We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Amy Coney Barrett is nominated for United States Supreme Court
On Saturday, President Trump announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, currently a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit, to take the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The nomination itself has caused controversy because the U.S. presidential election is only weeks away, so opponents argue the winner of that contest should get to pick the next Supreme Court nominee, as happened in similar circumstances in 2016. But Democrats have acknowledged that they can not stop Barrett’s approval process, because Republicans control the U.S. Senate.
The nomination debate unfortunately immediately became personal, with opponents attacking Barrett over her religion and even her children (she has seven; two are adopted from Haiti and a third has special needs). The discourse was further poisoned when some media outlets misreported that an ecumenical faith group Barrett belongs to called People of Praise inspired Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, A Handmaid’s Tale. Fact-checkers quickly discovered that Atwood has actually identified a different group, People of Hope, as her inspiration, but the erroneous story spread rapidly through social media.
Before becoming a federal judge, Barrett spent most of her career as a professor at the University of Notre Dame’s law school, from which she also graduated first in her class. Notre Dame’s president, Fr. John Jenkins, issued a statement endorsing her, saying Barrett is “a person of the utmost integrity.” —Margaret Brady
Biden and Trump face off in presidential debate
Tuesday night saw President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden meet for the first time in a raucous 90 minute debate.
The evening, hosted by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, was almost universally panned as a counterproductive disaster. Although Wallace planned questions on substantial policy topics like COVID-19, the economy, and race relations, the two candidates for U.S. President spent most of the time talking over each other and trading insults. The moderator was largely helpless to get the men back on track.
With regard to the Supreme Court, Biden refused to answer whether he would “pack the court,” expanding it from nine justices to a larger number of more ideologically acceptable members. He did offer qualified personal praise for the current Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Barrett, saying, “I’m not opposed to the Justice, she seems like a very fine person.”
Trump meanwhile sparked headlines when he didn’t take Wallace’s invitation to denounce white supremacists groups. When Trump said he didn’t know what groups Wallace was talking about, Biden suggested “Proud Boys,” a far-right group associated with violent demonstrations. Asked whether he would tell them to stand down from the protests roiling the country, Trump said, “stand back and stand by.” Trump representatives later tried to walk back his remark and pointed to previous occasions when the president has disavowed white supremacists.
Although two more matchups are planned, Tuesday’s event in Cleveland was such a circus that some pundits have suggested canceling the rest of the debate schedule. —MB
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend grieve the loss of their third baby
This week much-followed model and personality Chrissy Teigen shared heartbreaking news on Instagram that the baby she and husband John Legend were expecting together died after her placenta began bleeding earlier in the week.
“We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” Teigen shared on Instagram Wednesday. “We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn’t enough.” The couple named their child Jack and addressed him saying, “We will always love you.”
Teigen ended her note saying, “On this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it.”
Among the messages of condolence in response, many women thanked Teigen for her candidness on the grief of pregnancy loss. One woman tweeted, “@chrissyteigen performed a profound service to other mothers by chronicling her loss with such rawness. Too often women who suffer stillbirths or miscarriages feel shame. No one wants to hear their stories. Their pain is invalidated. Thank you Chrissy for helping to change that.”
Incidentally, Verily published an article this week by a writer who experienced a miscarriage and felt “disenfranchised grief.” Here’s to Teigen’s example franchising the grief that too many women suffer with in silence. —Mary Rose Somarriba
After a storeowner bans J.K. Rowling’s books, celebrities come to her defense
Rabble Books and Games in Perth, Australia stopped stocking novels written by J.K. Rowling, including those written under her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The storeowner’s decision comes after the September 15 release of Troubled Blood, Rowling’s fifth novel in the Cormoran Strike series about a serial killer who dresses up as a woman to deceive and kill his victims. Many on social media accused Rowling of transphobia, causing #RIPJKRowling to trend on Twitter.
“We are always trying to make Rable a safer space for our community, and part of that is trying not to put books by transphobes on the shelves when we know about them,” said owner Nat Latter on Facebook.
While Latter will not stock Rowling’s books on shelves, they will be available by request, and profits will be donated to TransFolk of WA, a support service for transgender people and their loved ones in Western Australia.
Ironically or fittingly, Latter’s decision to ban Rowling’s book coincides with the American Library Association’s week (Sept. 27 to Oct. 3) to celebrate Banned Books Week. For nearly 40 years, the ALA has promoted the event each year to celebrate the freedom to read. This is not the first time Rowling’s books have been removed from shelves. In 2019, a Nashville Catholic school priest banned the Harry Potter books out of fear they could be used to summon spirits.
