News Roundup: Trump-allied Republicans threaten Jan. 6 committee and anyone who 'aids' them

In the news today: After still-disgraced, still-disgraceful Newt Gingrich told a Fox News audience that those probing the Jan. 6 insurrection could be jailed if the Republicans regain Congress, the two Republican members of Jan. 6 special committee responded to Gingrich’s fascist outburst. The Republican insistence on retaliating against anyone who so much as investigates the origins of the insurrection, however, is only getting more encompassing; those “aiding and abetting” the investigation will be cut off from the legal fund meant to help Trump’s allies. Does that count as witness tampering? One wonders.

Elsewhere, the Biden administration and military advisers are contemplating new troop movements in Europe meant to shore up the NATO frontline against Russia’s new aggressions, and a small Alabama town is getting nationwide attention for some very shady-sounding “policing.”

How shady? It’s hard to read through the details without thinking that somebody in town government is going to end up in prison before this all shakes out.

Here’s some of what you may have missed:

Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger fire back after Gingrich threatens Jan. 6 investigators with jail
Anyone ‘aiding and abetting’ Jan. 6 panel won’t be eligible for legal fund aiding Trump allies
Biden reportedly considering new troop deployments as Russia continues to threaten Ukraine
‘Poster child for policing for profit’: Alabama town saw 640% spike in fines and forfeitures
We can boot the last anti-choice (and allegedly corrupt) House Democrat on March 1

Trending from the community:

The Supreme Court justice’s wife and the seditionist
Police arrest, jail Black man for nearly a week based on a warrant for a white male, 26 years older
Republican behind NH’s abortion ban refused rape, incest exceptions with a horrifying explanation

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New Jersey's Latino lawmakers say decision reallocating excluded worker funds 'beyond comprehension'

New Jersey’s Legislative Latino Caucus says the state’s unjust reallocation of tens of millions of dollars intended for workers left out of federal pandemic relief is “beyond comprehension,” noting it found out about the diversion of funds at the same time as shocked immigrant residents.

“At this time we are doing our due diligence to find a pathway forward, and implore the administration to work with the Latino Caucus to find an immediate remedy to this problem,” members said in a statement reported by Insider NJ. “Thousands of workers continue to struggle in the wake of the pandemic. We cannot allow this mishandling of relief monies to come at the expense of those who need it.”

Gothamist reported last week that nearly all of the $40 million fund established for excluded workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, was being returned to the state. Only about $6 million had been distributed. “State officials say they didn’t receive enough applications to use the $40 million,” the report said.

But advocates said that not only was the application process just too arduous, the state also didn’t conduct enough outreach to communities that needed the funds the most. Only about 2,600 New Jersey residents were approved. As previously noted, advocates said states like New York tapped out their excluded worker funds, dispersing more than $2 billion to over 130,000 residents.

In its statement, the state’s Legislative Latino Caucus said it would seek “answers on how the $34 million came to be diverted and also find out to what programs the money was allocated.”

“We are greatly disappointed by this poor stewardship of resources that were designed to lift up those in some of our most under-served communities,” members said. “How something like this could happen, in a time when New Jersey’s families are already facing unparalleled hardship due to the pandemic, is beyond comprehension.” 

A coalition of advocates also held a press conference urging the fund be replenished under an improved system. Excluded workers like Make the Road New Jersey member Felix Gallardo desperately need it. Yahoo reports that when he contracted COVID-19 at his food service job, “he didn’t get a penny in unemployment or a single stimulus payment—despite paying taxes for 25 years.” He applied for relief under the excluded worker fund, but has heard nothing.

“It’s been months of going back and forth on documentation,” he said in the report. “My son and I desperately need support and so do hundreds of thousands of people across our state.” While the state said it would direct $10 million in other funds to continue applications, the deadline is in just days, at the end of the month.

