The legal theories of Amy Coney Barrett, explained

“We know she identifies as an originalist who believes that the original public meaning of the Constitution is binding law. But we also know that she is skeptical of the radical libertarian originalist idea that economic regulation is presumptively unconstitutional, and that she believes some Supreme Court decisions that originalists may conclude are incorrectly decided nonetheless stand as “superprecedents” that the Court can abide by.

Her legal writing has also prompted heated reactions from detractors. One piece (with fellow law professor John Garvey) on when Catholic judges might be obligated to recuse themselves from death penalty cases, prompted criticism from Senate Democrats during her appeals court confirmation hearings, who suggested Barrett was unable to separate her faith from her jurisprudence (a charge she strongly rejected).

Another piece (with late Notre Dame colleague John Copeland Nagle) on how members of Congress should incorporate the original meaning of the Constitution into their votes has raised the eyebrows of some commentators, because it begins by noting that there are originalist arguments (which the paper itself does not accept, except for the sake of argument) to think that West Virginia was invalidly admitted as a state; that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified; and that paper money is unconstitutional, among other surprising conclusions.”

“She’s been pretty vocally committed to originalism as really being the guiding light, more so than some others. She is more explicitly committed to the notion that one ought to be an originalist, and that it is the primary principle for judges, than Roberts is, or than Kavanaugh historically was. In that sense, she’s a little more like Thomas and Gorsuch. She has a clear judicial philosophy, and originalism is at its core.”

“she has also suggested that judges ought to care more about stare decisis [the doctrine that courts should generally abide by their previous rulings] than Thomas tends to. I think she’s a more moderate figure in that regard than Thomas. She would be trying to navigate precedents that are in conflict or in tension with original meaning, rather than just thinking they ought to be tossed overboard.”

“I’m glad you brought up stare decisis. A paper she wrote with her colleague John Copeland Nagle, “Congressional Originalism,” has caused a bit of concern among critics, in part because she leads with a list of precedents that arguably conflict with the original meaning of the Constitution.

Brown v. Board of Education is the most incendiary one, but she mentions arguments that West Virginia was invalidly admitted, that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified, that paper money is unconstitutional, and so forth. She doesn’t say she thinks they ought to be overruled — and indeed suggests that the point is moot in most cases as these issues would never come before the Court — but I think even putting up the examples has raised hackles.

How should people weighing her nomination think about that paper?”

“I tend not to think it’s terribly significant. To some degree, it is an academic enterprise of trying to think about, “What are the tensions here? What are the implications of adopting a certain theoretical perspective? What are the implications if you think there are tensions between the theory and some of these foundational constitutional decisions that have been made over time, whether they are things like creating the state of West Virginia or things like Brown v. Board?” For her, that’s just a starting point for then trying to think about how to deal with the fact that there are going to be these tensions.

Importantly, her view was not, “you’ve got to go overturn all these decisions,””

” A lot of people have run with the notion that she’s emphasizing the significance of her religious belief and, likewise, the religious beliefs of other judges and justices. But I think it’s one of these cases where that’s the starting point for her, saying, “It is true that judges have religious beliefs. And those religious beliefs sometimes have implications for the kind of issues that come before the court.” And then the question is how judges ought to deal with that. Certainly her conclusion is not simply that judges ought to therefore impose their religious beliefs.”

Who is Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court?

“Barrett is a staunch Catholic, a favorite of the religious right, and a former law clerk to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Her judicial record is fairly thin, owing to the fact that she’s only been a judge for about three years, but that short record suggests she’ll be a reliable conservative if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

In one of her most revealing opinions, Barrett took an expansive view of the Second Amendment — dissenting to the right of two colleagues who were appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Before joining the federal bench, Barrett was a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, and she frequently weighed in on many of the cultural fights that animate religious conservatism.

In a 2013 speech on Roe v. Wade, Barrett reportedly stated that life begins at conception — a common view among abortion opponents. She signed a 2012 statement claiming that an Obama administration policy requiring employee health plans to cover contraception was “a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.” She also signed a 2015 statement to Catholic bishops endorsing the church’s conservative views on abortion, sexuality, and marriage.

And in a 2017 book review, Barrett seemed to criticize two Supreme Court decisions that largely upheld Obamacare against partisan attacks — suggesting that she is likely to vote to undercut the Affordable Care Act and potentially strip health care from millions of Americans in the process.

Barrett’s views are hardly atypical of a Trump appointee to the federal bench. And her professional credentials, while impressive, are shared by many other sitting judges. It’s likely that she rose to the top of Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist not because her record sets her apart from a dozen or more staunch conservatives on the federal bench, but because of an effort by Democrats to impugn Barrett’s fitness for the bench when she was originally nominated to the Seventh Circuit.

That botched effort allowed religious conservatives to paint Barrett as a persecuted martyr, and means that Trump’s choice of Barrett could double as an attempt to stoke resentment among Christian conservative voters shortly before the election.”

We now know what Trump was trying to hide by holding back his tax returns

“The Times story makes clear the supposedly wealthy president often paid no income taxes while his businesses regularly lost vast sums of money, and he himself was on the hook for increasing sums in loans. All of that is politically damaging enough to Trump’s image, and likely a sufficient reason to work hard to keep the tax returns secret.

But there’s likely another reason behind Trump’s reticence — because reporters would scour his returns for legally dubious claims, and put the pieces together to how he was trying to snooker the IRS.

