confirmed — Biden could try to change the norms and push through someone with a different resume. Yet that sort of risk-taking seems unlikely from Biden, who has just made his VP pick according to the most conventional of conventional wisdom.

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Trump Has Launched a Three-Pronged Attack on the Election

An article by Laurence H. Tribe, Jennifer Taub, and Joshua A. Geltzer: As President Donald Trump reflects on his sinking approval ratings and grows more desperate by the day, he’s been floating a dictator’s dream: postponing the November election. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Trump loyalists, including the Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi, swiftly rejected this authoritarian fantasy. So Trump has retreated to a fallback position: casting doubt on the legitimacy of any election he doesn’t win. That starts by inventing fables about how voting by mail invites massive fraud and interminable delay—except, Trump now tells us, in Florida, where Trump’s elderly supporters will surely rely on it. Trump’s attack on voting by mail has several fronts, but one is by far the most serious: his attempt to slow down mail service, perhaps in a targeted way, while also insisting that only ballots counted on November 3 are valid. In addition to casting doubt on the entire election, another purpose of this scheme is to engineer a scenario in which Trump can pressure Republican-controlled legislatures to ignore the popular vote in their Democratic-leaning swing state (think Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) and instead select an Electoral College slate that supports him. Trump’s attempt to cut short the counting of valid votes is flatly contrary to constitutional law and federal statutes. Even so, states can and should do more to protect American’s mailed-in votes. States should immediately enact new legislation or take other legal steps clarifying that they intend for Congress to honor electors they choose, and that they may need a bit of time to finalize choosing them—ideally doing so by December 23 and no later than January 6, 2021, when Congress meets in special session to certify the election results. Through state-level action, Trump’s efforts can be neutralized.

Continue Reading at The Atlantic »

Can Judicial Independence Outlast Four More Years of Trump?

An article by Noah FeldmanIn nearly four years in office, President Donald Trump has challenged the independence of the judicial branch more than any other president. He’s accused judges of being “Obama judges” or “Mexican judges.” When he’s been investigated for corruption or obstruction of justice, he’s routinely portrayed himself as above the law. He’s directed his administration to issue a spate of unlawful executive orders. With the November election looming, it’s a good time to ask: Can the legitimacy of the federal judiciary survive another four years of this president? There are reasons to hope that it could. Although Trump has named numerous district court and appellate judges and two Supreme Court justices, the courts have nevertheless mostly held the line against his efforts to subvert the rule of law. Indeed, in the recent Supreme Court term, the justices did better than that. Majorities blocked Trump from rescinding DACA and held that the New York district attorney could subpoena his business records. The verdict on the courts’ ability to maintain independence over the last four years is mainly positive. Yet there are also reasons to worry. If Trump is given another four years and a Republican Senate, he will get to name a lot more lower court judges. And barring a medical miracle, he would very likely get to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 87 and suffering from a recurrence of cancer. He might even get a chance to nominate a successor to Justice Stephen Breyer, now 81.

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Laurence Tribe says if a 2020 result isn’t decided by January 20, Pelosi will be president

President Trump seems determined to sow confusion and chaos ahead of the 2020 election. Laurence Tribe says the president is trying to make the election ‘look chaotic’ and mentions a ‘fail safe’: President Nancy Pelosi.

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Trump’s tweet about delaying the election is just the beginning of a much more dangerous plan

If you ask a Joe Biden supporter to describe the former Vice President’s positive attributes, you’ll hear a lot about compassion, empathy, and experience. But after today, some might be tempted to add soothsaying to the list. Shortly after the Commerce Department announced that the pandemic-driven economic crisis had taken a 32.9 percent bite out of America’s annualised Gross Domestic Product, Donald Trump turned his presumptive Democratic opponent into a prophet Thursday morning by way of a single tweet. After making the baseless claim that states’ use of vote-by-mail will make November’s election (which he is losing according to most reputable polls) will be “the most inaccurate and fraudulent” vote in American history and “a great embarrassment,” Trump suggested delaying it “until people can properly, securely and safely vote”…But according to the man who taught Raskin constitutional law at Harvard Law School, an attempt by Trump to delay the November election is not the nightmare scenario Democrats need to worry about. “He must know — or even though he’s personally very ignorant, his lawyers must know — that three US code chapter one, which sets the date for the election, can be changed only by Congress,” said Harvard Emeritus Professor Laurence Tribe, author of the seminal law school text on the constitution, American Constitutional Law. Tribe posited that because only Congress can change the date of the election, Trump is positioning himself to blame the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for making it impossible to pass any sort of measure to carry out his demand, and to pressure Republican-controlled state legislatures to nullify the results should he lose in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan.