“We campaigned tirelessly for all those excluded from the federal stimulus to receive this assistance,” said SEIU 32BJ Executive Vice President Kevin Brown. “Unfortunately, the application process was not only difficult, but impossible to access by our non-English speakers. We encourage the Governor’s office to reinstate these funds, fully fund the program, and ensure the systems in place are effective and user-friendly to our members.”

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Amazon founder’s ex-wife makes waves with billions in charitable donations

It’s hard for me to even imagine having billions of dollars. What would I do with it? Where would I donate it? Whose life could I change forever with my generous donation? MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, has apparently figured out the conundrum of wealth and philanthropy quite well. In the past two years, she’s given away more money than Bezos has in his entire lifetime. 

According to Forbes, Scott has been a busy little bee, giving away money to no fewer than 780 charitable groups focusing on gender equality, racial and systemic justice, public health, and educational institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). So far, she’s distributed at least $8.6 billion in less than two years, accounting for about 14% of her current net worth, which as of Jan. 19, 2022 is about $53.5 billion. 

Mackenzie Scott has distributed at least $8.6 billion in less than two years to 780-plus organizations. Ex-husband Jeff Bezos has ramped up philanthropy since transitioning from Amazon CEO to chairman, announcing $1 billion in donations in 2021 https://t.co/ehQjdqmUyq pic.twitter.com/FQerGq37pu— Forbes (@Forbes) January 19, 2022

After being called out for being a cheapskate, Bezos gave nearly $700,000 toward the fires in Australia, but that’s butt-wiping money for a man worth over $145 billion. 

Bezos’ philanthropy, at last reporting totaled about $13 billion, which would make him one of the most generous philanthropists in history, but he hasn’t actually given the money away yet. The Amazon giant has set up his charity to stretch out over several years. So at this point, Bezos has only delivered on about $1.5 billion of that. 

In July, Scott’s ex-husband pledged to donate $200 million to the Smithsonian, the largest gift the institution has received since its founding in 1846. According to the Smithsonian, $70 million will go toward renovating the National Air and Space Museum, and the rest will go toward a new education center at the museum. 

Bezos also gave $100 million to CNN contributor Van Jones for his Dream Corps, an organization that “closes prison doors and opens doors of opportunity” to “create a future with freedom and dignity for all.” He gave another $100 million to celebrity chef and activist Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, which is a nonprofit organization that provides food to those affected by natural disasters.

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Bezos has also pledged $10 billion to the Earth Fund to combat climate change, but so far he’s only given about 1% of it, with a plan to give the full amount in 2030. The fact that he’s donating to climate change is ironic because as the Amazon rainforest was turning to ash in 2019, Bezos was silent as a church mouse. 

Crazy idea for @JeffBezos. Your company has taken some flak for not paying taxes and worker conditions. What an amazing gift it would be if @amazon stepped up and pledged a huge sum to help save the very rainforest that bears its name? It’s on fire, and the world needs heroes.— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) August 24, 2019

Bezos may have given away some money, but not nearly as much as he could. More importantly as has been widely reported, Amazon workers have been fighting for better wages and better treatment on the job. 

In 2017, a Plainfield, Indiana, worker was killed by a forklift. Amazon was found at fault—it was cited for safety violations and fined $28,000. But “state labor officials quietly absolved Amazon of responsibility” when Gov. Eric Holcomb was trying to lure Bezos’ HQ2 to Indiana, according to Front Page Live. 

In December of last year, six Amazon workers were killed at an Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse when 46 workers were trapped in the building during a tornado. 

Jacobin reports that Reps. Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are now demanding a 10-year list of all onsite deaths with an explanation. 

Amazon has one of the highest turnover rates in the industry (3% per week), with many workers saying they feel completely disposable. 

In 2017, Bezos bought Whole Foods. Two years later he cut off health insurance to part-time employees, meaning he left 1,900 people without insurance in order to to ”better meet the needs of our business and create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model,” Insider reports.

