John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

The spate of end-of-term Supreme Court decisions — and non-decisions — on redistricting is influencing at least one state’s strategy on other voting issues. In Texas, where SCOTUS upheld congressional and state maps as not intentionally discriminatory, lawmakers are hoping to capitalize on that court victory to achieve another. On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a U.S. District judge to reconsider her findings that the state’s voter ID law intentionally discriminated in light of the Monday SCOTUS decision. The state argued that Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who previously ruled that the law intentionally discriminated against voters of color, should be inspired by the SCOTUS decision to extend the “presumption of legislative good faith” to the state.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Supreme Court threw out part of a lower-court decision that had invalidated nine North Carolina state legislative districts as discriminatory. In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that four of those districts thrown out by the lower court were in fact discriminatory and deserved to be thrown out. But it ruled that five, in the urban Wake and Mecklenburg counties (home to Raleigh and Charlotte), were not discriminatory and did not need to be redrawn.

Earlier that week, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would restrict early voting, which is heavily used by minority voters. But the veto-proof Republican majority in the state legislature quickly overrode his veto. North Carolina Republicans also succeeded in their effort to put a voter ID requirement on the ballot. That means that this November, North Carolinians will be asked whether the state constitution should be amended to require voters to present photo ID.

In Virginia, a federal court ruled 2-1 that 11 Virginia House districts were gerrymandered along racial lines. The plaintiffs alleged that Virginia Republicans had crammed much of the state’s African-American electorate into 12 districts, 11 of which were part of the suit. The court ordered the state to redraw the districts by Oct. 30.

Litigation continues over the Commerce Department’s addition of a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. The ACLU is attempting, through the discovery process, to suss out exactly what role former presidential adviser Steve Bannon, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and Trump appointee John Gore, the acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, played in getting the question on the Census.

Six months after the Trump administration’s commission to investigate voter fraud was dissolved, a federal judge ruled that one of its Democratic commissioners, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D), should be given access to documents relating to the commission, including internal communications among the commissioners. Dunlap alleges that he was shut out of some of the commission’s activities, including commission reports that, Dunlap says, were hinted at in an interview Kobach gave to Breitbart. Members of the commission must turn over the documents by July 18.

And with Justice Anthony Kennedy departing the Supreme Court, reformers have little reason to hope that the high court will supply the long-sought standard for ruling a partisan gerrymander unconstitutional.

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This week, our award for wrongdoing or risible political behavior goes to a once and, at this point, probably not future member of Congress, Michael Grimm.

The Staten Island representative resigned his seat in 2015 when he was imprisoned for cheating on his taxes. Grimm also had a history of outbursts and physical aggression — “sometimes I get my Italian up,” he explains. In 2014, he threatened to throw a NY1 reporter who asked about an investigation into his campaign fundraising “off this fucking balcony” and to “break” him “in half, like a boy.” That was just the latest incident of many.

This year, as he attempted to cozy up to Trump, Grimm cast his felony tax plea as the result of a “witch hunt.” He also sought the President’s favor in other ways: In 2017, as his campaign was ramping up, he made a point of praising his “massive hands.”

It didn’t work. Trump endorsed Dan Donovan, who had replaced Grimm in Congress when Grimm went to jail. “Remember Alabama,” the President tweeted, alluding the Roy Moore’s disastrous candidacy.

The race was confusing with, as Allegra Kirkland chronicles, dirty tricks galore. During a primary debate, Grimm alleged that Donovan had tried to get Trump to pardon Grimm as a sort of bribe to keep Grimm out of the primary. Donovan acknowledged that the topic had come up in his discussions with the President, but said he had only raised it as a favor to a friend who was a political ally of Grimm.

Republicans strategists fretted that if Grimm won the primary, he would be controversial enough to put the Republican-leaning Staten Island district in play.

But Donovan won the race easily. “We make plans,” Grimm said, and “God laughs at us.”

And so Grimm joined the ranks of Trump-like candidates who have foundered without a presidential endorsement. There can be only one Trump.

Despite that, Grimm promises that the best is yet to come.

