How to Make Sense of the Roberts Court

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With rare exceptions, the justices have restricted the government’s ability to regulate corporate America. And there was another example yesterday, when the court gave Trump more authority to neutralize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an Obama administration creation. The decision was 5 to 4, with the five Republican-appointed justices all on one side and the Democratic appointees on the other.

Similar decisions in the past have overturned campaign-finance law, blocked action on climate change, restricted labor-union activities, reduced workers’ ability to sue their employers and more. As The Times’s Adam Liptak has written, the Roberts court’s rulings have been “far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.”

These decisions have been part of a larger trend, too. Government policy over the past half-century has generally given more power to corporate executives and less power to their workers. That’s one reason incomes for the affluent have risen so much faster than they have for any other income group.

Whatever you think of the Roberts court, I’d encourage you not to treat it with one broad brush. On some major social issues, it has been moderate or even liberal. On economic issues, the story is very different. Yesterday’s two decisions captured the contrast.

More on the history: “For the past half-century, the court has been drawing up plans for a more economically unequal nation, and that is the America that is now being built,” the journalist Adam Cohen writes in his recent book, “Supreme Inequality.”

More from The Times: Adam Liptak writes about Roberts: “15 years into his tenure, he now wields a level of influence that has caused experts to hunt for historical comparisons.” And Sabrina Tavernise and Elizabeth Dias explain that the abortion ruling doesn’t necessarily mean Roberts will ultimately uphold Roe v. Wade.

The Times has reported that U.S. officials briefed President Trump in February about Russia’s payment of bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump and other administration officials have claimed otherwise in recent days.

The intelligence was included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief document — a compilation of the latest secrets and best insights about foreign policy and national security. The information was also disseminated more broadly across the intelligence community in an article in the C.I.A.’s World Intelligence Review.

Coronavirus rates are rising in every Western state, including deep-blue California, Oregon and Washington. The pattern shows that the spread of the virus isn’t a reflection only of the partisan divides over whether to wear masks and listen to Trump’s advice.

Much of the Western U.S. appears to have grown complacent about the virus, after having avoided bad outbreaks earlier this year. “Unlike people in the Northeast, many Californians did not have a sense of urgency or immediacy toward the virus because infection rates had been so low for months,” The Times reports, in a close look at the state.

But maybe this time really is different, because of the combination of a major health crisis and better technologies like Zoom. Some retailers, expecting that work from home is here to stay, are revamping their offerings to concentrate on a new kind of workplace clothing: the Zoom Shirt.

Robert Mueller’s two-year Russia investigation uncovered a lot of incriminating material. It found eager attempts by Trump campaign officials to collaborate with Vladimir Putin’s government, as well as multiple efforts by Trump to interfere in investigations of himself and his allies.

Yet Mueller’s work had virtually no impact. It changed few Americans’ minds. Mueller’s report wasn’t even powerful enough to spur much action by House Democrats. They instead impeached Trump over a later phone call with the president of Ukraine.

In the new issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has reconstructed the Mueller investigation in an effort to explain why it was ineffectual. Toobin’s conclusion: Trump’s lawyers and Attorney General William Barr consistently outmaneuvered Mueller and his team. The Trump side played political hardball, while Mueller was slow, afraid of confrontation and ultimately naïve, Toobin argues.

“Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal,” Toobin writes. “Mueller forfeited the opportunity to speak clearly and directly about Trump’s crimes, and Barr filled the silence with his high-volume exoneration.”

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