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White murder suspect, accused of burying Black employee's body under septic tank, allowed bail

It took an Oklahoma judge revoking the bond of an accused murderer to slow the benefits of white privilege for a Logan County businessman accused of killing one of his employees and burying his body in a septic tank. Still, Daniel Triplett was granted a $500,000 bond and sent home on Jan. 14, wearing an ankle monitor in lieu of being jailed until his trial over the death of Brent Mack, ABC-affiliated KOCO News reported.

“This man is off the streets. He shouldn’t have been on the … streets to begin with,” the victim’s son, Brendon, told KOCO.

Triplett was only sent back to jail after violating the terms of his release and going to a bank, gas station, and restaurant. The bank teller recognized Triplett and reported him to authorities, KOCO reported. “What you saw here was a man who had an opportunity to get privilege,” the Mack family attorney Demario Solomon-Simmons told the news station. “He was given a bond based upon a privilege of who he was, and yet he’s so arrogant he couldn’t even adhere to those rules.”

Solomon-Simmons said the bank teller had been working at the business for 21 years. “She has a relationship with Mr. Triplett, yet she saw the gravity of his crimes so bad that when he came through, she said, ‘Oh, I can’t allow this,’” Solomon-Simmons said.

Triplett is next expected to appear in court on Thursday, KOCO reported.

Triplett’s attorney actually tried to excuse his client’s violating conditions restricting him to travel for attorney’s appointments, medical care, and court hearings, according to Oklahoma News 4. The defense called the gas and food stops “minor,” and said he only went inside of a Waffle House restaurant for about two minutes.

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“If Brent Mack had killed Dan Triplett, shot him in the back and buried him underneath a septic tank, and then lied about it to his family for over a month, do you believe Brent Mack would get bond?” Solomon-Simmons asked in a statement The Associated Press obtained. “What other answer can you point to? I think the fact that he was (a) prominent white businessman who killed an African-American man played into the decision.”

Triplett’s attorney, Charles Mullen, didn’t respond to the news wire’s request for comment.

Authorities learned of Mack’s disappearance when his daughter, Raychelle Wilson, reported him missing to the Guthrie Police Department on Sep. 29, nine days after anyone had seen or heard from him, News 4 reported. “He worked with Dan for roughly about three years, and they had kind of a love-hate situation, I would say,” Wilson told News 4.

Triplett told Wilson that he fired Mack, paid him $1,000 in severance, and dropped him off in front of a laundromat, according to a probable cause affidavit News 4 obtained. Surveillance footage didn’t substantiate Triplett’s claim.

“Lt. Bruning asked Dan about locations where he dropped Mack off and Dan changed the location several times,” authorities stated in the affidavit. “Dan was shown a copy of the video footage showing him driving by the Holiday Laundry and not stopping. When confronted with the inconsistencies in the story, Dan became very red-faced and appeared to be angry.”

Triplett also claimed that he and Mack last worked together in Crescent, which is about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City, but authorities confirmed the two actually were last seen together in surveillance footage from Sep. 20, at a home about 20 miles northwest of Crescent in Mulhall. “It was apparent that two people arrive at the job site on Sep. 20, 2021, in Dan’s vehicle, but only one person is seen leaving,” authorities said in the affidavit. 

A local medical examiner later determined Mack had been hit with “a projectile in the chest cavity with an entry wound in the upper-left back,” according to the affidavit.

Triplett was charged with first-degree murder and desecration of a corpse, News 4 reported.

Mack’s family along with District Attorney Laura Thomas have fought to keep Triplett in jail. “We had strenuously objected when the judge set (bond) and were stunned she did,” Thomas said. “We are relieved that this first-degree murder defendant is back where he should be, and the family is also.”

RELATED: Rittenhouse makes mockery of justice system. Then, Proud Boys make mockery of NYPD

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Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson's anti-immigrant lies appear to leave CNN's fact-checker exasperated

The weirdo congressman who when serving as White House doctor claimed that the former twice-impeached president could live to be 200 years old is back, this time spouting lies about immigrants so ridiculous it seems to have caught very professional fact checker Daniel Dale off guard.

