The News This Week: A Shrug Emoji In A Black Gown 👨‍⚖️

Charting gentrification with data, Supreme Court everything, and the Mexican election.

In this week's episode:

  • Shani Hilton sits down with SCOTUS correspondent Chris Geidner and vice president and associate general counsel Nabiha Syed to discuss Justice Anthony Kennedy's resignation.
  • World news editor Miriam Elder chats with Mexico bureau chief and Latin America correspondent Karla Zabludovsky
    about the Mexican election.
  • Data reporter Lam Thuy Vo does a deep dive into the connection between gentrification and 311 quality of life calls.
  • Host Julia Furlan tests politics reporter Dominic Holden on the most recent SCOTUS decisions.

Listen to this week's episode:

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Check out BuzzFeed’s other podcasts here and you can find transcripts for other episodes here.

The Lede - 00:00

Shani Hilton: Hi Chris, Hi Nabiha.

Nabiha Syed: Hello!

Chris Geidner: Hey!

SH: So the big news this week, the really truly seismic in a way that we always say the news is but this actually is, news was that Justice Kennedy resigned.


Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy sent, uh shockwaves across the country today, I think it's fair to say.

I knew today would be a rough day because I knew that everyone would be upset because I was watching CNN, everyone was going crazy.

We're getting word that Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court justice, has decided to retire.

Many people reeling from the announcement, of course, that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring.

SH: Um, who is he?

CG: Justice Anthony Kennedy? He was appointed to the court by President Reagan. Uh, he's been a federal judge for 43 years. He's been on the court for 30 years, so he basically, over the course of his time on the court, became sort of uh, the--he hates the term--but the Swing Vote on the court. He became the key vote.

SH: Right and that was you know, what people were saying immediately was like, this is swing vote, but over the course of a couple of days it really seems like people have taken a little bit more time to dig into his legacy. And I don't think he's as clear of a Swing Vote as people think he is.

CG: Well I mean, the the problem is he's a swing vote on things on which there was actually a swing. Um, there are a lot of things that the court has has been fundamentally conservative for for the past 20-30 years. And on those issues, on on corporate issues in particular, there hasn't been a swing. But in popular culture he became, perhaps because of the fact that on some of the hot button issues that really mattered to liberals over the past two, three, four decades--abortion and same-sex marriage--he provided one of the the critical votes to reaffirm Row and then to sort of pave the way for and then hold uh that marriage equality was considered.

SH: Right.

NS: I would say though that whatever swing vote role he may have played in the past, he certainly didn't do that this term. Where he didn't side with liberals on one significant five-four case. I mean, he basically was a shrug emoji in a black gown for some of these deeply consequential decisions and I am still stinging from the Muslim ban case earlier this week, from talking about crisis pregnancy centers and what they actually have to disclose under the First Amendment. There are some really big issues where he; he was a vote that could have mattered in ways that maybe would have made sense given his Judicial philosophy, particularly when it comes to gerrymandering and voting rights, and he didn't take that opportunity. And so, you know looking at his full legacy and looking at this last term is kind of an interesting contrast.

CG: I mean, but at the same time, let's remember that swing vote doesn't mean he always votes with the liberals.

NS: Totally fair, totally fair!

SH: But the decisions that were made in the last week, um have all been have all been fairly conservative rulings.

CG: It's true that he didn't join the liberals this term to make any 5-4 decisions. I mean, I don't think Nabiha is wrong that that certainly we look at what he did this term on some some big issues that he's expressed a lot of interest in in the past. He basically was okay with leaving the court with those issues unresolved.

NS: You're right a Swing Vote, it can swing either way. But I think so much of the um hand-wringing yesterday--and I am a hand ringer, I am terrified of what's to come--I think almost valorized Justice Kennedy and what he had meant to the liberal cause in a way that overstated his contributions. It was a little bit more unpredictable.

CG: We're 100% in agreement on that.

