Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Courts in session

We begin today with Chris Geidner of LawDork reporting on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take up Special Counsel Jack Smith’s questions about Number 45’s presidential immunity from prosecution for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The U.S. Supreme Court took the first step Monday evening toward quickly considering constitutional questions relating to the federal prosecution of Donald Trump — order Trump’s lawyers to respond by Dec. 20 to a request from the Special Counsel’s Office that the high court take up a case over presidential immunity and related constitutional questions immediately.

Special Counsel Jack Smith had gone to the Supreme Court earlier Monday, asking the court to take up and definitively resolve the presidential immunity and related claims without waiting for the appeals court to weigh in on the case. […]

The primary request filed by Smith’s office — called a petition for certiorari before judgment because it is a request to hear the case before the appeals court issues a judgment in the case — was joined with a motion to expedite consideration of the petition and, if the court grants certiorari before judgment, the merits briefing. […]

Hours later, the court granted the request, ordering Trump to respond to the cert petition by 4 p.m. Dec. 20. […]

Their precedent for that: U.S. v. Nixon.

David Wickert of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers the opening of the penalty phase of the case involving the civil liability of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani for defaming two Georgia election workers.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has already found Giuliani – the former New York city mayor and attorney for Donald Trump – liable for defaming Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. To underscore the harm the mother and daughter suffered, their attorneys played for jurors a sample of the expletive-laden, racist voice mails they received after Giuliani and others falsely accused them of fraud. […]

As the Jan. 6, 2021, congressional certification of Biden’s victory neared, Freeman fled her home on the advice of the FBI. She didn’t return for two months. She also shuttered her clothing business.

Moss and her 14-year-old son also received threats. Moss eventually left her job in the Fulton County election office.

Now Freeman and Moss are seeking up to $47 million in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages to deter Giuliani from making false allegations in the future. […]

[Joseph] Sibley argued the plaintiffs are asking for too much – far more than the $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages that actor Johnny Depp won in a defamation trial last year.

“The punishment should fit the crime,” Sibley argued. “What the plaintiffs are asking for here is really the civil equivalent of the death penalty. If you award them what they’re asking for, it will be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

Oh dear, lol…commentary about the possible “end of Mr. Giuliani” is welcomed!

Paola Rodriguez of Arizona Public Media reports that later this morning, the Arizona Supreme Court will hear an abortion case that attempts to reconcile two different abortion laws; one of the statutes predates Arizona’s statehood. 

In 2022, the Arizona legislature passed Senate Bill 1164 anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in some significant way on the continued validity of Roe v. Wade, the case that gave the constitutional right to an abortion. That bill prohibited abortion after 15 weeks gestation.

But when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich acted to reinstate a near-total abortion ban that was still on the books after a century and a half.

“The Howell Code,” named after Judge William T. Howell, was written in 1864 and served as a way to govern Arizona after it first became a territory. […]

In the almost 50 years that Roe was intact, an injunction against the 1864 law prevented it from being enforced, but it was never removed from statute.

Once the injunction was lifted following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, Arizona had both a near-total abortion ban in effect and the 15-week gestation law, creating confusion for both providers and patients.

There’s also high-stakes state supreme court cases involving abortion rights coming up this week in New Mexico and Wyoming.

Ian Millhiser of Vox is a little mystified as to why the U.S. Supreme Court did not choose to hear a case out of Washington state concerning that state’s limited ban on conversion therapy.

Because the justices decided not to hear this case, known as Tingley v. Ferguson, and because the appeals court upheld Washington’s law, the state’s limited ban on conversion therapy remains in effect for now.

Still, it is likely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear a lawsuit challenging a conversion therapy ban in the future.

The Court’s decision not to hear this case is surprising for several reasons. As Justice Clarence Thomas points out in a dissenting opinion, lower federal appeals courts are divided on whether conversion therapy is protected by the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court is especially likely to hear cases that split the federal appellate bench.

The Court’s GOP-appointed majority, moreover, has been extraordinarily solicitous toward claims made by the Christian right. And it just held last June that the free speech rights of anti-LGBTQ business owners can trump the right of their LGBTQ customers to be free from discrimination. So the Tingley case fits within one of the Roberts Court’s broader ideological projects.

Jessica Kutz of The19thNews reports on a survey showing that LGBTQ people are more likely to experience disaster-related displacement than cis straight people. 

The survey, which is distributed monthly, asks questions like how long someone experienced disaster-related displacement, whether they’ve dealt with food or water insecurity, issues with electricity access, unsanitary conditions, feelings of isolation and fear of crime

In all categories, LGBTQ+ people were more likely to say they faced these life disruptions after disasters than the cis-heterosexual population. For example, the survey found that 46 percent of LGBTQ+ people said they experienced food insecurity and 44 percent said they experienced unsanitary conditions, compared with 35 percent and 27 percent of cis-hetero people, respectively. The data also showed that, when accounting for race and ethnicity, displacement was even higher for LGBTQ+ individuals of color.