“In 2022, illegal immigrants will have MORE FREEDOMS and easier access to healthcare and ballot boxes than most Americans,” Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson falsely tweeted on Jan. 16. “Just think about that.” I swear, these mfers will spout the most ridiculous bullshit followed by a “just think about that,” like they just said something profound. No sir, you’re just a liar.

“CNN won’t try to fact check Jackson’s extremely vague claim that undocumented immigrants will have ‘MORE FREEDOMS’ than most Americans in 2022,” Dale understandably said. I mean, where do you even start? But he does address the health care and voting lies.

“Unlike citizens, undocumented immigrants are ‘basically excluded from participation in all federal health programs,’ said Samantha Artiga, director of the racial equity and health policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies US health care,” the report said. That’s not to say undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be covered, because they absolutely should be. Some parts of the country are trying to fix that on a state level. It’s the smart and moral thing to do. They pay taxes. They have bodies! But on a federal level, it’s just not the policy.

On voting, Jackson is also lying. While some localities are allowing undocumented residents to vote in local elections, they can’t vote on the state or federal level. I mean, if Jackson wants to talk voter fraud, there’s the reported illegitimate voters from Florida’s retiree Disneyland, The Villages. “Three of those who’ve been accused—Joan Halstead, Jay Ketcik, and John Rider—are very clearly Trump supporters,” Daily Kos’ April Siese wrote this month. “Halstead and Ketcik are registered Republicans. Though Rider has no party affiliation listed, his Facebook page appears to show multiple pro-Trump posts.”

There were also some shenanigans in Jackson’s home state, where a 72-year-old registered Republican reportedly put on sunglasses and tried to vote using his son’s name. The son is a registered Democrat. Meanwhile, Jackson is among the House insurrectionists who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election. But talking about any of that means Jackson can’t make up shit about undocumented immigrants, right? 

Jackson ran for Congress about a year and a half after he left the previous administration’s White House in disgrace, resigning his post as physician and withdrawing from a nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Trump had been so impressed with Jackson’s bedside manner that he nominated him last year to head the Department of Veterans Affairs; that nomination turned into one of the White House’s many no-vetting train wrecks when it almost immediately came to light that Jackson had an alleged history of drunkenness on the job and a reputation for dispensing pills, shall we say, lavishly to White House staffers, allegedly earning him the nickname ‘Candyman,’” Daily Kos’ Hunter wrote at the time.

A Defense Department inspector general report confirmed “’sexual and denigrating’ comments about a female subordinate,” among other abuses by Jackson, CNN reported last year. We likely don’t even know the extent of it, either: “The report also notes that the investigation into Jackson ‘was limited in scope and unproductive’ as White House counsel under Trump insisted on being present at all interviews of current White House Medical Unit employees, which had a ‘potential chilling effect’ on the probe.” But immigrants.

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'I'm going to get arrested tonight!': Couple's wish granted, arrested for harassing family on train

A New York couple from Long Island is facing hate crime charges after verbally and physically attacking an interracial family on public transport. The entire incident was captured on video in which the couple identified as Justin Likerman and Kristin Digesaro harassed the victim, Liz Edelkind, her husband, and their son by shouting anti-immigrant slurs and chucking beer bottles at them.

“Look straight! Don’t f***ing look at me! I’m going to get arrested tonight!’” Likerman shouted. He continued: “I know it’s not worth it, but these f***ing foreigners ain’t taking over my f***ing country!”

Edelkind and her family were on their way home from a New York Knicks game on  Jan. 10 when the incident took place. The group was looking for seats together on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train and asked some passengers to move to accommodate them. That’s when Lickerman and Digesaro seemed to have an issue.

“They threw beer at us. My pastor and her husband, and my husband, got in the way to protect me,” Edelkind said.

