Judge Blocks 9 Government Lawyers From Quitting Census Fight

The Justice Department can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute over whether to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census without explaining why it’s doing so, a judge says.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, who earlier this year ruled against adding the citizenship question, put the brakes on the government’s plan on Tuesday, a day after he was given a three-paragraph notification by the Justice Department along with a prediction that the replacement of lawyers wouldn’t “cause any disruption in this matter.”
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone `satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote, noting that the most immediate deadline for government lawyers to submit written arguments in the case is only three days away.
The judge said local rules for federal courts in New York City require that any attorney requesting to leave a case provide satisfactory reasons for withdrawing. The judge must then decide what impact a lawyer’s withdrawal will have on the timing of court proceedings.
He called the Justice Department’s request “patently deficient,” except for two lawyers who have left the department or the civil division which is handling the case.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the judge’s decision Tuesday night, questioning whether the attorney change denial was unprecedented.
“So now the Obama appointed judge on the Census case (Are you a Citizen of the United States?) won’t let the Justice Department use the lawyers that it wants to use. Could this be a first?” Trump tweeted.
The new team came about after a top Justice Department civil attorney who was leading the litigation effort told Attorney General William Barr that multiple people on the team preferred not to continue, Barr told The Associated Press on Monday.
The attorney who was leading the team, James Burnham, “indicated it was a logical breaking point since a new decision would be made and the issue going forward would hopefully be separate from the historical debates,” Barr said.
Furman’s refusal came in a case that has proceeded on an unusual legal path since numerous states and municipalities across the country challenged the government’s announcement early last year that it intended to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.
Opponents of the question say it will depress participation by immigrants, lowering the population count in states that tend to vote Democratic and decreasing government funds to those areas because funding levels are based on population counts.
At one point, the Justice Department succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to block plans to depose Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Nearly two weeks ago, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the plans to add the census question, saying the administration’s justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”
Afterward, the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau began printing census questionnaires without the question and the Department of Justice signaled it would not attempt to continue the legal fight.
It reversed itself after Trump promised to keep trying to add the question.
The Justice Department then notified judges in three similar legal challenges that it planned to find a new legal path to adding the question to the census.
Furman said the urgency to resolve legal claims and the need for efficient judicial proceedings was an important consideration in rejecting a replacement of lawyers.
He said the Justice Department had insisted that the speedy resolution of lawsuits against adding the question was “a matter of great private and public importance.”
“If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time,” Furman said.
Furman said the government could re-submit its request to replace attorneys only with a sworn statement by each lawyer explaining satisfactory reasons to withdraw so late. He said he’ll require new attorneys to promise personnel changes will not slow the case.

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US Court Rules Trump Cannot Silence Critics on Twitter

A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled President Donald Trump cannot silence critics on his Twitter account, maintaining that blocking them violates the Constitution’s right to free speech.

The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled in a 3-0 decision Tuesday the First Amendment prohibits Trump from blocking critics from his account, a public platform.

On behalf of the three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote “The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”

Trump has used his Twitter account, which has more than 60-million followers, to promote his agenda and to attack critics.

The court ruled on a lawsuit filed by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute on behalf of seven people who were blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.

Institute director Jameel Jaffer said the ruling “will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints” and added “It will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy.”

Justice Department spokesman Kelly Laco said the agency is “disappointed with the ruling and is “exploring possible next steps.” He reiterated the administrations’ argument that “Trump’s decision to block users from his personal Twitter account does not violate the First Amendment.”

The decision upheld a May 2018 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The U.S. Justice Department said the ruling was “fundamentally misconceived,” arguing Trump used the account in a personal capacity to express his views, and not as a forum for public discussion.

Twitter did not immediately comment on the ruling.

Among those who were blocked from Trump’s account were author Stephen King and model Chrissy Teigen.


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Voting Group Founded by Georgia’s Abrams Raises $3.9 Million

The political action committee for a group founded by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has reported raising $3.9 million in the past six months.