The findings are important because they make up the first national disaster data set that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, said Leo Goldsmith, a Ph.D. student at Yale University’s School of the Environment and a co-author of the report. “It’s federal data, from the federal government. They can’t just ignore it; it’s their own data.”

Ed Yong writes for The New York Times and describes the ways in which covering Long Covid has changed the way he views journalism.

Covering long Covid solidified my view that science is not the objective, neutral force it is often misconstrued as. It is instead a human endeavor, relentlessly buffeted by our culture, values and politics. As energy-depleting illnesses that disproportionately affect women, long Covid and M.E./C.F.S. are easily belittled by a sexist society that trivializes women’s pain, and a capitalist one that values people according to their productivity. Societal dismissal leads to scientific neglect, and a lack of research becomes fodder for further skepticism. I understood these dynamics only after interviewing social scientists, disability scholars and patients themselves, whose voices are often absent or minimized in the media. Like the pandemic writ large, long Covid is not just a health problem. It is a social one, and must also be understood as such.

Dismissal and gaslighting — you’re just depressed, it’s in your head — are among the worst aspects of long Covid, and can be as crushing as the physical suffering. They’re hard to fight because the symptoms can be so beyond the realm of everyday experience as to seem unbelievable, and because those same symptoms can sap energy and occlude mental acuity. Journalism, then, can be a conduit for empathy, putting words to the indescribable and clarifying the unfathomable for people too sick to do it themselves. […]

In covering conditions like long Covid and M.E./C.F.S., many journalistic norms and biases work against us. Our love of iconoclasts privileges the voices of skeptics, who can profess to be canceled by patient groups, over the voices of patients who are actually suffering. Our fondness for novelty leaves us prone to ignoring chronic conditions that are, by definition, not new. Normalized aspects of our work like tight deadlines and phone interviews can be harmful to the people we most need to hear from.

Kiera Butler of Mother Jones reports that kids ask the darnedest things, especially when discussing Florida’s now-disgraced conservative power couple, the Zieglers.

One day last week, Jessica Thomason’s sixth-grade daughter came home from school with a question: “What’s a three-way?” she asked her mom. Thomason, a substitute teacher and mother of two in Sarasota, was taken aback. Though she had been following the rapid unraveling of a local conservative power couple, she hadn’t said anything about it to her daughter. But the scandal, in which Christian Ziegler, chair of the Florida GOP, has been accused of raping a woman who had been involved in a sexual relationship with him and his wife, Bridget, had apparently become a topic of playground conversations. “Oh!” Thomason’s daughter mused. “Is she a lesbian?”

Thomason’s daughter’s question gets to the heart of weird plot twist in Florida’s culture wars: The state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law—which Bridget Ziegler says she helped craft—forbids teachers in the state from talking about same-sex relationships in most contexts. “The irony is crazy because you have this woman and her husband who are so concerned with preventing children from hearing anything that doesn’t totally align with their values,” said Thomason. “And then it’s like, I’m having to explain a three-way to a 12-year-old this week.”

Now Ziegler’s own scandal is prompting conversations that a law she backed forbids, teachers I spoke with told me. “Children aren’t guided into what’s appropriate or not appropriate,” said Thomason. “They just sort of say whatever, and everyone’s a little bit afraid to correct it.”

Jeez, wait until the updates on the Ziegler tapes hit the playground grapevine.

Suzanne Götze and Claus Hecking of Der Spiegel take an exhaustive look at Guyana’s surging oil industry.

Guyana is the current El Dorado of the oil industry. Enormous oil reserves were discovered off the coast here in 2015, shortly before 200 countries agreed to the Paris Climate Agreement, which was to herald the end of the fossil fuel era. Huge quantities of first-class “light sweet crude” are buried below the ocean floor, highly valued for its low sulfur content and the relative ease with which it can be refined. It’s the best kind of crude oil around. The discovery has even led Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to move to annex part of Guyana’s territory to enable it to undertake its own drilling operations.

According to the plans forged by ExxonMobil and Guyana’s government, the country will produce more crude oil per capita than any other country on the planet within five years. Despite the fact that the climate crisis poses a greater threat to Guyana than almost any other country in the world.

Still, hardly anyone here is in favor of simply leaving the oil in the ground, certainly not the country’s political leaders or Deygoo. But even environmental activists support the exploitation of the oil fields now that fossil fuel multis have begun funding local projects. Such funding, though, is a pittance compared to the billions of dollars that the oil will produce. It is a triumph for ExxonMobil and the other companies involved. […]

And Guyana’s government is eager to get its hands on the petro-billions. The money would allow them to further develop the country. It would be enough to replace the country’s pothole-ridden roads with wide, newly paved highways in addition to building bridges, hospitals and schools.

Finally today, that movie theatre in Warsaw…well…the place was kinda packed to witness the probable ascension of Donald Tusk to Prime Minister.

Everyone try to have the best possible day!


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