“You have no rights here,” Digesaro yelled as her boyfriend began his horrible rant.

Edelkind, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told NBC New York she believes she was targeted because of her accent and skin color.

“The couple started to verbally attack me, calling me curse words, ‘immigrant,’ that I don’t pay taxes, that I have no rights in this country,” she told NBC New York.

“How dare they assume, because I look or sound different, that I am not a U.S. citizen.”

The footage was shared by Osman Canales, founder of Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates. Edelkind told him that the incident “ruined” her 10-year-old son’s first basketball experience.

She added that her family was “very concerned and traumatized by this aggression.”

SHARE!!!EXPOSE THE RACISTS! This is a hate attack that happened ron #LongIsland this week 1/10/2022 to a family and a 10 yr old, while in the #LIRR Train.Identified as Kristen Digesaro boyfriend Justin likerman both work @ HuntingtonEmpireToyota631-364-0172#LongIsland #HateCrime pic.twitter.com/mWT9nv5YHS— Osman Canales (@Osman_C1) January 12, 2022

According to officials, Likerman and Digesaro both surrendered to transit police on Jan. 16. They face charges of aggravated harassment as a hate crime and child endangerment. The charges are in collaboration with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Hate Crimes Unit.

Additionally, after their place of employment, Empire Toyota of Huntington, heard of the incident, they were fired.

“The two employees were suspended when we first heard about this incident, and, as our investigation just concluded, they have been terminated,” the company wrote in a statement shared to social media.

”The heart and soul of our labor force is extremely diverse and we value our employees beyond description. Further, our company’s deep support—financial and in-kind—of Long Island’s diverse communities is a matter of public record. We can say without hesitation that whatever occurred on that LIRR train is in no way reflective of our company, its ownership, its management team, nor its employees.”

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Edelkind filed charges and hopes the incident will serve as an example to others.

“When I heard there were arrested, I felt validated as a human, as a woman, as a U.S. citizen. Justice prevails,” she said. “I want to show people, you have a voice, use it. If you’re not using your voice to stand against those oppressing you, then you are standing with them.”

The incident follows multiple hate crimes reported against immigrants across the country, especially in New York. According to data compiled by the FBI hate crimes against all people of color have seen the highest increase this year. 

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Florida school district cancels history professor's lecture out of fear it might be labeled CRT

Florida’s “critical race theory” ban is working as intended: It caused the cancellation of a lecture on civil rights, but Florida officials get to act like that wasn’t the intent of the ban.

J. Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler College, was supposed to speak to Osceola County teachers on “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” making the case that the Civil Rights Movement neither began nor ended with Martin Luther King Jr., but extended for decades on either side of the 1950s and 1960s. School district officials canceled the event, though, as a direct result of moves by Florida Republicans, including a state Board of Education ban on teaching “theories that distort historical events,” including critical race theory (CRT), defined by the state board as teaching ”that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also promoting a bill that would let parents sue schools if they don’t like what their kids are taught about race and decide to call it critical race theory.

”We needed an opportunity to review them prior to the training in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory,” Debra Pace, the superintendent of the Osceola County School District, wrote in an email to teachers planning to attend the event. School officials had only a summary of Butler’s presentation, and, Pace wrote, “I am mindful of the potential of negative distractions if we are not proactive in reviewing content and planning its presentation carefully.”

In translation, “Florida policy has us intimidated into wanting to second-guess a history professor’s history presentation to teachers, because it might include something someone would describe as critical race theory.” And it’s absolutely likely that a presentation showing the enduring relevance of civil rights activism would trigger some racists who are intent on denying the existence of racism. After all, we’re talking about a movement that has targeted children’s books about specific events in the Civil Rights Movement as being too extreme.

But a DeSantis spokeswoman insisted that this isn’t what the CRT ban was intended to do.

