A federal judge has postponed President Donald Trump’s threatened shutdown of the popular short-form video app TikTok, siding with a Pennsylvania comedian and two other TikTok creators who say Trump’s order hampers their free speech, reports AP.
U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone on Friday blocked an upcoming Commerce Department action that would have effectively banned TikTok in the U.S. by cutting it off from vital technical services.
The Trump administration has said TikTok is a security threat, citing its Chinese owner, ByteDance, and the possibility that the Chinese government could spy on users. Trump’s executive order was set to take effect Nov. 12, but is now on hold as the lawsuit proceeds.
This is not the first court challenge to Trump’s attempted crackdown on TikTok. Another federal judge in September postponed a Trump administration order that would have banned TikTok from smartphone app stores. In that case, lawyers for TikTok argued that the administration’s app-store ban would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.
But Beetlestone’s case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was brought forth not by the company, but three of its users who’ve built a following on the app: Douglas Marland, a comedian from Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, along with Southern California fashion designer Cosette Rinab and Connecticut musician Alec Chambers.
“We are pleased that the judge has halted this ban, which exceeds the President’s authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, namely portions of the Act that reflect our nation’s deep commitment to free speech,” said their lawyer, Ambika Kumar Doran, in a prepared statement.
The Commerce Department and White House didn’t immediately return requests for comment. The administration has said it is exercising Trump’s emergency authority under the 1977 law enabling a president to regulate international commerce to address unusual threats.
TikTok said in a statement Friday that it is “deeply moved by the outpouring of support from our creators, who have worked to protect their rights to expression, their careers, and to helping small businesses, particularly during the pandemic.”
North Carolina, yes. Pennsylvania, yes. Wisconsin, no. That’s how the Supreme Court has answered questions in recent days about an extended timeline for receiving and counting ballots in those states.
In each case, Democrats backed the extensions and Republicans opposed them. All three states have Democratic governors and legislatures controlled by the GOP.
At first blush, the difference in the outcomes at the Supreme Court seems odd because the high court typically takes up issues to harmonize the rules across the country. But elections are largely governed by states, and the rules differ from one state to the next.
A big asterisk: These cases are being dealt with on an emergency basis in which the court issues orders that either block or keep in place a lower-court ruling. But there is almost never an explanation of the majority’s rationale, though individual justices sometimes write opinions that partially explain the matter.
There also is a difference in how the justices act based on whether they are ruling on a lawsuit that began in state or federal court.
Conservative justices who hold a majority on the Supreme Court object to what they see as intrusions by federal judges who order last-minute changes to state election rules, even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The power to alter absentee ballot deadlines and other voting issues rests with state legislatures, not federal courts, according to the conservative justices.
The court also is divided, but so far has been willing to allow state courts interpreting their own state constitutions to play more of a role than their federal counterparts.
Last week, four conservative justices would have put on hold a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling allowing three additional days to receive and count mailed ballots. Three justices in Wednesday’s order about North Carolina’s absentee ballots would have blocked a six-day extension.
The justices did not finally resolve the legal issues involved, but they could do so after the election. A more thorough examination could come either in a post-election challenge that could determine the presidential winner if, for example, Pennsylvania proves critical to the national outcome, or in a less tense setting that might not affect the 2020 vote, but would apply in the future.
Even a decision that only looked ahead to future elections would be “concerning given that state courts have often been more protective of the right to vote under state constitutions then the federal courts have under the U.S. Constitution,” University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas said.
One more asterisk: new Justice Amy Coney Barrett has not taken part in any of these last-minute orders, but could participate going forward.
Months before the Trump administration separated thousands of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a “pilot program” in Texas left child-welfare officials scrambling to find empty beds for babies taken from their parents in a preview of bigger problems to come, according to a report released Thursday by congressional Democrats.
Documents in the report suggest Health and Human Services officials weren’t told by the Department of Homeland Security why shelters were receiving more children taken from their parents in late 2017. It has since been revealed that DHS was operating a pilot program in El Paso, Texas, that prosecuted parents for crossing the border illegally and took their children away to HHS shelters.
“We had a shortage last night of beds for babies,” Jonathan White, a top HHS official, wrote in a Nov. 11, 2017, email. He added: “Overall, infant placements seem to be climbing over recent weeks, and we think that’s due to more separations from mothers by CBP.”
The problems revealed by the pilot program presaged what would happen months later: government employees caring for babies and young children in so-called tender age shelters and many parents being deported without their kids. The consequences linger today: Lawyers working to reunite immigrant families have said they can’t reach the deported parents of 545 children who were separated as early as July 2017.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee released the report Thursday with emails obtained from government agencies. It comes shortly before Election Day as Democrats campaign against the Trump administration’s family separations, which stirred widespread outcry as part of its “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal border crossings.
Democrat Joe Biden announced Thursday that he would form a task force if elected to reunite still-separated families.
The report outlines discussions since the start of the Trump administration of family separation as a law enforcement tactic. In March 2017, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told CNN that the government was considering taking children from their families and placing them in government-licensed shelters while the parents were prosecuted.