SH: So to bring us to the present, what I think is fascinating, and the reason why people like you Nabiha are so freaked out and other people on Trump's side are so excited, is because the person that comes in next is clearly going to be about as far right I think as you could expect. That's what I would expect. Or do you disagree? I mean, I know that Trump is operating from a list.

CG: I mean we've got this list and I--there is a wide range within that list from some names that appear to be more libertarian-bent to some who appear to be more social conservative-bent. Um, but they're all likely to be at or to the right of Kennedy and there's a significant chance that they will be significantly to the right, unless we find them to to end up having sort of some similar views as he had particularly on what the what the word Liberty means in the Constitution.

SH: One tweet that I saw going around was somebody predicting that abortion will be dead within 18 months. And I know that it's a little bit more complicated than that, as in if Roe is overturned that basically gives the states the opportunity to regulate abortion more closely with how they wish, as opposed to like it just overturns abortion throughout the country, but I know that that's something that a lot of people are incredibly concerned about.

NS: I think we're also seeing a lot of the framing of this fight--to the extent that there can plausibly be a fight when Republicans are in the majority--in terms of abortion. Because I think that raises the stakes. Often fights over the Supreme Court I think to many people can seem sort of wonky or elite or like oh, it decides sort of these like random questions.

And I think we're really in this moment where not only is everyone asking themselves questions about Democratic institutions large, we're coming off a week where really big things were decided. We're coming off a term where huge things were decided. And we're looking at our country when things are so divided to see okay who's going to come in and and potentially, uh make these very firm decisions, um that sets the tone for decades to come. And I think abortion is a huge part of that, it's a big part of that framing. And you can definitely see Democrats already speaking about that, Republicans already sort of cheering about what's going to be possible, so it will be fraught and I think you're right to identify that topic as the lightning rod.

SH: So this week it has been wild as we talked about; these decisions were some of the ones that you named. I think that they were all pretty like ground-shaking for various parts of the country and various groups of people. How unusual was this--is it a term? Is that what we call it?

CG: Yeah it I mean it was a momentous term in terms of the cases and a lot of this I think did have to do with what Kennedy was willing to to really put his foot down on. That that he left a lot of questions unresolved. And so some of the things that that could have been really groundbreaking decisions, uh, sort of became lesser decisions on on partisan gerrymandering, on on obviously the the way that the masterpiece cake shop decision was determined, on the fact that the court really shied away from taking any systemic look at the death penalty which Justice Breyer and Ginsburg have been asking the court to do, and there was some hope from people who want to see the death penalty eliminated that that Kennedy would do that and so, I mean in that sense you sort of had this potentially huge term on some of those issues where Kennedy was a swing vote on the left, sort of take a backseat to the the cases where he was a shrug emoji in a robe--to use Nabiha's phrase--on cases in which he sided with the right. And they were able to then issue decisions that particularly when a new Justice whose as or more conservative than him comes on, can sort of be expanded to to have a great impact on people's lives.

SH: I think the other thing that is the undercurrent of a lot of the freak out is that people feel as though the Republicans "stole," in quotes, a seat from Barack Obama after Scalia died. And Obama wanted to put forward Merrick Garland, and Mitch McConnell stepped in and prevented that from happening.

TAPE: It is a president's constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice and it is the Senate's constitutional right to act as a check on a president and withhold its consent.

SH: The language being that the American people should decide, as and we should wait until after the election for of the next president. And now that's coming up again, but talk to me like I'm stupid; the president will not change in November, so I don't quite understand the logic of "let's wait until after the election to pick this person."

CG: I mean well and this is this is actually where extending analogies causes problems because where this came out of is that back when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Republicans invoked what they called the Biden rule, and it related to a speech that Biden had given when he was in the senate,

TAPE: If a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors, and not and not name a nominee until after the November election is completed.

