The Excerpt podcast: Colo. ballot ruling won’t let SCOTUS avoid Trump

Gun Rights

On today’s episode of The Excerpt podcast: Colorado’s ballot ruling this week won’t let the Supreme Court avoid Donald Trump. USA TODAY Supreme Court Correspondent John Fritze puts the moment in context. The U.N. Security Council has again delayed an aid resolution for Gaza. Ten detained Americans have been swapped for an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. USA TODAY Investigative Reporter Nick Penzenstadler looks at the debate around kid gun influencers. The names of more than 150 people linked to Jeffrey Epstein could be revealed after a New York judge ordered a new batch of documents to be unsealed in a lawsuit against his co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell.

Hit play on the player below to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.  This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

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Taylor Wilson:

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Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson, and today is Thursday, December 21st, 2023. This is The Excerpt.

Today, we take a deeper dive into the Trump Colorado Court decision that’s throwing the US Supreme Court into the 2024 election mix.

Plus there’s been another delay to a UN vote regarding the Israel Hamas War, and we’ll learn about kid gun influencers.

Colorado Supreme Court ruled this week that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from the state’s primary ballot next year. I spoke with USA Today’s Supreme Court correspondent John Fritze about the ruling and how it now throws the US High Court into a legal fight with the potential to shake up next year’s election. John, thanks for hopping on.

John Fritze:

Hey, Taylor.

Taylor Wilson:

So John, let’s just start with the latest from this Colorado ruling. What exactly did the Colorado Court decide earlier this week?

John Fritze:

A bunch of courts have looked at this issue and they’ve all decided that this wasn’t really worth getting into and allowed Trump to stay on the ballot. The Colorado Supreme Court is the first, really, to come out this way and to rule, not only that Trump’s actions on January 6th, 2021 amounted to inciting the riot at the US Capitol, but also that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution bars him from being in office again. And because of that, it bars the state of Colorado from placing him on the ballot.

It’s a real blockbuster kind of decision, and I think part of why it’s so important is that it queues it up for the Supreme Court. The next court of appeals is the Supreme Court, and this is an issue that’s been floating around now for months. And now there’s a good chance we’re finally going to get an answer on whether this is a real legal theory or not.

Taylor Wilson:

So John, what kind of pressure does this now put on the US Supreme Court?

John Fritze:

Yeah, I mean, if I had to guess, I would guess that the Supreme Court wants nothing to do with this case, right? They’re going to anger about half the country no matter what they do here. Although I think there are some progressive liberal types out there, or at least opponents of President Trump who probably want to beat him at the ballot box and not really at court. So who knows?

But I think it’s a very fraught decision the court has to make here that’s going to come in the middle of a very fraught election when the nation is very divided. I’m guessing that the court would love to not have to deal with it, but the reality is that even inaction in this case would be significant. So if the court doesn’t do anything, then the Colorado decision stands, and that’s really significant. And so I suspect the court is going to do something here, but we’ll see.

Taylor Wilson:

And John, do we have any historical precedent for the court deciding election cases like this? I mean, does this relate at all to what the court decided, for instance, in the 2000 election?

John Fritze:

I mean, it’s totally different legal and factual issues, I think, from just a purely sort of political way of looking at it. It’s another instance of the court sort of weighing into a presidential election.

Now, the court weighs into elections all the time, right? We’ve been dealing with a bunch of redistricting cases recently, for instance, and those are very impactful too. But when the court starts digging into a presidential election, people, I think, in the country really pay attention. It certainly happened with Bush v. Gore in 2000, and I think there’s a really good chance that that’s going to happen here as well.

Taylor Wilson:

We expect an appeal from Trump on this Colorado ruling, John. What might this overall timeline look like?

John Fritze:

I think it depends a lot on how they file and what they file. If they file an emergency appeal, then you could see something moving through pretty quick. What’s interesting is that the Colorado Supreme Court essentially stayed its own decision. In other words, it said, look, we think he is disqualified, but we’re not going to stop Colorado officials from putting Trump’s name on the ballot for the March primary, and that our decision will be stayed until essentially the Supreme Court does something.

