It was just a year ago that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in Chicago telling an audience that the process of nominating judges had become too partisan and that “we need to get back to the way it was when people were examining the qualifications for someone to be a judge rather than try to guess how they would vote on contentious cases.”
Days after her death, a partisan battle is unfolding over how to fill the seat, with abortion and the fate of the Affordable Care Act in play.
Chicago U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett is said to be one of President Donald Trump’s top choices to fill the vacancy. Her appointment would represent a pendulum swing from a 5-4 conservative-liberal split to a 6-3 divide on the nation’s high court.
Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior senator, a Democrat and Roman Catholic who sits on the committee, even was criticized over his line of questioning; in a Tribune opinion piece he responded to the criticism, writing that he focused on “issues she raised personally in her writings and speeches which could directly impact the discharge of her duties as a circuit court judge.”
Democrats want to put the brakes on any preelection nomination by the Republican White House and GOP-controlled US Senate while Trump and Senate Republican leaders say publicly that they want to press the pedal to the metal. (That’s a pendulum swing, too, from 2016 — an election year when Democrats wanted to move ahead with outgoing President Barack Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy and Republicans successfully put a brick on it.)
During a mid-March news conference, Lightfoot said parking tickets in Chicago would be written for only safety issues through April 30, an attempt to ease the growing economic burden triggered by the pandemic.
Turns out, according to a story from the Tribune’s Stacy St. Clair, Jennifer Smith Richards and Gregory Pratt, 35,000-plus tickets were issued during the March and April stretch. They largely were downtown, but also outside the central business district in “mostly in Black and Latino neighborhoods, communities already struggling with the coronavirus' devastating impact on public health and unemployment rates,” my Tribune colleagues note.
And the ‘Census’ cowboy
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President Trump is expected to formally announce his Supreme Court nominee this week — it will be a woman, he said. Trump also pushed back on Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins' call to wait and see who wins the Nov. 3 presidential race.
“We won. And we have an obligation as the winners to pick who we want,” Trump said on Saturday.
As Durbin prepared to leave Chicago for Washington today, he spoke on MSNBC television from Chicago and didn’t want to speculate on Coney Barrett’s possible nomination. Instead he blasted GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate for rushing the appointment rather than waiting for after the election. Democrats say they want whoever wins the election — they’re hoping Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeats Trump — to make the pick. It’s up to the Senate to approve the nominee.
“Are the Republicans so convinced Donald Trump is going to lose that they have to fill this vacancy now? I wonder,” Durbin said at an unrelated news conference this morning on the South Side.
What we know about Barrett: “Barrett’s opponents have interpreted her scholarly articles and Catholic faith as suggesting she is a religious extremist who could be willing to overturn precedent and end legal abortion,” my Tribune colleagues wrote in 2018 when she was mentioned as a finalist for the Supreme Court seat that went to Brett Kavanaugh. “Supporters and former colleagues, however, describe an exacting legal thinker committed to separating her faith from her interpretation of the Constitution and law.” Read the full story here.
Why didn’t she get the seat in 2018? “A finalist when Mr. Trump chose Justice Kavanaugh, Judge Barrett interviewed with the president in 2018 and impressed him and his advisers,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “But she also had been on the appellate bench less than a year after 15 years teaching law. That short experience, and the prospect that she could spark a particularly bitter confirmation fight over abortion rights in a closely divided Senate, were among the factors the White House considered at the time." Read the full story here.
Not just abortion: With a liberal vs. conservative battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act, some believe she may become part of a bloc on the bench that could invalidate the nation’s health insurance law, which will be taken up when the court reconvenes next month. The New York Times takes a deeper look here.
Election: While some experts say the Supreme Court pick may nudge fence-riding Republicans to vote in November — the motivator being the lifetime appointment of a conservative to the nation’s highest courts, as the AP points out — The New York Times also reports “some White House officials worry that Judge Barrett’s positions might galvanize not just Democrats but also suburban women and independent voters who would favor a more mainstream pick, and her nomination is hardly certain. Mr. Trump and his advisers may have to weigh how much support they would gain from those voters if he selected another nominee versus the risk of alienating parts of their base if they shy away from Judge Barrett’s abortion record.”
In September 2019, Justice Ginsburg was in town to accept an award at the University of Chicago and in a wide-ranging address there, talked about how the process of nominating justices had become too partisan.
“Things have changed, and it shows up on both sides of the aisle,” she said. “I don’t know what it will take, but we really should get back to the way it was when people were examining the qualifications for someone to be a judge rather than try to guess how they would vote on contentious cases.” The Tribune’s Jessica Villagomez covered the event and you can read her full story here.
During that visit, Ginsburg met separately with Mayor Lightfoot and first lady Amy Eshleman. They mayor is cherishing that memory of meeting someone not only of sharp intellect but also a “great sense of humor.”