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Democracy Is the Loser of Trump’s Vote-Delay Ploy

An article by Cass SunsteinWhat once seemed a paranoid fantasy is now looking plausible: Well behind in the polls, President Donald Trump is suggesting a possible delay in the 2020 election. Here’s what he tweeted on Thursday: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” There are major ironies here. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and called for rapid opening of cities, businesses and schools. Now he is fearful that people cannot “safely vote,” and wants to delay the election? A key reason that Trump is doing so poorly in the polls is his response to the pandemic, which is widely regarded as an abysmal failure. Now he wants to use the pandemic as a justification for stopping the ordinary operation of the democratic process? To be sure, Trump’s stated concern is with mail-in voting, which, in his view, is a recipe for fraud. But existing evidence does not support that concern. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting, and his interest in delaying the election, are a product of one concern: It looks as if he is going to lose. Fortunately, the president is not a king, and he can’t delay an election simply because he doesn’t want one. The Constitution gives the relevant power to Congress. Article 2 states: “The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Since 1948, Congress has exercised its constitutional authority with a law that says plainly: “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.”

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Donald Trump vs. Democracy

The fundamentals are clear: Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and is poised to lose it again in 2020. His only hope is to squeak out an Electoral College margin in the only states that matter—and only through a multifarious campaign of voter suppression which exploits the pandemic to undermine democracy itself. Failing that, he can use bogus charges of voter fraud to question results in key states, including those where a surfeit of mail-in ballots delays a final count. The battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all narrowly favored Trump in 2016; recent polls show him trailing Joe Biden in all six. But many Democrats now believe that, with money and effort, they can flip three other states that Trump carried easily in 2016: Ohio and, more surprisingly, Georgia and Texas. At a time when the coronavirus has deep-sixed Trump’s approval ratings, flipping states that Trump barely won would seem like a relatively easy task. But the coronavirus has severely complicated the electoral landscape by making voting on Election Day a potentially serious public health risk…But the pandemic-driven recourse to voting by mail has resulted in further efforts to protect the GOP from the ravages of democracy…Hence the GOP’s effort to underfund the agency charged with delivering mail-in ballots in a timely manner: the U.S. Postal Service. Addressing these efforts, Laurence Tribe warned that funding the USPS is “vital if voting isn’t to become a form of Russian roulette. People died for the right to vote. They shouldn’t have to die to exercise it.”

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Trump Could Defy Election Defeat. But He Needs Accomplices

President Donald Trump’s powers to dispute the election results if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is victorious in November may hinge upon whether allies support such a challenge. Asked on Sunday, the president would not confirm whether or not he would accept the results of November’s election. This has prompted backlash from Democratic lawmakers, with his behavior branded dictatorial, and calls for people to prepare to take action should he refuse to accept the results. Trump’s remarks came after the president’s frequent attacks on mail-in voting, which he has suggested—without evidence—could undermine November’s outcome. Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, told Newsweek Trump’s comments prompted him to “worry more than ever before that the 240-year history of peaceful successions of administrations might not hold this time and that the American experiment is in the gravest danger it has faced since the Civil War.” Tribe suggested that if the results were certified by Congress, and all prior contests had been resolved, on January 6 that Trump would thereafter need to enlist allies “in order to exercise anything resembling real power.” …He bases this around the notion the president cannot run the executive branch without assistance, while others are barred from using its authorities at the behest of anyone other than the legitimate president—with the threat of criminal prosecution should they choose to. Tribe said while that offers some protection in that scenario, it does not prevent Trump posing challenges along the way.

