SCOTUS battle reshapes 2020 election

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:58 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020
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3:21 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Youth organizers are sending a message to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley – via pigeon

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Organizers with NextGen America will send a message to Sen. Chuck Grassley by pigeon mail, they told CNN Monday.

NextGen has hired a carrier pigeon service called “PigeonGram” to deliver the message, which will urge Grassley to delay a vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

The Iowa Republican has yet to comment on whether or not he believes a vote on a nominee should happen this year following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.

The plans from NextGen, the progressive youth voter engagement organization founded by businessman Tom Steyer, come after Grassley tweeted about a dead pigeon Friday.  

Grassley, who is known to run his own Twitter account, found a dead pigeon on his lawn and tweeted, “If u lost ur pet pidgin /it’s dead in front yard my Iowa farm JUST DISCOVERED here r identifiers Right leg Blue 2020/3089/AU2020/SHE ///LEFT LEG GREEN BAND NO PRINTED INFO. Sorry for bad news.”


“We saw that there was a lot of attention around the pigeon, and we wanted to draw more attention to the issue that we’ve been talking to young people about, which is honoring RBG’s dying wish,” Murphy Burke, an organizer with NextGen in Iowa, told CNN. 

NextGen plans to have the message delivered to Grassley at the US Capitol after President Trump announces his Supreme Court pick later this week. 

The US Postal Service will help with most of the delivery.

Burke noted that while the message will be in-part delivered by pigeon, the act is mostly symbolic. The message Grassley receives will come in an envelope from PigeonGram, indicating that it was carried in part by a homing pigeon.

“A pigeon cannot really deliver mail in this day and age,” Burke told CNN. “But we like the fact that the envelope will say the message was carried by a homing pigeon.”

In addition to its plans to contact Grassley by pigeon mail, NextGen is urging young people across the country to send messages to their senators to refuse to hold a vote on a Supreme Court nominee until after the November election. 

Following Ginsburg's death, NextGen released new Senate ads in Maine, North Carolina, Iowa and Arizona Saturday highlighting the importance of electing Democrats to the Senate, which could allow them to reclaim the majority. 

NextGen’s efforts come as a number of youth led groups work to convince senators to hold off on a Supreme Court nomination vote.

Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate organization, demonstrated outside the homes of Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina on Monday.

The group plans to target other Republican senators — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — as well as potential Supreme Court nominee Barbara Lagoa of Florida later this week.

“We only need four Republicans to do the right thing and stick to the McConnell precedent,” Aracely Jimenez, deputy communications director for Sunrise, said in a statement Monday. “We must do everything in our power to hold vulnerable Republicans and also Senate Democrats accountable in order to prevent an appointment to the bench before Biden is sworn in.” 

In the coming days, March For Our Lives, the gun violence prevention organization, plans to demonstrate outside the offices of Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, David Perdue of Georgia, Mitt Romney of Utah and Martha McSally of Arizona. 

March For Our Lives is also encouraging participants to get involved virtually by emailing senators using a pre-filled form, text banking, and faxing senator letters, asking them to hold off on a vote.

3:00 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Ask us your questions about voting in the 2020 election

The pandemic has reshaped the American election process this year. Do you have questions about registering or voting, whether in person or by mail? Are you confused about how to request or return your mail-in ballot? What do you want to know about how votes will be counted and secured?

Ask us your questions below. We may follow up on some responses for upcoming stories.

More information on voting by mail here. Or tell us your story about voting here.

3:18 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Trump is yet to release health care plan six weeks to election. White House says it is coming "soon." 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal and Jason Hoffman

Pressed multiple times on when President Trump's health care plan was coming, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern would only say “soon.” Asked if it would be before the election, Morgenstern answered it would be “very soon.”

“The American people will never have to guess where President Trump stands on a very important issue,” he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

Asked further about the timing and substance of the alleged plan, Morgenstern eventually quipped, “I don't know if you expected me to bring it with me here to this interview, but the President will release it on his timeline very soon.”

 “There is a plan,” he claimed. “He will describe it clearly to the American people.”

Some background: Trump has long promised to release a health care plan that could replace Obamacare, but he is yet to do so. In an Aug. 3 news conference, Trump said his health care plan would most likely be released before the end of the month. But August came and went and the President never released a plan. It marks the latest instance of Trump promising an Obamacare solution that never came.

