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Opinion: Alito’s second red flag


Opinion by Kirsi Goldynia, CNN

(CNN) — “Human beings are poor examiners, subject to superstition, bias, prejudice, and a profound tendency to see what they want to see rather than what is really there,” wrote American psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck.

We know this to be true, and yet we expect those tasked with administering justice at the highest level to practice impartiality in their rulings. The justices, too, acknowledge the importance of keeping personal views out of judicial proceedings. As Justice Samuel Alito said at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2006, “A judge can’t have any agenda, a judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case, and a judge certainly doesn’t have a client.”

So, when the New York Times on Wednesday broke the news that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which has ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement, was flown at a beach house owned by Alito, it didn’t take long for Democrats to question whether he could be impartial on matters before the Supreme Court relating to the January 6 insurrection.

This is not the first time Alito has found himself in hot water over displaying a controversial flag on his property. The New York Times reported last week that an American flag was flown upside down outside Alito’s Virginia residence on January 17, 2021, days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The upside-down flag, a signal of distress, was adopted by Trump supporters who believed the false claim that the election had been stolen. (Alito said his wife had raised the upside-down flag in response to a disagreement with a neighbor. He did not respond to a request for comment regarding the “Appeal to Heaven” flag.)

“The flags raise questions about just how publicly Alito is willing to express his political opinions and how those might influence his legal decisions. The discovery also comes at a time when the Supreme Court will be making a decision about Trump’s claims of sweeping presidential immunity, his get-out-of-jail-free card for the federal cases he faces. It also is considering a case challenging prosecutors’ use of an obstruction law against people arrested on January 6,” wrote Julian Zelizer. 

The notion that the Supreme Court can be trusted to be an arbiter above partisan politics has suffered major blows in recent years. The politicization of the Senate confirmation process that has been taking place since the 1960s has gradually made it more difficult for citizens to see the justices as nonpolitical figures,” he added.

While Democrats and others have called on Alito to recuse himself from any cases related to January 6, Michael J. Broyde argued that there is no precedent for doing so in this case.

“In 2016, the late, great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a series of interviews called then-candidate Donald Trump a ‘faker’ and more, saying, ‘I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president.’ She also shared that she would consider moving to New Zealand if he won (he did, and she did not). While she eventually expressed regret for her comments, she continued to sit on numerous cases in which Trump was a named party in the Supreme Court, both as president and as a private citizen.”

Nikki Haley’s about-face

Earlier this year, when former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was still a presidential hopeful, she didn’t mince words when it came to her Republican rival Donald Trump.

After Trump confused Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Haley questioned his mental fitness. And in response to Trump’s comments mocking the absence of her husband, who was deployed overseas, she called the former president “unhinged.”

Now, Haley says she will vote for Trump for president.

“I know, I know, it’s disappointing but not surprising. They all come back to Trump in the end, don’t they?” said SE Cupp. “It still boggles my mind though. For one, endorsements are not required. Nikki Haley is free to endorse someone else or simply refuse to say who she is voting for. She’s called Trump and President Joe Biden ‘equally bad.’ So write someone in!”

“I’ve been around long enough to know this is how it goes with Trump, but for some reason this one hit me harder than the others. I truly believed there was at least one Republican with some courage of conviction. I should have known better.”

The defense rests

Even without Trump taking the stand in his hush money trial, sparks flew as the defense began its case on Monday. Judge Juan Merchan got into a heated exchange with witness Robert Costello, a lawyer who once advised former Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

Norm Eisen, who was in the courtroom, detailed the spectacle: “The drama began when Costello replied sarcastically to one of the judge’s rulings, ‘Jeez.’ Merchan released the jury, then warned the witness to maintain decorum, cautioning him, ‘You don’t say “jeez” and then you don’t say “strike it” … and then if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes. Do you understand that?’”

This could spell bad news for the defense, Eisen argued. “Juries take their cues from the judge, and this jury could see Merchan’s visible annoyance with Costello on Monday; that likely colored their view of him as well.”