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How Biden could use air law to vanquish Trump climate legacy

If Democrat Joe Biden defeats President Trump this November, his EPA will have a blank slate for writing climate rules. Because the Trump administration spent 3 ½ years demolishing its predecessor’s Climate Action Plan, Biden’s team would have an opening to update rules for carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons that would exceed their Obama-era counterparts or be more tailored to the political, judicial and economic realities of the 2020s. To be sure, a departing Trump EPA would leave finalized rules for power plant carbon, vehicle fuel economy, and oil and gas development, among other things, but most of those regulations haven’t faced court reviews, allowing an incoming administration to ask that they be returned to the agency. That request — if granted — would clear the path for a Biden EPA to write new rules to go with the former vice president’s promise of rejoining the Paris Agreement and the global effort to contain global warming…Meanwhile, the Trump administration has succeeded in moving the courts to the right, up to and including the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote who retired from the court two years ago, usually sided with the court’s liberal members on environmental cases like Massachusetts v. EPA, which established that EPA has the authority and obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. The two justices Trump has nominated don’t have that reputation…Richard Lazarus, a Harvard Law School professor and author of “The Rule of Five,” which chronicles Massachusetts vs. EPA, said the agency under Biden would be aggressive. But he agreed that a conservative Supreme Court would be a barrier. “They will try to do more on power plants under a less ambitious legal theory,” he predicted, adding that that would probably mean on-site emissions reductions.

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Biden Needs a Battle Plan to Defend Modern Government

An article by Cass SunsteinSome conservative legal thinkers speak of a “Lost Constitution” or “Constitution in Exile.” By that they mean the Constitution as it was understood before President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal helped form the modern regulatory state. Their Constitution in Exile would invalidate key parts of contemporary government. Some conservatives want to revive the long-dead “nondelegation doctrine,” which was once taken to forbid Congress from granting broad discretion to regulatory agencies. The Supreme Court made a strong movement in the direction of the Constitution in Exile in its most recent term, when it ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may not be made independent of the president. The court stopped well short of upending the regulatory state. But it was just a preliminary skirmish. Bigger battles are brewing. Those who want to defend modern government — including Democrats if they regain power in November — will need to think hard about appropriate reforms if the Supreme Court begins to invalidate larger features of the U.S. government as it exists today. A Supreme Court bent on resuscitating the nondelegation doctrine would put important parts of the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in jeopardy. Those who believe in the Constitution in Exile also have trouble with the idea of independent agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. The president has limited control over the heads of such agencies; he cannot fire them simply because that’s what he wants to do.

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A big election amid pandemic in a riven land

State election officials are bracing for two trains on a possible collision course this fall: potential record turnout for the Nov. 3 general election, and an expected surge of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly COVID-19…Though the federal government can provide money and offer assistance, states control every aspect of voting except the date of Election Day, such as how elections are run, how and when voter registration takes place, the methods used to cast votes, what ballots look like, and how close races are handled. That local control comes with a price. “The core problem with the U.S. is you don’t have a single expert federal authority that runs elections that could have lots of resources, lots of expertise. You have 50 political secretaries of state; you have thousands of counties, all of which administer their own elections, and so, you’re never going to have uniform improvement or uniform competence when you have such a decentralized electoral system,” said Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, an election law expert at Harvard Law School…The case Stephanopoulos said he’s most closely watching is one filed by the Republican National Committee and several affiliated organizations that seeks to bar the state of California from sending ballots to every eligible voter. State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, say they want to avoid forcing citizens to choose between exercising their right to vote and risking their health. But Republicans, including President Trump and Attorney General William Barr, claim without evidence that mail-in voting invites fraud and makes it easier for foreign actors to interfere in elections. In June, the president said the “biggest risk” to his reelection is losing these legal fights to stop the expansion of mail-in voting.

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Trump, Biden Square Off Over Environmental Regulations

Environmental regulation is shaping up as a defining issue in the presidential race, with President Trump doubling down on his bid to ratchet back government oversight and former Vice President Joe Biden promising to reverse Mr. Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. The rivals this week outlined diametrically opposed views. Mr. Trump ordered a streamlining of environmental reviews and said he would keep shrinking the reach of government to help business. Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, released a $2 trillion clean-energy plan he said would spur job growth through investments in new technology…Shortly after taking office, Mr. Trump also issued a hiring freeze designed to starve agencies through attrition. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigates and regulates workplaces for health and safety issues, has the lowest number of inspectors in more than four decades and has seen inspection tallies plummet. The Environmental Protection Agency has seen similar decreases in inspections when compared with the Obama era, according to government reports. “The administration came into office with an unnervingly good understanding of how the machinery of regulation works and they did a pretty effective job of sabotaging it,” said Joe Goffman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. The approach will make it tougher for a new administration to carry out its objectives.