In a town hall with ABC last week, journalist George Stephanopoulos also pressed Trump on his plan. The President told him he has it "all ready." Morgenstern told CNN today Trump will roll out his plan "when he is ready to do so."

Watch the interview:

2:47 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

White House claims Supreme Court battle is "fundamentally different" than 2016 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

The White House is trying to justify the Republican double standard for appointing and confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year, claiming, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has, that filling a seat on the court is appropriate now because “the Republican majority… was expanded in 2018 running on confirming constitutionalist judges.”

In a contentious interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said the situation with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court was “fundamentally different” than in 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland.

“This President and the senators were elected on a platform of confirming constitutionalist judges, it was a different political makeup at the time and now the Republican majority that was elected in part for the part of confirming justices and judges is in charge of the senate and President Trump was elected on the same principle and he is in the White House,” Morgenstern told CNN.

Faced with Republican senators’ own words from 2016, including Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seemingly unequivocal assertion that “if a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,” Morgenstern called the 2016 election a referendum on the Supreme Court.

“It was a referendum on the U.S. Supreme Court in that President Trump released his list of well-qualified, constitutionalist judges, the Republican senators ran on confirming such judges and justices. So this is about fundamental rights, it’s about our right to free speech, to practice our religion, it’s about the right to bear arms, it’s about really the bill of rights and preserving the God-given rights especially at a time now, Briana where in our country we have a radical left that seems bent on destroying our institutions,” he said, talking around the question of hypocrisy.

Watch the interview:

1:38 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Kamala Harris says whoever is elected should decide who sits on US Supreme Court

From CNN’s Jasmine Wright

Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the press before participating in a Latino roundtable event on September 17, in Philadelphia. 
Democratic U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to the press before participating in a Latino roundtable event on September 17, in Philadelphia.  Mark Makela/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris reiterated her running mate Joe Biden’s call to allow the next elected President choose the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement while on Instagram Live with journalist April Ryan.

Harris said that Ginsburg is “among the shoulders I stand on."

"Joe Biden said it in as plain speak as it possibly should be said, which is the American people will elect the President of the United States in 43 days, and whoever is elected should make a decision about who sits on the United States Supreme Court. Period,” the California senator said.

“People are voting right now. People have been voting. So the election has actually started,” she said. Harris put specific emphasis on casting the SCOTUS debate in terms of Obamacare and the health care apparatus at large. 

But Harris reaffirmed Biden would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if elected, saying “Joe’s gonna keep his word,” but when asked if Biden would expand the court past nine judges who she would recommend, Harris didn’t answer. “April, I am focused on the next 43 day,” she said and encouraged everyone to early vote.  

On debate prep, Harris said she and Biden are doing it separately and then when asked what advice she is giving Biden because Trump fights dirty, the California senator called her running mate a fighter.

Harris said she was not concerned about polling showing the race tightening because “it's part of the nature of the process. The numbers always now the closer you get to an election,” she said.


1:11 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Second judge rules against USPS and says election mail must be prioritized

From CNN's From Marshall Cohen, Paul P. Murphy and Katelyn Polantz

The US Postal Service must prioritize election mail and reverse some key policy changes imposed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a federal judge ruled on Monday, saying that “managerial failures” at the agency undermined the public’s faith in mail-in voting. 

US District Judge Victor Marrero in New York’s Southern District became the second federal judge to side against USPS in the past week. A judge in Washington state ordered many similar changes on Friday and blasted the Trump administration for what he called a “politically motivated attack” on USPS.

In the Monday ruling, Marrero ordered USPS to treat all election mail as first-class mail or priority mail express, and ordered USPS to “pre-approve” all overtime requests for the two weeks surrounding Election Day, to make sure absentee ballots are processed properly.

"The right to vote is too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election, raising doubts as to whether their votes will ultimately be counted," Marrero wrote.

He continued, “while the Court has no doubts that the Postal Service’s workforce comprises hardworking and dedicated public servants, multiple managerial failures have undermined the postal employees’ ability to fulfill their vital mission.”

These changes will go into effect on Friday, the judge said. USPS has been ordered to agree to these terms in a settlement with the voters and candidates that brought the lawsuit. If there is no settlement by Friday, then Marrero’s orders will automatically kick in, according to the ruling.

For more American voters than ever, mail-in voting is an option this year, but the rules depend on where you live. Click here to see your state guidance.

