Honduran migrant Ariel, 19, who is waiting for his court hearing for asylum seekers returned to Mexico to wait out their legal proceedings under a new policy change by the U.S. government, is pictured after an interview with Reuters in Tijuana, Mexico March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
March 19, 2019
By Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg
TIJUANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico was set to cross the border on Tuesday for their first hearings in U.S. immigration court in an early test of a controversial new policy from the Trump administration.
The U.S. program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), turns people seeking protection in the United States around to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border towns. Some 240 people – including families – have been returned since late January, according to U.S. officials.
Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court.
Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family, were preparing to line up at the San Ysidro port of entry first thing Tuesday morning.
Ariel, who asked to use only his middle name because of fears of reprisals in his home country, was among the first group of asylum-seeking migrants sent back to Mexico on Jan. 30 and given a notice to appear in U.S. court in San Diego.
“God willing everything will move ahead and I will be able to prove that if I am sent back to Honduras, I’ll be killed,” Ariel said.
While awaiting his U.S. hearing, Ariel said he was unable to get a legal work permit in Mexico but found a job as a restaurant busboy in Tijuana, which does not pay him enough to move out of a shelter.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups are suing in federal court to halt the MPP program, which is part of a series of measures the administration of President Donald Trump has taken to try to curb the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.
The Trump administration says most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of crushing immigration court backlogs people are often released pending resolution of their cases and live in the United States for years. The government has said the new program is aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”
Critics of the program say it violates U.S. law and international norms since migrants are sent back to often dangerous towns in Mexico in precarious living situations where it is difficult to get notice about changes to U.S. court dates and to find legal help.
Immigration advocates are closely watching how the proceedings will be carried out this week, especially after scheduling glitches created confusion around three hearings last week, according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which runs U.S. immigration courts under the Department of Justice, said only that it uses its regular court scheduling system for the MPP hearings and did not respond to a question about the reported scheduling problems.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are real concerns about the difficulties of carrying out this major shift in U.S. immigration policy.
“The government did not have its shoes tied when they introduced this program,” he said.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)
FILE PHOTO: A Jet Airways plane is parked as another moves to the runway at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai, India, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
March 19, 2019
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s aviation regulator said on Tuesday that Jet Airways is currently operating only 41 aircraft, just a third of its original fleet, as the debt-laden carrier struggles to finalize a rescue deal with lenders and its major shareholder Etihad Airways.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in a statement the situation is fluid and that Jet may reduce the number of aircraft it is flying in coming weeks.
Saddled with debt of more than one billion dollars, Jet has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors – some of whom have ended lease deals with the airline before taking the planes out of the country.
The DGCA also said that pilots, cabin crew and ground staff who have reported any kind of stress should not be put on duty, and the airline should carry out regular maintenance of its aircraft even if they are currently grounded.
(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Edited by Martin Howell)
FILE PHOTO: The casket carrying the remains of Scott Wirtz, a civilian employee of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency killed along with three members of the U.S. military during a recent attack in Syria, sits in a military vehicle during a dignified transfer ceremony as they are returned to the United States at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
March 19, 2019
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S.-backed forces have captured Islamic State fighters tied to a January suicide bombing in Syria that killed four Americans, U.S. officials say, generating concrete leads for Washington about the deadliest attack to date there against U.S. personnel.
The bombing killed Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Farmer, Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent and Scott Wirtz from the Defense Intelligence Agency. It also killed Ghadir Taher, a naturalized U.S. citizen working as a civilian interpreter for a U.S. contractor.
One of the officials told Reuters the number of people detained was in the “single digits.” A second official said there were several “initial detentions” made in February, without offering a specific number. The detentions have not been previously reported.
“Those initial detentions have provided some leads and opportunities that we are continuing to exploit,” the second official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and declining to offer additional details.
“The investigation is ongoing as are efforts to bring all of those terrorists responsible to justice.”
The attack was the worst single incident involving U.S. personnel in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015 and took place at a cafe in the town of Manbij, which was controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
The bombing occurred nearly a month after President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team and allies with a surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.
Critics seized on the killings as clear evidence that the Islamic State still posed a threat.
Trump backtracked in February, agreeing to leave a small U.S. presence to help keep pressure on Islamic State during what the U.S. military believes will be a critical stabilization phase in Syria. The United States is seeking contributions from allies including Britain and France to remain in Syria.
