2/10 A Jury of the American People

Published: 2.10.21

Yesterday, the Senate voted to continue with the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. Today, the House impeachment managers began making their case to the Senate, as the nation anxiously watched. That the eyes of the country are upon them is not lost on the impeachment managers. As Ambassador Norm Eisen and Katherine Reisner, both outside legal counsels to the Voter Protection Program, shared yesterday in a joint op-ed for CNN: “The impeachment managers will remain keenly aware that they are addressing two audiences: The jury of 100 senators, of course, but perhaps more importantly, that of the American people.” The trial will allow the public to see for themselves the evidence implicating Trump for inciting violence and to witness their senators vote on whether to convict him.

Meanwhile, access to the ballot box is in the crosshairs of state legislatures across the country, where legislation making it harder to vote continues to appear. In the wake of such threats, lawmakers and advocates are taking action to protect the franchise.

National Update

National Voting Protections: State lawmakers across the country continue to introduce legislation to restrict voting access, and some national leaders are now championing these voter suppression efforts. The Chair of the Republican National Committee recently stated that purging voter rolls and pulling back vote-by-mail expansions was a top priority. But congressional lawmakers are determined to fight back, introducing legislation that would both protect and expand voting rights. The most notable effort is the For the People Act, a bill praised by pro-voting activists and lawmakers for its comprehensive, nationwide voting protections, anti-gerrymandering provisions, and reduction of the influence of money in politics. As the bill’s probability of gaining 60 Senate votes looks increasingly unlikely, advocates are floating abolishing the filibuster to pass the legislation.

Impeachment Round 2, Day 2: The second impeachment trial of former President Trump is well underway, with Wednesday marking the second full day of proceedings. Tuesday’s arguments left many observers — lawmakers and citizens alike — surprised. The arguments from Trump’s top defense lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, were recognized by both sides of the aisle as rambling and hard to follow at best. Members of Trump’s inner circle, his allies in the Senate, and even the former President himself universally panned the defense’s performance. This follows increasing doubts about the Trump legal team’s preparedness; the team was hastily assembled after Trump’s first picks quit mere days before the trial. Questions about Trump’s lawyers’ fealty have also arisen in recent days, after news broke that one of the impeachment defense lawyers, Michael T. van der Veen, previously filed a lawsuit against the former president over his voter fraud claims.

By contrast, the House impeachment managers were better prepared, successfully convincing Senator. Bill Cassidy to join five other GOP Senators in voting to proceed with the trial. This reversal is particularly notable, given that Sen. Cassidy voted in favor of Sen. Paul Rand’s motion to dismiss the trial on grounds that it was unconstitutional merely two weeks ago.

Trump’s Timeline: Trump’s past comments are in the spotlight as the impeachment trial continues. As Trump’s defense team argues that his speech on January 6th was not incitement, others have pointed to Trump’s larger, established pattern of spreading misinformation and mistrust in the election as evidence of a months-long campaign to mislead the public, framing violence as the only recourse to address his (baseless) claims of fraud. These statements date as far back as April 2020 and only increase in their frequency and intensity in the months leading up to the election. The review of Trump’s past behavior makes his reported “glee” watching the mob storm the Capitol in real-time — as reported by a former White House aide — even more disturbing.

Social Media Struggles: Congress is the latest entity to take interest in social media companies’ role in failing to curb the rampant spread of misinformation that occurred across prominent social platforms in the months before the election. As lawmakers continue to investigate the January 6th riots, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has demanded information from Parler, a conservative-leaning social media platform, about its ownership, financing, and foreign business agreements. Parler must provide this information by February 22.

According to a media responsibility report released Monday, social media titans like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube were more ineffective at curbing misinformation than their smaller competitors. The report finds that smaller platforms like Reddit, TikTok, and Pinterest were both faster to respond to misinformation and more drastic in their proposed countermeasures than bigger companies. Fox’s First Amendment Fight: Fox News has asked for the Smartmatic defamation lawsuit against the network to be dismissed on grounds that any false claims the channel made were protected under the First Amendment. Earlier this week, Smartmatic, a voter technology firm, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News for disparaging the company’s reputation by repeatedly spreading false statements. An analysis of the network’s coverage by The Washington Post reveals that Fox mentioned Smartmatic and Dominion significantly more than other cable networks, and often referenced the companies in statements containing false information. In a similar defamation case filed by Dominion Voting Services against prominent election fraud lawyer Sidney Powell, the accused has been called out for evading legal consequences of her election-related activities. Dominion recently alleged that Powell crossed state lines, refused to complete necessary waivers, and evaded service of process for weeks to delay the lawsuit.

State Updates

Arizona: Arizona has been increasingly recognized as the state with the greatest number of fast-moving, anti-voting bills up for consideration. Proposals to introduce more restrictions on absentee voters, cancel automatic early ballots for certain voters, and changes to the recount rules are all on the table, with some up for consideration as early as this week. The State Senate’s motion to hold the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas failed on Tuesday. State Sen. Paul Boyer voted against the measure, which would have called for the supervisors to be arrested, drawing condemnation from members of his party.

To counter the unprecedented push to roll back voting, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs partnered with State Sen. Martin Quezada to draft SB 1667, a bill that would expand voting rights, bolster election security, and improve election administration. According to Sec. Hobbs, “The Committee has already heard far too many bills that create barriers for voters. It’s time to hear a bill that actually strengthens our democracy.”

Georgia: On Monday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger opened a probe into former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the state’s election results. Prosecutors in Fulton County followed with a similar effort, initiating a criminal investigation into Trump’s activities, including his widely-publicized phone call with Secretary Raffensperger where he instructed Raffensperger to “find” more votes. The criminal investigation will be led by Fani Willis, the recently elected prosecutor in Fulton County.

Michigan: Yesterday, Michigan State Sen. Mike Shirkey was caught on video alleging that the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol was “all staged” and that Trump supporters were not involved in the riots. His comments were widely rebuked, and Shirkey has since apologized. False statements — even ones that have since been rescinded or apologized for — cause lasting damage in misleading the public and eroding public confidence, as the January 6th mob showed. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued a strong statement countering Shirkey’s lies: “To be clear the only ‘hoax’ around here is the false myth that our elections — here in Michigan and across the country — were anything but a secure and accurate reflection of the will of the people.”

South Carolina: Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott are facing a potential censure from their party’s state lawmakers. The Republican Party in Aiken County, South Carolina will convene on Thursday to discuss censuring the two Senators for certifying President Biden’s electoral college votes during the Congressional Joint Session on January 6th. State lawmakers from Arizona and Wyoming have issued similar retaliatory censures for members of their party that did not go along with the baseless claims of voter fraud and instead voted to certify the election. South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice has already been censured by the party for voting to impeach the former President.

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