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Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times
The Justice Department will tighten its rules for when law enforcement officials may seize information about members of Congress and their aides, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said on Monday amid a political uproar over a Trump-era subpoena in which investigators collected data on several Democratic lawmakers and staff members.
Mr. Garland said in a statement that he had asked his deputy, Lisa O. Monaco, to review and toughen the department’s existing policies “for obtaining records of the legislative branch,” noting that she “is already working on surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high-level review.”
He added: “Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward.”
The announcement came as John C. Demers, the Trump administration holdover official who leads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which oversees leak investigations, told his staff that he will step down at the end of next week. The Senate has not yet confirmed President Biden’s nominee for the position, Matthew G. Olsen.
On Sunday, several Democratic lawmakers had called for Mr. Demers to testify about the subpoena, along with the former deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein and the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr.
Mr. Garland’s announcement also came as he was preparing to meet Monday afternoon with leaders of three major news organizations — The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post — following the disclosure that the Trump Justice Department had secretly seized phone records for reporters at each of them.
Mr. Biden has since directed the Justice Department not to seize reporters’ communications records in hunts for their sources in leak investigations, calling that practice “simply, simply wrong,” and Mr. Garland is developing a new policy to carry out that instruction.
The leaders of two of those organizations — The Times and CNN — were also subjected to gag orders in related legal fights for reporters’ email data that spilled over into the Biden administration. Leaders of The Times were told in March about a two-month-old court order to Google, which runs the paper’s email system, for reporter data — but were also forbidden to talk about it.
The news executives at the meeting — which include the publisher of The Times, A.G. Sulzberger, and a Times newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, who were among those gagged in March — are expected to raise concerns about the investigative steps affecting reporters, and to discuss the details of the new policy Mr. Garland is working on.
In testimony last week, Mr. Garland said the new policy will be “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.” But many details remain unresolved, including how broadly the new protections will apply and whether he will implement it via a method that is easy or difficult for a future administration to roll back.
In a separate announcement, a lawyer for Reality Winner, a former intelligence contractor who in 2017 became the first person to be charged in a leak case under the Trump administration, said that her client had been released from prison.
Ms. Winner had pleaded guilty to sending a document about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to The Intercept. She was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, but was released early under credit earned for good behavior, her lawyer wrote on Twitter.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, threatened on Monday to block any Supreme Court nominee put forward by President Biden in 2024 if Republicans regain control of the Senate next year.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” Mr. McConnell said in a radio interview with the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt. “So I think it’s highly unlikely.”
His position is no surprise since it is in line with his refusal in 2016 to consider President Barack Obama’s high court nomination of Merrick B. Garland, now the attorney general, saying it was too close to the presidential election even though the vacancy occurred in February.
As for what would happen if a seat became open in 2023 and Republicans controlled the Senate, Mr. McConnell did not declare that he would prevent Mr. Biden from advancing a nominee, but left the door open to the possibility. “Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” said Mr. McConnell.
Stonewalling a nominee in the year before a presidential election would amount to a significant escalation in the judicial confirmation wars.
Mr. McConnell’s pronouncements will likely amplify calls from progressive activists for Justice Stephen G. Breyer to retire while Democrats still hold the Senate and can move through a successor. Justice Breyer, 82, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, has resisted calls to step aside. Justices often time their retirements to the end of the court’s term, which comes in two weeks.
On Sunday, even before Mr. McConnell’s statement, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, joined those urging Justice Breyer’s retirement, saying on CNN that she was “inclined to say yes” to the question of whether the justice should leave the bench while Democrats were still assured of Senate control.
Mr. McConnell’s position in 2016 stood in stark contrast to last year when Senate Republicans, still in control of the Senate, rushed through the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett just days before the presidential election following the death in September of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“What was different in 2020 was we were of the same party as the president,” Mr. McConnell told Mr. Hewitt. “And that’s why we went ahead with it.” Mr. McConnell also gave himself a pat on the back for the way he handled the Barrett nomination, saying that it “took a great deal of priority and, I think, skill to get Amy Coney Barrett through.”
