February 8, 2023
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State legislatures may reshape American politics

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. Via the Associated Press: On this day in 1865, the U.S. Secret Service was founded. A bureau inside the Treasury Department, its original mission was stamping out counterfeit currency. Its more famous mission — protecting the president and other senior officials — did not begin until after the 1901 assassination of President McKinley.

State legislatures may reshape American politics

Key parts of the legacies of President Obama and President Trump could combine next year in a Supreme Court ruling that may dramatically reshape America’s electoral landscape to Republican advantage while potentially empowering minority rule in many states.

On Obama’s watch, Democrats saw their numbers in governorships and state legislatures hollow out. During his two terms, the party lost more seats (816) at the state level than either party did under any of his predecessors since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 2008, Democrats controlled state legislatures in places like New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Today, those are all held by Republicans.

Separately, Trump created the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which just overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent, sending what had been a constitutional right for nearly 50 years to state lawmakers. In dozens of states, the procedure is illegal, or soon will be.

“Our decision returns the issue of abortion to those legislative bodies, and it allows women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to affect the legislative process by influencing public opinion, lobbying legislators, voting, and running for office,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the decision. “Women are not without electoral or political power.”

Gerrymandering at the state level

But over at the Associated Press, David A. Lieb reported how the ruling has put a spotlight on state legislatures that are gerrymandered — where districts are drawn to ensure partisan advantage. In some cases, a party can win every statewide race and still never capture the legislature. Much as with the electoral college, the majority does not rule.

Lieb pointed to Wisconsin. “In 2018, Democrats won every major statewide office, including governor and attorney general, races where gerrymandering isn’t in play. But they have not been able to overcome heavily gerrymandered state legislative districts since Republicans won control of the statehouse during the midterm elections in 2010.

And “Republicans drew Michigan legislative districts after the 2010 census and created such a sizable advantage for their party that it may have helped the GOP maintain control of the closely divided House, according to an Associated Press analysis. As in Wisconsin, Democrats in Michigan won the governor’s race and every other major statewide office in 2018 but could not overcome legislative districts tilted toward Republicans.

That combination — Democratic routs at the state level and conservative dominance of the highest court — could lead as soon as the next Supreme Court term to decisions that upend future elections.

Supreme Court empowers states

The justices, my colleague Robert Barnes recently reported, “will consider what would be a fundamental change in the way federal elections are conducted, giving state legislatures sole authority to set the rules for contests even if their actions violated state constitutions and resulted in extreme partisan gerrymandering for congressional seats.

“The case, from North Carolina, could have enormous impact on the 2024 election, and it is the second major election law case the justices will review in the term that begins in October. They have already taken a case from Alabama that will allow them to reconsider the scope of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race.”

In the North Carolina case, Republicans want the Supreme Court to upend a century of electoral jurisprudence and embrace the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine,” effectively arguing that state legislatures — not governors or state courts — get the final word in elections.

Tar-heel state Republicans brought the case looking to vacate a state Supreme Court decision to throw out a redistricting map on grounds it violated the state constitution, Robert wrote.

Here’s what that might mean, according to Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

Over at the Raleigh News-Observer, Will Doran noted that making state legislatures immune to judicial review could have far-reaching implications, including for the 2024 election: “the argument could be used in any state, for a variety of purposes — like overturning the results of future presidential elections.”

“Since the theory says state legislatures have near-total control over elections law, some critics say it means Republican-held legislatures in states that vote for a Democrat for president in 2024 might be able to use it to ignore the popular vote and give their Electoral College votes to the Republican candidate instead.”

Some GOP leaders tried doing exactly that in 2020. And while it didn’t work then, Republicans may try it again in 2024, wrote Michael Luttig, a Republican federal judge who is retired from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers North Carolina, in April.”

But Doran also quoted Helen White, a lawyer for the voting rights group Protect Democracy, as saying she doesn’t think a GOP-friendly ruling would “give anyone ‘license to coup.’”

“‘But it would be devastating for voting rights and elections administration.’”

‘A lot more work to do’ on guns, Biden says after latest mass shooting

“Speaking Monday at a White House gathering to celebrate Independence Day with military families, President Biden said the country has ‘more work to do’ on gun control following the massacre that left at least six people dead at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ill.,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

Highland Park reels from parade shooting as 22-year-old arrested

“Police are holding ‘a person of interest’ in custody in a hunt for the Highland Park gunman who killed six people and injured dozens at a Fourth of July parade on Monday, shaking the Chicago suburb,” Susan Berger, Ellen Francis, Bryan Pietsch, Annabelle Timsit and Jennifer Hassan report.

  • Gun used in Highland Park shooting was obtained legally, mayor says
  • Highland Park is 309th U.S. mass shooting in 2022, one tracker reports

NATO takes key step toward adding Finland and Sweden to the fold

“Members of the NATO military alliance took a major step Tuesday in their bid to welcome Sweden and Finland to the fold. Delegations gathered in Brussels to sign ‘accession protocols’ for the two states, after which NATO members must ratify their accession to complete their formal joining of the bloc,” Adela Suliman, Amar Nadhir and Karina Tsui report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Jan. 6 showed two identities of Secret Service: Gutsy heroes vs. Trump yes-men

A drumbeat of revelations from the House Jan. 6 committee has revealed two dueling identities of the Secret Service under former president Donald Trump — gutsy heroes who blocked the president from a dangerous plan to accompany rioters at the Capitol and political yes-men who were willing to enable his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election,” Carol D. Leonnig reports.