Abrams founded Fair Fight to support voting rights after narrowly losing to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in November. She accused Kemp of using his previous position as Georgia’s chief election officer to suppress votes in their race, which Kemp has vehemently denied.

The report filed Monday with the state ethics commission shows Fair Fight PAC has raised $4.1 million since its inception and made $3 million in expenditures, leaving $1.1 million in cash on hand. Expenditures include more than $1.2 million given to the group’s nonprofit arm and $100,000 given to abortion rights groups after Georgia’s passage of a restrictive abortion ban.

They also include political contributions to various candidates, payments to consultants, staff salaries and travel expenses.

Many of the contributions came from small donors around the country. The group says that it has had more than 15,000 individual contributions from all 50 states.

The largest contribution was over $1 million from Silicon Valley-based physician and philanthropist Karla Jurvetson. The group banked another $250,000 from the Service Employees International Union, a labor union with 2 million members in service occupations including within the health care industry. 
“Fair Fight PAC is grateful for the overwhelming support we have received from across Georgia and around the country,” Fair Fight CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement. “Fair Fight is advocating for voting rights, supporting progressive organizing and advocacy, and keeping the heat on those who suppress the vote.”

She said the group would soon share details for nationwide voter protection programs to mitigate “attempts to suppress the vote of people of color in this critical election cycle.”

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Plan by Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez To Declare Climate Emergency

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are teaming up on a plan that would designate climate change as an emergency, and at least one of Sanders’ fellow Democratic presidential candidates is planning to sign on.

The measure to be introduced in the House on Tuesday is designed to highlight Democrats’ focus on global warming and push back against President Donald Trump, who’s declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is competing with Sanders for the support of liberal voters in the presidential primary, plans to sign onto the resolution when it’s introduced in the Senate, according to a spokeswoman.

Sanders tells reporters that “strong American leadership” is needed to compel effective worldwide action on climate change.


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E-Scooters Put Swedish Startup on Road to Positive Cashflow

Growing numbers of young people whizzing around Europe’s big cities on electric scooters may represent a nightmare for some pedestrians and motorists, but for Swedish sharing startup VOI they offer a path to positive cashflow.

VOI cofounder and chief executive Fredrik Hjelm said safety was an important consideration and VOI had drawn up a code of conduct with the authorities in Stockholm for all operators after a fatal accident involving an e-scooter.

“Accidents are always very tragic and sad but since we’re in transportation, unfortunately there’s always a risk of accident. We can do everything we can on product operations and education but ultimately we’re in the hands of the users,” he added.

Fredrik Hjelm, Swedish startup VOI cofounder and chief executive, poses at the company’s workshop in Stockholm, Sweden, July 6, 2019.

Critics have also said VOI and other operators could face the fate of Asian bike operators GoBee and Mobike, which crashed out of Europe due to price wars, vandalism and regulation.

Hjelm said the sector had learnt from past mistakes, with VOI upgrading to a model with longer-range swappable batteries to eliminate transport costs and increase product life.

European startups VOI, Dott and Tier and U.S. rivals Bird and Lime have already put thousands of e-scooters on the roads of European cities, betting commuters will take to the two-wheelers in a region where far fewer own cars than in the United States.

In France, e-scooters have been banned from sidewalks and in Britain they are not permitted on roads or pavements.

Hjelm said that VOI is already making a profit in several cities, including its hometown Stockholm, where its e-scooters accounts for about 70% to 80% of those on the roads.

“Our estimate is for VOI to be cashflow positive around late next year, but within three years for sure,” Hjelm told Reuters in an interview at VOI’s headquarters.

“Price wars never end well for anyone. So what you see now in the market is the more experienced players like VOI and Lime have rather been able to increase our average price point,” Hjelm said.

Open to tie-ups

High-profile investors including Google, Uber and Volkswagen are increasingly getting into scooters as new modes of transport emerge from developments in electric and driverless vehicles.

Hjelm expects the number of players to narrow within a year and said that VOI was open to discussing tie-ups.

FILE – People use electric scooters by California-based bicycle rental service Lime at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, June 21, 2019.