He also again called denying Mr. Obama a third pick on the court “the most consequential thing I’ve done in my time as majority leader of the Senate.”
Mr. McConnell’s decision to block Mr. Obama from filling the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was widely credited with encouraging conservatives to rally around Donald J. Trump for the presidency, allowing Mr. Trump to ultimately name three justices to the court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Credit…Matt Rourke/Associated Press
The Biden administration announced Monday that it will speed the process of issuing temporary work permits to some undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime in the United States and who agree to cooperate with law enforcement, giving thousands of people faster access to temporary protections while they wait for a final visa determination.
The change will benefit immigrants who have applied for the U visa, a program that currently has a backlog of 270,000 applications, a number that grew significantly during the Trump administration. The average wait just to get placed on an official waiting list for temporary work authorization is now at least five years, up from about 11 months during the 2015 spending year.
The U visa provides a path to citizenship for victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Congress only allows the government to issue 10,000 such visas a year, leaving many other applicants on a waiting list for future years and vulnerable to deportation.
Under the new policy, the government will make faster decisions about whether to grant four-year work permits to immigrants waiting for U visa determinations. This will give applicants the ability to “work and remain safely in the United States while they provide valuable support to law enforcement to detect, investigate or prosecute the serious crimes they have survived or witnessed,” the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Tracy Renaud, said in a statement on Monday.
The work permits will not be granted to everyone who applies, and will require registering fingerprints and other biometrics with the government. It was not immediately clear how quickly applicants would receive temporary permission to work once the government believes they are applying in good faith.
The change is part of President Biden’s efforts to roll back the restrictive measures of the last administration and make it easier to immigrate to the United States, with shorter and simpler forms.
State and local law enforcement officials have cheered the U visa program, which started in 2000, but have raised concerns in recent years about the delay in granting protections to undocumented immigrants whom they rely on for help in investigations.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes limits on immigration, has said the U visa program is already vulnerable to fraud and abuse, and fast-tracking work permits will only make that worse.
“That’s going to be a huge incentive for people to apply, knowing that they’re only getting a cursory review and a four-year work permit,” Jessica M. Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the center said.
Credit…Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle, via Associated Press
Reality L. Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor who was the first person prosecuted during the Trump administration on charges of leaking classified information, has been released to a halfway house, her lawyer announced Monday.
Ms. Winner’s more than five-year sentence was shortened because of good behavior, though the government will continue to restrict her public comments.
She was released from Federal Medical Center, Carswell, a prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She will spend the next six months in a halfway house, where she will have access to the outdoors and be able to meet with her family, and then will be under supervised release, her lawyer, Alison Grinter Allen, said in an interview.
Ms. Winner was held under difficult conditions. The prison lost power and heat during last winter’s ice storms in Texas, and a number of fellow inmates died of Covid-19. Her communications were closely monitored, and the government refused until now to move her to a less secure facility, Ms. Allen said.
“It was a terrible, terrible time,” Ms. Allen said. “Not that there is any great time to be in prison.”
A former Air Force linguist, Ms. Winner entered a guilty plea in 2018 after being prosecuted for leaking classified information. She had been arrested in 2017 and charged with sending a classified report about election interference to reporters at The Intercept.
The report described hacks by Russian intelligence operatives against local election officials and a company that sold software related to voter registration.
As Ms. Winner began to petition for a pardon or commutation, Ms. Allen was added to her legal team because her other lawyers were banned from speaking publicly about the case.
Ms. Winner sought clemency from President Donald J. Trump, with her legal team submitting thousands of letters in an effort to get him to intervene in her case. Mr. Trump never acted.
Once she is released from the halfway house, she will still not be able to talk about any of the documents she reviewed while working at the National Security Agency, but she will be able to speak broadly about issues that concern her.