“Critical Race Theory and factual history are two different things. The endless attempts to gaslight Americans by conflating the two are as ineffective as they are tiresome,” she emailed NBC News. “So just to be clear, mixing up ‘teaching history’ with ‘teaching CRT’ is dishonest.”

Well, yeah. It is. But you know who’s doing exactly that in law after law and speech after speech, rebranding “critical race theory” as “anything that could make the most fragile of white people anxious”? Republicans. Like Ron DeSantis. One person’s “theories that distort historical events” can be another person’s carefully documented historical research showing that the stories we’ve always been told about history are inaccurate or leave out important parts of the story.

The CRT ban “makes it so that any topic that falls under the rubric can be labeled as potentially critical race theory,” Butler, the historian whose presentation was canceled, said. “And the end result is that any teacher training any educational program can be canceled, postponed, stonewalled so that it never happens.”

At least one local official agreed. “School districts in Florida are in a precarious position as we navigate the anti-CRT administrative order which has little guidance yet promises to have strong consequences if not implemented,” Osceola County school board member Terry Castillo said in a statement, noting that “school boards have been punished for going against the governor’s orders regarding mask mandates.”

Anti-CRT policies are “about putting the fear of God into teachers and administrators,” Jeffrey Sachs, a political scientist tracking such policies, told Greg Sargent. “Teachers are going to avoid discussing certain topics altogether—topics related to race, sex, and American history that as a society we might want to discuss.

In Florida, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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Youngkin schools country in how to create sheer chaos in first week on the job as Virginia governor

Little more than a week into his foray as a public servant and Virginia’s governor, Glenn Youngkin has injected statewide chaos into the education system after issuing an executive order that makes school mask mandates optional.

The order, which was due to take effect Monday, immediately pitted parents against parents, parents against administrators, and drew a rash of lawsuits aiming to block it from being implemented.

The vast majority of Virginia school districts have required in-school masking throughout the pandemic. But virtually no one knew what to expect Monday after most superintendents in the tony Virginia suburbs just outside the Beltway vowed to continue enforcing mask mandates, and the state’s lieutenant governor threatened on Fox News to yank funding from any non-compliant districts.

“The governor [is] throwing jet fuel on an already divisive culture clash in Virginia, and inviting lawsuits that will now consume much of his administration,” Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told the Washington Post.

As some parents protested in support of mandates and others planned anti-mask walk ins with their children, many school boards braced to enforce masking measures that would ensure the safety of their students.

“We advised our members to report students and staff who don’t want to wear their masks,” said Kimberly Adams, board chair of the 4,000-strong Fairfax Education Association told the Post. “Now it’s just a waiting game to see what happens.”

Arlington was one of six districts that signed on to a lawsuit brought by Fairfax County Public Schools seeking an immediate injunction to block Youngkin’s order from being implemented. Fairfax filed the legal challenge on grounds that the order violated the Virginia Constitution, which states: “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” State lawmakers also passed a law last summer mandating that schools adopt federal health guidelines to the “maximum extent practicable.” CDC guidelines currently recommend in-school masking in K-12 schools for everyone aged 2 and up.

According to a Post tally, school officials in at least 58 of the state’s some 130 districts vowed to defy Youngkin’s order and continue requiring masks.

Meanwhile, things escalated in some rural areas of the state as angry parents agitated for their districts to lift the mandates. One anti-masking mother in Page County threatened school officials if they failed to make mask wearing optional.

“My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, that’s not happening,” Amelia King said at a Page County school board meeting last week. “And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” she said, adding, “I will see you Monday.” The board ultimately voted to follow Youngkin’s order and make masking optional.

Youngkin seemed to acknowledge that things were escalating out of control in a tweet over the weekend begging for people to stay calm and peaceful.

“While the legal process continues on the parental opt out of mask mandates for their children in schools, I urge everyone to love your neighbor, to listen to school principals, and to trust the legal process,” the Youngkin tweeted Saturday morning.

That’s not the tweet of a governor who feels like they have a handle on things. That’s the tweet of a political novice who failed to anticipate the explosion before jumping on the pyre.  