“Automotive companies understand their business model is threatened. This ‘sell one car to one customer’ won’t work in the future because it’s not sustainable from an environmental point of view and not what the consumers want anymore,” he said.

“We’re in quite a stable financial position right now but we’re also always out in the market talking to potential partners and investors,” he added.

VOI, which has raised slightly more than $80 million, already operates in 25 cities including Paris and Berlin and said on Monday it had reached 5 million rides since launching in September.

Hjelm, who launched VOI as a solution to address congestion, pollution and the difficulty getting around that he experienced when working in Moscow, said VOI would be in 50 to 60 cities by year end, with a focus on Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Micromobility growth

Barclays estimates that micromobility — transport using electric-powered one-person vehicles like e-scooters and e-bikes — could make up $800 billion in revenues by mid-2020s and total 1 trillion personal miles, or 4% of global transport.

Most of the e-scooter growth has been driven by 20- and 30-year-olds willing to pay for convenience, driving the growth of companies like ride-hailing service Uber and food courier service Deliveroo.

Hjelm said VOI was introducing cargo bikes, which would allow children or groceries to be transported, and e-bikes and was exploring adding e-mopeds and electric or transit pods.

“VOI should become partner to cities that are restricting cars and want to transform urban transportation. E-scooters are part of the solution with e-bikes, mopeds etc in conjunction with public transportation,” he said.

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Grand Ole Opry Tours Get Updated with New Immersive Film

The backstage of the Grand Ole Opry, a radio staple since 1925, is a place where you might run into your favorite country star, drop a letter in a singer’s mailbox or take a peek inside a dressing room where an impromptu jam session is happening. 

Every year, 1 million people come to the Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, to see a performance, or event, or take one of the backstage tours that allow fans to see behind the red curtain on the “show that made country music famous.” 

And a new feature this year on those tours is an immersive film that explains the history of the unique institution while showing video clips of over 100 different artists on stage. The 14-minute film is hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and is projected onto three screens inside the new Circle Room, which is the first stop for fans on the Opry’s daily tours. 

Country singer Jeannie Seeley is coming up on her 52nd year as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, one of only three living female artists who have been members longer than 50 years. The singer who had a hit with “Don’t Touch Me” in 1966, has seen the radio program, the Opry House and its tours transform and be updated over the years. 

“It is so alive. It is so realistic,” said Seeley of the new film. “I think the pacing they did creates that excitement.”

The film is projected onto thousands of reflective threads that make up the screens, and the movement of the threads, as well as the curve of the screen creates a sense of dimension. Brooks and Yearwood seem almost like they are standing on a replica of the circle of wood that artists stand in on the real Opry stage. 

“It struck me how difficult it is to represent so many eras and so many people and cover 94 years,” Seeley said. “It struck me how well they did that.”

The film features archival footage of iconic stars from Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Reba McEntire, and clips of artists like Carrie Underwood and Darius Rucker being surprised with an invitation to become Opry members. The daytime tour also features a guided tour throughout the venue, including Studio A where “Hee Haw” was filmed, the dressing rooms and the stage. 

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Italy Court Sentences 24 People to Life for Operation Condor

Uruguay’s government says a court in Italy has sentenced 24 people to life in prison for their involvement in human rights crimes committed during the “Operation Condor” offensive by South American governments to hunt down dissidents within the region and beyond.
South American dictators set up Operation Condor in the 1970s as a coordinated effort to track down their opponents across borders and eliminate them.
An appeals court in Rome ruled Monday against members of the military, police and others who once formed part of the former dictatorships of Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. Some of the convicted were Italian citizens.
The case was initiated 20 years ago by families of the victims.
The sentences were confirmed by Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa.

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Biden-Harris Clash Renews Controversy Over US School Busing

The first Democratic presidential debate for the 2020 elections brought a decades-old civil rights issue back into the public spotlight: whether to bus children to racially integrate schools.

One of the most defining moments of the debate came when U.S. Senator Kamala Harris challenged former Vice President Joe Biden’s record for not supporting the type of busing that she experienced as a black schoolgirl in California.

