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By Pete Williams
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to the appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general.
President Donald Trump appointed him on November 7, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was stepping down at the president’s request. Whitaker had been serving as chief of staff to Sessions.
Opponents of his appointment said he was not qualified for the position because he was not subject to Senate confirmation. Their vehicle for the challenge was a pending case against the U.S. attorney general, who was Sessions when the case was filed in June. The challengers asked the justices to rule that the name on the case should be changed to Rod Rosenstein, who they said is actually the acting attorney general.
The Supreme Court case was originally brought by a Nevada man, Barry Michaels, who asked the justices to rule that the right to own a gun should not be taken away from someone convicted of certain non-violent felonies.
On Monday, in a brief order, the court denied the motion to take Whitaker’s name off the case and also said it would not hear the Michaels gun case.
A similar challenge to the Whitaker appointment is pending in federal court in Maryland.
The Trump administration has vigorously defended Whitaker’s appointment. An opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said the government has identified over 160 times throughout U.S. history when presidents appointed non-Senate confirmed government officials to serve in high level positions. In recent years, the opinion said, such appointments were made by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The opinion said that while courts have held that the Constitution requires principal officers to be confirmed by the Senate, “it does not follow that Acting Attorney General should be understood to be one,” because the person appointed to serve in that capacity is not in a “continuing and permanent” position.
Supreme Court blocks suit over racially gerrymandered districts in Virginia
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit in Virginia over political boundaries for its state Legislature.
By a 5-4 vote — but not strictly along the usual conservative/liberal divide — the court said Virginia’s House of Delegates did not have the legal right to carry on a fight over the map once state officials bowed out.
The dispute arose after the last census when the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the district lines for the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. In response to a lawsuit, a federal court declared the map invalid, concluding that it unconstitutionally sorted voters based on race. A redrawn map was seen as more favorable to Democrats.
Virginia’s attorney general declined to appeal, and the House of Delegates picked up the fight. But the Supreme Court said a single house of the Legislature had no authority to do so.
“The House observes that Virginia gives redistricting authority to the ‘General Assembly.’ True enough,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. But, she said, “One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”
She was joined by two of the court’s other liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but also by two of the court’s most conservative members, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the ruling a big win for democracy.
“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” Herring said.
Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, called the decision “an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power.”
“With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people,” Holder said.
Monday’s decision will have no practical effect, because the Supreme Court had earlier allowed elections to proceed using the redrawn map that the House of Delegates opposed.
Biden diagnosed the problem, but I’ve got the solution
When Joe Biden jumped into the presidential race in April, one of his competitors, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, said the former vice president gets the economic problems facing Americans in the middle of the country.
Ryan told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle the former vice president understands how blue collar workers are struggling, a problem Ryan said he gets as well. But, the congressman said he thinks he’s the one with answers for those problems, not Biden.
Referring to a clip of Biden speaking about the problems facing Rust Belt workers, Ryan said he’d be “talking about the issues that are important and talking about the anxiety the vice president just mentioned,” but would be the one who will have “innovative solutions,” including creating “an industrial policy in the United States.”
Mitch McConnell isn’t sure why Jon Stewart is ‘all bent out of shape’ over 9/11 funds
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that he doesn’t know why comedian Jon Stewart got “all bent out of shape” over funding for 9/11 first responders, and insisted “we will take care of” them.
The Kentucky Republican, who’s been accused over the years of slow-walking related legislation to help the emergency personnel who responded to the 2001 terrorist attacks, told “Fox & Friends” there’s “no way we won’t address this problem appropriately.”
Stewart had called out McConnell on “Fox News Sunday,” noting that the GOP leader had claimed earlier in the week he had always dealt with the first responders in a “compassionate way, and I assume we will again.”
“I want to make it clear this has never been dealt with compassionately by Senator McConnell,” Stewart said in the interview. “He has always held out until the very last minute, and only then under intense lobbying and public shaming has he even deigned to move on it.”
McConnell dismissed Stewart’s concerns Monday morning.
“Many things in Congress happen at the last minute,” he said. “We’ve never failed to address this issue and we will address it again. I don’t know why he’s all bent out of shape, but we will take care of the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund.”
Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” took aim at Congress during his appearance before a House subcommittee last week, where he lobbied for a bill that would ensure the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund would be funded for 70 years. Congress has paid for the fund, which will run out of money in 2020, with a series of short-term spending bills, forcing first responders who were sickened by working in the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center to repeatedly travel to Washington to plead for help.
Testifying with Stewart last Tuesday was former NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, who was headed for a 69th round of chemotherapy the next day.
Stewart noted that there were several empty seats at the hearing.
“I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to — behind me a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me a nearly empty Congress,” he said. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak, to no one.”
“It’s shameful,” Stewart said.
McConnell shrugged off that complaint on “Fox & Friends” as well.
“That frequently happens because members have a lot of things going at the same time and it sounds to me like he was looking for some way to take offense,” he said.
In addition, the subcommittee hearing had been held in the full committee’s hearing room, increasing the number of empty chairs on the dais.
Asked if the legislation would be fully funded by the Senate after it is passed by the House, McConnell said, “Yeah.”
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