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Andrea Germanos

Justice Department and 11 states sue Google in antitrust case: 'Long overdue'

This is a developing story and may be updated.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday an antitrust lawsuit against Google—a filing that marks the biggest case tackling tech power since the one targeting Microsoft in 1998.

The filing is joined by 11 states, all of which have Republican governors, Reuters reported.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) responded to the announcement by pointing to the House antitrust subcommittee's recent report finding that Google, along with other tech giants, hold monopoly power.

"This step is long overdue," Cicilline tweeted of the government's new lawsuit, adding, "It is time to restore competition online."

Open Markets Institute, a research and advocacy group, framed the lawsuit as a "big moment."

In a Twitter thread Monday ahead of the announcement, the group wrote that "Google... acquired its dominance of the internet search market by bribing smartphone manufacturers and wireless operators not to install rival search engines on devices they sold."

According to the Associated Press, the legal action could mark "an opening salvo ahead of other major government antitrust actions, given ongoing investigations of major tech companies including Apple, Amazon, and Facebook at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission."

Sen. Warren slams Disney for 28,000 fired workers amid stock buyback spree

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tore into the CEO and chairman of the Walt Disney Company on Tuesday with a letter demanding they explain their decision to reward executives with huge payouts amid the coronavirus pandemic while laying off 28,000 employees.

"In the years leading up to this crisis, your company prioritized the enrichment of executives and stockholders through hefty compensation packages, and billions of dollars' worth of dividend payments and stock buybacks, all of which weakened Disney's financial cushion and ability to retain and pay its front-line workers amid the pandemic," the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in her letter (pdf) to executive chairman Robert Iger and CEO Bob Chapek.

"I would like to know whether Disney's financial practices have impacted the company's decision to lay off workers," she continued, "and whether your company plans to extend healthcare or other critical benefits and protections to laid off employees."

The senator's letter follows Disney's announcement last month that the company was laying off the workers.

In a September 29 memo, head of parks Josh D'Amaro told employees that the company had to make "some difficult decisions" and had "modified... operations to run as efficiently as possible" to weather the budget shortfall as a result of the pandemic. D'Amaro asserted that the layoffs were "the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of Covid-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic."

Warren, in her letter, took issue with D'Amaro for blaming California's "unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen." Warren countered that the state-imposed measures "were implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives." What's more, she wrote, "nearly 6,400 of the employees you laid off are actually in Florida. And just last week, another 8,857 part-time employees were laid off, also in Florida."

The senator took further issue with the memo for "fail[ing] to acknowledge Disney's short-sighted business decisions that reduced its capital, including spending billions of dollars to repurchase its own shares over the last decade, rewarding its shareholders through billions of dollars in dividend payments, and showering its top company executives with over-the-top compensation packages and salaries—which reportedly were restored several weeks before the September layoff announcement."

While acknowledging that Iger and Chapek reduced their own salaries in April in light of the economic impact of the pandemic, the senator said the cuts represented a mere "drop in the bucket" and were short-lived. Warren continued:

For example, Mr. Iger earned a total of $65.6 million in 2018 and $47 million in 2019 as a result of this compensation package; hence, his pandemic-inspired salary cut amounted to roughly 3.3% percent of his total compensation in 2019. Similarly, Mr. Chapek, who recently was promoted to CEO, was in line to earn up to $22.5 million in bonuses in addition to his base salary. Even worse, reports indicated that Disney was restoring the meager proposed cuts to executive pay in August 2020—just weeks before the announcement of the 28,000 worker layoffs.

Warren issued an October 27 deadline for answers to a number of questions about the company's recent moves, including whether it would provide healthcare coverage and cover premiums for laid-off employees.

She also demanded to know the total value of stock buybacks made by Disney in each quarter over the past four years, the increase those buybacks had on stock value, and how they may have specifically benefited Disney's top executives.

"It appears that—prior to, and during the pandemic—Disney took good care of its top executives and shareholders," wrote Warren, "and now is hanging its front-line workers out to dry."

'Partisan charade': Senate GOP accused of 'craven power grab' as Coney Barrett confirmation hearings kick off

Senate Republicans were accused Monday of leading a "partisan charade" as the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett—a Supreme Court nominee described as a threat to reproductive rights and healthcare access.

"Two things are clear," said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. "Barrett poses a clear and present danger to our fundamental rights and this hearing is part of an illegitimate and craven power grab that could affect our courts for a long time."

If confirmed for the lifetime seat, Barrett, who is 48, would lean the court further to the right, giving it a 6-3 conservative majority.

Republicans have pushed through the nomination at lightning speed even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, suffering Americans see no aid from another comprehensive Covid-19 relief package, and voters have begun to cast ballots ahead of Election Day.

The rushed confirmation process, as well as the record of President Donald Trump's rightwing nominee, has elicited rebuke from Democrats, thousands of lawyers, and progressive groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America.

In her statement Monday, Hogue renewed the demand that senators not hold any hearing for a Supreme Court justice nominee until after the next administration begins.

