News Around the Nation: October 16th Highlights & Headlines

The ending of this week leaves us with 17 days before election day. While 2020 voting has started earlier and with record-breaking turnout, November 3rd still marks the height of the most frenetic election season most of us have ever witnessed. There is a wide variety of news to update this week-- from the most recent unemployment numbers and the continued roller coaster of stimulus talks, to gender equality, growing law-firm layoffs, ballot harvesting, re-surging coronavirus infections and highlights from the Supreme Court confirmation hearings on Amy Coney Barrett.

This week’s news recap offers an in-depth view of some of the most significant issues, so let’s jump right in.

News Roundup

COVID-19 Continues to Impact Economic Recovery

On Thursday of this week, the Labor Department released their report highlighting the continued fragility of the US job market. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to a historic high of 898,000 last week. This latest report provides solid evidence that layoffs, such as those we reported on last week continue to hinder the economy's ability to make a recovery from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy remains roughly 10.7 million jobs short of recovering the 22 million jobs lost when the pandemic struck in early spring and dealt the heaviest blow to the economy the U.S. has ever seen.

Covid-19 infections in the United States jumped by almost 17% over the past week as 38 states and Washington, D.C. saw an increase of new cases. Here’s some important statistics as we head into the traditional flu season:

  • Fall and winter are statistically the worst time for virus infections, meaning the direction the U.S. is headed towards in not controlling the coronavirus is now extra dangerous. Unfortunately, getting a control on the pandemic is growing more and more unlikely.
  • Alarming new daily numbers: The U.S. is totally up to 51,000 new COVID-19 cases per day this past week.
  • As infection rates have grown in 38 states, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota are currently seeing their rates rise by over 50%.
  • Hospitalizations are once again rising placing further strain on an already stressed healthcare system.
  • According to a report in Axos, “The U.S. is now conducting roughly 1 million tests per day, up about 6% from the week before, the increase in cases is bigger than the increase in testing, which is a sign of an actual worsening outbreak.”

Layoffs Continue at BigLaw Firms and Beyond

Since September, many large law firms have shown an up-tick in cutting staff positions, placing employees on furlough or downsizing their workforce altogether. As legal news is reporting on a growing number of reputable law firms trimming budgets and cutting staff, lawyers and legal staff members have growing concern over finding themselves unemployed.

The top trending story at law.com by Dan Packel reads, “Layoffs Continue, as Even Stable Firms Face Shifting Work Environment,” as the subheading goes on to explain, "People who handle paper are in less demand. The nature of filing has changed. The need for receptionists is lower," said Altman Weil consultant Eric Seeger. If you head over to abovethelaw.com you can follow over 34 news stories on this very subject, all dated since the start of September.

The consensus appears that BigLaw will continue to make headlines as the industry attempts to navigate the current COVID-19 legal landscape.

Stimulus Talks Continue to Stall

At this rate, Nancy Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin have to be spending more time together than President Trump and Fox News. One has to wonder if they’ve become friends at this point, as it’s been reported they’ve continued to negotiate for “days”, even as Trump bounces around on Twitter and media interviews proclaiming changing views on what he is actually willing to offer up on a stimulus package. Currently it’s a ‘more is more’ attitude. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) holds the purse-strings in the Republican controlled Senate. McConnell and Republican senators alike are increasingly trying to distance themselves from the White House and the expanding spending package. Reports this week claim McConnell is attempting to advance his own smaller-scale $500 billion plan next week. 

Gender Equality find Support by the Courts this Week

Regardless of your views on the most heated of all hot-topics, one has to appreciate the tone and fervor of the recent decision by judge Bernard A. Friedman, by stating the previous imposed “waiting period” was, “gratuitously demeaning to women”, and continues, “Defendants’ suggestion that women are overly emotional and must be required to cool off or calm down before having a medical procedure they have decided they want to have, and that they are constitutionally entitled to have, is highly insulting and paternalistic — and all the more so given that no such waiting periods apply to men,” he wrote. Click on the links to read more about this topic.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has reached a deal with Princeton University to pay $925,000 in back salary, as well as $250,000 in adjustments to all future salaries for female professors who earned less money than their male peers. After some back-and forth, Princeton agreed to the review set forth by the OFCCP that found from 2012 to 2014 106 female professors at the University received less pay than their male counterparts.