The defense rested its case on Tuesday and the court will be dark until closing arguments begin on Tuesday, May 28.

A soggy Sunak for reelection?

On Wednesday, while standing in the rain, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that a snap general election will be held on July 4th. The irony of this date was not lost on Holly Thomas“A country potentially renouncing a callous and incompetent British government? On July 4? Imagine.”

Sunak — who was required to hold a vote before the end of the year — may have hoped that the news of a drop in inflation would provide a strong backdrop for his campaign. But Thomas is doubtful that many of her fellow Britons will be able to overlook the fact that “life in the UK feels exponentially harder than it did back in 2010,” before a string of Tory prime ministers took up residence in Number 10.

“This is particularly evident in the two issues currently closest to Britons’ hearts: The economy and health care,” she argued. “As of January 2024, one in 20 people in England wait at least four weeks to see a general practitioner, according to data from the NHS.”

As for the economy, it “never fully recovered from the 2008 recession and, consciously or not, most people still feel the sting every day. … Of course, the recession isn’t the only thing to blame for our dire finances. Brexit, a thoroughly Tory-led endeavor, shrunk the economy by nearly £140 billion ($178 billion) according to a recent independent report, which also found that it resulted in almost 2 million fewer jobs in the UK.”

“[The Labour Party’s] critical advantage going into this election isn’t their political appeal. It’s the complacency of a Tory party that doesn’t seem to have noticed that after a decade and a half of their abysmal rule, the British people are prepared to try anything.”

What comes next in Trump’s America?

A now-deleted video that Trump’s campaign posted to Truth Social has renewed the debate over whether Trump sympathizes with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

The video shows a fake newspaper detailing what would purportedly happen if Trump wins the 2024 election. Under the headline “What’s next for America?” is a mention of “the creation of a unified Reich.” (The Trump campaign claimed that the reference was made in error by a “staffer.”)

“Images tell their own stories, and the images in this black and white video, along with the fonts of its text and overall style, are highly reminiscent of the fascist propaganda I have studied for many years,” wrote Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

“The initial closeup of Trump juxtaposed with a crowd of his followers channels 1930s images that propped up the leader cults of Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, while the font used for the on-screen message about the Reich resembles those used on fascist buildings such as Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which was built to celebrate the regime’s imperialist conquest.”

So, what is next for America if Trump returns to the White House? Said Ben-Ghiat: “an illiberal government that takes liberally from the fascist past as well as from the governments of the sitting autocrats that Trump so admires.”

Across the world, Anna Sauerbrey detailed how, as the 2024 US election draws nearer, many German officials are bracing for a “Trump thunderstorm.”

“Germany is raising the question of what happens if Trump is elected, in meetings with its close European allies, such as Poland and France,” a senior government official in Berlin told Sauerbrey. “‘If Donald Trump is reelected, we have to try to stick together in the European Union, and Poland, France and Germany would have to lead the way,’ he says.”

“Even if Biden is re-elected, or Trump proves to be more rational than feared,” wrote Sauerbrey, “America’s democratic backsliding in the past decade has already deeply impacted how German society views America — and will likely continue to do so, no matter what the outcome of the elections is.”

A Notting Hill that no one can afford

This month marks 25 years since the premiere of Richard Curtis’ blockbuster film “Notting Hill.” The film — which stars Julia Roberts as an American actress who falls in love with a British bookshop owner, played by Hugh Grant, while she is working in London — shows a very different Notting Hill than the one that exists today, wrote Laura Beers.

“The Notting Hill of the 1990s was still socially heterodox and shabby chic, a neighborhood where a group of 30-something professionals could plausibly have ended up. Today, it’s become a bastion of extreme wealth and privilege where young professionals — and indeed, 99% of the population — could never afford to buy.

In the mid 1990s, “the average price of terraced houses in Notting Hill was £383,039 (equivalent to £758,392, or roughly $940,000 today),” noted Beers. “Grant’s character’s home (now with its blue door repainted white) last sold for over £4.5 million in 2014. Today it’s no stretch to think it would probably go for twice as much.”