So much for Youngkin’s Midas touch and the GOP’s sure-fire education formula for the midterms. Youngkin just might end up being exhibit A in what suburban America can expect if they put Republicans in control in November—sheer chaos.

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Supreme Court to hear case on Clean Water Act stemming from Idaho wetlands dispute

Ahead of a high-profile case that could alter how the U.S. moves forward in its quest to cut emissions, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another environmental case with major ramifications. On Monday, SCOTUS announced it had added Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to their docket for next term. The case dates back to 2007, when the EPA blocked Mike and Chantell Sackett from building a home on a parcel of land they bought near Lake Priest, Idaho, because it contains federally protected wetlands. The lengthy court battle culminated in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling siding unanimously with the Sacketts—but only about a compliance order issued by the EPA. The lawsuit is moving forward, with a new focus on the scope of the Clean Water Act and the 2006 case Rapanos v. United States, which failed to produce a majority decision more explicitly defining what bodies of water the Clean Water Act encompasses.

As it stands, the Clean Water Act covers “navigable waters” known as “waters of the United States,” a loose definition that is up to the EPA to enforce. Under the Clean Water Act, polluting navigable waters without a permit is against the law. According to the Sacketts, they received the proper local permits but workers dredging the property were approached by the EPA and forced to halt construction because their actions polluted wetlands that the EPA determined fell under Clean Water Act protection.

The EPA then issued a compliance order that stated the Sacketts must undo the work that affected the wetlands or face fines of up to $32,500 per day. The Sacketts asked for an administrative hearing, but the EPA denied that request. They then decided to sue the agency, arguing that the EPA was arbitrary in their enforcement and that they were denied procedural due process. The legal team supporting the Sacketts in that lawsuit work on behalf of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a group notorious for anti-environmental litigation and partially funded by the Koch brothers and Exxon. The Sacketts have been stubbornly locked in an anti-environment battle ever since.

When the Sacketts first filed their case in 2008, it was ultimately dismissed. The decision was then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Ronald M. Gould wrote in his 2010 opinion that “preclusion of pre-enforcement judicial review does not violate the Sacketts’ due process rights.” There is little standing in the way between the Sacketts destroying wetlands now that the Supreme Court gave its blessing for the couple to move forward with their lawsuit after the 2012 ruling. The makeup of the Supreme Court certainly seems to point to a favorable outcome for the couple as well. In the case of Rapanos v. United States, which takes center stage in this latest chapter for the Sacketts, the court could not reach a consensus on more rigidly defining the “waters of the United States” protected by the Clean Air Act.

Four conservative justices chose to support definitions that protect fewer bodies of water, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in a concurring opinion that he believes “waters of the United States” are defined as waters that “possess a ‘significant nexus’ to waters that are or were navigable in fact or that could reasonably be so made.” Four dissenting justices, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, essentially argued that the “significant nexus” test was being used as a cudgel to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act.

Kennedy, who left the court in 2018, was considered a swing vote on the court, and his retirement ushered in fears from environmentalists that whoever succeeded him could weaken protections like the Clean Water Act. This is all but guaranteed after Donald Trump named now-SCOTUS Justice Brett Kavanaugh as Kennedy’s successor. The Sierra Club found numerous examples of Kavanaugh’s utter disregard and disdain for the environment, including a 2014 case in which Kavanaugh argued that stricter emissions standards weren’t a financially sound decision when it comes to regulating power plants, completely ignoring the human and environmental consequences of dangerous emissions. In the case of White Stallion Energy v. EPA, Kavanaugh was the lone dissenter. Environmental stances from other conservative SCOTUS justices like Amy Coney Barrett are just as appalling.

