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Analysis | Could Jones be a decisive vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee?

via Office of U.S. Senator Doug Jones
Chip Brownlee

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Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are gearing up for what could be a massive confirmation fight over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, and Alabama’s junior senator, Doug Jones, in his first year of a short two-year term, will likely find himself right in the middle of it all.

Trump is expected to nominate a new associate justice to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, following the retirement of the high court’s longtime swing vote, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will step down on July 31.

When Trump does make his pick for a new justice, he will be sending that nominee to a tightly divided Senate, one with 51 Republican senators, 47 Democratic senators and two independent senators who caucus with Democrats.

And there’s another complicating factor: Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer,  has been largely absent since December, leaving Republicans with an even slimmer 50-49 majority.

Although Vice President Mike Pence, the president of the Senate, can vote in the case of a tie, Republicans will need the votes of everyone in their caucus to hold on to Kennedy’s seat.

To Republicans’ advantage, the Senate has effectively abandoned its filibuster rule so a 60-vote majority is no longer needed to end debate and a simple majority can confirm a judicial nominee. But a far-right nominee, one who outwardly opposes abortion and other hot-button issues — should Trump choose to go that route — may not have it so easy.

Some Republican senators have shown a willingness to break with their party. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, insinuated Wednesday that she will take a hard look at any nominee who would consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established the legal right to an abortion in 1973.

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“I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law,” Collins said. “It’s clearly precedent and I always look for judges who respect precedent,” Collins told reporters on Wednesday, according to The New York Times.

Kennedy, during his 30-year tenure on the high court, served as a moderating voice and often sided with more liberal justices on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights. His vote halted efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Over the course of the last 15 or so years, probably going back a little bit further than that, the court has had two main camps, arguably one conservative camp and one liberal camp, and Justice Kennedy has walked right through the middle of that and has effectively had one of the most impactful terms, in my opinion, on the Supreme Court, as a function of procedure,” said University of Alabama Assistant Professor Allen Linken, an expert on the Supreme Court.

Abortion is likely to be the key issue when Senators do get a nominee. Many conservatives, including those in the Alabama Legislature, are hoping the Court, if it attains a favorable and reliable conservative majority, will take up a case and overturn the right to an abortion.

Republicans in the Alabama Legislature placed a constitutional amendment on November’s general election ballot that, if passed, would effectively declare Alabama an anti-abortion state and preemptively grease the wheels for banning abortion by law. The measure’s supporters said it was necessary to prepare if the Supreme Court tilted to the right.

With Collins’ comments Wednesday, it’s possible she would consider voting against a nominee who appears poised or primed to overturn that precedent. And Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican from Arizona, said Tuesday — a day before any news of Kennedy’s retirement — that he would block all of Trump’s judicial nominees (there are many waiting to be confirmed to the federal bench) if the Senate doesn’t take a vote to prevent Trump’s new tariffs.

It’s not clear if his promise to stall any nominees would extend as far as a Supreme Court nominee, should the Senate get around to a vote while Flake is still in office.

“If there were a vacancy there? I hadn’t thought of that. I haven’t thought of that,” Flake said Tuesday before Kennedy’s resignation, according to the Washington Post.

If either of those senators went nuclear and split from their party on a Supreme Court confirmation, that could leave Republicans in deep water, searching for votes from centrist Democrats who might back a Trump nominee. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is also considered a potential swing vote.

When Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed last year, three Democrats voted for him, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Joe Donnelly, who are all up for re-election in competitive races in heavily Republican states. All Republicans voted to confirm Gorsuch.

Even if all three of those Democrats decided to vote with their party and against a Trump nominee, that would still leave a newly elected Democrat from a state that is perhaps even more Republican and more supportive of Trump: Sen. Doug Jones from Alabama.

“Sen. Jones becomes a crucial vote if Republicans can’t keep 51 votes in the Senate or really 50 votes because of the president of the Senate, Vice President Pence,” Linken said.