Despite the accusations of transphobia that Rowling has received from celebrities, including Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, more than 50 actors, writers, journalists, and playwrights signed a letter in The Sunday Times supporting Rowling. The letter claimed that the #RIPJKRowling hashtag was “Just the latest example of hate speech directed at her.” —Melanie Wilcox
District judge reverses Trump’s TikTok ban
After a complaint from executives at TikTok, a federal judge on Sunday halted the Trump administration’s order to ban video-sharing app from U.S. stores, including Apple and Google.
The Commerce Department argued that TikTok, owned by ByteDance, posed a national security threat by sending data to authorities in Beijing. TikTok lawyers argued that forcing stores to remove the app before the election prevented its approximately 120 million users from sharing their views.
Executives from the app’s parent company, ByteDance, had asked the court to block President Trump’s ban. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols’ injunction extended the deadline after President Trump gave approval for a deal in which ByteDance would sell a minority ownership stake to Oracle and Walmart, both U.S. companies.
TikTok users will be able to use the app until the case is heard by a full court. —MW
Accusations of ballot harvesting lead to Election Fraud Prevention Act
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), who last year ran for the Democratic nomination for Presidency, explained her latest legislation in a compelling Twitter video in which she calls for an end to the controversial practice of ballot harvesting. As she told her viewers, “This is a system that allows for third parties to collect and deliver ballots for other people, … [which] has allowed for fraud and abuse to occur by those who could tamper with or discard ballots to try to sway an election for or against a certain candidate or party… In the midst of a pandemic, where mail-in voting is likely to drastically increase, no one, no one, should get in between the voter and the ballot box.”
Last week, Gabbard and Illinois Representative Rodney David introduced the bipartisan bill meant to “improve the security of mail-in ballot voting” to the house floor. Bill H.R. 8285, more commonly known as the Election Fraud Prevention Act, “would prohibit election funding to states which permit ballot harvesting.
What’s more, in reference to the dire need to end ballot harvesting abuse, Gabbard called attention via Twitter to a recent sting operation by self-proclaimed “guerrilla journalist” James O’Keefe and his undercover team at Project Veritas. The group recently unveiled video footage purporting to show that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar is engaged in a massive ballot harvesting scheme in which she and members of her team are abusing the ballots of elderly Somali immigrants. Omar seemingly denied the accusations when her senior communications director told a major news outlet that “the amount of truth to this story is equal to the amount Donald Trump paid in taxes.” The Minneapolis Police Department, meanwhile, is investigating the allegations against her and her team. —Mariel Lindsay
California passes controversial law using tax money for children’s transgender treatments
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a slew of new bills into law last week to combat transphobia and encourage sex changes for those struggling with their gender identity. Most widely discussed in the media are the new provisions for transgender inmates that require officers to ask incoming inmates of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation whether they identity as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex and let them choose to be housed with either men or women based on their answer. In addition, the law includes the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund, which allocates taxpayer funds to hospitals and clinics that agree to provide hormone therapy and gender reassignment and are affiliated with organizations that advocate for transgender rights.
Governor Newsom spoke glowingly of the recently signed legislation, praising “inclusive and culturally competent efforts that uphold the dignity of all Californians, regardless of who you are or who you love." Critics of the new law, however, are upset that it extends to the controversial demographic of children struggling with gender identity. The president of the California Family Council spoke against the law’s focus on minors, saying that it “would allow minor children to obtain . . . puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and potentially even life-altering surgeries, amputations, mutilations, that could leave them permanently sterile all before they turn 18.” —ML
Good News of the Week
Electrician rallies community to help elderly woman
Electrician John Kinney was called to Gloria Scott’s house in Woburn, Massachusetts, to fix one of her light fixtures. But the job turned into much more, CNN reports.
After going home, Kinney kept thinking about the elderly Scott and her dilapidated home: There were holes in the ceiling, animal life was invading, and Scott was keeping her water turned off except for flushing toilets every couple days. He decided to do something about it.
After coming back himself to get started on repairs, Kinney started a fundraising page called “Nice old lady needs help.” To his surprise, the community responded in a big way, raising over $100,000 and creating an army of skilled volunteers who have helped fix Scott’s plumbing problems, paint, install a new roof, new insulation, and even new grass in the yard.
The “Gloria’s Gladiators” Facebook page has more than 6,000 members and Kinney hopes it will spark a movement nationwide, inspiring communities to come together to care for vulnerable people. —MB
Watch of the Week
“After seven months of virtual teaching, the faculty at Florida’s St. Agatha Catholic School wanted to greet their students back to school in the warmest way possible. So they created a fun video for all their pupils,” Good News Network reports this week. Enjoy watching staff and teachers serenading students with new lyrics to a Jackson Five hit.
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