January 27, 2022

NBC News’ Pete Williams had the scoop of the day. He was the first to break the news that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire after 27 years on the court. He’ll step down when the Supreme Court term ends in June.

At 83, the liberal Breyer is the Supreme Court’s oldest justice. Democrats and other liberals have publicly pressured Breyer to step down while there is a Democratic president and while Democrats have control of the Senate, which confirms Supreme Court nominees. When he was campaigning for president, Joe Biden said, given the chance, he would nominate a Black woman to the court.

The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes wrote, “The two women most often mentioned as replacements are Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer Supreme Court clerk who in June was confirmed to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, a former Justice Department official who has represented the government at the Supreme Court as deputy solicitor general.”

However, Barnes added, “Others will surely be added to the list, and Biden will likely cast a wide net. There are few Black women on the federal appellate court bench, the traditional spot from which Supreme Court nominees are chosen.”

NPR’s Nina Totenberg wrote, “Breyer’s decision to retire is a relief to liberal Democrats after seeing Republicans push through three Trump nominees using some unprecedented tactics. Indeed last year, some liberal groups publicly pressed Breyer to retire, even demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court. The Justice, however, demurred.”

Breyer told NPR in an interview last September that he didn’t want to stay on the court until he died.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak wrote, “He insisted that politics played no role in the court’s work, devoting a recent book to the subject. After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, when he became the court’s senior liberal, he may have hoped to find common ground with his more conservative colleagues. But there was little evidence of that in recent months. In cases on abortion, immigration and the Biden administration’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, he repeatedly found himself in dissent.”

Despite nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, Liptak noted that Breyer doesn’t have a high profile. Liptak wrote, “Though he made frequent public appearances in all sorts of settings, he was far less prominent than some of his more colorful colleagues. He routinely came in last in public opinion surveys in which respondents were asked to name the justices. In a Marquette Law School poll released this month, only 21 percent of Americans said they were able to express an opinion about him, the lowest for any member of the court.”

During an interview with MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, “Justice Breyer has been an extraordinary public servant. And he’s been a wonderful justice. … So, we’re going to miss him. But it is also an opportunity to bring in someone new. And I’m delighted that President Biden will be standing by his pledge to bring in an African American woman. I think it’s terrific. It’s a new day for the court, and I’m really happy about it.”

What does it all mean?

Breyer’s retirement won’t shift the balance of the Supreme Court, at least not for the foreseeable future. Even if (when) Biden gets his next nominee through, conservatives will still hold a 6-3 advantage.

As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes, “Replacing Breyer, 83, wouldn’t change that 6-3 deficit, but it would prevent it from getting worse if Republicans retake the Senate this November and/or the presidency in 2024.”

This isn’t, however, just about the current court, but the future one. The leading names to replace Breyer — Ketanji Brown Jackson and Leondra Kruger — are still young. Jackson is 51. Kruger is 45.

Blake writes, “That means, should the court stay at nine members, there will be significantly fewer vacancies to fill in the coming years and decades, and each will take on added importance — making their timing even more important, as well. The three vacancies Trump was able to fill in just four years (in part thanks to Mich McConnell’s gamesmanship in 2016) was already a historical aberration; it’s likely to be even more so moving forward.”

The more immediate question is how quickly Democrats will move to replace Breyer.

The New York Times’ Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane wrote, “Just how fast can the process move? That’s mostly up to three men: Mr. Biden, who must nominate a new justice; Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who as Judiciary Committee chairman will shepherd the nominee through that panel; and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, who controls the floor. Mr. Schumer wants the entire process to take weeks, not months, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.”

The Times story does a good job explaining how it could all work.

We shouldn’t be surprised …

I normally wouldn’t give much thought to anything Tomi Lahren says, but her comment about a Black woman possibly replacing Breyer on the Supreme Court is drawing some well-deserved criticism.

While appearing on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” Lahren told host Harris Faulkner, “We know what Joe Biden does best is placate to the radical element and radical progressive base of his party that he believes is the majority. I believe he’s incorrect and I believe that they are actually the minority. But I’m wondering the kind of justice that he would nominate. Now again I’m sure it would be, as (guest host) Guy (Benson) said, a Black woman, he’s got a dedication to that. We saw how well that worked out with Kamala Harris. But here’s to hoping he had a better choice in mind for this position.”

Mediaite’s Colby Hall wrote, “The charitable interpretation of Lahren’s comments is that she meant to say that nominating someone strictly because of their race can end up with the wrong person for the job, and many on the right feel that Vice President Harris has been underwhelming. But a reasonable interpretation would also see Lahren’s comments as unnecessarily racial in nature, if not just flat out racist, suggesting that a Black woman named to the highest court would simply not be up for the task.”

Yeah, I’m in the “reasonable interpretation” camp.

Hey hey, my my

Neil Young. (zz/KGC-138/STAR MAX/IPx)

Neil Young is getting his wish. The rocker asked that his music be taken off Spotify if the audio streaming service was going to have people such as podcaster Joe Rogan passing along misinformation about COVID-19. And, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Steele, Spotify will indeed take down Young’s music.