That’s just what ended up happening here. For example, Buettner, Craig, and McIntire sussed out that mysterious write-offs for consulting fees on certain Trump projects matched the amounts of payments to Trump’s daughter Ivanka. And there’s far more in the Times’s excellent piece.

One major theme of the Times piece is that the IRS audit of Trump is extremely serious, and that he could end up owing the US government more than $100 million. So reporters’ scrutiny of his tax returns might not just be politically problematic for Trump — they could also be financially and legally problematic.”

“Trump did indeed pay zero in income taxes from 2011 to 2014, and a paltry $750 in 2016 and 2017. He pulled this off by claiming that his businesses lost massive amounts of money. He has $421 million in debt due in the next few years, and he could owe $100 million more to the US government if he loses his audit battle with the IRS.”

“the specific reason Trump paid no taxes is embarrassing — because his businesses lost tons of money. (At least, that’s what he claims; keep in mind that the tax return information is his representation of his businesses to the IRS.)

To be clear, some parts of Trump’s business really do make money — for instance, The Apprentice sent cash pouring in, and Trump Tower is profitable. But Trump avoids paying taxes on these profits because he’s claimed such massive losses from other parts of his business empire.”

“there’s clearly some legally questionable stuff in there.

For instance, the records obtained by Buettner, Craig, and McIntire show that Trump wrote off $26 million in supposed consulting fees as a business expense between 2011 and 2018. But the reporters took the added step of uncovering where some of that money was going — and they figured out that some of those write-offs matched payments to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, as revealed on her own financial disclosure forms.

Ivanka was an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, not some outside consultant. And sources told the Times that there were no outside consultants involved in certain projects for which Trump’s businesses wrote off consulting fees.

The Times story also mentions other questionable practices — Trump dubbed a Westchester, New York, mansion an “investment property” so he could write off property taxes on it, but his son Eric Trump called it “our compound.” The Trump Organization also wrote off Donald Trump Jr.’s legal fees for the lawyer who represented him in the Russia investigation.”

More Countries Should Pay Plasma Donors

“Life-saving plasma therapies are essential for many patients, but every year we flirt with a shortage. Plasma collected in the United States is the source material for more than 70 percent of the world’s supply; humanity is nearly always one market disruption away from global catastrophe.

American dominance in this realm is explained by one simple fact: In the United States, it’s legal to pay people for their plasma. Millions of Americans regularly give plasma in exchange for $30–$50 per donation. The average American donor gives 21.4 times per year. If you add plasma obtained from Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic—the other places where compensation is offered—paid plasma accounts for a staggering 89 percent of all the plasma used to make plasma therapies for the whole world.”

“There have been significant improvements in testing technology since the 1970s, and modern manufacturers now have the ability to use virus removal and inactivation techniques, rendering samples safer than ever.”

“millions have been spent on TV, radio, and newspaper advertisements encouraging unpaid donation. Others say paid plasma is exploitative, but they don’t explain how prohibiting compensation would help people who currently feel the need to sell their plasma. Countries that have made the switch to paid donation have not seen altruism pushed out. The Czech Republic legalized compensation for plasma donations in 2008. Within three years, total donations increased sevenfold, making the country self-sufficient in plasma therapies.”

Experts say Covid-19 cases are likely about to surge

“The surge of Covid-19 cases and deaths in America over the summer resulted from a toxic mix of factors: states reopening, lockdown fatigue, and a season typically filled with vacations and holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. People gathered and celebrated indoors — at bars, restaurants, and friends and family’s homes. Millions of people got sick, and tens of thousands died.

This fall, experts worry it will all happen again: States are rolling back restrictions, people are eager to get back to normal, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up. America may be on the verge of repeating the same mistakes, which would risk yet another surge in the Covid-19 epidemic.”

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves First Domestic Small Commercial Reactor

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week approved a design application for the first domestic small commercial nuclear reactor. These types of reactors are smaller, simpler, cheaper, and feature more advanced safety systems than traditional reactor designs. It has the potential to generate enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.

The reactor design was submitted by NuScale Power, an Oregon company that plans to build at least a dozen small reactors by 2030 at a site in eastern Idaho. NuScale has received $288 million from the Department of Energy for the development of modular nuclear reactors, but a complex regulatory system for nuclear power means there’s a long way to go before construction can begin.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems—a consortium of 46 public utilities in six western states that plans to work with NuScale on the small reactor project— is now required to submit a combined construction and operating license application, and must complete an environmental analysis in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Utah Associated spokesman LaVarr Webb told the Associated Press that he estimates these applications will likely take two years to prepare.”

“NuScale submitted its 12,000-page application to the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2017 and has responded to more than 1,500 formal requests from the commission for more information. There’s a reason that NuScale’s design is the first that the NRC has approved since 2014.

While NuScale is moving forward, NRC regulations seem to be discouraging innovation. Carrie Fosaaen, a licensing specialist at NuScale, told Science Magazine that the NRC regulations, strictly interpreted, would push NuScale towards just building a miniature version of a conventional reactor—rather than being able to incorporate the design improvements that make NuScale’s design safer than conventional reactors.

As more states shift away from generating electricity from fossil fuels, nuclear power should be part of the mix. California’s rolling blackouts show how an increased focus on renewable energy comes with a problematic lack of durability for the power grid. The sun and wind do not care about the demand for electricity. Sometimes the sun doesn’t shine, or there is no wind. Nuclear power, however, produces a consistent amount of electricity that can be dialed up or down to meet demand.”