Amy Coney Barrett Confirmation Hearing

Day 2 of SCOTUS confirmation hearings, record early voting turnout in Georgia, and Apple unveils iPhone 12

Day 2 of confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, record early voting turnout in Georgia, Apple unveils the latest iPhone, clincial trials of COVID-19 vaccine are paused after problems arise, and much more.


It’s Tuesday, October 13th, here’s what you need to know…


1. Senate resumes day 2 of confirmation hearings for SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee began its second day of confirmation hearings for Trump’s pick to the Supreme Court of the United States, Amy Coney Barrett. The day consisted of questioning by committee senators to Judge Barrett on a range of issues, from her judicial philosophy to her thoughts on legal precedent to even her personal life. Similar to the previous day of introductory remarks, Democrats honed their attention on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, abortion, and a possible contested election that the high court could end up weighing in on. Despite numerous attempts by senators throughout the day to get the nominee to explicitly answer their questions, the 48-year-old Barrett was reticent and repeatedly dismissed efforts that would provide any glimpse into her personal views or how she might rule on contentious issues that may come before the Supreme Court. As a sitting federal appellate judge, she cited the “canons of judicial conduct” as reasons she was prohibited from revealing her opinions on matters such as the second amendment or health care. Nothing out of the ordinary for nominees to the nation’s highest court.


Some notable moments:


  • On abortion: Judge Amy Coney Barrett refused to say whether Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that protects a woman’s right to abortion, should be overturned.
  • On the election: Barrett rejected efforts to answer whether she would recuse herself from litigation concerning a disputed election involving President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden should such a case go before the Supreme Court. She also declined to weigh in on if Trump has the authority to delay the general election by pushing back the date. However, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution gives Congress that exclusive power. 
  • On health care: Judge Barrett said she’s “not hostile to the [Affordable Care Act],” but did not elaborate on how she would rule on the law, which will be heard on November 10 before the Court. The nominee was forced to partially clarify her thoughts toward Obamacare after Democrats took issue with Barrett’s academic writing criticizing the statutory interpretation of the ACA by the Supreme Court which upheld the law back in 2012.


Tuesday’s hearings also demonstrated Judge Barrett’s poise and calm demeanor on what many would consider an anxiety-inducing spectacle, facing tough questions and sometimes sharp criticism. For most of the hearing, she sat relatively motionless with her hands folded in her lap, confidently answering senator’s questions and referencing case law. She attempted to present herself as someone possessing no hidden motives, who can act with independence and be removed from influence from the White House, Congress, or political pressure. “I don’t have any agenda,” said Barrett. “I have an agenda to stick to the rule of law and decide cases as they come.”

2. Early voting turnout in Georgia shatters record

This week, voters in Georgia began in-person voting which resulted in thousands of people waiting up to ten hours to make their voice heard at some polling locations. Motivated voters showed up in big numbers in Cobb and Dekalb Counties, resulting in hours-long lines as record turnout is expected across the country and coronavirus fears have changed the way tens of millions will cast their ballot. Elections officials and organizations have urged people to vote early in anticipation of increased turnout at the polls, and voters in Georgia responded in dramatic numbers. Some polling sites experienced technical glitches that resulted in even longer wait times. But Georgians weren’t too discouraged as the secretary of state’s office reported a record of more than 128,000 voters showed up at the polls on Monday, the first day of early voting in the state. That number exceeded the nearly 91,000 votes cast in 2016. Despite these high turnout numbers, Georgia has long been subject to accusations of voter suppression, and images and videos circulated on social media of long lines at polling places renewed the criticism. As recently as the 2020 primary in June, many saw Georgia officials as taking steps to curtail voters from casting their ballots by consolidating the number of polling places and experiencing a shortage of poll workers, which state officials say both were a result of coronavirus fears.