“It would surprise me if advocacy and activism was not a part of her life going forward,” Ms. Allen said, “whether it be about the conditions and the state of mass incarceration, or political prosecutions, or election integrity.”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
BRUSSELS — President Biden lashed out Monday at what he called former President Donald J. Trump’s “phony populism,” using the global platform of his first NATO summit to criticize his predecessor. But he expressed optimism that the Republican party is beginning to reject the political dominance Mr. Trump has exerted for the past four years.
“I think this is passing,” Mr. Biden told reporters after being asked about the reaction from foreign leaders to the Republican embrace of Mr. Trump’s election falsehoods. “I don’t mean easily passing. That’s why it’s so important that I succeed in my agenda.”
Mr. Biden’s willingness to directly call out his predecessor is a departure from his usual tendency to ignore Mr. Trump. And it came during Mr. Biden’s first foreign trip, just two days before he is set to meet one of Mr. Trump’s biggest boosters, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
In his remarks, Mr. Biden also took aim at Republican senators who he said “know better” about opposing an investigation into the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, saying many are doing so because they are worried about being opposed by a more conservative primary opponent.
But he said he did not feel the need to talk with foreign leaders about Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican Party in the United States, because he does not believe the former president’s influence will hurt his ability to stand by his global commitments.
“The Republican Party is vastly diminished in numbers,” Mr. Biden said. “The leadership of the Republican Party is fractured and the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people.”American officials in the past have typically made a point of leaving domestic politics behind when traveling abroad. But the outdated saying that politics stops at the water’s edge was blown to shred by Mr. Trump, who often used foreign trips to rail against his political enemies at home. Mr. Biden’s comments about the opposing party were tame, by comparison, but still marked an unusual breach of norms by a president intent on restoring them at home and abroad.
Mr. Biden’s optimism about the future of the Republican party is not shared by many in his party, who have publicly expressed fear that Republicans are increasingly in thrall to Mr. Trump, making them unwilling to take part in the give-and-take of governing in Washington.
And officials throughout Europe have said they are still braced for a return of Trumpism if Republicans take over the Congress in 2022 or if someone like Mr. Trump — or Mr. Trump himself — wins the White House again in 2024. That fear makes some political leaders around the world nervous about whether America’s long-term commitments can be sustained.
Mr. Biden said he did not worry about that.
“I’m not making any promises to anyone that I don’t believe are overwhelmingly likely to be kept,” he insisted.
He also said the Republican party seemed to be changing.
“I think you’re going to see that, God willing, we’re going to be making progress,” he said. “And there’s going to be a coalescing of a lot of Republicans, particularly younger Republicans, who are coming up in the party.”
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Democratic lawmakers begin the week with a fundamental choice on infrastructure: They can go big, or they can go bipartisan.
Their party holds slim majorities in the House and Senate, meaning each path risks losing key votes needed to pass a wide-ranging overhaul of the nation’s roads and bridges that President Biden considers one of his top priorities.
Democrats could also pursue a third strategy: Pass a smaller bill with a bipartisan vote and then pursue additional infrastructure measures through the use of budget reconciliation with only votes from Democrats.
Supporters of the president’s plan and the bipartisan proposal took to Sunday news programs to make their cases.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and one of the key negotiators of a bipartisan proposal, made the pitch for her group’s plan on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
“We have five Republicans and five Democrats who got together to hammer out the framework for a targeted, responsible infrastructure package,” she said.
A bipartisan group that included Ms. Collins announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement that would be fully paid for. The group is pushing for a proposal that is much smaller than the $1.9 trillion package that Mr. Biden has proposed. That plan does not have the support of the majority of Republicans in the Senate, and it risks losing votes from liberal Democrats if it does not include items to address climate change.
The framework that the group agreed on is expected to include about $579 billion in new spending as part of an overall package that would cost about $974 billion over five years and about $1.2 trillion over eight years, according to two people familiar with the details, who disclosed them on the condition of anonymity.