The U.S. military has warned that Islamic State may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency in the months ahead.
The Pentagon’s own internal watchdog released a report last month saying Islamic State remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria.
“Absent sustained (counterterrorism) pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory,” the report from the Pentagon’s inspector general said.
The report, citing information from U.S. Central Command, said Islamic State would portray the withdrawal as a “victory” and conduct attacks on American personnel during the pullout process.
A report by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that Islamic State has transformed into a covert network, but is still a threat with centralized leadership, up to $300 million at its disposal and thousands of fighters.
It said the group was interested in attacking aviation and using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and that there were up to 18,000 Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Tom Brown)
FILE PHOTO: The HSBC bank is seen in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London, Britain, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
March 19, 2019
By Sinead Cruise and Lawrence White
LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC is stepping up a root-and-branch overhaul of its global banking and markets division, naming 83 new managing directors in a 1,300-strong promotions spree aimed at revitalizing its investment banking franchise.
After another year of underwhelming performance in 2018, HSBC’s management team – bolstered by new finance chief and ex-investment banker Ewen Stevenson – are plotting a push to recover ground lost to rivals, with a revamp of its trading floor seen as top priority, sources close to HSBC said.
Samir Assaf, chief executive of global banking and markets, distributed a memo last Monday pointing out the significant rise in the number of women promoted this year.
HSBC is trying to close a gender pay gap of 61 percent, the worst among major British firms and largely caused by a lack of women in senior, higher paid roles.
Around a third of the 83 new managing directors are female, the memo seen by Reuters showed, a 13 percentage point rise from the previous year, according to a source at the bank with knowledge of the matter.
A spokesman for HSBC declined to comment.
The wave of promotions comes just weeks after the bank axed dozens of sales and advisory jobs in London following an extended period of turmoil in its investment banking operations.
Last year saw an exodus of high-profile dealmakers in Europe, with sources saying there was frustration at a lack of a clear strategy.
36 of the promotions are in HSBC’s global banking business, which includes its mergers and acquisitions and equity advisory bankers.
The bank has also poached senior hires from rivals, including former JPMorgan banker Greg Guyett as head of global banking and former Goldman Sachs banker Peter Enns as the global head of its financial institutions group.
HSBC tumbled further in investment banking league tables in some key market segments in 2018, with its fourth quarter performance in equities particularly weak.
Revenues there fell 20 percent from a year earlier, the second worst performance among major investment banks after France’s BNP Paribas.
HSBC slipped to 20th among global equity deal bookrunners in 2018 from 16th the previous year, according to Refinitiv data. It also fell to 24th from 19th in the rankings for advising on completed mergers and acquisitions.
The bank fared better in its traditional stronghold of debt underwriting, placing 6th according to Refinitiv data, with revenues growing 14 percent in its transaction banking business.
Investors are pinning their hopes on Georges Elhedery to improve productivity and lift the mood in the bank’s global markets business, after he took over the division from caretaker boss Thierry Roland on Friday.
Elhedery, who is relocating to London from Dubai to take up the role, is filling a position vacated by veteran HSBC banker Thibaut de Roux in September last year.
25 of the new promotions are in global markets, and other high-ranking appointments are in progress.
Nathalie Safar, one of the investment bank’s most senior women, is leaving her position as global equities chief operating officer after eight years in the role, a second staff memo seen by Reuters showed.
She will take up a newly-created position of head of front to back resource and cost management, focusing on making savings that will fund investments in the bank’s growth areas.
A search for her successor is underway, the memo said.
(Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
FILE PHOTO: Container cranes are pictured at the Port of Singapore, June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim
March 19, 2019
By Jonathan Saul and Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) – More ports around the world are banning ships from using a fuel cleaning system that pumps waste water into the sea, one of the cheapest options for meeting new environmental shipping rules.
The growing number of destinations imposing stricter regulations than those set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are expected to be a costly headache for cruise and shipping firms as they face tough market conditions and slowing world trade. They might have to pay for new equipment and extra types of fuel and adjust their routes.
Singapore, China and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates have already banned the use of the cleaning systems, called open loop scrubbers, from the start of next year when the new IMO rules come into force.