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The Supreme Court’s Future Hinges on the 2020 Election

An article by Noah FeldmanThe blockbuster Supreme Court term that just ended was a (nearly) unmitigated disaster for movement conservatives. Chief Justice John Roberts declined to overturn precedent on abortion rights. Conservative activist Justice Neil Gorsuch showed he would join the court’s liberals when the statutory text tells him to. The natural question then is, what’s next? What are the implications for the future of the court? The short answer is that the court’s future direction is in flux like no other time in recent memory. And what happens next will be determined by the 2020 election and the justices’ health. The first crucial point here is that, had Roberts and Gorsuch not crossed the court’s ideological lines in the most high-profile cases of the term, we would be looking at an extremely conservative court for the foreseeable future, regardless of the outcome of the November vote. The court has five conservative justices who — until this term — seemed capable of acting as an unassailable voting bloc for the indefinite future. (The oldest, Justice Clarence Thomas, is only 72.) This bloc was formed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate blocked a confirmation vote on Judge Merrick Garland during the Obama administration, allowing a newly elected President Donald Trump to appoint Gorsuch. The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing voter who repeatedly delivered liberal-friendly results on issues like gay rights, abortion, and Guantánamo, then allowed Trump to appoint Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is (so far) a much more reliable conservative. This conservative majority was the first on the court in nearly a century, and conservative activists anticipated that it would overturn Roe v. Wade and hold the line on cultural issues like transgender rights.

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International Tax Policy To Watch In The 2nd Half Of 2020

All eyes in the international tax world are focused on the last weeks of 2020, when governments are expecting a mad dash of dealmaking over the digital tax conundrum, which has eluded a multilateral solution for years.Officials at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is spearheading the negotiations, are hoping the U.S. presidential election, regardless of its outcome, could break a stalemate and allow the U.S. more leeway to participate in a consensus solution. But observers, including those who have participated in past OECD tax efforts, question whether the election, or even a change in administration, would be enough to bridge the gap between the U.S. and Europe before a potential trade war begins. “The biggest thing to expect is conflict,” said Daniel Bunn, vice president of global projects at the Tax Foundation, an economic think tank based in Washington, D.C. Robert Stack, a managing director at Deloitte Tax LLP and the former Treasury deputy assistant secretary for international tax affairs, noted that whoever is president in 2021, the changeover between terms could make it difficult for the U.S. to sign off on any agreement. New personnel for former Vice President Joe Biden, if he wins the presidency, won’t come in until January, while Mnuchin and other top Treasury officials may not stay through a second term of the Trump administration. Stack spoke during a webinar hosted by the Tax Foundation on July 1…Stephen Shay, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former Treasury official during the Clinton administration, told Law360 that a change in administration could put off any agreement on the most contentious issues for months. Key officials at Treasury — the political appointees who would need to sign off on an agreement — don’t understand these tax issues “except at the very highest level,” he noted. “It is likely well into 2021 before you get meaningful U.S. engagement and sign off,” Shay said. “Biden may be much better organized than his predecessors, but that is an optimistic take.”

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How Joe Biden Could Undo Trump’s Damage to Environment

Donald Trump has smashed a lot of environmental china in four years. To name a few instances: he pulled out of the 2015 Paris Agreement (a move that becomes official on July 6, 2021); loosened automotive-mileage and power-plant-emission standards; and sought to eliminate the protected status of the sage grouse, opening up 9 million acres to oil and gas extraction. Reasonable minds may differ on the wisdom of any one of those moves, but no one can deny the unprecedented sweep of Trump’s policies. Data from Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law show that the President has signed more than 100 administrative rules, Executive Orders and acts of deregulation, 66 of which have gone into effect…It wouldn’t necessarily be easy. The U.S. would not simply be permitted to rejoin the agreement but would have to negotiate its way back in. One way to improve its chances would be for the U.S. to present an even more ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction target than it had before, says Joseph Goffman, the Harvard program’s executive director. That original target for the U.S. was a cut of 26% to 28% below 2005-level carbon emissions by 2025. If Biden agreed to more, he might win the U.S. the favor of the other 196 signatories to the pact, but then he would have to deliver; that’s where the work on the domestic side would begin…If presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden defeats Trump in November, what could he do in his own four years to undo the work of the Trump era? “The biggest, flashiest thing would be for Biden to stand up on day one and say the U.S. is recommitting itself to Paris,” says Jody Freeman, director of the Harvard program. “We should make clear we’re going to take back the reins we’ve relinquished.”

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