Ms. Collins pledged that there would not be an increase to the gas tax or any changes to the Trump-era tax overhaul in her group’s plan. She also said the package would not include money for child care or elder care, two of Mr. Biden’s priorities.
The bipartisan group plans to pay for their proposal using three methods: an infrastructure financing authority, similar to how some state governments pay for sewer and water projects; repurposing unspent money from a previous stimulus package; and a tax on electric vehicles.
“Right now, they are literally free riders because they’re not paying any gas tax,” Ms. Collins said.
Mr. Biden sees talks with Republicans as key to passing an infrastructure package; centrist Senate Democrats have been resistant to immediately bypassing Republicans through the budget procedure known as reconciliation, which requires a majority vote instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Senate’s legislative filibuster.
But liberal Democrats have pledged not to vote for any proposal that does not address climate change and panned the bipartisan group’s proposal after Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, told reporters it would not include some of those priorities.
“No climate, no deal,” Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said flatly last week.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said a small plan that did not address climate change was unlikely to win progressive votes.
“Do we settle for much less and an infrastructure package that has been largely designed by Republicans in order to get 60 votes, or can we really transform this country, create millions of union jobs, revamp our power grid, get people’s bridges fixed and schools rebuilt with 51 or 50 Democratic votes?” said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat. “The argument that we need to make here is it’s worth going it alone if we can do more for working people in this country.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on CNN that it was important for Mr. Biden to explore negotiations with Republicans, but Democrats would have to forge ahead if a bipartisan deal could not be reached.
“We have a responsibility to find common ground,” she said. “But if we can’t, we have to stand our ground.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has said he plans to move forward with an infrastructure package, one way or another, in July.
Credit…Pool photo by Andrew Harnik
John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is expected to step down at the end of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter, a departure that was arranged months ago but now comes amid widespread backlash over investigations into leaks of classified information that began under the Trump administration.
Mr. Demers was the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.
John Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office, had asked Mr. Demers in April to remain at the department, according to the person. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed to serve as the deputy attorney general, and the three officials had a long history of working together on sensitive national security cases.
Mr. Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the person said.
Mr. Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Mr. Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of top House Democrats while investigating leaks of classified information. The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matter.
When Mr. Demers became the head of the National Security Division on Feb. 22, 2018, he was praised by both Democrats and Republicans, who noted that he had worked under administrations of both parties.
The confirmation is his third stint at the department. From 2006, when the National Security Division was created, to 2009, Mr. Demers was part of its leadership team. He had previously worked in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, essentially the government’s lead legal adviser, and in the office of the deputy attorney general.
As the head of the National Security Division, he will likely best be known for his work to combat the threat of Chinese intellectual property theft and espionage.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Senator Christopher S. Murphy concedes that political rhetoric in the nation’s capital can sometimes stray into hysteria, but when it comes to the precarious state of American democracy, he insisted he was not exaggerating the nation’s tilt toward authoritarianism.
“Democrats are always at risk of being hyperbolic,” said Mr. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “I don’t think there’s a risk when it comes to the current state of democratic norms.”
After the norm-shattering presidency of Donald J. Trump, the violence-inducing bombast over a stolen election, the pressuring of state vote counters, the Capitol riot and the flood of voter curtailment laws rapidly being enacted in Republican-run states, Washington has found itself in an anguished state.
Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter suppression efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of citizens, mainly people of color, in a cynical effort to grab power. Metal detectors sit outside the House chamber to prevent lawmakers — particularly Republicans who have boasted of their intention to carry guns everywhere — from bringing weaponry to the floor. Democrats regard their Republican colleagues with suspicion, believing that some of them collaborated with the rioters on Jan. 6.
Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some breezing over the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state voting law changes are to restore “integrity” to the process, even as they give credence to Mr. Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election.
They shrug off Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as the overheated language of politics as usual.
For Democrats, the evidence of looming catastrophe mounts daily. Fourteen states, including politically competitive ones like Florida and Georgia, have enacted 22 laws to curtail early and mail-in ballots, limit polling places and empower partisans to police polling, then oversee the vote tally. Others are likely to follow, including Texas, with its huge share of House seats and electoral votes.