So practically, there’s a chance that the court could hold this out for a while and Trump’s name goes on the ballot and that it sort of resolves by default. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I think that Trump is probably going to be looking for some sort of very rapid and quick response from the Supreme Court in order to head off these dozens of other challenges that are circulating across the nation.

Taylor Wilson:

And meanwhile, John, we know the Supreme Court has also been asked to weigh in on this Trump immunity issue in his election interference case. And Trump had an appeal deadline this week. What’s the latest there?

John Fritze:

Yeah, I mean, this is the thing. The Supreme Court really can’t avoid Donald Trump right now. The Supreme Court’s on a collision course with the former president. This Colorado case is just one of several that are up there. And this one you’re mentioning is really remarkable, although it’s sort of taken a backseat given the Colorado situation. But this comes out of the Jack Smith indictments criminal case against Trump for his role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election before a trial could even be held in that case. Trump said, look, you can’t get me. I’ve got immunity because I’m a former president. That is now being appealed and litigated up. So far, Trump has not had any real success with that argument, but Jack Smith has asked the Supreme Court to decide that question very quickly so that they can move into a March trial or at least get something done by the election. Trump filed his brief late Wednesday sort of arguing against Smith saying, look, let’s let the lower courts handle this, and I think we’re going to get a ruling from the court pretty quickly on this question.

Taylor Wilson:

All right. John Fritze covers the Supreme Court for USA Today. John, happy holidays. Thanks for making the time.

John Fritze:

Thanks, you too.

Taylor Wilson:

The United Nations Security Council yesterday again delayed the vote on a resolution calling for more humanitarian aid into Gaza, and for a halt to fighting. The vote has been delayed three times this week and is now expected later today. Members are negotiating the wording of the resolution. The US is seeking to avoid using its veto power by changing the resolution’s references, calling for a cessation of hostilities, and putting the UN in charge of inspecting humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza, which Israel currently controls.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Hamas political wing, Ismail Haniyeh, was in Egypt yesterday for talks toward a truce that could allow more hostage releases and increased humanitarian aid. More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in less than two months of war, as Israel has relentlessly bombed Gaza and brought troops into the territory with a ground incursion. The Israeli bombardment campaign comes after a Hamas attack in Israel last month killed some 1200 people, while militants also took hundreds of hostages. You can stay up to date on the war with our live updates page on usatoday.com.

The Biden administration released a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from US custody yesterday, in exchange for 10 Americans detained in Venezuela, and a notorious fugitive who had fled the US. Six of those freed from Venezuela were considered wrongfully detained, while the US also secured the extradition of Leonard Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor who fled to Venezuela while facing sentencing for orchestrating one of the biggest bribery scandals in US Navy history.

In exchange, president Joe Biden granted clemency to Alex Saab, long considered a bagman for Maduro, who was arrested on a US warrant for money laundering in 2020. The swap comes after months of negotiations between the US and Maduro’s government as part of the Biden administration’s broader efforts to free Americans wrongfully detained overseas.

The world of kid gun influencers is raising eyebrows. Is it a hobby or a reckless marketing gimmick? I spoke with USA Today investigative reporter, Nick Penzenstadler, for more. Nick, always good to have you on.

Nick Penzenstadler:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

So I want to just start here, Nick, what is this contest known as The Gundies?

Nick Penzenstadler:

So this is a competition, that’s been going on for a few years, that honors the best social media influencers in the firearms space. So gun influencers, sometimes called gun tubers on YouTube, but it rewards people who have the biggest reach, the biggest splash, and the best content in the gun social media space.

Taylor Wilson:

What did the gun control group, Sandy Hook Promise, find in its report out this fall kind of relating to this, Nick?

Nick Penzenstadler:

Yeah, so they’ve been looking into the emergence of any marketing by gun companies that is aimed toward kids or to an audience they think shouldn’t be targeted or shouldn’t be buying guns in the first place. And within that, is this segment of kid gun influencers. So these are young people, often tweens, teens, or even younger, that are on these social media platforms, shooting usually under the supervision of their parents and trying to get attention.

