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    The Supreme Court takes on two redistricting cases from Texas

    21734870 at http://www.economist.com

    THE SUPREME COURT rejects about 99% of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions that reach it each year. But when it comes to cases involving reapportionment—challenges to how states draw lines for congressional or state legislative elections—the justices can’t be quite so choosy. Congress has chipped away at the cases subject to mandatory review by the Supreme Court, but it has kept it for redistricting cases where an election looms and time is of the essence. If skewed electoral maps may need to be redrawn, a special three-judge federal court is convened to hear the case; an appeal goes right to the Supreme Court, bypassing America’s 13 circuit courts. 

    This quirk of Supreme Court procedure explains why the justices have now agreed to hear four gerrymandering cases this term, including two added on January 12th. These recurring matters may be their least-favourite to resolve. In 2016, Justice Stephen Breyer told lawyers in a racial-gerrymandering dispute that he had hoped his...Continue reading

    Mon, 15 Jan 2018 18:20:16 +0000

    Chris Christie’s eight tumultuous years as governor of New Jersey

    21734914 at http://www.economist.com

    ON JANUARY 9th, less than a week before he was due to step down as New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie delivered his eighth and final state of the state address, in which he boasted of his “consequential accomplishments” in office. He also warned his successor, Phil Murphy, a Democrat, who takes over on January 16th, that the state should not revert to the policies of the past. During his 90-minute address there was no acknowledgement that Mr Christie’s tenure had been tainted by Bridge-gate, a public corruption scandal. Nor was there any mention of his failed presidential bid. He had, he said, left the state, “much, much better than it was eight years ago”.  

    In some ways he is right. Mr Christie inherited an enormous budget deficit, which he cut without blinking. His hard-nosed line vetoing of budgets ultimately saved the state $7.3bn in spending over eight years. He helped reform the pension system and cut property taxes and unemployment. Mr Christie also took unusual approaches to old problems. For instance, he...Continue reading

    Mon, 15 Jan 2018 21:37:45 +0000

    Donald Trump’s economic policy has not been as bad as expected

    21734406 at http://www.economist.com

    AS IT became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidential election, in the early hours of 9th November 2016, Asian financial markets tanked. But within hours of his victory investors changed course. A Trump presidency, they reasoned, would mean tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending—in other words, more growth. A year after Mr Trump took office, it looks like the rethink was justified. Little of what was feared about Mr Trump’s economic policy has come to pass. To some, rising economic growth, which exceeded 3% in the second and third quarters of 2017, combined with accelerating blue-collar wages, suggest that Mr Trump has delivered on his promise to invigorate the economy.

    In truth, Mr Trump has benefited from a global economic surge that has lifted confidence—and stockmarkets—across the rich world. His timing with regard to the labour market was particularly fortunate. He came to office with unemployment at 4.8% and falling (it is now 4.1%). Pockets of strong wage growth,...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:36 +0000

    All the president’s Tweets

    21734471 at http://www.economist.com

    THE president’s dearest supporters and bitterest opponents are united in their wish that less attention be paid to his social-media habit. Stephen Miller, a policy adviser, and Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, have tried valiant defences, but many Republicans prefer to feign ignorance. Some of Mr Trump’s critics detect a more insidious motive, “a weapon to control the news cycle”, as George Lakoff, a professor emeritus at Berkeley, puts it. In this reading, the president is a puppet-master whose tweets distract from scandal and divert attention from substantive issues. These critics have it backwards: Mr Trump is actually taking cues from the media, specifically Fox News, an entertainment channel, rather than attempting to lead them.

    Matthew Gertz of Media Matters, a progressive watchdog, has documented nearly 60 cases in the past three months where Mr Trump appears to be tweeting in response to Fox News segments. The alarming North Korea tweet came 12 minutes...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:42 +0000

    Donald Trump’s judicial appointments may prove his most enduring legacy

    21734409 at http://www.economist.com

    AMERICA’S judges are supposed to be above party politics and yet are often appointed by politicians and then asked to rule on disputes that can sway elections. On January 9th federal judges in North Carolina gave the state two weeks to redraw its congressional map. In a caustic ruling written by James Wynn, an appellate judge nominated by Barack Obama, the court found that the state’s current map—which let Republicans win ten of the state’s 13 districts with just 53% of the total overall vote—was “motivated by invidious partisan intent”, and violated the first and 14th Amendments. North Carolina vowed to appeal, which could see the case added to two other gerrymandering suits at the Supreme Court. The head of North Carolina’s Republican Party accused Mr Wynn of “waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.”

    If Republicans get their way, Democrat-appointed judges like Mr Wynn will soon comprise a smaller share of the federal judiciary. No president has confirmed...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:36 +0000

    Donald Trump gives the Iran nuclear deal a “last chance”

    21734863 at http://www.economist.com

    ONCE again, through gritted teeth, President Donald Trump has granted a stay of execution for the Iran nuclear deal brokered by his predecessor, Barack Obama. But this is the last time he will do so, he announced on January 12th. This fresh reprieve for the Iran agreement—which on the campaign trail Mr Trump called “the worst deal ever” and promised to tear up—highlights the dilemma faced by America’s closest allies, notably in Europe.

    A big part of Mr Trump's climb-down is due to public pressure from allies such as Britain, France and Germany, whose governments made clear that they think this deal is the best available; they would not join Mr Trump in negotiating a replacement if he blows this one up. But even as he swallowed his pride and signed off on an extension for the agreement for a further 120 days, the president said that he would still walk away from the deal if it is not toughened by allies and by Congress, and soon.