"Plowing ahead with the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice this close to Election Day is an attack on our democracy that we won't forget," said Hogue, calling it "disgraceful for Senate Republicans to continue this partisan charade to maintain control no matter the results of November's election, all while refusing to help people struggling in the midst of the still-raging pandemic."

"No confirmation should be considered until after Inauguration Day, period," she said.

The reproductive rights group has previously warned that Barrett's "positions show she is a clear and present threat to reproductive freedom and the promise of Roe"—a warning in line with that from Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup, who's called Barrett's "record in opposition to reproductive rights... clear and alarming."

Beyond threats to abortion access, Barrett's critics say her record shows other key issues hang in the balance as well, such as the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

That issue was noted by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in his opening remarks at the confirmation hearing. "Instead of doing anything to help people who are struggling right now, we are here."

"I am really glad that my colleagues who contracted Covid-19 at the Rose Garden super-spreader event had access to the care you and your families needed," said Booker, contrasting such access with that available to "the people who will come through here today to wipe down the desks and empty the garbage, that will vacuum the floor... like people all over our country who are working today" and "cannot show up to work sick."

"Donald Trump and most of my Senate Republican colleagues know the truth—they will not be able to get away with this after the American people have spoken in this election," said Booker. He asserted of the rushed confirmation process for Barrett: "Nothing about this is normal."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also drew attention to what she framed as a broad scope of rights that would be under further attack should Barrett be confirmed.

"We know exactly what Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is being picked to do: complete a decades-long assault on our judiciary by billionaires, giant corporations, and rightwing extremists to tilt the courts in their favor and against everyone else," Warren wrote at an op-ed published Monday at Rolling Stone.

"The list of what is at stake if Republicans get their way," warned Warren, "is truly staggering."

Barrett's confirmation hearings are set to last through Thursday.

Why the right wing has put marriage equality and LGBTQ rights on the ballot

Same-sex marriage advocates expressed concern Monday after rightwing Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito issued a fresh attack on a landmark 2015 decision that had been hailed as a "transformative triumph'" for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.

The attack came when the top court declined to hear an appeal from Kim Davis, a former county clerk in the Kentucky who refused, after the Obergefell v. Hodges et. al. decision, to issue same-sex marriage certificates citing her religious beliefs.

In a statement (pdf) accompanying the denial of Davis's appeal, written by Thomas and joined by Alito, the justices say "Davis may have been one of the first victims of this court's cavalier treatment of religion in its Obergefell decision, but she will not be the last."

The "petition provides a stark reminder of the consequences of Obergefell," they added.

"By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment," Thomas and Alito wrote, "the court has created a problem that only it can fix. Until then, Obergefell will continue to have 'ruinous consequences for religious liberty.'"

The opinion drew sharp rebuke from James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT and HIV Project.

"It is appalling that five years after the historic decision in Obergefell, two justices still consider same-sex couples less worthy of marriage than other couples," said Esseks.

"When you do a job on behalf of the government—as an employee or a contractor—there is no license to discriminate or turn people away because they do not meet religious criteria. Our government could not function if everyone doing the government's business got to pick their own rules," Esseks said.

Attorney and trans rights activist Chase Strangio warned the comments from Alito and Thomas could signal a broad attack on the LGBTQ community.

"The attack on marriage equality will be part of a larger wave that also includes the criminalization of trans healthcare, the formulation of a constitutional right for cis people not to share space with trans people, the attack on our very existence," said Strangio, adding, "We must fight."

According to Tim Holbrook, a professor at Emory University School of Law, the choice of words in the opinion by Thomas and Alito sends "a signal to state legislatures to challenge Obergefell, at least on religious liberty grounds."

In his op-ed at CNN, Holbrook warned, "Such efforts could be successful," and continued:

Does this mean marriage equality will be overruled? It may not. Instead, the justices, with Justice Thomas's and Alito's statement as a preview, may carve out sweeping religious liberty exceptions to marriage equality. The court may also chip away at attendant rights, like adoption and allowing same-sex couples to be named as parents on birth certificates. It also would be problematic, if not impossible, for the court to eliminate existing marriages between same-sex couples. That may stay the court's hand to some extent.

"Nevertheless," added Holbrook, "marriage equality may be at risk."

Amplifying concerns is the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate is set to move " full steam ahead"—Capitol Hill Covid-19 infections be damned—with confirmation hearings next week for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom progressive activists say poses a threat to healthcare, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ rights.

"Amy Coney Barrett has openly claimed to hold similar views to [late Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia, who Thomas and Alito channel with this opinion," HRC president Alphonso David said in a statement Monday.

"That fact, along with Barrett's ties to anti-equality extremist groups who aim to criminalize LGBTQ relationships in the United States and abroad," said David, "shows that Barrett will only embolden these anti-equality extremist views on the court."