A spokesperson for Spotify told Steele, “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators.”

The spokesperson added to Steele that Spotify has detailed content policies in place and has removed 20,000 COVID-related podcast episodes since the start of the pandemic. He then said, “We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

While Young is right to call out Rogan, I thought I should add this link as well: The Daily Beast’s Louis Anslow with “Neil Young’s Long Record of Spreading Scientific Misinformation.”

Abdul-Jabbar rejects Stockton …

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

Last week, former NBA star and Hall of Famer John Stockton made some outrageous and flat-out wrong comments about COVID-19. Stockton had his season tickets to his alma mater, Gonzaga, suspended because of his refusal to wear a mask at games per the school’s COVID-19 policies. Stockton has been very public in his stance against vaccines, masks and shutdown measures.

In an interview with reporter Theo Lawson from The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, Stockton claimed, falsely, that tens of thousands — perhaps millions — have died from vaccines. He also added an unproven claim: “I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now, it’s over 100 professional athletes dead — professional athletes — the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court.”

Legendary NBA star and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out about Stockton’s remarks. In an interview with CNN, Abdul-Jabbar said, “I think statements like (Stockton’s) make the public look upon athletes as basically dumb jocks for trying to explain away something this is obviously a pandemic, and the best way to fight pandemics is through vaccination and testing. Those are the means by which we identify the problem and do our best to mitigate it.”

Abdul-Jabbar continued by saying, “I don’t understand anyone saying anything else that makes sense. It doesn’t make sense what he’s saying. This is a preventative measure that has been useful in many different circumstances.”

Bongino banned from YouTube

Conservative radio host Dan Bongino has been permanently kicked off YouTube. A week ago, he was suspended for a week for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy. But just after that suspension, a second account associated with Bongino repeated a wrong claim that cloth and surgical masks were useless in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We terminated Dan Bongino’s channels for circumventing our terms of service by posting a video while there was an active strike and suspension associated with the account.”

Social Blade, which tracks social media analytics, reported Bongino’s YouTube channel had 882,000 subscribers.

A really good question

I really like the headline on a New York Times article by John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum: “Can CNN’s Hiring Spree Get People to Pay for Streaming News?”

Actually, the question I’ve been asking all along is: “Will people pay for streaming news?”

CNN+ is scheduled to launch this spring and it already has brought in some high-profile people, such as journalists Chris Wallace, Kasie Hunt and Audie Cornish, as well as celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Rex Chapman.

Other networks, including CNN cable news rival Fox News, already is well into the streaming news game.

CNN president Jeff Zucker told the Times, “We do want a service that has a wider aperture and is broader than just today’s bleak news.”

Koblin and Grynbaum wrote, “(Zucker) is gambling that CNN+ can entice new viewers — and bring back some old ones. CNN’s traditional broadcast viewership has dropped significantly from a year ago, thanks to a post-Trump slump and waning audience interest, and the network recently fired its top-rated anchor, Chris Cuomo, amid an ethics scandal. Mr. Zucker is turning to a strategy honed during his days as the executive producer of NBC’s ‘Today’ show in the 1990s, mixing hard news with a heavy dose of lifestyle coverage and tips on how to bake a pear cobbler. In marketing materials, CNN+ has urged viewers to ‘grab a coffee’ while flipping on shows promoted as ‘never finicky’ and ‘the silver lining beyond today’s toughest headlines.’”

But then Koblin and Grynbaum got to the heart of the issue when they wrote, “It remains an open question if CNN+ can actually draw the interest — and monthly payments — of viewers already overwhelmed with streaming options. Heavyweight services like Netflix and Hulu have struggled to find success with shows that riff on current events. One Netflix executive conceded in 2019 that topical programming was ‘a challenge’ when it came to on-demand, watch-at-your-own-pace streamers.”

What is … it’s over

The streak is over. Amy Schneider’s run on “Jeopardy!” has ended after 40 games. The second-longest streak ended on the show that aired across the country on Wednesday.

Schneider had a big lead ($27,600 to $17,600) going into Final Jeopardy. But in the category of “Countries of the World,” Schneider could not answer: “The only nation in the world whose name in English ends in an H, it’s also one of the 10 most populous.”

Rhone Talsma, a librarian from Chicago, did come up with the correct answer: Bangladesh.

Schneider fell well short of Ken Jennings’ incredible streak of 74 consecutive wins, but she did become just the fourth person to win more than $1 million during regular-season play. And, we haven’t seen the last of Schneider on “Jeopardy!” She will be invited back to the Tournament of Champions.

During an interview on “Good Morning America” this week, Schneider told George Stephanopoulos, “The best part for me has been being on TV as my true self, expressing myself, representing the entire community of trans people and…just being a smart, confident woman doing something super normal like being on ‘Jeopardy!’”

The New York Times’ Shane O’Neill is on top of Schneider’s story, which was published just after Wednesday’s show aired: “‘Jeopardy!’ Hasn’t Had a Player Like Amy Schneider.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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