Because Republicans control the legislatures of many states where the 2020 census will force redistricting, the party is already in a strong position to erase the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House. Even moderate voting-law changes could bolster Republicans’ chances for the net gain of one vote they need to take back the Senate.
And in the nightmare outcome promulgated by some academics, Republicans have put themselves in a position to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election if the voting is close in swing states.
“Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations,” 188 scholars said in a statement expressing concern about the erosion of democracy.
Republicans contend that much of this is overblown, though some concede the charges sting. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Democrats were playing a hateful race card to promote voting-rights legislation that is so extreme it would cement Democratic control of Congress for decades.
“I hope that damage isn’t being done,” he added, “but it is always very dangerous to falsely play the race card and let’s face it, that’s what’s being done here.”
Consumers expect higher inflation in the near term and over the course of several years, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey found, a small but potentially important signal at a time when economic policymakers are betting that expectations will remain in check as demand and prices rebound from depressed pandemic levels.
Expectations for inflation a year from now jumped by 0.6 percentage points in May, hitting a new series high of 4 percent, the Fed branch said on Monday. The Survey of Consumer Expectations has been running since 2013, so it tracks a period during which price gains have been relatively tame.
Consumers also expected faster price increases in three years, anticipating gains of 3.6 percent, up from 3.1 percent in the April survey.
Fed officials have worried for years that inflation expectations might be drifting too low, so they could see the survey’s findings as a positive development. The 3-year-ahead number is back at levels seen in 2013, before years of tepid price gains weighed down the outlook.
At the same time, the rebound has happened abruptly, and if it continues it could push expectations too high for comfort. When consumers expect higher prices, businesses may have an easier time charging more, creating a self-fulfilling situation that sends inflation higher.
Investors will have a timely opportunity to see how the Fed is interpreting the latest data, given that the central bank meets this week and is scheduled to release its latest monetary policy statement on Wednesday alongside fresh economic projections. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, will hold a news conference following that announcement.
The move higher in inflation expectations comes at a time when people are showing increased confidence in the job market: Those surveyed put the probability that they will lose their job in the next year at the lowest on record in the series, and the probability of finding a job rose sharply.
The labor market is gradually healing from pandemic-inflicted damage and job openings are plentiful. As the economy reopens and demand surges, supply is racing to catch up — sending inflation higher. The Fed and the White House are trying to sift through temporary, pandemic-spurred jerks in the data to gauge how much help the economy needs as it heals from more than a year of social distancing and rolling business lockdowns.
Credit…Christopher Smith for The New York Times
On a national level, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia may forever be enshrined as the Democrat who defied calls to resign in the face of unquestionable racism — a photograph on his yearbook page that showed one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. But among Black political leaders and elected officials in Virginia, he is set to leave office with another legacy: becoming the most racially progressive governor in the state’s history, whose focus on uplifting Black communities since the 2019 scandal will have a tangible and lasting effect.
Mr. Northam’s arc, from political pariah denounced by nearly every national Democrat to a popular incumbent with support from Black elected officials and even progressive activists, is a complex story of personal growth and political pressure, a testament to how crisis can also provide opportunity. However, it would not have been possible without the Black Virginians who rallied around him even as they stared down immense pressure to help force him from office — Black staff members who stayed in the administration, a Legislative Black Caucus that chose to focus on policy goals rather than resignation, and a Black activist community that quickly followed the lawmakers’ strategic lead.
The result is a reshaped Virginia. Since 2019, and aided by a Democratic sweep of both state legislative houses, the commonwealth has become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, allocated more than $300 million to the state’s financially struggling Black colleges, passed sweeping police reform measures, and created the country’s first state cabinet-level position for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
The Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for information in February 2018 about an account that belonged to Donald F. McGahn II, President Donald J. Trump’s White House counsel at the time, and barred the company from telling him about it, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Apple told Mr. McGahn about the subpoena last month, said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Mr. McGahn’s wife also received a similar notice from Apple, the person said.