Barrett Hearing Highlights

As the final day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett were met with a partisan brawl on the Senate floor Thursday, let’s look back at some highlights of this high-speed confirmation hearing meant to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg with her complete antithesis:

  • Nonpartisan representatives of the American Bar Association informed the committee they have determined Judge Barrett to be “well qualified” to join the Supreme Court.
  • Democrats called witnesses to testify on how Judge Barrett’s well publicized personal and religious views could impair her ability to make unbiased decisions on the future of average Americans, and in light of the importance of the separation of church and state. They called upon emotional testimony to highlight how potential future rulings could impact the lives of citizens.
  • Laura E. Wolk, the first blind woman to serve as a law clerk on the Supreme Court, gave an emotional testimony in support of Judge Barrett stating, ““I needed help, and I needed it fast. To my great fortune, I had been randomly assigned to Judge Barrett’s civil procedure class as part of my first semester schedule.” Ms. Wolk continues, “though I had only known her for a few weeks, her rare combination of graciousness and warmth gave me hope that she could assist me in procuring the technology from Notre Dame as a stopgap measure until I could fix my own.”
  • Senator Whitehouse (D-Ri.) warned the committee there will be political ramifications for forcing a vote on Judge Barrett so close to the election. Further hinting at the heightened hypocrisy of Obama’s attempt to seat Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016 following the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Judge Barrett herself offered one of the most hypocritical statements on this issue. Senator Whitehouse made a very pointed warning hinting at possibilities for ending the filibuster or expanding the court if Democrats take control. Look for this very issue of Republican hypocrisy around placing Judge Barrett on the Supreme Court to come up should that situation unfold next year.
  • Judge Barrett gives a lesson on how to graciously ‘dance around the raindrops’ as she avoids the issue of recusing herself should the Supreme Court need to intervene in the 2020 elections, as well as refusing to answer questions on Trump’s family separation policy at the border.
  • “You all have a good chance of winning the White House,” Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) told the Democrats on the committee. Graham made that statement as he attempted to justify the rush to confirm Judge Barrett during an election year--something he publicly argued against in 2016 in aforementioned Merrick Garland confirmation. Graham argues that voters did elect a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate previously, but noted that could completely change in just a matter of weeks.
  • Democrats made a final argument based on their interpretation that Republicans are seeking a 6-to-3 conservative majority in the court so they can strike down the Affordable Care Act, limit rights to abortion and tip the presidential election to their favor (Trump) should the 2020 presidential election end up before the SCOTUS. Republicans countered that with testimony from Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) that what they are doing by pushing through Jude Barrett’s confirmation as quickly as possible is without question fair, and holds no hypocrisy whatsoever. Ultimately, this is nothing more than a last-ditch effort by Democrats to urge Republicans to reverse course, as Democrats claim they’re setting a dangerous new precedent in an ever-escalating judicial war that will undoubtedly continue to erode the legislative and judicial systems.
  • The panel will inevitably vote on Barrett's nomination on Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. as offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) Stay-tuned to see if Senate Democrats boycott that vote or if it leads to a finalized nomination next week.

Split-Screen Town Halls & Election Woes

Trump and Biden fielded questions separately on Thursday evening during dueling primetime town halls. Trump easily filled his traditional antagonist role, often criticizing and interrupting NBC’s host, Savannah Guthrie, while Biden’s tactic of flying low-key caused some to compare him to Mr. Rogers during his much calmer town hall with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. A record number of voters have already placed their ballots and are continuing to vote by mail, drop boxes and record-breaking wait lines throughout the country so it’s not expected either town hall will sway voters; however, the stark contrast between the two events was highly noticeable.

Clipped Cables in Virginia

As voter registration deadlines expire, a federal court had to extend Virginia's voter registration deadline after an accidentally clipped fiber optic cable took down the Department of Elections website on Tuesday of this week, the final day of voter registration.

Ballot Harvesting in California

On Wednesday, the California Republican Party stated they will not comply with a state’s cease-and-desist order to stop and remove all unofficially placed ballot boxes in at least 4 California counties. In fact, California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said in a statement they’d be expanding the “ballot harvesting program.” The party made their intentions clear in a letter sent to the California Secretary of State on Wednesday. Attorneys for the state GOP claim the illegitimate ballot boxes in question are indoors, staffed by volunteers or party officials, secure and not labeled "official." However, various images of the ballot boxes showed some to actually be labeled "official”. CA GOP officials claim they didn’t authorize the use of that term and have since removed it.

Trump weighed into this issue by tweeting on the controversy Tuesday night, encouraging Republicans to keep it up and telling Democrats, “see you in court!” Officials within the state of California caution residents to only use official drop boxes, the U.S. mail or polling places to cast their ballots. These “ballot harvesting boxes” have no official chain of authority, oversight or guarantee they won’t be tampered with. Elections officials have been reiterating they also check for evidence of tampering with every single ballot received.

And that wraps up this week's highlights and headlines from around the nation. We’re venturing close to the eye of the storm that is the 2020 election, so if you enjoy our news recaps and want to keep up to date on the top news stories be sure to check back on our blog or sign-up for our newsletter.

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