“What is really different — and dangerous — about today’s justices is not partisanship, but rather a cognitive trap that Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has called the “most damaging” of all human biases: overconfidence. Put simply, today’s justices possess a frightening degree of certainty that they can alone answer society’s most pressing problems with just the right lawyerly argument.
The roots of this certitude developed, perhaps surprisingly, from a noble place. When confronted with legal challenges to a slew of racially discriminatory laws in the mid-20th century, the justices needed the ability to proclaim those laws inconsistent with our Constitution’s one, true meaning. For good and important reasons, that is exactly what the court did.
But the power to declare the law’s meaning — and to override democratically enacted policies — is seductive. High constitutional theories such as living constitutionalism and originalism were advanced to justify judicial intervention in disputes ranging from guns to abortion and religion to the death penalty. And our overconfident Supreme Court was born.
The evidence of this overconfidence is everywhere around us, and it affects both sides of the political spectrum. One rough measure is the frequency with which the court overrules the judgment of our nation’s elected lawmakers. Whereas the court struck down less than one act of Congress per year between 1788 and 1994, the court has invalidated an average of more than three federal laws per year since then.”
“Perhaps most significantly, the court’s overconfidence problem is apparent in its opinions. In overturning the right to abortion, for example, Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion declared that the legal reasoning embraced by respected jurists such as Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and Thurgood Marshall was “far outside the bounds of any reasonable interpretation.” Never mind that the “most important historical fact” on which Alito rested his own conclusion — the number of states that banned abortion in 1868 — was riddled with historical inaccuracies.
Opinions reaching liberal results often reflect overconfidence bias, too. In Kennedy v. Louisiana, for example, the court struck down the death penalty for cases of aggravated child rape. Although the Constitution was far from clear on the matter and elected officials had reached differing views, a bare five-justice majority wrote that “in the end,” it is “our judgment” that must decide “the question of the acceptability of the death penalty.””
“Overconfidence bias has led to the court’s legitimacy crisis by unleashing the justices’ underlying partisan instincts. Humble justices can overcome those instincts by admitting uncertainty and deferring to others.”
“Florida school districts are spending tens of thousands of dollars to comply with a new state law that’s increased scrutiny — and removal — of books in K-12 school libraries.
The new law requires all campuses to digitally chronicle each book shelved and available for students in classroom libraries. Yet many schools, tight on staff with thousands of books to inventory, are outsourcing the arduous work of making all books searchable on local websites to a third-party company. Those services are costing districts between $34,000 to $135,000 annually, according to contracts reviewed by POLITICO.”
“intersex is actually an umbrella that covers four parts of human biology: chromosomes, those X’s and Y’s that carry genetic information; gonads, the organs that produce eggs or sperm; the mixture of hormones coursing through a person’s veins; and what their genitalia looks like. An intersex person might have differences in one of these areas, or all of them.”
“Not only is gender a spectrum, but actual physical, biological sex is a spectrum … And so it’s impossible to fit these bodies into a single box.”
“Wong says it’s hard to know for sure what the rate of intersex traits are because there are so many differences that could be counted and because some differences go unnoticed without genetic testing — which most Americans never do. But she and Fraser worry that these laws could mandate that kind of test, say for participation in sports.”
“Among the more controversial measures is a section authorizing another $12 million for the “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program,” which will fund stunts like last September’s migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Notably, it’ll authorize transport “within the United States”—nothing saying that relocation must begin in Florida, or even involve migrants present in the state.
The bill’s more mundane measures will affect far more people, however. Under S.B. 1718, private businesses with 25 or more employees will be required to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure that workers may legally work in the country. Once a business learns that an employee is unauthorized to work, it must fire him or her. Multiple violations in a 24-month period may result in the suspension of state-issued business licenses. Businesses may also lose their licenses based on the number of unauthorized people they employ: Employing between one and 10 will lead to a suspension of up to 30 days, escalating to full “revocation of all applicable licenses” for employing more than 50 unauthorized people.”
“First, this was a civil trial, meaning the verdict was supposed to be based on a preponderance of the evidence, as opposed to the much more demanding standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a criminal conviction. The question for the jurors was whether it was more likely than not that Trump had sexually assaulted Carroll.”
“Second, two of Carroll’s friends, journalist Lisa Birnbach and former TV anchor Carol Martin, testified that she had told them about the incident shortly after it happened. In the spring of 1996, Birnbach said, she received a distraught phone call from Carroll, who described a rape that was consistent with the account that she gave in 2019 and during the trial. Martin described a contemporaneous in-person conversation during which Carroll said “Trump attacked me” but did not use the word rape.
Third, two women, both of whom had previously told their stories publicly, testified that Trump had assaulted them, which Carroll’s lawyers argued was part of a pattern. In the late 1970s, former stockbroker Jessica Leeds said, she was sitting next to Trump on a flight to New York when he “decided to kiss me and grope me,” putting his hand up her skirt. In late 2005, former People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff said, she visited Mar-a-Lago while working on a story about Trump’s first year of marriage to his current wife, Melania. Stoynoff testified that Trump suddenly pushed her up against a wall and began kissing her, leaving her “flustered and sort of shocked.”
Fourth, Carroll’s lawyers cited the notorious 2005 tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women],” he told Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush during that conversation, which came to light the month before the 2016 presidential election. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” You can “grab ’em by the pussy,” he added. “You can do anything.”