And Trump’s nominee could decide the ideological tilt of the high court for decades to come, applying even more pressure to a confirmation vote.

“There’s no question that no matter who the president nominates and, assuming that person is confirmed, the court will become more conservative as we see it on some set of issues, even a substantial set of issues,” said University of Alabama Law School Professor Paul Horwitz, a former clerk on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and expert in constitutional law.

But Horwitz said it’s unlikely that Republicans would vote against a GOP nominee, though their influence could have some effect.

“Certainly, it’s a closely divided Senate with a couple of senators who have some leverage. And that may affect who gets nominated, although it is difficult to say,” Horwitz said.

Both professors said it was unlikely it would get to that point, though, because Republicans are unlikely to need Jones’ vote.

Jones said during the campaign that he considers abortion a settled view, and he has said nothing to suggest that he would vote for a nominee to the court that would be likely to overturn that precedent.

Months before the election, Jones said he supports a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.

“I’m going to stand up for that, and I’m going to make sure that that continues to happen,” he said. “I want to make sure that as we go forward, people have access to contraception, they have access to the abortion that they might need, if that’s what they choose to do.”

And since then, he joined other Democrats, Collins and Murkowski in stopping a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Three other Democrats, Manchin, Donnelly and Sen. Bob Casey, R-Pennsylvania, voted in support of the measure.

Regardless, Jones — should he want to be re-elected in 2020 when his term is up — is stuck in a difficult situation that will require him to balance the desires of his Democratic base and moderate Republicans who he will need to crossover and vote for him in two years.

 

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America celebrates Independence Day

The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

Brandon Moseley

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The United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain every year on July 4.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress. This is a national and state holiday that is celebrated with fireworks, family gatherings, concerts of patriotic music and is traditionally the height of the summer holiday season.

The Declaration of Independence defined the rights of man and the relationship between government and the governed. It also stated the colonists grievances with the distant British government and explained why independence was both justified and necessary.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” the Declaration reads.

The principal writer of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson, who would go on to be the wartime governor of Virginia, vice president and the third president of the United States.

As brilliant as the Declaration of Independence is, independence was not won by words alone — but by the sacrifices of the men and women who sacrificed on and off the battlefields of Concord, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Quebec, Charleston, Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Yorktown and countless more to win the nation’s independence.

That ragtag, often poorly equipped and underfed army was led by General George Washington. Washington would go on to be the head the Constitutional convention and the first president of the United States, serving two terms.

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Both Washington and Jefferson are immortalized on Mount Rushmore as two of the greatest presidents.

An estimated 25,000 Americans were killed fighting the Revolutionary War. The British forces lost over 10,000 troops including many Americans who opposed independence and fought and died for the British crown. An estimated 58,000 crown Loyalists would leave this country over their loyalty to the British crown. Many of them settled in Canada.

“Today, we celebrate our Nation’s independence and the vision of our Founding Fathers revealed to the world on that fateful day, as well as the countless patriots who continue to ensure that the flames of freedom are never extinguished,” President Donald Trump said in the annual presidential July 4 message.

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ADPH urges Alabamians to have “safer-at-home” July 4th celebrations

This year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday is the Fourth of July, a day when many families hold elaborate celebrations with their friends. It is a time for friends, family, fireworks, barbecue, celebrating our nation’s independence and enjoying the summer weather.

But this year, amid a global pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health is urging Alabamians to celebrate at home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

“Independence Day is a wonderful celebration for all Americans,” the ADPH said on their website. “As we move toward this major holiday, we want to share some recommendations and reminders for local governmental officials.”

The novel strain of the coronavirus is the largest pandemic to deeply impact this country in a century. At least 57,236 Americans were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday alone and 131,533 Americans have died, including 983 Alabamians.

A few simple steps can greatly reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing others to COVID-19. Everyone should practice good hygiene, cover coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face and wash hands often. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household.

The use of cloth face coverings or masks when in public can greatly reduce the risk of transmission, particularly if the infected individual wears a mask. Many people are contagious before they begin to show symptoms — or may never develop symptoms but are still able to infect others.