“During their conversation, the Mayor expressed deep gratitude and recognition for the profound impact Justice Ginsburg’s trailblazing career has had on not only women like the Mayor who have devoted their career to law but women across every profession in the United States,” the mayor’s office said in a statement to The Spin.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker only rarely opens the door to discussing his family, but he did just that when asked about the Friday death of Ginsburg, revered by women who see her as someone who fought for equality. “Having a 17-year-old, now an 18-year-old daughter — she just turned 18 over the weekend — her rights in part have been determined in part by the work Ruth Bader Ginsburg did ... I’m deeply saddened.” The governor said this should be a time to reflect on her contributions, not politics.
Justice Ginsburg’s Chicago ties: The Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet has the details here.
Watch Casten, Ives Redpath at forum: Tonight marks the first virtual faceoff between freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten and challengers Jeannie Ives, a Republican former state lawmaker, and Libertarian Bill Redpath, in the race for the 6th Congressional District seat, which includes stretches of the west and northwest suburbs. Casten and Ives are forceful orators, so it should be a show. There’s more information here if you want to tune in to the 7 p.m. candidate forum.
Illinois secretary of state’s office letter to voters causes confusion for some mail-in ballot applicants: My Tribune colleagues Dan Petrella and Kelli Smith have the details here.
Cook County Jail set for in-person voting despite COVID-19 setbacks: ‘It’s also about social justice, it’s about fairness, it’s about hope’ - The Tribune’s Kelli Smith has the details here.
A city spokeswoman denied recently that the mayor ever said parking tickets wouldn’t be issued for expired meters or other nonsafety reasons as the pandemic reached Chicago, St. Clair, Smith Richards and Pratt report.
But audio from the mayor’s March 18 news conference “shows that Lightfoot twice said tickets would ‘only’ be issued for safety reasons. Lightfoot also stated — twice — that expired parking meters were the kind of infraction that would not be considered a public safety threat, though she said drivers should still feed the meters,” my Tribune colleagues note.
The mayor told reporters on March 24 that the “emphasis is supposed to be limited to public safety reasons.” She singled out, as she had done previously, “expired parking meters as something she did not consider to be a public safety threat, though she repeated that drivers would have to keep feeding the meters,” St. Clair, Smith Richards and Pratt write.
She said the message would be conveyed to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which paid $1.15 billion to the city a dozen years ago in return for the right to keep all the meter revenue and raise the rates over the course of the 75-year lease.
“Three days later, Lightfoot’s administration wrote a letter directing the company to ticket expired parking meters in the downtown area effective immediately,” my colleagues write. “It contradicted what she’d told the public, but Chicagoans were not made aware of the switch.”
Other City Hall news: Chicago aldermen on Monday created a new City Council subcommittee to study ways to provide reparations for descendants of slaves, the Tribune’s John Byrne reports. Read the story here.
The Tribune’s Ray Long writes: "Already caught up in a high-profile federal bribery scheme, Commonwealth Edison is embroiled in an escalating fight with dozens of cash-squeezed Chicago suburbs that are demanding the power company deliver millions of dollars in utility taxes the communities say they are owed.
“The crux of the dispute stems from how utility taxes are collected. Towns are allowed to levy their own taxes on utilities such as phones and electricity. Those local charges show up on consumers' monthly bills, and ComEd collects the tax and distributes the money to the individual towns.”
Suburban frustration with how well ComEd handles the complex details of that job dates back at least 20 years. But the need has grown amid a pandemic that has slowed the economy, causing local sales tax revenues to drop and busting government budgets, Long reports. Read the story here.
Under former Assessor Berrios, commercial property valued too low shifting tax burden to homeowners: study — The Tribune’s Hal Dardick writes: “Under Fritz Kaegi’s predecessor as Cook County assessor, commercial properties as a group were valued far too low, valuations varied widely among similar properties, and the property tax burden was unfairly shifted onto the owners of less expensive properties, according to a new study Kaegi commissioned from an international nonprofit organization.
“The broad undervaluation of commercial properties under former Assessor Joseph Berrios meant residential property taxpayers paid more than their fair share of the county’s tax levy while many higher-end commercial property owners got an unauthorized break, Kaegi said in an interview." Read the full story, which notes that residential property taxpayers ended up paying more than their fair share, here.
Other suburban news: McCook police chief on paid administrative leave following extortion indictment —The Tribune’s Jason Meisner has the story here.
Cook County Board to vote on giving top watchdog two more years before appointing replacement: The Tribune’s Alice Yin has the story here.
Illinois set a new one-day statewide testing high for COVID-19 over the weekend and is now averaging 52,000 tests per day, third highest in the nation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced today. There were 1,477 newly diagnosed cases and seven additional deaths, raising the statewide tally to 275,735 known cases and 8,457 deaths. Read the updates here.
High school students, parents rally in the Loop, demand Gov. Pritzker allow fall sports: The Tribune’s Madeline Buckley has the story here. The governor indicted today that while he felt for those students – and parents rooting them on – aiming for college scholarships that the science about the virus and its spread dictates holding off.
Nursing home staffers face stress and their own COVID-19 worries: Read the Tribune story here.
Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at email@example.com.
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