It is not clear what F.B.I. agents were investigating, whether Mr. McGahn was their specific focus or whether he was swept up in a larger net because he had communicated with someone who was under scrutiny. As the top lawyer for the 2016 Trump campaign and then the White House counsel, Mr. McGahn was in contact with numerous people who may have drawn attention either as part of the Russia investigation or a later leak inquiry.
Still, the disclosure that agents had collected data of a sitting White House counsel, which they kept secret for years, is extraordinary.
And it comes amid a political backlash after revelations that the Trump administration secretly seized the personal data of reporters and Democrats in Congress from phone and tech companies while investigating leaks.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill on Sunday ratcheted up pressure on the Justice Department and former officials to provide a fuller accounting of events. They called on the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, John C. Demers, and the former deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to testify before Congress along with the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr.
Apple told Mr. McGahn that it had complied with the subpoena in a timely fashion but declined to tell him what it had provided the government, according to a person briefed on the matter. Under Justice Department policy, gag orders for subpoenas may be renewed for up to a year at a time, suggesting that prosecutors went to court several times to prevent Apple from notifying the McGahns earlier.
In investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses that were in contact with a subject, and seek to identify all those people by using subpoenas to communications companies for any account information like names, computer addresses and credit card numbers associated with them.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. McGahn. An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.
Credit…Marla Bergh for The New York Times
The slew of voting restrictions being pursued by Republican legislators across the country would disproportionately affect people with disabilities by limiting accommodations and types of voting that many of them rely on.
A law enacted in Florida requires absentee voters to apply every election cycle instead of every two — a significant obstacle because many county websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities — and lets partisan poll watchers weigh in on signature matching, which can hurt voters whose disabilities prevent them from signing their name consistently.
Legislation in Texas would ban drive-through voting, limit absentee voting, and let poll watchers record video of voters as purported evidence of wrongdoing. Disability rights groups worry that poll watchers will misinterpret legal accommodations as fraud.
And in Wisconsin, bills under consideration would restrict who could return voters’ ballots on their behalf and weaken accommodations for “indefinitely confined” voters, who cannot vote in person because of age, illness or disability.
For years, advocates have worked to mobilize Americans with disabilities into a voting bloc powerful enough to demand that politicians address their needs. Now, after an election in which mail-in voting helped them turn out in large numbers, these restrictive proposals are simultaneously threatening their rights and testing their nascent political influence.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the First Step Act, the bipartisan 2018 law that overhauled aspects of the criminal justice system, did not require new sentences for some low-level drug offenders.
Though all of the justices agreed on the bottom line, the decision nonetheless featured a sharp disagreement about the background of a 1986 law that had subjected drug dealers selling crack cocaine to the same sentences as ones selling 100 times as much powder cocaine.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for eight members of the court, said the 1986 law had enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, adding that “a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus co-sponsored and voted for the bill.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a concurring opinion accusing the majority of including “an unnecessary, incomplete and sanitized history” of the law, which she said had imposed disproportionately harsh sentences on Black offenders.
The 1986 law established three tiers of offenses and called for mandatory minimum sentences in two of them: 10 years for 50 grams of crack or five kilograms of powder; five years for five grams of crack or 500 grams of powder; and no minimum for possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of either drug.
Tarahrick Terry was convicted of the third kind of offense in 2008, pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute about four grams of crack or, as Justice Sotomayor wrote, “less than the weight of four paper clips.” He was found to be a career offender and sentenced to about 15 years in prison.
President Donald J. Trump frequently invoked the First Step Act as one of his administration’s major accomplishments, but his Justice Department endorsed the position the Supreme Court adopted in the case, Terry v. United States, No. 20-5094.
The Biden administration switched positions in the case on the day the government’s main brief was due, siding with Mr. Terry.