Reuters has learned that individual ports in Finland, Lithuania, Ireland and Russia, have all banned or restricted such equipment, according to interviews with officials and reviews of documents by Reuters. One British port has occasionally imposed restrictions.
Norway is also working on open loop scrubber bans around its world heritage fjords, an official with the climate and environment ministry told Reuters. A ban on all types of scrubbers is also proposed, the official added.
The IMO rules will prohibit ships from using fuels with sulfur content above 0.5 percent, unless they are equipped with exhaust gas cleaning systems. The open loop scrubbers wash out the sulfur and some industry experts believe they are the cheapest way to meet the new global rules.
Companies that invested in open loop scrubbers will be unable to use them while sailing through those port waters. They also fear the IMO rules could change again and ban open loop scrubbers altogether.
The world’s top cruise operator Carnival Corporation has invested over $500 million to deploy the devices.
Carnival’s Mike Kaczmarek, senior vice president for marine technology and refit with oversight of the group’s scrubbers program, said the port moves were “very troubling”.
“The more ports that participate in this, the greater the (economic) impact,” he said.
“A lot of people out there…in good faith have made significant investments.”
Ships with open loop scrubbers docking or sailing through those ports would need to store waste in tanks until it could be discharged elsewhere or avoid the ports.
The other option is to use a scrubber with a “closed loop”, which stores the waste until it can be treated on land. There are also hybrid scrubbers with a loop that can be open or closed.
Ship owners could also choose another energy source such as low sulfur fuel or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Some experts say there will be enough low sulfur fuel available to avoid fitting scrubbers.
Data from Norwegian risk management and certification company DNV GL shows there will be a total of 2,693 ships running with scrubbers by the end of 2019 – based on current orders – and over 80 percent of them will be open loop devices, compared with 15 percent using hybrid scrubbers and 2 percent opting for closed loop scrubbers.
Initial research to date into the environmental impact of open loop scrubbers has produced a range of results. The ports and authorities that have banned them have acted in anticipation of studies that conclusively show the discharge is harmful, environmental groups say.
International regulation often lags local action and the IMO rules were agreed in 2016 after years of tense discussions.
An official with Sweden’s Gothenburg port said it recommended shipowners in their waters not to use open loop scrubbers as a precautionary principle to “avoid discharges of scrubber wash water in coastal waters and port areas”.
Businesses are waiting to see if the IMO rules will change.
“What is terrible for business is uncertainty in regulation and changes which are not broadcast well in advance,” said Hamish Norton, president of dry bulk shipping group Star Bulk Carriers, among the biggest investors in scrubbers.
Jurisdictions that have not imposed restrictions are also watching closely.
The IMO encouraged member states in February to research the impact of scrubbers on the environment. An IMO spokeswoman said it was up to countries to make any proposal to tighten scrubber regulation, which would need consensus approval by its 174 member states.
The 28 European Union countries submitted a paper to the IMO which said the use of open loop scrubbers was “expected to lead to a degradation of the marine environment due to the toxicity of water discharges”. It said it wanted to see “harmonization of rules and guidance”.
A separate paper submitted to the IMO, commissioned by Panama – the world’s top ship registration state – and conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said more scientific investigation was needed.
THE FRONT PAGE TEST
A number of jurisdictions without bans, including Gibraltar, South Korea and Australia said they were investigating.
“We will study to find out how harmful it is to oceans and then consider what actions we can take,” said an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
“If the IMO sets out a guideline on this, we will comply.”
Others are pushing back. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, said it concluded in research last year that there was little impact on the marine environment from scrubber water discharges.
Carnival said a study it commissioned concluded that scrubbers were safe and discharges were over 90 percent lower than maximum allowable levels in various waters.
Nevertheless, many in the industry expect the rules to change.
Ivar Hansson Myklebust, chief executive with Hoegh Autoliners, said at a recent Marine Money conference the vehicle transporter was not ordering any scrubbers.
“The (open loop) scrubbers have a hard time passing the front page test taking pollutants from the air and dumping it into the sea,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Gederts Gelzis in Riga, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore, Esha Vaish in Stockholm, Jane Chung in Seoul, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; editing by Anna Willard)
Democrat Party leader and former Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva poses with a supporter during his campaign rally in Bangkok, Thailand January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
March 19, 2019
By Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s oldest political party is heading into an election on Sunday with leader Abhisit Vejjajiva facing tough choices in the first polls since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.
