The Supreme Court fight can always get more radical

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Today's Agenda

High-Court Arms Race

There's a trope in cartoons and comedies known as "Hammerspace," in which two characters pull increasingly large weapons out of thin air to menace each other (see the example at 2:11 of this trailer). American politics is in the middle of its own Hammerspace now, over the Supreme Court.

If it wasn't obvious before, Senator Mitt Romney made it clear today that nothing will stand in the way of Republicans filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat with a staunch conservative, either before or just after the election, win or lose. This is their right, and it may suit their immediate interests. But it is a naked power grab, and they're not trying to pretend otherwise, writes Jonathan Bernstein, in the latest sign of how badly our old norms have deteriorated.

But in the Hammerspace of politics, two can play the norm-destruction game. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stealing a Supreme Court seat from President Barack Obama didn't radicalize many Democrats. Jamming in an extra one for President Donald Trump could do the trick, writes Noah Feldman. Ideas such as adding up to four new Supreme Court justices, adding two blue-voting states to the Senate, and just ignoring the Supreme Court altogether are suddenly in mainstream conversation.

For now, the Democrats' pick for president, Joe Biden, isn't endorsing any such idea. His whole shtick is pretending bipartisanship is still possible. He may even believe it. But Democrats will soon have to be just as ruthless as Republicans, writes Francis Wilkinson. Biden's calls to de-escalate this political arms race may ultimately expose how Republicans want no such thing.

Of course, Democrats could simply hope Trump's pick will not be as far right as they fear. Conservatives already consider the very conservative Chief Justice John Roberts to the left of Che Guevara because he disappointed them on a few key votes. And history does seem rife with examples of justices becoming more liberal over time. But Cass Sunstein writes that all of them, including even David Souter, had voting records that predicted how they'd behave on the high court. Liberals have every reason to expect potential Trump pick Amy Coney Barrett will, say, erode abortion rights and end Obamacare. That's why they're already reaching for their bigger hammers.

Covid's Unwelcome Comeback

The coronavirus pandemic has been a long series of unhappy days, but this was a particularly unhappy one. The U.S. officially hit the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths, even as Trump keeps denying the realities of the disease and actively hurting the response, writes Jonathan Bernstein.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions as U.K. cases jumped to their highest levels since the spring. This is all unwelcome news for British businesses hoping for a festive holiday season to turn around the economy, writes Andrea Felsted.

France and Spain are stumbling toward new lockdowns themselves, warns Lionel Laurent. Competent, believable government guidance will be necessary to avoid them. There hasn't exactly been an oversupply of that lately.

Coal Keeps Losing Steam

For all the good luck Trump has had with the Supreme Court, he has had the opposite when it comes to one of his other pet projects, reviving the coal industry. Now even China, the world's last great coal consumer, is turning away from the filthy fuel, writes David Fickling. This is bad news for the industry and its fans, but great news for every other living creature on the planet.

One huge problem for coal is that the costs of renewable energy production and storage are coming down fast, writes Peter Orszag. Meanwhile, old power plants (including coal-burning ones) are increasingly due to retire, making the cost of replacing them even more affordable.

Telltale Charts

Some people suffer from Covid-19 symptoms for a very long time after their recovery, write Elaine He and Max Nisen, and there may be many more such patients than the official tally suggests.

Further Reading

Pulling all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as Trump wants will only lead to sending even more troops back. — Bloomberg's editorial board

GM needs to answer for how it seems to have overlooked many problems when it joined forces with Nikola. — Tim O'Brien

Quibi is desperately seeking a buyer, but Netflix and others are perfectly capable of making their own Quibis, only better. — Tara Lachapelle

New Jersey's financial transactions tax will just chase finance, jobs and revenue away. — Jared Dillian

We're asking college football players to take huge risks for our amusement. It's time to start paying them. — Joe Nocera


Europe may actually have a cold winter.

Pfizer may be the first to learn if its Covid vaccine works.

Norfolk uses tax breaks to demolish Black neighborhoods.

Kominers's Conundrums Clue

Google and/or public directories might help you identify our mysterious Nobelists.

But here are clues to some of the hardest ones:

  • That organic CHEMIST's one ring doesn't just bind — it's also ready to rule.
  • The ECONOMIST isn't the one who studied marriage, per se, but rather the one who proposed algorithms for it.
  • And if you're having trouble figuring out who the tragic AUTHOR is, maybe try looking beyond the horizon.

Once you know who they are, what's the right order to put them in? Only time will tell. (Additional hints will be posted on Twitter tomorrow.) — Scott Duke Kominers


"Pi Earth" circles its star once every 3.14 days. (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Acorn woodpeckers have prolonged wars while other birds spectate.

One old TV set disrupted a whole village's broadband service.

Maybe Nero wasn't so bad?

Note: Please send pie and complaints to Mark Gongloff at

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