That July, Customs and Border Protection agents began separating families in what was later called a pilot program, according to a review by the Health and Human Services inspector general.
The pilot ran through November 2017. According to the inspector general, at least 118 children were taken from their parents. Documents in the new report suggest CBP did not communicate with HHS about why shelters were receiving more separated children.
White, the HHS official, wrote a Nov. 17, 2017, email to Kevin McAleenan, who was then commissioner of CBP and later became acting Homeland Security secretary. The email notes “the increase in referrals” of children unaccompanied by a parent “resulting from separation of children from parents.” White sent McAleenan a chart of all the children HHS had received.
In a Dec. 3, 2017, response, McAleenan wrote in part: “You should have seen a change the past 10 days or so. We will be coordinating in advance on any future plans.”
Another HHS official, Tricia Swartz, had written to White on Sept. 28, 2017, warning that “these types of cases often end up with parent repatriated and kid in our care for months pending home studies, international legal issues, etc.”
The pilot program is believed to have been limited to the region around El Paso, Texas, including parts of New Mexico. Months later, the Trump administration began separating families border-wide. The report documents how different Border Patrol sectors had their own policies for which families to separate: the Big Bend sector in rural Texas initially exempted children 5 and younger, while the El Centro sector in California did not.
In June 2018, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunite all migrant families. More than two years later, the process is still underway, with lawyers and nonprofits trying to find parents in Central America and elsewhere after their children were placed with sponsors in the U.S., usually relatives.
McAleenan did not respond to a request for comment. The Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments did not respond to requests for comment.
Hackers have stolen $2.3 million from the Wisconsin Republican Party’s account that was being used to help reelect President Donald Trump in the key battleground state, the party’s chairman told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The party noticed the suspicious activity on Oct. 22 and contacted the FBI on Friday, said Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt, reports AP.
Hitt said the FBI is investigating. FBI spokesman Leonard Peace did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The attack was discovered less than two weeks before Election Day, as both Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden made their final push to win Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes.
Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and planned his third visit in seven days on Friday.
Biden also planned to campaign in Wisconsin on Friday. Polls have consistently shown a tight race in the state, usually with Biden ahead by single digits and within the margin of error.
Hitt said he was not aware of any other state GOP being targeted for a similar hack, but state parties were warned at the Republican National Convention this summer to be on the lookout for cyber attacks.
The hack exposed new tensions in the final days of the race between the Trump campaign and the state party, which overspent and failed to properly account for its expenditures in 2018, leading to a shakeup in top party leadership.
There have been more than 800 attempted phishing attacks for financial gain targeting the Wisconsin Democratic Party this campaign cycle, but none has been successful, said party spokeswoman Courtney Beyer.
Hitt said the hackers manipulated invoices from four vendors who were being paid for direct mail for Trump’s reelection efforts as well as for pro-Trump material such as hats to be handed out to supporters. Invoices and other documents were altered so when the party paid them for the services rendered, the money went to the hackers instead of the vendors, Hitt said.
The hack was discovered after someone noticed that an invoice was generated that should not have been, he said.
Hitt said it appears the attack began as a phishing attempt and no data appears to have been stolen, said party spokesman Alec Zimmerman.
The money was stolen from the state party’s federal account, which currently contains about $1.1 million, but that number fluctuates daily because of quick moving resources late in the campaign, Zimmerman said.
Campaign finance reports filed this week in Wisconsin show Democrats have raised far more money than Republicans.
The state Democratic Party raised nearly $59 million over the past two years compared with just $23.7 million for Republicans.
Early voting is in full swing in Wisconsin, with more than 1.6 million ballots returned as of Thursday morning. That is nearly 55% of the total vote cast in 2016.
Why is it that one candidate can win the popular note but another wins the electoral vote and thus the presidency?
That’s how the framers of the Constitution set it up.
This unique system of electing presidents is a big reason why Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. Four candidates in history have won the popular vote only to be denied the presidency by the Electoral College.
The Electoral College was devised at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a compromise between those who wanted direct popular elections for president and those who preferred to have Congress decide. At a time of little national identity and competition among the states, there were concerns that people would favor their regional candidates and that big states with denser populations would dominate the vote.
The Electoral College has 538 members, with the number allocated to each state based on how many representatives it has in the House plus its two senators. (The District of Columbia gets three, despite the fact that the home to Congress has no vote in Congress.)
To be elected president, the winner must get at least half plus one — or 270 electoral votes.
This hybrid system means that more weight is given to a single vote in a small state than the vote of someone in a large state, leading to outcomes at times that have been at odds with the popular vote.
In fact, part of a presidential candidate’s campaign strategy is drawing a map of states the candidate can and must win to gather 270 electoral votes.
In 2016, for instance, Democrat Hillary Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump in the presidential election, after racking up more lopsided wins in big states like New York and California. But she lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he pulled out narrow victories in less populated Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin.
It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College — an unlikely move because of how difficult it is to pass and ratify constitutional changes. But there’s a separate movement that calls for a compact of states to allocate all their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, regardless of how those individual states opted in an election. That still faces an uphill climb, though.