Will Abhisit’s pro-business, pro-establishment Democrat Party join with a new pro-military party in a coalition after the vote, likely extending the army’s dominance of power?
Or will the Democrats band together with a “pro-democracy front” to keep the army out of government – but at the price of working with its bitter foe for 15 years: parties loyal to ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Or is there a third option, as Abhisit argues? One scenario could return Oxford-educated Abhisit to the prime minister’s office, which he held from 2008 to 2011 after a court dissolved a pro-Thaksin government.
“We will be the alternative in leading Thailand out of the last decade of troubles,” Abhisit, 54, told Reuters in an interview.
Prominent Democrats have been at the center of Thailand’s turbulent politics since 2005, with some party members leading anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirt” protests against corruption that led to two military coups in a decade.
Sunday’s election has been billed by the military government as returning Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to civilian, democratic rule. But critics say a new constitution, overseen by the generals, enshrines military influence over politics.
Doubts the army will truly give up power were heightened last month when a new pro-military party nominated junta chief and prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, as its prime ministerial candidate.
Abhisit this month said in a campaign video he would not support Prayuth’s staying on as prime minister, which he said would “breed conflict and is against the Democrat party’s principle that the people have the power”.
At the same time, Abhisit made clear he would be loath to work with the main pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai. The Democrats have long decried the Thaksin movement as corrupt and a threat to independent democratic institutions.
“I don’t want dictatorship and I don’t want corrupt people,” Abhisit said. “Corrupt politicians provided the pretexts for the military to stage all the coups in the last 20 years.”
Thaksin lives in self-exile to avoid a 2008 graft conviction he said was politically motivated but he retains widespread support, especially in the north and northeast.
The Democrats have traditionally drawn support from the Bangkok middle class and the south.
Abhisit’s hopes for a third way could come to nothing in an election increasingly defined by the face-off between pro-military parties, which have Prayuth as their candidate for prime minister and electoral rules that give them an advantage, and an anti-military bloc with Thaksin’s loyalists at its core.
While Abhisit has rejected Prayuth as prime minister, he has not ruled out a coalition with Palang Pracharat, the party that has nominated the junta leader.
Such a deal might see a “compromise” premier, perhaps Abhisit himself or another outside candidate.
The target for political parties is 376 seats in parliament – 50 percent plus one of the combined 250-seat upper house Senate and the 500-seat lower House of Representatives.
But with the junta appointing all 250 members of the Senate, no single party is likely to secure the 376 magic number on its own.
Given that the pro-military Palang Pracharat can count on the support of the Senate, it needs to win only 126 lower house seats to form a government.
By contrast, the parties opposed to a military role in government must win 376 seats in the lower house, three-quarters of the seats, to block the military from retaining control.
Still, most polls indicate Palang Pracharat won’t win enough seats on its own meaning it would need coalition partners, with the Democrats a likely choice.
‘NOT BLACK AND WHITE’
The Democrats have come second to pro-Thaksin parties in every election since 2001, including the last one in 2011, when they got 35 percent of the vote to Pheu Thai’s 48 percent.
Opinion polls tend to show the Democrats coming second or third. The party will be competing for the anti-Thaksin vote with other parties, including Palang Pracharat.
The Democrat Party was founded in 1947 as a conservative, royalist movement, and has portrayed itself as a champion of civilian rule in a country that has seen 13 successful coups, even if at times it worked with military governments.
In 1992, the Democrats sided with anti-army demonstrators in an uprising that led to a bloody crackdown. The party won an election later that year but it was blamed for mishandling the wrenching fall-out of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which paved the way for the rise of telecoms tycoon Thaksin.
Amid polarisation in the 2000s, the Democrats benefited from the military’s opposition to Thaksin, and at times called for military intervention to oust pro-Thaksin governments.
Abhisit has rejected efforts by Thaksin’s loyalists to portray the election as a two-way fight between democracy and military-dominated rule.
“This election is not black and white, the country has more choices,” he told Reuters.
Anti-junta parties, however, argue there is no neutrality or third way in the election.
