The President returned from his 9-day overseas trip over the weekend amid still-growing investigations into Team Trump's secretive dealings with Russia and after, apparently, ticking off a number of very close US allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, appeared disturbed about several issues, including Trump's failure to commit to keeping the US in the landmark UN Paris Climate agreement. Also, both before and during the trip, Trump managed to repeatedly lie about NATO members' commitments to the alliance. We've got some much-needed fact checking on that.
In the meantime, over the past week, there have been a number of landmark court rulings, both at the Appellate Court level (regarding Trump's second attempt at an Executive Order banning travel from six Muslim-majority nations and indefinitely barring refugees from war-torn Syria) and at the US Supreme Court in two separate election-related cases (one on campaign finance and one on partisan and racial gerrymandering that could have far-reaching consequences.) Both cases also reveal interesting — and somewhat surprising — positions from Justice Clarence Thomas and the stolen Supreme Court's newest Justice Neal Gorsuch.
Legal journalist Mark Joseph Stern of Slate.com joins us to unpack all of those encouraging rulings, to explain why each is important, and to discuss what happens moving forward in all of them. He also offers a much-needed reminder of how the Trump Administration is still working below the mainstream media radar to deport thousands of undocumented immigrants — on the thinnest of grounds, such as a traffic ticket — despite many of them having lived in the US since childhood or otherwise having children and family here. Those disturbing deportations continue, even as so many in the media (including us!) get too easily distracted by, as Stern notes, "Trump's latest tweets".
As to the election-related cases at SCOTUS, one of them, upholding campaign finance restrictions on the amount that individuals are allowed to donate to candidates and parties, may reveal what many have argued about Gorsuch — whose seat was stolen for him by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Senate Republicans. Namely, that he is at least as far to the Right as Clarence Thomas, and perhaps even more so.
The other finding by the Supremes last week, agreeing with a lower court ruling that two North Carolina Congressional Districts were unlawfully drawn on a racial basis, is likely to have far reaching consequences as applied to a number of other recent, similar cases (in Texas, Virginia, Alabama, etc.) in which Republicans were found to have unconstitutionally drawn districts based on race. But, and here's where last week's ruling may set an important precedent, the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan also finds that using race as a proxy for partisan gerrymandering is also in violation of the Constitution. In recent years, Republicans have argued that certain voting restrictions and gerrymandered districts were not done on a racial basis, but on a partisan one. The latter, they argue, is perfectly legal and Constitutional. Incredibly enough, that may be true — at least for the moment — but it was rejected in the NC case.
The state had argued that black voters were packed into just a couple of districts because they tend to vote Democratic, not because they were black. "The problem for the Court with that was that even though North Carolina purported to be using race as a mere proxy for partisanship,it was still using race," Stern explains. "And the five Justices in the majority said, 'Look, we get that you think this was just about partisanship. We get that you weren't trying to discriminate against black people. You were trying to discriminate against Democrats. But you still used race, you used black people, to accomplish your goals. And that, in itself, is a violation of the Equal Protection clause.'"
In other words, he says, the Court found: "You are no longer allowed to use the excuse that you weren't discriminating against blacks, you were discriminating against Democrats. It doesn't matter who you were trying to discriminate against — what matters is that you used race as a proxy. That is the constitutional tripwire."
As to whether discriminating against Democrats on a partisan basis, that argument is now being tested in courts, says Stern. For now, though, it appears to have failed, at least in this North Carolina case and, in a seemingly shocking turn, didn't even win over Clarence Thomas, of all people. He joined the Court's liberal justices to give them the 5 to 3 majority in the case!
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