“This is just the beginning for Michael Grimm,” he said. He later told reporters that he’s thinking of practicing law, “if that’s what God wants.”

For becoming the latest politician to bet, wrongly, that in the age of Trump a sketchy past is an asset, Michael Grimm is our Duke of the Week.

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One throughline in our latest Trump Swamp Weekly Primer — focusing on corruption and abuse of power within the administration — is retaliation. Those who blow the whistle or make public the shady things their bosses are up to find themselves reassigned, forced out of a job, or receiving intimidating visits from the Department of Homeland Security.

Get the details from Matt Shuham here (Prime access).

Welcome to the weekend, Prime subscribers. What a week. We received significant Supreme Court decisions, followed by an even more significant decision — that of Justice Anthony Kennedy to retire. That, coupled with the drip, drip of the Russia probe, ongoing fallout from the administration’s child separation policy, surprising primary results on Tuesday and a horrifying mass shooting at a local Maryland paper on Thursday, kept us busy.

Here’s what happened in Prime.

  • In early January, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach gave an interview to Breitbart about what the phony Trump administration voter fraud commission, which he headed up, had accomplished. Six months later, that interview continues to come back to haunt the Department of Justice in court, Tierney Sneed writes.
  • We learned this week, Josh writes, that Russia was funding Manafort’s work in Ukraine: “The key to me is that this puts us much closer to understanding that Manafort was essentially a Russian agent, had been for a decade when he came to work for free, on the recommendation of Tom Barrack, to run candidate Trump’s campaign.”
  • The many enemies of federal regulatory agencies who Donald Trump selected to head federal regulatory agencies are dealing out oodles of favors for their friends. Matt Shuham chronicles the biggest.
  • The Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME this week was the latest blow in a long series of blows to unions. According to a recent study, weaker unions translates directly to lower Democratic voter turn out.
  • Josh writes that the story of a Customs and Border Protection agent who approached reporter Ali Watkins claiming he was investigating leaks is more significant than people realize.
  • In her Weekly Primer on the Russia probe, Allegra Kirkland writes that Mueller is speeding up his work on the collusion and obstruction of justice portions of his probe, and aims to issue reports on those topics by the fall.
  • Even as the Supreme Court dealt voting rights advocates a series of significant blows, those advocates saw some victories in lower courts, Tierney writes.
  • Whether Donald Trump likes it or not, Obamacare will be a significant issue in the 2018 midterms, Alice Ollstein writes in her Weekly Primer on the topic.
  • Allegra gives a rundown of the other investigations of presidents in modern history as the Russia probe begins to cast its shadow over the midterm elections.
  • Democrats keep winning special elections, but their lead on the generic congressional ballot isn’t looking as hot as it once did. Does the party have cause to worry? a reader asks. Our political correspondent Cameron Joseph has an answer.

Unions were dealt another blow with this morning’s Supreme Court decision on Janus v. AFSCME. The court ruled that non-union employees in public sector unions could not be asked to pay for collective bargaining from which they benefit. The decision has been a long time coming. In 2016, following Justice Scalia’s death, the court split evenly on a case that dealt with similar issues, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Now, with Neil Gorsuch on the court, the anti-union crusaders backing the Janus suit have succeeded.

We know anecdotally that attacks on unions have a real impact on Democratic votes. A paper from earlier this year by political scientists James Feigenbaum, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Vanessa Williamson (and highlighted in a Times piece about the conservative money backing Janus) puts numbers to that impact. The paper found that, on average, the Democratic share of the vote in presidential elections dropped 3.5 percent after right-to-work laws were passed in a state. These laws, like the Janus decision, strike at a union’s ability to fund its activities.

Democratic turnout also dropped by 2 to 3 percentage points after right-to-work laws were passed. And the researchers found that right-to-work laws “force unions to reallocate resources from politics into membership recruitment and retention.”

In this way, the Janus decision today, enabled by Justice Gorsuch, will likely have some effect on elections. Unions don’t just help Democratic candidates through fundraising: They educate their membership about the candidates that support pro-worker policies and then get those members to show up at polls.

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