“Abhisit says he will not join with Pheu Thai, but does that mean he will join with Palang Pracharat?” asked Sudarat Keyuraphan, Pheu Thai’s top prime ministerial candidate.
“There are only two sides,” she said. “So he must choose.”
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prince Harry (R) arrives with girlfriend actress Meghan Markle at the wheelchair tennis event during the Invictus Games in Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo
March 19, 2019
By Lisa Richwine and Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Fascination, pride and the best soap opera in the world have many Americans eagerly awaiting the impending birth of Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle’s first child.
After some 29 million Americans watched the televised May 2018 wedding of Harry to Californian actress Markle, the prospect of the first British royal baby born to an American mother is proving even more compelling.
“It’s going to be massive,” said J.D. Heyman, deputy editor of People magazine. “When Meghan presents the baby, when Meghan and Harry step out onto a balcony … I think what you will see is an enormous outpouring of affection for both of them.”
“The excitement around this equals the births of certainly Prince William’s babies and, frankly, Harry and William’s birth(s)” more than 30 years ago, Heyman added.
Despite America’s War of Independence fought against Britain some 240 years ago, Americans have long been obsessed with British royals, who regularly feature on the front pages of celebrity magazines.
British producer Nick Bullen, a co-founder of subscription streaming service True Royalty TV, which launched last summer, said a colorful and dramatic history with larger-than-life figures such as King Henry VIII drives the modern fascination with the royal family.
“The British royal family is the best soap opera in town,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
True Royalty TV is based in London but draws its largest number of subscribers from the United States.
While celebrity media outlets are chronicling Markle’s pregnancy with daily pictures and speculation over the baby’s sex and due date, True Royalty TV plans documentaries and talk-show discussions on topics including: how will the royal couple raise their first child?
“Imagine raising an American royal in Britain,” Bullen said. “It’s hard enough I think for a lot of Americans to come to London and get to grips with boarding schools and prep schools and little caps and little shorts and how we raise children in the UK.
“Will Dorian, Meghan’s mum, be involved in the baby’s raising?” Bullen said. “Will it have holidays in California? Will it be doing baby yoga? People want to know all that level of detail.”
Not everyone is getting caught up in royal baby fever.
“I actually don’t have too much of an opinion about it,” shrugged Evan Jorgensen, as he strolled along the Venice Beach boardwalk in California on Monday.
But most people Reuters spoke to said they were excited and pleased. Americans feel tremendous affection toward Markle, said Heyman.
“There’s a personal pride that many people feel, that an average American girl of a multiracial background has risen to this position,” he said.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Rollo Ross; Writing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Nick Carey)
FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to supporters in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht/File Photo
March 19, 2019
By Amanda Becker
GREENVILLE, Miss. (Reuters) – Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of more than a dozen Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, on Monday called for the scrapping of the electoral college, the method used to elect U.S. presidents.
It was the first time Warren has explicitly called to eliminate the system established by the U.S. constitution, in which each state is allotted a set number of “electors” based on the combined total of the state’s representation in Congress.
Warren was participating in a televised CNN town hall in Jackson, Mississippi, when she was asked how, if elected, she would expand access to voting, including for those convicted of felonies.
Warren, 69, said there should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote, and called for the repeal of laws that make it more difficult to cast ballots.
She then lamented that White House candidates do not spend much time in places like Mississippi, which is conservative, and therefore not considered a swing state in U.S. presidential elections.
“Well, my view is that every vote matters. And the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting. And that means get rid of the electoral college and everybody counts,” Warren said, eliciting some of the most enthusiastic applause of the night.
The electoral college has 538 electors and 270 are needed to win the presidency. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election but Republican Donald Trump won the electoral college.
Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced a constitutional amendment this year to eliminate the electoral college, but it has not been brought up for a vote in the House, which is controlled by Democrats.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter
- Five Democratic presidential candidates are contemplating proposals to expand the Supreme Court.
- The push to “pack the courts” follows a concerted Republican effort to install judicial conservatives at every level of the federal judiciary.
- The threat of court expansion could itself deter the Supreme Court’s conservatives from moving the law sharply in new directions.
A growing number of Democratic presidential candidates are entertaining a push to add seats to the Supreme Court, as Republican success at filling the courts with judicial conservatives has infuriated progressive voters.
Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and Kirsten Gillibrand have expressed willingness to consider proposals for expanding the composition of the Supreme Court as of this writing.
The Trump campaign charged that those suggestions, called court-packing, keeps with other structural reforms to the U.S. political system some Democrats have endorsed since the 2016 election.
“This is just what the Democrats always do,” the Trump campaign told TheDCNF. “When they lose, they try to change the rules. This is no different from when they attack the Electoral College every time they lose the White House. Now it’s court-packing. They want to change our institutions to fit their own political desires.”
Another presidential candidate, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, advanced a more modest proposition. Speaking Monday night on MSNBC, the senator said term limits for Supreme Court justices might be appropriate, but he seemed reluctant to endorse expansion of the Court.
Democrats frame the issue as a credibility problem. By their telling, the campaign began when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to fill the vacancy occasioned by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death until after the 2016 election, and continued apace with the abolition of the filibuster for high court nominees.
“We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence in the Supreme Court,” Harris told Politico. “We have to take this challenge head on, and everything is on the table to do that.”
O’Rourke struck a similar note Friday at a Burlington, Iowa coffee shop, telling onlookers that an expanded Court is “an idea that we should explore” to curb partisanship and political dysfunction. The former El Paso congressman floated a proposal to add six justices to the high court. Under that system, Democrats and Republicans would each appoint five justices. Those 10 would then unanimously select the remaining five.
Other procedural changes for lower court nominations have inflamed Democratic anger, such that packing the courts — once thought radical — is now a viable political position.
“The GOP has also undermined virtually all of the customs that protected the minority and home state senators in the judicial selection process, such as White House consultation and blue slips, while ramming through circuit nominees with little process,” Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
After President Donald Trump took office, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee began holding confirmation hearings in which multiple circuit court nominees appear for testimony. Democrats say that’s a break with historical practice. (RELATED: Is Chief Justice John Roberts Tacking Left?)
The committee has also effectively abandoned the minority party’s blue slip veto for appeals court nominations, which allows senators to block nominees tapped for judgeships in their state. Republicans say the blue slip process has not been consistently observed for circuit court confirmations and makes little sense for appellate nominees.
Interest in court-packing has also waxed due to a sustained interest group campaign. Career Democratic operatives, attempting to put liberal interest in the judiciary at parity with conservatives, founded a dark money political group that is urging Democratic candidates to endorse court-expansion ideas.
A Democratic Court-packing bid would likely require a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Given that daunting prospect, a near-term effort to expand the Court is unlikely to succeed. Yet the Democratic flirtation with court-packing might itself bring the justices to heel. Tobias suggested that a threat to the institution’s composition, even if unlikely, could deter the justices from moving the law rightward.
“Discussing that prospect and other proposals like term limits for justices or adding lower court judges may signal to the Court that it should not veer sharply to the right, as Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be signaling to Trump and the nation with his rebuff of Trump regarding ‘Obama judges,’” Tobias said, referencing an episode in 2018 in which Roberts rebuked Trump for deriding a district court judge who enjoined the administration’s asylum reforms.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, accused Democrats of browbeating the Court’s newly entrenched conservative majority.
“Democrats will try anything to politicize the judicial selection process and the courts,” Severino told TheDCNF. “Now they are trying to bully and intimidate the Supreme Court’s justices into serving as a rubber stamp for a liberal political agenda.”
Popular history holds that a similar tactic animated an important change on the Supreme Court during the 1930s. A conservative coalition on the high court struck down much of President Franklin Roosevelt’s domestic economic program during his first term. Flush with victory after his landslide reelection in 1936, Roosevelt asked Congress for authority to appoint as many as six new justices.
Though the Democratic Congress overwhelmingly repudiated that request, Justice Owen Roberts, then the “swing vote” on the bench, began voting to uphold progressive economic measures, like the constitutionality of minimum wage laws. That shift was widely interpreted as a strategic move to protect the Court from Roosevelt’s scheme. Recent scholarship questions the accuracy of this view, sometimes called “the switch in time that saved nine.”
Still, Roosevelt’s plot is widely seen as notorious and misguided, and may explain why no candidate has yet given a court-packing alternative their unqualified endorsement. Instead, the Democratic 2020 contenders urge further discussions or decline to rule out the possibility.
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