'Truly horrifying': Fury mounts over Trump nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to SCOTUS

President Donald Trump's nomination Saturday of Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court sparked a chorus of outrage from Democrats and progressive groups who warned her confirmation could shift the court to one that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and "work to preserve the Trump agenda for decades to come."

'"To maintain security, liberty and prosperity, we must preserve our priceless heritage of a nation of laws," Trump said during the Rose Garden announcement. "And there's no one better to do that than Amy Coney Barrett.

In her remarks at the ceremony, 48-year-old Barrett praised her former mentor, the late right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia, saying that "his judicial philosophy is mine too."

Republicans, who refused to hold hearings for President Barack Obama's SCOTUS election year nominee Merrick Garland, have already set up a lightning fast timeline for a confirmation vote to replace the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reportedly as soon as Oct. 29. That's despite new polling showing a majority of Americans want the seat filled after Election Day.

"Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett means yet another ultra-conservative jurist could be confirmed to a lifetime term on the court—and that is unacceptable."
—Sean Eldridge, Stand Up America Trump critics say the swift timeline and Barrett's voting record mean issues including access to healthcare and ballots and reproductive and LGBTQ rights—as well as the outcome of the presidential election—are under immediate threat.

In an op-ed published Friday at the Washington Post, David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote that if Barrett is confirmed, "the resulting shift [to the Supreme Court] will be tectonic."

The change would "fundamentally alter the court's ideological balance, giving it six conservatives and three liberals," wrote Cole, who pointed to major rulings in the past decade that were decided in narrow 5-4 rulings, including the United States v. Windsor marriage equality case.

The top court is already scheduled to begin hearing arguments in a case challenging the legality of Obamacare November 10.

"Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett means yet another ultra-conservative jurist could be confirmed to a lifetime term on the court—and that is unacceptable," Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge said in a statement Saturday.

"The American people see this rushed process for what it is," said Eldridge. "An attempt to cement a right-wing supermajority on the highest court in order to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic and overturn Roe v. Wade."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made Medicare for All a pillar of his presidential bids, also warned that millions more Americans could join the ranks of the uninsured if Barrett is confirmed.

"President Trump and Senate Republicans have badly mismanaged a deadly pandemic for months. Now, in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, they are willing to ram through a Supreme Court nominee—within days—who will vote to destroy the Affordable Care Act, kick millions of Americans off their healthcare, and eliminate protections for millions more who have preexisting conditions," said Sanders.

"This is an absolute outrage," he said.

According to advocacy group Indivisible, "Barrett is a conservative's dream to fill RBG's seat." In a Twitter thread following her formal nomination, the group highlighted parts of Barrett's voting record to show why she is "a truly horrifying pick":

Writing at Intelligencer, Sarah Jones likened Barrett to Equal Rights Amendment foe Phyllis Schlafly to emphasize the Trump nominee's far-reaching threats. Jones wrote Saturday:

For all the power the right wing is about to hand her, though, Barrett has indeed chosen a self-limiting ideology, and not just because of her views on Roe. Conservative women aren't interested solely in abolishing abortion, or in limiting the scope of modern gender equality laws. Schlafly was an anti-communist who belonged to the John Birch Society before she ever campaigned against the ERA. Her anti-feminism comprised one strand of a comprehensively dangerous ideology. The women who serve the Trump administration aren't much different, and neither is Barrett. A Supreme Court justice with right-wing perspectives on labor, the environment, immigration, and criminal justice can harm women from all backgrounds in all aspects of their lives. That is the intention, and not the accidental byproduct, of constitutional originalism. As embraced by jurists like Barrett and her old boss, Antonin Scalia, originalism is its own dogma; the extension of a political theology committed to an older and more exclusionary version of America.

Barrett understands all that. She's exactly as intelligent as her advocates say, and she's made all her choices with a sound mind. Her reward is power. If she's confirmed by the Senate, she'll be able to finish what Schlafly once started. She could help lock in Trump for another four years. She'll be able to deal democracy and yes, the feminist movement the blows the Christian right has dreamed of landing for years.

In light of what's at stake, Barrett's critics are calling on senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, to refuse to vote on a replacement for RBG's seat until after the election.

Among that chorus are Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, co-chairs of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

"The nomination of arch-conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett should alarm anyone who cares about the future of this country," said Healey and Rosenblum, warning that "healthcare, marriage equality, the right to abortion, worker protections, access to the ballot box, and so much more" is on the line.

"To every member of the Senate: find your backbone, buck McConnell, and let the people vote first," they said.

People For the American Way president Ben Jealous directed his attention to Republican senators, asking in a statement: "Will they follow Trump and Mitch McConnell over the cliff in ramming this disastrous nomination through? Or will they stand up for their constituents who want their healthcare protected and expanded during this pandemic, and the millions of Americans who could lose coverage for preexisting conditions?"

"It comes down to this," said Jealous. "Senators who ignore the will of the people so they can put another nail in the coffin of healthcare are putting another nail in the coffins of their own constituents. Come November, voters will remember this betrayal."

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