The exchange garnered headlines and brought the topic of busing, which had been a national issue in the 1970s but had largely fallen out of the public conversation, back into the spotlight.

Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator for California Kamala Harris speaks to the press in the Spin Room after the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

What is busing?

Busing was a tool that many U.S. communities used to overcome racial segregation in public schools.

Following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, legal racial segregation in schools was outlawed across the United States. However, because of demographic trends and housing policies, many U.S. neighborhoods remained segregated, and as a result schools were effectively segregated because students attended schools in neighborhoods where they lived. 

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, courts ruled that local jurisdictions were not doing enough to promote desegregation in schools and began mandating busing to address the problem. Federal agencies oversaw and enforced busing efforts, including collecting data about the race of students and withholding money from noncompliant schools.

Who was bused?

Both black students took buses to majority-white schools and white students to majority-black schools in court-ordered busing.

However, Brett Gadsden, the author of a book about desegregation efforts in Delaware, “Between North and South: Delaware, Desegregation, and the Myth of American Sectionalism,” said, “African American students disproportionally shouldered the burden” of efforts to desegregate schools.

Gadsden, an associate professor of history at Northwestern University, said black students were forced to travel longer distances and for many more years than white students.

In this Sept. 26, 1957, file photo, members of the 101st Airborne Division take up positions outside Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., after President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered them into the city to enforce integration at the school.

Why was it controversial?

Busing proved to be intensely controversial nationwide. Supporters argued busing was necessary to integrate schools and to give black and white students equal access to resources and opportunities.

Critics argued that busing was dangerous and costly, and many parents did not want their children to have to travel great distances to get to school. 

While much of the opposition to busing came from whites, the black community was also divided about its merits. 

Gadsden said black critics cited the burden their children had to shoulder in terms of distance traveled and time spent on buses. They also complained that historically black schools were closed, and black administrators and teachers lost their jobs as a result of busing policies, while similar demands were not made of white schools, Gadsden said. 

In Boston, anti-busing protests turned violent in 1974, with demonstrators throwing bricks and bottles at school buses.

Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said in a Twitter post following the Democratic debate that busing was so unpopular in the 1970s that Democrats running for office often had a choice to “be a profile in courage and lose, or oppose busing in whole or in part & win to fight another day on stronger ground.”

Biden’s stance

During the 1970s when Biden was a freshman U.S. senator representing Delaware, he worked with conservative senators to oppose federally mandated busing. 

In a 1975 interview with a Delaware newspaper that was first resurfaced by The Washington Post, Biden said, “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’”

During the Democratic debate, Biden defended his position against mandated busing in the 1970s, arguing that he did not oppose voluntary busing by communities, only federal mandates. “I did not oppose busing in America; what I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education,” he said.

Democratic presidential hopeful former US Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Harris responded by saying the federal government needed to be able to step in and mandate busing in some areas because “there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America.”

Schools today

While some communities still champion voluntary busing measures, most busing efforts ended by the turn of the century. Local and national court rulings in the 1990s said many communities had succeeded in improving the integration of their schools and allowed busing programs to end. 

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA said in a May report  to mark the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in schools is again on the rise and has been growing “unchecked” for nearly three decades, “placing the promise of Brown at grave risk.”

The report said white students, on average, attend a school in which 69% of the students are white, Latino students attend schools in which 55% of the students are Latino, and black students attend schools with a combined black and Latino enrollment averaging 67%. 

Gadsden agreed there is “a lot of segregation in schools now” but said there is little political will to go back to the era of busing. “Federal courts now are not particularly sympathetic to challenges to school segregation,” he said, also noting there is no great appetite in the U.S. Congress to introduce measures to advance school desegregation.  

After the debate, Harris told reporters that “busing is a tool among many that should be considered.” however, when pressed on whether she supported federally mandated busing today, she said she would not unless society became as opposed to integration as it was in the 1970s.

Some critics say Harris’ position on busing today is not that much different from Biden’s.

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