Barrett, who succeeded Ginsburg, has been relatively quiet about her opinions on climate change, pulling the “I’m not a scientist” card during her confirmation hearing. There isn’t much to her legal record on environmental issues, but Grist found that the few cases she has heard certainly show that she has an interest in preserving polluters’ and bad actors’ interests, as with her signing on to a decision in favor of a housing developer building on wetlands in Illinois. The conservative talking points that wrap a lack of concern for the environment in the faux outrage for individuals and corporations are so predictable, I’m tempted to make a Mad Lib of what Kavanaugh and Barrett will ultimately say in support of the Sacketts, who I’m assuming they will find to be so deeply persecuted by *checks notes* wetlands. This is as much a case to watch as the Biden administration’s subsequent actions, especially with Sackett v. EPA being heard the same year as West Virginia v. EPA, a high-profile case on regulating greenhouse gas emissions that have immense consequences for our planet. If the Supreme Court can’t help but plunge the planet further into a climate crisis, it’s up to Biden—and all progressives—to fight like hell for our future.

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Trump-packed Supreme Court takes on another white supremacist cause—affirmative action

The Supreme Court announced Monday it’s taking up another big culture war case, bringing affirmative action back in another look at overturning Supreme Court precedent. Of course they are, because when Federalist Society born-and-bred Republicans are asked about it by senators in their confirmation hearings, they lie.

The Court will be taking up two challenges in a consolidated oral argument that will be heard in the term starting in October, Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. In 2003, the court issued a landmark decision in Grutter v. Bollinger in which it held that the University of Michigan could use race as a criterion in admissions to ensure it was creating a diverse student body. The court reaffirmed the constitutionality of affirmative action in 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas, when it ruled the university could consider race in undergraduate admissions.

That was then, this is now. In the Trump court, the promises of Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett that cases like this one—with “precedent on precedent”—could not be casually overturned have proven empty. The court even decided to expedite the UNC case, which hadn’t yet been taken up by an appeals court. That’s another feature of that new conservative-dominated court.

Certiorari “before judgment” is supposed to be an exceptionally rare practice through which #SCOTUS bypasses courts of appeals to expedite full review of merits cases. From Aug. 2004–Jan. 2018, #SCOTUS granted *0* such petitions. Today’s grant in the UNC case is the *15th* since.— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) January 24, 2022

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It’s also worth pointing out that Students for Fair Admissions and founder Edward Blum have a long history of fighting affirmative action as well as voting rights. SFFA also brought the Fisher case. The supposed non-profit SFFA says its mission is to help “restore colorblind principles to our nation’s schools, colleges, and universities.”

Blum, a failed congressional candidate who lost a challenge to Barbara Jordan back in the 1990s, has made his career since centered on white supremacy. He backed the challengers in Shelby County v. Holder back in 2013 in the Supreme Court decision that gutted the core of the Voting Rights Act with another group he founded, the Project on Fair Representation, a supposedly non-profit “legal defense fund program that is designed to support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.” 

Combined with using the shadow docket to decide some of the most controversial and extreme rulings with no public argument and no transparency, this Trump-packed court is looking more radical by the day.

Radical and unprincipled and with a serious legitimacy problem. That was brought home once again in this well-researched and devastating profile of Ginni Thomas—spouse of Justice Clarence Thomas—by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. Mayer details Ginni Thomas’s long history of associations with extremist far-right groups and her many and close ties to the groups driving the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Just to underline all the ethical problems a Supreme Court justice with an exceedingly partisan and active spouse can bring, Thomas not only failed to recuse himself from participating in the recent Trump documents case, but he also provided the only dissent. The court ruled 8-1 that White House documents relating to Jan. 6 cannot be shielded from the congressional select committee investigating the insurrection. What could be in those documents that he wants to remain secret, I wonder.

There are a few things that have to happen to save the country from this extremist, increasingly white supremacist court. One should be relatively easy and non-controversial, which is to force the justices to adhere to the code of conduct every other federal judge is bound by. 

The second is to expand the Supreme Court with thoughtful, legitimate nominees who are not bound to the extreme Republican party. 

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