Fifth, Trump did himself no favors during a deposition in which Carroll’s lead lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, asked him about those remarks. “Well, historically that’s true with stars,” he said. “It’s true with stars that they can grab women by the pussy?” Kaplan asked. “If you look over the last million years,” Trump replied, “I guess that’s been largely true, not always, but largely true—unfortunately or fortunately.” When Kaplan asked if Trump considered himself “a star,” he said, “I think you can say that, yeah.”
Sixth, Trump insisted that he did not know Carroll, despite photographic evidence that they had met, and his denial of her charges hinged largely on his claim that “she’s not my type”—as if he could imagine behaving as Carroll claimed he had with a woman he found more attractive. Kaplan noted that when she showed Trump a picture of Carroll greeting him at a social event in the 1980s, he mistook her for Marla Maples, his second wife. “The truth is that E. Jean Carroll, a former cheerleader and Miss Indiana, was exactly Donald Trump’s type,” Kaplan told the jury.
Seventh, Tacopina argued that Carroll’s accusation, which she first publicly lodged in a 2019 memoir that was excerpted in New York magazine, was financially and politically motivated. But the idea that she had suddenly invented the story to boost sales of her memoir was contradicted by Birnbach and Martin’s testimony. And if Carroll’s aim was to hurt Trump’s prospects as a presidential candidate, you might think she would have made the accusation in 2016. Carroll said she did not initially report the assault because she worried about the consequences of accusing a wealthy and prominent man, which was consistent with the advice that Martin said she regretted giving her at the time. Carroll said she was emboldened to come forward by the #MeToo movement, which is consistent with the timing of her public account.
Eighth, although Trump complains that he was not allowed to present his side of the story, he chose not to take the stand or even attend the trial. Michael Ferrara, one of Carroll’s lawyers, emphasized that point toward the end of the trial. “He just decided not to be here,” Ferrara told the jury. “He never looked you in the eye and denied raping Ms. Carroll.”
The jurors notably did not accept Carroll’s characterization of her encounter with Trump as rape, which under New York law requires “sexual intercourse,” meaning penile penetration. But they did conclude it was more likely than not that Trump had “sexually abused” Carroll, which involves nonconsensual sexual contact, and “forcibly touched” her, which involves touching “the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire.””
“Signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in April 2022, the law prohibits private employers and university professors from endorsing certain concepts related to race and other categories of identity. The statute drew lawsuits almost immediately. A number of employers and a diversity consultant challenged a provision that says private employers may not require employees to attend a training or activity that promotes any of eight listed concepts.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, writing for the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division, then issued an injunction against enforcing that provision. “Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely,” Walker wrote. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”
In November, Walker issued another injunction, this one blocking a similar section of the law that applies to university professors. He accused the state of essentially arguing that “professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves,” a position Walker described as “positively dystopian.”
“The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” he concluded.
It is this November injunction the 11th Circuit just left in place.
“Conservatives who cheer on the Florida law should consider what liberal states—or, for that matter, a Democratic-controlled Congress—could do if allowed to engage in similar regulation,” Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, warns at The Volokh Conspiracy. “The same powers that Florida uses to target ‘woke’ employer speech can just as easily be used against conservative employers.””
“Manhattan prosecutors allege that Trump concealed hush money payments by falsely labeling related transactions as legal expenses and by arranging for a tabloid publisher to bottle up the story of a woman who said she had a sexual relationship with Trump.
In doing so, the prosecutors say, Trump repeatedly violated a New York corporate record-keeping law and agreed to break campaign finance laws.”
“The charge at the heart of the case — falsifying business records — can amount to only a misdemeanor, but it becomes a felony if the defendant falsified the records to obscure a separate crime.
The most obvious candidate for that aggravating element is the admission from Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that he arranged a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in consultation with Trump and to aid Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“The defendant Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” the statement of facts says.
“The participants [in the scheme] violated election laws,” the statement continues, though it does not explicitly cite which ones. The statement also mentions Cohen’s guilty plea in 2018 to two federal campaign finance crimes. And in a press release, Bragg said Trump and others sought to conceal “attempts to violate state and federal election laws.”
The references to federal election violations are virtually certain to be the focus of pre-trial motions from Trump’s attorneys, who have contended publicly that this state-law offense cannot be piggybacked on a federal-law crime.
If defense attorneys prevail on such motions, it would not necessarily wipe out the criminal case against Trump. Instead, the case could remain as 34 misdemeanor charges. That would amount to a legal, public relations and political victory for Trump.
Such a result would further diminish the chances of Trump being jailed if found guilty. The maximum sentence on a second-degree falsifying business records charge is up to one year in prison on each count. A downgrading of the case to a misdemeanor might also aid Trump’s efforts to delay a trial.”
“For Trump to be convicted of falsifying business records, the records at issue have to be, well, business records.
The New York law at issue requires that the falsification involve the records of “an enterprise,” and each count of the indictment claims that Trump falsified records “kept and maintained by the Trump Organization.”
The facts are more complicated. It’s true that the checks sent to Cohen, which labeled the payments as legal expenses, were issued by employees working for Trump’s business empire. But they were not charged to Trump’s businesses. Instead, the payments were made from one of Trump’s personal accounts or from a Trump family trust.
The key question, and one that is sure to feature in efforts by Trump’s lawyers to derail the case, is whether documents that happened to pass through the Trump Organization or handled by Trump Organization personnel are automatically classified as business records, even if the source of the funds was Trump’s personal accounts.”
“Legal experts said they expect Trump’s lawyers to argue to the judge and, if necessary, a jury that wholly personal expenses that are simply handled by an accountant or other clerical personnel don’t become the “records of an enterprise” just by virtue of that process.”