Uncertainty in Iran

In the wake of the helicopter crash last week that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Frida Ghitis wrote that “The official tone from state-controlled Iranian media was grave and mournful.”

“Occasionally, however, celebratory fireworks streaked into the sky, a reminder that Raisi, and the regime that controls the Islamic Republic of Iran with increasing ruthlessness, is reviled by large segments of the population.”

“In the hours, weeks and months ahead, Iran’s power centers will no doubt engage in fierce infighting for key positions as the Islamic Republic selects a new president — the country’s second most powerful position — and constructs the alignments that will determine who becomes the next supreme leader, the man who will succeed Ali Khamenei, 85, gaining ultimate and absolute authority.”

Campus protests

On Thursday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to address antisemitism on college campuses. That same day, more than a thousand people walked out of Harvard University’s commencement ceremony in response to the university banning 13 seniors who had participated in pro-Palestinian protests. Across the country, pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the University of California Los Angeles were ordered to disperse.

Columbia University, previously the epicenter of these protests, canceled its main commencement event earlier this month due to demonstrations on its campus. Haroon Mogul, who received his master’s degree from Columbia, wrote: “The weeks of student protests … should provoke us to reflect on the larger impact of this movement.”

“I’m incensed by the same realities the student protesters are outraged by: Israel’s occupation and brutalization of Palestinians with our country’s active assistance. Columbia students have made clear that that’s what drives their protests. What’s less widely reported is how they are also driven by double standards in how our leaders address Israeli and Palestinian issues.

“When was the last time you heard a news report about anti-Arab or anti-Muslim animus on campuses? Where is the outcry for the pro-Palestinian students threatened with professional consequences only for protesting? Why, even as numerous students at Columbia and elsewhere have been doxxed, harassed and bullied, were no congressional hearings called?”

War in Gaza

On Monday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three senior Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri and Ismail Haniyeh over war crimes and crimes against humanity — a move that Peter Bergen argued “has the potential to greatly alter how the war in Gaza plays out.” Netanyahu called the decision “a political outrage.”

“Many of Israel’s closest allies such as the United Kingdom and Germany are parties to the ICC and would be bound by the court’s decision if a warrant were to be issued. It would greatly complicate their relations with Netanyahu since he would effectively become an international pariah who would not be able to travel to most countries.”

“One effect of the possible arrest warrant for Netanyahu is that the Israeli public may become more aware of what is happening in Gaza. Because of self-censorship exercised by the Israeli media, Israelis are watching a very different war playing out in Gaza than what the rest of the world is seeing,” he noted.

Four days after the ICC’s announcement, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the halt of Israel’s military operation in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, and the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for the improved safety and security of humanitarian workers in Gaza.

Kerri Kennedy, the associate general secretary for international programs at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), detailed the “unbearable personal trauma” these humanitarian workers face in Gaza, including her colleagues from the AFSC. “Their homes had been bombed. They had been forced to relocate over and over in search of a safety that does not exist. Dozens of their family members had been killed by air strikes.”

She called on Biden “to insist that Israel adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law, allow unimpeded humanitarian access, and agree to a ceasefire.”

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What this comedian said won’t shock you

Despite Bill Maher’s reputation as a provocateur, his worldview is built not on transgression, “but rather a relentless nostalgia for the good old days, before Democrats went ‘woke’ and Republicans went coup-crazy,” Nicole Hemmer wrote after reading Maher’s new book, “What This Comedian Said Will Shock You.”

But while Maher may lament how much the culture has shifted, Hemmer pointed out that Maher himself “and his brand of comedy have played a central role in creating the political culture we have today.”

“Maher, the political comedian whose stock-in-trade was shock, was long ago eclipsed by politicians and pundits who learned to wield attacks on political correctness and wokeness into more than just punchlines. They’re using them to change policy and win elections. It’s Maher’s place in that story, more than any part of his book, that will shock you.”

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