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Pennsylvania GOP pressure for more power over judiciary raises alarm bells

She added, “It’s far too much control for one branch to have over another branch, especially where one of its responsibilities is to rule over the excesses of the legislative branch.”

If the Republican bill becomes law, Pennsylvania would become just the fifth state in the country, after Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Illinois, to fully map its justice system into constituencies, according to the Brennan Center. And other states could soon join Pennsylvania in trying to redraw the courts.

Republicans in the Texas legislature, which is also controlled by the GOP, recently introduced a bill that would move districts to state courts of appeals by moving certain counties to different districts, causing an uproar among Democrats in State who saw the new districts as weakening the vote. power of black and Latin American communities in judicial elections and potentially adding to the Republican tilt of Texas courts.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, called the bill a “pure takeover designed to prevent blacks and Latinos from influencing the courts as their numbers in the state increase.” .

These judicial redistribution battles are taking shape as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country explore new restrictions on voting after the 2020 election. In Georgia, Republicans in the state legislature seek a host of new laws that would make voting more difficult, including banning drop-off boxes and imposing drastic restrictions on postal voting. Similar bills in Arizona would limit mail-in voting, including banning the state from sending mail-in vote requests. And in Texas, Republican lawmakers want to limit early voting periods.

The Republicans’ national effort follows a successful four-year campaign by party lawmakers in Washington to reshape the federal court system with conservative judges. Led by Senator Mitch McConnell, until recently Majority Leader, and Mr. Trump, the Senate confirmed 231 federal justices, as well as three new Supreme Court justices, during the four-year tenure of the former president, according to data maintained by Russell Wheeler, a researcher at the Brookings Institution.

In a state like Pennsylvania, which has two densely populated democratic cities and large rural areas, this could give sparsely populated and more conservative places disproportionate representation, particularly if lawmakers resort to a gerrymandering tactic similar to that used. in Pennsylvania in 2011.

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CDC call for vaccine recipient data raises privacy alarm

In the United States, the collection of immunization data has been a purely state-by-state effort. A push two decades ago to develop a federal registry imploded after an uproar over patient privacy and how the data would be used.

“The general philosophy in this country is that states manage public health, so the concept that we’re going to track information identified at the federal level is concerning,” said Dr. Shaun J. Grannis, professor of medical informatics at the ‘Indiana University, which advised the CDC on data collection.

“We are 50 different states with a patchwork of regulations and different perspectives on privacy and security,” added Dr Grannis. “And I think people are going to ask, what is the CDC doing that we can’t do regionally?”

But during Monday’s briefing, Army Col. RJ Mikesh, chief information technology officer for Operation Warp Speed, said the data collection was part of a “whole-of-the-world approach. America ”from vaccine distribution. And some experts say that in the midst of a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of nearly 284,000 people in the United States, now is the time to create a federal vaccine registry.

“We are in a pandemic,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “Privacy has its role, but it can’t be what drives the decision-making when trying to accomplish a monumental task like vaccinating millions of Americans with a vaccine that requires two doses.”

The fight for the registry also once again exposes the fractured nature of health data collection – and how the government’s lack of sophistication has hampered the response to the pandemic, said Dr Dan Hanfling, response expert at emergency and vice president at In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the national intelligence community.

Some national immunization registries can coordinate to exchange information directly without a centralized federal database, but others cannot. “If you don’t have a national system, then at least there should be consistency in what states are doing,” Dr Hanfling said.

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Kavanaugh’s opinion in Wisconsin vote affair raises alarm among Democrats

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling to ban the counting of mail-order ballots in Wisconsin arriving after election day came as no surprise to many Democrats, who had insisted on it but expected to lose .

But a concurring opinion from Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh raised alarms among civil rights and Democratic Party lawyers, who saw him as public support for President Trump’s arguments that any outcome counted after November 3 could be riddled with fraudulent votes – an unsubstantiated claim. through the history of elections in the United States.

The decision also baffled Democrats and local election officials in Pennsylvania, where Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to re-examine whether the state can accept ballots received up to three days after election day. . While Wisconsin Democrats had asked for an extension, current rules in Pennsylvania allow ballots three days after the election. Any change could threaten the more than 1.4 million missing ballots not yet returned.

In his opinion, coupled with the 5-3 decision against the extension of the deadline in Wisconsin, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that the mailing deadlines on election day were designed “to avoid chaos and suspicion. irregularities that can ensue if thousands of missing ballots are circulating. after polling day and potentially reverse the results of an election. “

He added: “These states also want to be able to definitively announce election results on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Judge Kavanaugh’s statement in some ways mirrored Mr. Trump’s efforts to suggest that only ballots counted on election day should decide the outcome, and more generally to assert unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Earlier Monday, the president posted on Twitter that election officials “must have the final total by November 3,” alleging without evidence that there are “big problems” with the postal ballots. Twitter called the tweet “misleading”.

The Wisconsin decision was the latest in a series of court rulings setting the rules for how voters in different states can vote during the coronavirus pandemic and when the deadline is to receive them.