“The new depiction of the Secret Service — which has endured a decade of controversy from a prostitution scandal and White House security missteps during the Barack Obama years to allegations of politicization under Trump — has cast new doubt on the independence and credibility of the legendary presidential protective agency.”

Garland weighs racial equity as he considers death penalty in Buffalo

“The Biden administration’s pledge to pursue racial equity in the criminal justice system is facing a crucial test: whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the self-avowed white supremacist charged with slaughtering 10 Black people in a Buffalo grocery store in May,” David Nakamura reports.

How Pfizer won the pandemic, reaping outsize profit and influence

“The grinding two-plus years of the pandemic have yielded outsize benefits for one company — Pfizer — making it both highly influential and hugely profitable as covid-19 continues to infect tens of thousands of people and kill hundreds each day,” Arthur Allen reports for Kaiser Health News.

Its success in developing covid medicines has given the drugmaker unusual weight in determining U.S. health policy. Based on internal research, the company’s executives have frequently announced the next stage in the fight against the pandemic before government officials have had time to study the issue, annoying many experts in the medical field and leaving some patients unsure whom to trust.”

If the U.S. is in a recession, it’s a very strange one

“Today, something highly unusual is happening. Economic output fell in the first quarter and signs suggest it did so again in the second. Yet the job market showed little sign of faltering during the first half of the year. The jobless rate fell from 4% last December to 3.6% in May,” the Wall Street Journal‘s Jon Hilsenrath reports.

“It is the latest strange twist in the odd trajectory of the pandemic economy, and a riddle for those contemplating a recession. If the U.S. is in or near one, it doesn’t yet look like any other on record.”

Has Biden’s top diplomat in Mexico gone too far?

“[Ken Salazar] has in fact succeeded in getting close to the Mexican president. But there is growing concern within the administration that the ambassador may have actually compromised U.S. interests in the process — and has not leveraged the relationship into policy wins when Mr. Biden needs them most, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials and analysts,” the New York Times‘s Natalie Kitroeff and Maria Abi-Habib report.

With pressures mounting, Biden thinks GOP will make his midterm case for him

“Little is going President Joe Biden’s way as the summer lull sets in before the crush of midterm elections. Gas prices are up; his approval rating is down. A conservative Supreme Court majority is hacking away at his agenda by abolishing federal abortion rights and undermining environmental protections meant to curb climate change. His own party is losing patience, fearing that any chance of consequential change while Democrats control Congress is vanishing,” NBC News‘s Peter Nicholas reports.

‘Terrified’ Brittney Griner writes to Biden to push for her freedom

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in an excerpt of the letter shared by Wasserman, a talent agency that represents the basketball star, Jake Russell reports.

Biden might soon ease Chinese tariffs, in a decision fraught with policy tensions

“People familiar with the situation say what comes next has been pending with Mr. Biden in recent weeks and that he could announce his decision this week. It could include a pause on tariffs on consumer goods such as clothing and school supplies, as well as launching a broad framework to allow importers to request tariff waivers,” the WSJ‘s Yuka Hayashi reports.

The status of paid family leave in America, visualized

“Paid family leave has been a fraught battle for over a century in the United States, one of the few countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed by Congress in 1993, guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave within one year, but it only applies to companies with 50 or more employees, and only to employees who have been with the company for a full year,” Amy Joyce and Lauren Tierney report.

Abortion fight strains Democratic alliance with Gen Z

“A debate is raging inside the Democratic Party about whether it’s giving its base — especially those under 30, the generation that most strongly supports abortion rights — enough motivation to keep voting for the party, as federal Democrats struggle to meaningfully push back against the overturning of Roe v. Wade,Politico‘s Elena Schneider reports.

Some Democrats stress that the Biden administration and Congress need to do more to show their rage — and willingness to take significant action — to mirror the passion seen among young people, three-quarters of whom support abortion being generally legal.”

Trump cracks down on deceptive fundraising by others using his name

Trump’s attorneys and aides have sent dozens of demands in recent years to candidates who are using Trump’s image and name in misleading ways, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report. “But those efforts have not stopped the deceptive solicitations that flood Republican phones and inboxes daily. Eighteen months after leaving office, Trump remains the biggest draw for GOP donors, especially those who give small contributions. While he continues to rake in money, he also faces armies of unaffiliated fundraisers who ape or mimic Trump appeals and sometimes threaten or bully Republicans in Trump’s name to get money.”

“At the same time, Trump himself is no stranger to misleading fundraising appeals. His team often sends a dozen or more appeals in a day to gin up money, often with suspect claims, like saying donations will be matched 700 percent.”

The president does not have any public events scheduled this afternoon.

Happy (?) Fourth from the British Embassy

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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