Monday, October 19, 2020

Monday Morning: A corporate court

And what else you need to know today.

Good morning. China’s economy is rebounding. The Dodgers reach the World Series. And the Supreme Court may be about to get even friendlier to corporations.

Amy Coney Barrett on the third day of her confirmation hearing.for The New York Times

A corporate court

Amy Coney Barrett didn’t duck every substantive question that senators asked at her confirmation hearing last week. When an answer seemed obvious enough to her, she gave it.

She condemned white supremacy, said smoking caused cancer and praised Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case outlawing school segregation, as a “super-precedent.”

But there were a couple of striking moments when Barrett would not offer clear answers. She called climate science “controversial,” a view that few scientists share. And she declined to say whether Medicare — the popular health-insurance program for older Americans that has existed for more than 50 years — was legal.

“Well, let’s see.” Barrett said, when Senator Dianne Feinstein asked whether the program was constitutional. “I can’t answer that question in the abstract because, as we’ve talked about, the ‘no hints, no forecast, no previews’ rule.” In other words, the legitimacy of Medicare was a sufficiently open question that Barrett did not want to address it, because she might have to rule on it.

It was a preview of just how aggressive a Supreme Court with Barrett may be.

A struggle for power: Much of the discussion about Barrett’s nomination has focused on social issues, like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage. They’re all important, obviously. But they are not the issues that animate many activists and wealthy campaign donors who have spent decades pushing for a conservative overhaul of the courts.

To these activists — the most famous being the Koch family — the overriding goal is reducing corporate regulations and taxes. As Charles Koch said in one speech, he wants to stop “confiscatory taxation,” “safety and health regulations,” “trade barriers,” “so-called equal opportunity requirements” and “many more interventions.”

Koch gave that speech in 1974, and in the almost five decades since, the conservative judicial project has made a lot of progress. The Supreme Court and lower courts have made it harder for labor unions to organize, harder for consumers and workers to fight corporate fraud and easier for wealthy Americans to give millions of dollars in campaign donations, often secretly.

These rulings are one reason that the incomes of the very rich have risen so much faster in recent decades than incomes of the middle class and poor. “For the past half-century, the Court has been drawing up plans for a more economically unequal nation,” Adam Cohen, a former member of the Times editorial board, wrote in his recent book, “Supreme Inequality.”

Barrett’s answers suggest she may make the court even friendlier to big companies. She would be the sixth Republican-appointed justice, which means one of them could defect and the court could still rule against regulation or taxation.

A 2007 decision, in which Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal justices in allowing the government to regulate carbon emissions, may be in jeopardy. So is Obamacare, which John Roberts joined the liberals to uphold. If Barrett views both Medicare and climate science as questionable, it’s easy to imagine her rejecting many longstanding laws and regulations.

And she will be joining the court when many Democrats, including Joe Biden, believe the federal government should do more to lift middle-class living standards and fight climate change. Biden wants to reduce carbon emissions sharply, strengthen labor unions, raise taxes on the rich, make college and health care more affordable and more.

Polls show that a majority of voters support most of these policies. But conservative judges like Barrett generally do not, and they have been willing to strike down laws they don’t like. It is an echo of the so-called Lochner era of the early 20th century, when the Supreme Court threw out laws on the minimum wage, child labor or other business regulation.

So get ready for a big, long fight over the American economy, with the Supreme Court at the center of it all.

This week: The Senate is on track to confirm Barrett by Friday, allowing her to join the court in time to hear upcoming cases on Obamacare, the climate and more.


Shoppers in Beijing this month.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
  • China is showing that a fast economic rebound is possible when the virus is under control. Its economy grew nearly as fast this summer as before the pandemic.
  • It was the largest event in the U.S. since the pandemic began: In South Dakota two months ago, almost 500,000 people attended an annual motorcycle rally that included crowded, indoor events. The event appears to have led to outbreaks across the Midwest, The Washington Post explains.
Biden supporters in Durham, N.C., on Sunday.Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
  • Another Republican senator — John Cornyn of Texas, who’s in a tough re-election race — tried to distance himself from President Trump. Cornyn compared their relationship to one in which one spouse fails to change the behavior of the other.
  • With local newspapers shrinking and closing, conservative political operatives are trying to disguise political propaganda as local journalism, a Times investigation found.
  • Today is the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania, Alabama, California and South Dakota. You can register via
Devastation on Saturday in Stepanakert, the capital of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
  • Lives Lived: He started his design career airbrushing out cleavage in movie magazines, but went on to become a giant in developing typefaces — including the one at the top of the front page of The Times. Ed Benguiat has died at 92.

Times journalists are reporting on this election from all angles. Our subscribers make this coverage possible. Please consider subscribing today.


Biden is outspending Trump on television advertising in almost every swing state. (You can see a national map here.) Does that matter? Yes, it probably does.

Three political scientists have analyzed advertising in every campaign for the presidency, Congress and major state offices between 2000 and 2016. They found that candidates who out-advertised their opponents in a given metropolitan area tended to do slightly better in that area than similar candidates on the ballot who did not.

The effect was biggest in down-ballot races, like state attorney general and treasurer. That makes sense, because voters know relatively little about those candidates. But advertising matters even in the presidential race.

“Biden’s television advertising advantage is probably improving his standing across the battleground states by between 0.2 and 0.6 percentage points,” Christopher Warshaw, a George Washington University professor, told me. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by only 0.3 percentage points.

The full study — by Warshaw, John Sides of Vanderbilt and Lynn Vavreck of U.C.L.A. — is available online.


A food truck in Los Angeles displayed the NBA finals.Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The decline in sports ratings

Televised sports are suffering a steep ratings decline. The viewership for the 2020 NBA finals fell about 50 percent compared with last year. Golf’s U.S. Open, Major League Baseball’s division series and hockey’s Stanley Cup finals have all fallen by at least 40 percent.

What’s going on? In part, it’s a series of one-time factors that stem from the pandemic. Every major sports league has been playing simultaneously in recent months, creating more competition for viewers, John Koblin, a media reporter at The Times, told me. And without many fans in the stands, the games can also feel less exciting.

But there may be larger forces at work, too. Sports, after all, aren’t the only forms of programming with viewership declines. Ratings for talk shows and awards shows have also fallen. Which raises the possibility, as John points out, that broadcast entertainment is experiencing a fundamental shift — with people increasingly watching shows via streaming, rather than organizing their lives around a television schedule.

“It’s a trend that was happening anyway, and this may have accelerated it,” he explains. We will have a better idea starting next month, when network series begin airing new shows again and when the sports calendar becomes more normal. “This is the real unknown: How much our viewing habits have forever changed because of the pandemic,” John says.

David Malosh for The New York Times

Make something herbaceous

This skillet spanakopita is a shortcut version of the Greek spinach and feta pie. A mix of stovetop and oven cooking keeps the filling moist and the crust crispy.



Some good news: We are going to try including The Times’s popular Spelling Bee game — a favorite of mine — in the newsletter. My wife and I play the online version every morning, and you can play it here if you have a Times Games subscription.

The object is to find as many words of at least four letters, using only the letters here. You must use the letter in the middle, and you can reuse letters. An example today: Noon.

If you don’t have a Games subscription, you can play on your own with the image here. We will tell you any pangrams — words that use all seven letters — the following day. Have fun!

And as always, here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Sports org. with the 2020 champion Seattle Storm (four letters).

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “spaghettification” — about what happens when an object falls into a black hole — appeared for the first time in The Times over the weekend, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the Latino vote in Arizona.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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