The ADPH emphasized that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that everyone should avoid large gatherings.

This CDC video explains more about how large gatherings can spread the virus.

According to ADPH, there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses at this time.

There is ongoing medical research regarding treatment of COVID-19. Although most people will recover on their own, you can do some things to help relieve your symptoms, including taking medications to relieve pain and fever, using a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough and drinking plenty of fluids if you are mildly sick. Stay home and get plenty of rest.

Alabama is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases in the month of June and into early July.

The state reported at least 1,758 positive cases on Friday alone, the most since the pandemic began. In the past seven days, 7,645 cases have been reported, the most of any seven-day period since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases — used to smooth out daily variability and inconsistencies in case reporting — surpassed 1,000 for the first time Friday.

Since the first coronavirus case was identified in Alabama in early March, 41,362 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

 

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Byrne secures authorization for additional Austal ship in NDAA

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, this week announced that the House Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 by a vote of 56 to 0. The bill includes a Byrne amendment authorizing $260 million to construct an additional Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel at Austal Mobile. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote for passage.

“Today’s defense authorization bill received strong bipartisan support and will ensure that the men and women of our military have the resources necessary to protect American interests and safety,” Byrne said. “Like most legislation, the bill isn’t perfect, but the committee’s willingness to work together towards a common goal should be a template for the entire House of Representatives to follow.”

“It is great news for Southwest Alabama and our entire nation that the committee accepted my amendment to authorize the construction of an additional EPF at the Austal shipyard in Mobile,” Byrne said. “Passage of this amendment acknowledges the critical role the 4,000 men and women at Austal Mobile play in supporting our nation’s military readiness and moving us closer to our goal of a 355-ship fleet. In fact, just this week we reached a landmark when the Austal-built USS Oakland LCS was delivered to the Navy, becoming the 300th ship in our Navy’s fleet. Construction of an additional EPF will strengthen Austal’s footprint in Mobile and bolster its contributions to our national defense, and I hope Congress moves quickly to pass this bill into law.”

The NDAA sets policy and authorizes funding for the entire United States military and has been passed by the House each year for the previous 59 years. The bill is expected to receive a vote in the House as soon as this month.

An Expeditionary Fast Transport is a 338-foot shallow draft aluminum catamaran designed to be multi-mission capable of intra-theater personnel and cargo lift, providing combatant commanders high-speed sealift mobility with inherent cargo handling capability and agility to achieve positional advantage over operational distances. Bridging the gap between low-speed sealift and high-speed airlift, EPFs transport personnel, equipment and supplies over operational distances with access to littoral offload points including austere, minor and degraded ports in support of the Global War on Terrorism/Theater Security Cooperation Program, Intra-theater Operational/Littoral Maneuver and Sustainment and Seabasing. EPFs enable the rapid projection, agile maneuver and sustainment of modular, tailored forces in response to a wide range of military and civilian contingencies such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. It is a non-combatant transport vessel characterized by its high volume, high speed, and flexibility. Its large flight deck can accommodate a variety of aircraft.

The EPF is designed to transport 600 short tons of military cargo 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. The ships are capable of operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank (M1A2). The EPF includes a flight deck for helicopter operations and an off-load ramp that allow vehicles to quickly drive off the ship. The ramp is suitable for the types of austere piers and quay walls common in developing countries. The ship’s shallow draft (under 15 feet) will further enhance littoral operations and port access. This makes the EPF an extremely flexible asset for support of a wide range of operations including maneuver and sustainment, relief operations in small or damaged ports, flexible logistics support or as the key enabler for rapid transport.

EPF has a crew of 26 Civilian Mariners with airline style seating for 312 embarked troops and fixed berthing for an additional 104. Military Sealift Command (MSC) operates and sustains the EPFs, which will be allocated via the Global Force Management for Theater Security Cooperation, service unique missions, intra-theater sealift and special missions.

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Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.

The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.

The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.

Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.

The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

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Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.

At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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