Headlines: July 9, 2020
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The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of New York prosecutors’ right to access Donald Trump’s financial records and that the President does not enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution. In a second ruling the court limited Congress’ ability to access many of those same records. Both rulings were decided with a vote of 7-2. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion in the Manhattan case said, “no citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.” Trump’s lawyers had attempted to make the case in court that a President is above the law. In the ruling on Congress’ ability to see Trump’s tax and financial records, Roberts asserted that lawmakers had not made a good enough case over concerns of separation of powers. President Trump denounced the rulings on Twitter as, “a political prosecution.” Trump’s former accounting firm Mazar’s Inc is in possession of the records in question and has said it would comply if ordered by a court. Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement, “Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.” However, according to Associated Press, “it is unclear when a lower court judge might order [the] Manhattan prosecutor’s subpoena to be enforced,” leaving a possibility that the records may not see the light of day until after November’s election. Trump is the only president in modern history to refuse to release his tax records. Meanwhile Trump did not make the usual personal financial disclosure required of all presidents this year by the deadline. The White House claimed Trump was too consumed by the coronavirus pandemic leading federal ethics officials to grant the White House a 45-day extension.
In other news from the Supreme Court, justices ruled on one of the most important recent cases for Native Americans in recent years, deciding that nearly half of the state of Oklahoma was native American land – at least for purposes of some criminal justice prosecutions. The case stemmed from a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who was convicted of child sexual abuse of a 4-year old and claimed that the state did not have the jurisdiction to prosecute him. The court’s 5-4 ruling in which Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the liberal justices, is being hailed as a victory for Native sovereignty.
The US Labor Department reported that another 1.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, dampening claims of an economic recovery. The number was higher than expected and do not include an additional million freelancers and self-employed Americans who registered for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. As the demand for public benefits continues to increase concern is rising about the rapidly depleting US treasury. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders commissioned a report from the Congressional Budget Office whose results show that between the years 2011 to 2013 the Treasury was losing more than $380 billion in yearly revenues. Because of major budget cuts and staff layoffs the Internal Revenue Service has dramatically curtailed its auditing capabilities. According to the report, “Enforcement activity for many high-income nonfilers has been reduced to a series of notices.” Sanders called it an “absolute outrage” and blamed “wealthy tax cheats.”
Meanwhile Sanders, a two-time Presidential candidate, together with presumptive Presidential nominee Joe Biden released a series of policy platforms from “Unity Task Forces” on numerous key issues facing the American public including the US economy, healthcare, climate change, and immigration. While signature progressive plans like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal were left out of the platforms, Sanders and his allies hailed the work of the task forces saying, “we’ve moved the needle.” The task forces are an effort to bring the centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party together ahead of the November election. Meanwhile Biden’s campaign on Thursday released an economic blueprint aimed at countering Trump’s “America First” approach. Biden’s $700 billion plan would prioritize American manufacturing and research.
In news from the coronavirus the US set yet another record for new infections for a second day in a row on Wednesday at 62,751. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has now been deliberately left out of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has nonetheless been speaking out on his own in interviews warning that states seeing a major spike in infections should consider shutting down again. Another national expert, Michael Osterholm told CNN that the Covid-19 hotspots were “back to square zero,” and that, “we’re going to have to really clamp back down again.” Still the Trump administration has decided to ignore experts and push to reopen the economy, making it imminently clear that Trump’s reelection depends on it. After Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would weaken its guidelines for schools to reopen, CDC Director Robert Redfield said that the strict guidelines would remain in place and instead additional resources would be published. The absence of federal guidance on the pandemic has had serious effects as new documents show that states rushing to reopen allowed pro-business groups to write the rules of reopening. In Georgia specifically, the state Chamber of Commerce instructed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on how best to reopen businesses to prioritize employers.
On matters of racist police violence, an autopsy conducted on the victim of Los Angeles Sheriffs’ deputies found that 18-year old Andres Guardado was shot five times in the back. The teenager was killed on June 18th during the height of anti-police brutality protests around the country. Sheriffs say he was reaching for a gun – a commonly used justification in police killings. In the northern California town of Vallejo, the police killing of 22-year old Sean Monterrosa on June 2nd continues to be investigated with a new video of the incident being released. Vallejo’s police chief says a detective shot Monterrosa through the windshield of his car claiming the young man had a gun. All that was found was a hammer in the victim’s pocket. Meanwhile the man suspected of killing activist Summer Taylor in Seattle, Washington last week has been charged with homicide. Taylor was participating in a protest that blocked a highway when Dawit Kelete driving his car at high speed hit Taylor and another person. A Seattle officer has now been suspended after sharing an online meme referring to the deadly incident with the mocking caption, “All Lives Splatter.” And in the on-going case around the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a newly released transcript of the last moments of Floyd’s life shows he told police more than 20 times, “I can’t breathe,” and that at one point Officer Derek Chauvin who was kneeling on Floyd’s neck at the time for more than 9 minutes retorted, “It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk.”
Finally, in immigration news, the Trump administration is apparently once more considering separating undocumented children from their parents ahead of the November election. The Washington Post Editorial Board wrote, “Again, the president’s unbridled animus toward mainly brown-skinned migrants may result in an episode of cruelty that would shock the civilized world.” And, in spite of the immigration crackdown at the border under Trump new data released by Customs and Border Protection show that authorities arrested more than 30,000 people in June. That is double the number from April.