1:15 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

Biden will address Covid-19 deaths and appeal to Obama-Trump voters in speech today

From CNN's Sarah Mucha and Arlette Saenz

Joe Biden boards a plane en route to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, at New Castle Airport in Delaware on September 21.
Joe Biden boards a plane en route to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, at New Castle Airport in Delaware on September 21. Carolyn Kaster/AP

In his speech in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, today, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will address the US nearing 200,000 Covid-19 deaths and criticize President Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a Biden campaign aide said.

Biden will “warn against the risk of growing numb to the increasing death toll” and urge Americans to adopt prevention measures, like mask-wearing, to prevent further deaths, the aide said.

In his second trip to Wisconsin this month, Biden is visiting a county Trump won by nearly 22 points eight years after Barack Obama carried it by eight points. Obama lost the county by three points in 2012.

Biden will try to appeal to “Obama-Trump voters,” the aide said, and emphasize his “Scranton vs. Park Avenue” framing for this election.

“Biden will say that he understands there are people who voted for Trump because he talked about the forgotten man,” the aide said, arguing that Trump has failed those voters while in office. “Biden promises that he’ll be their champion — he’ll fight for American jobs, the dignity of work, and be a President for all Americans.”

The aide would not detail whether Biden would discuss the Supreme Court vacancy in his speech.

12:40 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

How a third Trump Supreme Court appointee could affect the law for generations

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

A third Supreme Court justice appointed by President Trump will tilt the court to a clear 6-3 conservative majority with long-term consequences in several cases like the future of Obamacare and Trump’s financial documents.

With Trump looking at a list of potential justices that skews younger in age, CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic said it will affect the law for generations to come.

“This will definitely be a new America in terms of the Supreme Court. It’s going to affect the law for our children and our grandchildren,” CNN’s Joan Biskupic explained. “He’s looking at people who are in their late 30’s and 40’s. When Clarence Thomas came on in 1991, he was only 43 years old. He’s now serving just about 30 years, and then some. He’ll probably keep going for a while. So this is not something that will affect just our immediate cases like the Affordable Care Act, but it’s going to set the law of the land for generations.”

Legal ethics expert Steve Vladeck said such a bench would lead to several 6-3 majority opinions in future Supreme Court cases.

“We haven’t seen a court this conservative since the new deal, we haven’t seen an appointment to the court that moved the court so sharply to the right since Justice Thomas was appointed to replace Thurgood Marshall," he said. “This is why everybody’s dander is up to such an extent. It’s not just that the election is two months away. It’s that everyone understands the stakes of filling this particular seat at this moment in American history.”

The politics at play: Republicans now have an opportunity to re-engage some of their disaffected voters by pointing to Trump’s extensive efforts to reshape the judiciary. When Trump released a list of more than 20 potential Supreme Court nominees earlier this month, he had appointed 205 federal judges, including two Supreme Court nominees, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

1:02 p.m. ET, September 21, 2020

What you need to know about Amy Coney Barrett — one of Trump's potential SCOTUS nominees

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue, Devan Cole and Paul LeBlanc

Amy Coney Barrett speaks in May 2018 at the University of Notre Dame's Law School commencement ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.
Amy Coney Barrett speaks in May 2018 at the University of Notre Dame's Law School commencement ceremony in South Bend, Indiana. Robert Franklin/The South Bend Tribune/AP

President Trump has vowed to appoint a woman to replace late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after circulating a roster of more than 20 potential nominees in recent weeks that includes prominent and lesser-known conservatives who would undoubtedly tilt the court further rightward if appointed.

One of the more notable members of Trump's list of potential nominees is Amy Coney Barrett.

A former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett was Trump's pick for a seat on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Born in 1972, she served as a professor of law at her alma mater, Notre Dame.

During her confirmation hearing, she had a contentious exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who asked her about past writings concerning faith and the law. At one point, Feinstein asked Barrett if the "dogma lives loudly in her." Supporters of Barrett suggested Feinstein was attempting to apply a religious litmus test to the nominee.

Barrett is quoted in a 2013 publication affiliated with Notre Dame as saying she thinks it is "very unlikely at this point" that the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion decision that legalized abortion in the US.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spoken to Trump more than once this weekend and has indicated to him that he and GOP senators know Barrett well, suggesting that her nomination might move quicker because they know her record, according to a source familiar with the matter.

But the suggestion of a Barrett nomination met sharp disapproval from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who said at a news conference Sunday evening that she "stands for all the things Ruth Bader Ginsburg was against and so many things that the vast majority of American people are against."

Read more about Trump's other potential picks here.