3. Apple announces iPhone 12

Apple has announced the iPhone 12 as its latest product event that took place virtually, unveiling a 5G capable iPhone to take advantage of the next-generation high-speed wireless networks. The tech giant actually showcases 4 new devices – the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and a new, smaller, iPhone 12 mini with prices ranging from $699 to $1099. The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro will be available for pre-order on October 16 while the iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max will be available for pre-order on November 6. The iPhone 12 is thinner, smaller, and lighter than the iPhone 11 and features an all-new A14 Bionic processor chip and an upgraded XDR display. But the main difference highlighted by Apple is the 5G capability to give users increased speed and capability. However, in a move that will upset even the most ardent Apple fans, the company will no longer include charging adapters or headphones with the new devices. The company cites environmental concerns and its focus on reducing waste as the reason for the move as well as reducing shipping emissions.


4. FBI says Virginia governor was also a target in the same plot to kidnap Michigan governor

The anti-government paramilitary group that conspired to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a plot that was uncovered last week by state and federal authorities also discussed plans to kidnap Virginia’s governor, according to court testimony by an FBI agent on Tuesday. FBI agent Richard Trask, who was part of the investigation, testified that the group held talks about kidnapping sitting governors and removing them from office because of their opposition to the governors’ “coronavirus-related lockdown orders.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Michigan’s governor were the only political leaders mentioned by Agent Trask as being targets in the scheme that involved anti-government groups from several states. Last week, authorities announced six men were arrested and charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Seven other men face state terrorism charges related to the plot.


5. Pharmaceutical companies pause coronavirus vaccine clinical trials after problems arise

Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson have put a temporary hold over their COVID-19 treatment study and vaccine clinical trials, respectively, following U.S. health regulator’s recommendation amid safety concerns to participants in the study. Eli Lilly is working on a government-sponsored clinical trial testing of an antibody treatment in combination with remdesivir, an antiviral drug that President Trump received during his treatment for coronavirus. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is working to develop a COVID-19 candidate vaccine. Both pharmaceutical companies are in phase three trials and such pauses in large, late-stage vaccine or drug development are not uncommon as researchers and health officials closely examine the safeness of the product before it is introduced to the masses. Johnson & Johnson announced the halt to its COVID-19 vaccine trial late Monday after an “unexplained illness” was reported in a trial participant. Eli Lilly was less specific in their announcement of the pause to their treatment study saying that the move was “out of an abundance of caution.” In both cases, the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board was involved in the recommendation to pause the studies and will evaluate the participants before making a decision on whether it is safe to resume the trials.


6. Social Security checks will rise 1.3% in 2021

Americans receiving social security are set to receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2021 of 1.3%, the smallest increase since 2017, and below the 1.4% average over the last ten years. For the 68 million Americans relying on social security, that means recipients can expect an additional $20 a month on the average retiree’s check of $1,523, according to the Social Security Administration. The increase will take effect in January 2021.


7. Biden says he’s ‘not a fan’ of expanding the Supreme Court.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has come out to say that he’s “not a fan” of packing the U.S. Supreme Court in remarks on Monday, finally addressing the controversial question that his campaign has avoided and deflected for weeks. “I’m not a fan of court packing but I don’t want to get off on that whole issue,” Biden said in an interview to WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. “I want to keep focused. The president would love nothing better than to fight about whether or not I would, in fact, pack the court or not pack the court.” The Trump campaign has repeatedly pressed the former vice president on the issue, including once at the presidential debate on September 29 and again at the vice presidential debate on October 7, where Vice President Pence persistenly attempted to get Biden’s VP pick Kamala Harris to answer the question directly. The issue of expanding the Supreme Court beyond nine seats has quickly become a hotly debated topic since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.


8. Romney blames Trump and Democrats for partisan divides

Former Republican presidential nominee and current Utah Senator Mitt Romney issued sharp criticism of President Donald Trump and the Democratic Party on Wednesday for the divides and vicious rhetoric in American politics. In a statement on Twitter, Romney spoke out of the current state of the nation, saying, “…I’m troubled by our politics, as it has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation – let alone the birthplace of modern democracy.” He blamed President Donald Trump for his harsh language as well as Democrats like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi by pointing to her actions of tearing up copies of the president’s speech following the State of the Union address in February. He also held the media responsible by saying they “amplify all of it.” Romney added, “The world is watching America with abject horror; more consequentially, our children are watching. Many Americans are divided, so angry, so mean, so violent.” The senator called for unity and civility by saying, “It is time to lower the heat. Leaders must tone it down.”


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