The Wisconsin ruling revealed a clear division between judges in their understanding of the courts’ role in protecting the franchise during a pandemic and left-wing voting activists concerned about how the court’s conservative majority would rule in the post-election battles.

With Trump indicating that he plans to dispute a loss, Democrats have kept a particularly cautious eye on the Supreme Court.

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It was the court that made the final decision in the 2000 Florida recount, effectively handing the state over to George W. Bush against Al Gore by just 537 votes and, with him, the presidency. In rushing to name a successor to Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg after her death last month, Mr Trump indicated he believed the Supreme Court could again determine the winner, saying, “I think this will work out. at the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine judges.

He hinted that he expected the court to weigh in on his electoral fraud charges, saying: “The scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation.

The concept expressed by Justice Kavanaugh that the late ballot count could “reverse the results” distorts the voting process, where official results are often not fully tabulated for days or even weeks after an election.

And, this year, both sides expect Democrats to vote by mail in greater numbers than Republicans, and Republicans to vote in person in greater numbers than Democrats will – leading to a potential scenario in which the early results might appear favorable to Mr. Trump, only to go in the direction of Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic candidate, as the mail-in ballot counts are made public.

Due to an increase in the number of postal ballots due to the pandemic, as well as delays at the postal service, civil rights groups and Democrats have pushed for the suspension of some voting rules. by correspondence in order to guarantee the greatest possible number of ballots. arrive on time and so that states and counties have more time to count them.

Republicans insisted the more restrictive rules stay in place.

Mr. Kavanaugh’s agreement was greeted by a dissenting judge Elena Kagan, who wrote that “there is no outcome to ‘return’ until all valid votes have been counted.

Justice Kagan wrote that nothing could be more suspicious or inappropriate “than refusing to count the votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night.”

“To say otherwise,” she added, “especially in these difficult times, is to undermine the electoral process.”

Justice Kagan reprimanded the majority for ignoring the overriding effects of the pandemic, adding: “What will compromise the ‘integrity’ of this process is not the count, but rather the rejection of the timely cast ballots which, due to pandemic conditions, arrive shortly after Election Day. “

Democrats have openly feared that Mr. Trump’s attacks would create the false impression that the fraud is a serious threat to the integrity of the election and use it as a basis for challenging the postal vote. For Democrats, Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion seemed to reward the approach, treating voters’ perceptions of fraud – which Mr. Trump tries so hard to influence – as potentially crucial.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Wisconsin case came in response to an emergency petition, so it did not have the weight of a case that had been fully argued before it. But it took on added significance for both sides in the run-up to an election many expect to be challenged, and because it came on a day when Mr. Trump won a sixth Tory vote in court. with confirmation from Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Richard L. Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, said Judge Kavanaugh’s reference to “suspicion of impropriety” revealed a “Trumpian state of mind.” More substantially, Mr Hasen said, his opinion bodes well for a more difficult climb for civil rights groups and Democrats in election year cases that come before the Supreme Court.

The president’s success in placing his candidates throughout the federal court system led to a shift to the right in the ideological balance of several important federal appeal circuits and cemented the conservative majority in the Supreme Court.

They joined with other Tories in staying several lower court rulings that had been in favor of expanding voting access during the pandemic, including in Wisconsin, where District Court Judge William M. Conley, had decided for the Democrats by extending the deadline. to count the ballots.

It was the second time the Supreme Court has intervened in a decision by Justice Conley this year. In the spring, he suspended his decision granting an extension for postal votes on the eve of the primary elections, which included races for the Democratic nomination and a major race for justice from the state’s Supreme Court. In that case, however, the court allowed election officials to continue counting the ballots for several days after polling day, provided the ballots were postmarked on or before it.

Judge Kavanaugh played a leading role in both cases and agreed with other Conservatives on voting rights matters, relying on state legislatures and their rights to enact strict measures. to institute remains extremely rare.

The opinions expressed by Judge Kavanaugh rocked the voting rights groups.

“Even without the reasoning, it is very clear that what the Court has done throughout this election season has made it clear that federal courts will not be important sources of protecting the right to vote before the election,” said Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“It is the unique constitutional role of the courts to protect individual rights like the right to vote, and they treat it as political decisions,” she added.

Democrats had anticipated the court ruling in the Wisconsin case and focused on efforts on Tuesday to persuade voters not to wait until the last minute and risk not having their ballots in the mail arrive at time to be counted.

Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion has also worried voting groups in Pennsylvania.

Previously, the court had blocked 4 to 4 on a challenge to a similar extension of the voting deadline in the state, although it was Republicans who appealed a decision of the state Supreme Court, rather than a decision of the federal court.

The deadlocked decision meant that the state’s Supreme Court decision was held and that ballots stamped on polling day could be counted as long as they arrived within three days.

The state’s Republicans, however, immediately returned to federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, with an almost identical argument against extending the ballot. Their apparent plan was a return appearance before the Supreme Court with newly installed Justice Barrett, who hoped to side with the other Tory members and overturn the extension.