Taylor Wilson:

What do folks from some of these social media channels say about what they’re doing?

Nick Penzenstadler:

Well, this has changed a little bit over time, and it’s because of some of the new regulations, but you have to be 13 years old or older to have your own Instagram account or Facebook account in general. So they have tried to crack down on who operates these pages, but there obviously are many ways around this where you could have a parent make one of these pages.

And it’s also the concern over whether this is entertainment or advertising. So the Federal Trade Commission says that if you’re a paid endorsed celebrity that’s selling a product, you should be disclaiming that on your page. And that’s one of the concerns here too, is that these pages look like entertainment, but they’re often brand deals and affiliate links and money involved where you’re not really being entertained, you’re being sold a product.

Taylor Wilson:

Yeah. So Nick, I mean, piggybacking off of that, what do gun rights advocates say about this conversation?

Nick Penzenstadler:

Yeah, we talked to a few of those, and one of those groups, Gun Owners of America, is sponsoring The Gundies, this competition that also includes these minors. And they say, promoting the right to bear arms is a constitutionally protected right. They compared it to telling young people to be involved in politics even though they can’t vote. And they say that by merely being involved in shooting sports, they’re not causing violence, they’re oftentimes spending time with their families and there’s nothing wrong with this.

Taylor Wilson:

Nick, can you help us understand the history of gun marketing, especially in the US, and how it has often related to children over the years?

Nick Penzenstadler:

This isn’t a new concept. Selling guns to kids is not something that’s legal. You have to be 18 in most cases, or 21 for handguns. But developing young shooters and getting people interested in sports shooting and owning guns has been a tactic of the gun industry for years, I mean, over a hundred years, where gun companies had advertised to people that would want to have an NRA rifle club in their school or be a young trap shooter often through the Boy Scouts. So this is definitely not a new concept.

Taylor Wilson:

Going forward, what does the conversation look like around regulations or the legality of this type of marketing in the future?

Nick Penzenstadler:

So this has gotten a lot of attention after some high profile incidents, with Sandy Hook being the most notable and the lawsuits that followed against Remington. And more recently with the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, where Congress, Democrats, gun control groups, and activists say that there need to be more guardrails on this. So they say the FTC needs to do more, they need to crack down on the existing rules.

But there are also some new rules in the marketing space. California recently passed some rules about firearm companies specifically advertising to kids and prohibiting it. And there’s also some rules for influencers and these content creators that are underage. Illinois just passed a law where if they’re creating content and generating revenue, the parents can’t just keep that money, they have to put it in a trust until their kids are old enough to cash it in.

Taylor Wilson:

Nick Penzenstadler, thanks as always. Great info.

Nick Penzenstadler:

You’re welcome. Thanks.

Taylor Wilson:

The names of more than 150 people linked to Jeffrey Epstein could be revealed, after a New York judge ordered a new batch of documents to be unsealed in a lawsuit against his co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell. Judge Loretta A. Preska ordered the documents to be unsealed on January 1st, giving those mentioned more than a week to appeal their case.

In the 2015 lawsuit, Virginia Giuffre accused Maxwell of facilitating years of sexual abuse at the hands of Epstein when Giuffre was 16. After the suit was settled two years later for an undisclosed amount, the court granted a motion, filed by the Miami Herald, to unseal documents from the case. The release next month will come after Judge Preska reviewed the files for years to decide which could be released to the public. Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison, earlier this year, for her role in Epstein’s regular sexual abuse of underage girls.

And today is the winter solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’ll be the shortest day of the year, but the days will start getting longer tomorrow as we slowly move toward the summer solstice.

And be sure to stay tuned to The Excerpt this afternoon, when my colleague, Dana Taylor, talks about microplastics with environmental health expert Leigh Shemitz. You can find the episode right here on this feed after 4:00 PM Eastern time.

Thanks for listening to The Excerpt. You can get the podcast wherever you get your audio. If you use a smart speaker, just ask for The Excerpt. I’m back tomorrow with more of The Excerpt from USA Today.

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