    In part as a face-saving measure, Mr Trump imposed new sanctions that target 14 Iranian...Continue reading

    Fri, 12 Jan 2018 20:06:19 +0000

    Swamp Inc. is not only surviving Donald Trump, it is thriving

    21734472 at http://www.economist.com

    OF THE three resounding slogans of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—the pledges to “build a wall”, “lock her up” and “drain the swamp”—none has come to fruition. To be fair, none could be enacted by executive fiat alone. A border wall would require appropriations from Congress. Hillary Clinton could be jailed only by a stubbornly independent justice system. On the business of swamp-draining, however, there is much that the executive branch could do on its own. Yet Washington remains as boggy as ever.

    Lobbyists are a hardy species, capable of surviving both the lean years of gridlock and the feeding frenzies of unified government. They thrive when policy is in flux, preserving old perks and pushing for new ones. “The honest answer is that the influence industry grew almost as much in Trump’s first year as it did in Obama’s,” says one long-time lobbyist. Not all lobbying activity in 2017 has yet been reported—but it may well be the most profitable to date,...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:43 +0000

    There is no guaranteed defence against ballistic missiles—yet

    21734465 at http://www.economist.com

    THANKS largely to Kim Jong Un (aka “Little Rocket Man”), missile defence of the American homeland is a hot topic. Next month the Trump administration is expected to publish a review of the nation’s defences against ballistic-missile attack. Funding for the Missile Defence Agency (MDA) is likely to exceed $11bn for 2018, over $3bn more than the president’s original request (assuming Congress can come up with a deal on the overall budget). An emergency request of nearly $5bn for additional “missile defence and defeat” funding was made in November.

    The intelligence agencies had assured Mr Trump when he took office that not until 2020, possibly even 2022, would Mr Kim have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). That relatively comforting assessment was blown apart in July when North Korea successfully tested two missiles with the range to hit cities in the continental United States, and, in September, when it conducted an underground explosion of what appears to have been a...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:42 +0000

    Banished Bannon

    21734398 at http://www.economist.com

    A FAN of military history, Stephen Bannon may know of Nikephoros, a Byzantine emperor who was vanquished and decapitated by a Bulgar khan who, for extra humiliation, then fashioned his skull into a drinking cup. President Donald Trump’s erstwhile muse might even feel he has experienced something similar, at the end of a week in which he has been denounced and excommunicated by the president, jettisoned by his conservative benefactor, Rebekah Mercer, and, on January 9th, shunted from his position at the helm of Breitbart News, a hard-right website which gained huge exposure from his former success. The same day, in a jaw-dropping televised meeting with congressional leaders, Mr Trump airily suggested he might support a package of liberal immigration reforms. This was the modern-day equivalent of supping from Mr Bannon’s gilded skull.

    The spur to his demise was Mr Bannon’s lead role in briefing Michael Wolff, author of the caustic takedown of the Trump administration, “Fire and Fury”, that...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:36 +0000

    Why a judge’s injunction on DACA is unlikely to stand

    21734383 at http://www.economist.com

    WITH the dawn of Donald Trump’s second year in the White House less than a fortnight away, debate over immigration, a central focus of his campaign, has reached a pivotal moment. On January 9th, with a partisan immigration battle raging on the other coast, a federal judge in California released a bold 49-page order. Judge William Alsup told the Trump administration to restart Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the programme Barack Obama crafted through executive action in 2012 for people who arrived illegally in America when they were children. The White House's reaction to Judge Alsup’s injunction was swift and familiar: Sarah Sanders, Mr Trump's press secretary, declared the ruling “outrageous”; on Twitter Mr Trump castigated America’s judiciary as “broken and unfair”.  

    The legal fight over Mr Trump’s handling of DACA dates to September 2017, when Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, announced the programme was...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 06:49:22 +0000

    What’s on the president’s mind

    21734401 at http://www.economist.com

    ANY political system that puts great power in the hands of a single person must also reckon with the problem that creates. It is sensible to make provision to remove the king or president from office if he becomes incapacitated. Yet the existence of such a provision also risks inviting a coup. The framers of the constitution were acutely aware of this, and decided to fudge it. Meanwhile, in Britain, George III’s bouts of mania invited questions about who is really in charge when the monarch is on the throne but out of his mind. Speculation about President Donald Trump’s mental state, ever-present since before his election, increased when he tweeted that his nuclear button was “much bigger” than Kim Jong-Un’s. Being Mr Trump, he followed up with his own self-analysis, declaring that he is a “very stable genius”.

    Most psychiatrists are wary about pronouncing on the mental state of people they have not examined, but that has not stopped a few from having a go at Mr Trump. Bandy Lee, a...Continue reading

    Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:03:28 +0000

    The Supreme Court considers the scope of automobile privacy

    21734355 at http://www.economist.com

    ON JANUARY 9th a pair of cases probing the meaning of the Fourth Amendment’s bar on “unreasonable searches and seizures”—both involving vehicle privacy—were debated at the Supreme Court. Collins v Virginia concerns a hot-rod motorcycle that whizzed by police at 140 mph; in Byrd v United States, officers found 49 bricks of heroin and body armour in the boot of a car. There is little doubt the men steering these vehicles were violating the law. But in collecting evidence of the crimes, police may have violated long-standing Fourth Amendment principles.  

    When a police officer chased the speedy motorcycle driven by Ryan Collins, he couldn’t keep up but managed to snap some photographs and jot down its licence plate number. About six weeks later, after spotting images of the parked bike on Mr Collins’s Facebook page, the officer tracked the vehicle to the home of the suspect’s girlfriend. There, after spotting the Suzuki nosing out from under a white cover, the officer walked up the driveway and uncovered...Continue reading

    Wed, 10 Jan 2018 18:49:44 +0000