CG: But when Antonin Scalia died, we were talking about the winter. We were talking about February, we were talking about the fact that there was a full year left in Obama's presidency when this nomination was made, and the Republicans still sort of stretched that role of the last six months into the last year of a presidency. And now what the Democrats are doing is, well you stretched a six-month rule into a one-year rule. So we're going to say that any election year should have this same rule.

NS: I think there's some undertone of this too, of generally how we treat each other. We're not really operating with this "what's good for the goose should be good for the gander,"

we're not really uh behaving with the--my least favorite word, especially in this last week-- civility civil way. Uh, that this institution that theoretically should remain above the fray of politics has been politicized, and we're going to see yet another knockdown drag-out round of politicizing. And I think even just seeing what people have been tweeting and saying in the last day shows that like it's just beginning. And so I think there's some of that too at play here, where everyone is trying to just get in there and try to get it to go their way in this kind of naked pursuit of power. Um, which is what our politics has really become. And maybe always was, but now we can see. And to me the deepest irony of all of this is if Justice Kennedy stood for anything it was for this idea of the rule of law of attempting to be civil, of trying to hear out these different sides, and he chose the sides that made the most sense to him certainly and often explained them beautifully, and his departure almost feels like it's a departure of that mode of engaging with one another too, which is its own sort of bittersweet moment.

CG: I think it is definitely a a question that that at some point he's going to be asked on the record to talk about, but I think there is this this fundamental question that's still unanswered about the the the legacy that he's put in writing, contrasted with the time in which he chose to to retire.

NS: That's exactly right.

CG: Um, I mean, it doesn't appear to be a retirement born of necessity. It was a retirement of choice and I think that explaining why he thinks that those are coherent and do not conflict with one another is is something that he's going to be held to talk about as he continues in--I mean he presumably is going to continue a public life, if not as a an active Supreme Court Justice.

SH: Chris, Nabiha, thank you guys.

NS: Thank you.

CG: Thank you.

What Did I Miss? - 15:35

Julia Furlan: Dom this week on What Did I Miss?

CLIP: What did I miss!

JF: We're going to play a round of a brand new game! The hottest game show in the land.

Dominic Holden: Yeah.

JF: It's called 30 seconds Supreme Court.

DH: Right. Slash Was I Paying Attention to Twitter?

JF: Exactly. Um, so every June the Supreme Court sits to announce orders and opinions on cases that they've been hearing all term. Dom, we are going to play you some tape related to some of the huge Supreme Court decisions that were announced this week and your job is to identify them and explain them to us. Are you ready?

DH: I am so ready.

JF: You look ready. Okay. Number one:

TAPE: The court has consistently held that government hostility towards people of faith is unconstitutional and has no place in a diverse society. And the state of California demeaned religious organizations with pro-life views by ordering them to speak messages and to turn women towards abortion.

JF: Okay Dom, what is this lady talking about?

DH: Well, that lady is Kristen Wagner from Alliance Defending Freedom. She also argued that big Christian gay baker case where the baker won recently, on pretty narrow grounds, but that's her. They also are concerned about abortion. And in this case there's an organization called the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and they have these crisis pregnancy centers. And these pregnancy centers tend to present themselves as being medical facilities, but you come in and they don't offer abortion. In fact, they steer women toward not getting an abortion, keeping the baby, providing some sort of services in that direction. The California legislature was not into this idea that women could be pulled in unaware that they could get low-cost or free abortions. So they passed a law and they said you've got to post information in these things saying that contraceptive and abortion, uh services are available that this is not a medical center if it's not a medical center. And these groups sued because they said that was compelled speech. Like the same way the first amendment protects your right to speak freely, it also says you can't be forced to present a message that you disagree with. So that's what Kristen Wagner getting at there. What the long-term consequence of this could be is it could send a message to other state legislatures: hey, you can't try to crack down on these crisis pregnancy centers. And so there may be room for more of them to proliferate and bring women in without letting them know that abortion is an option.

JF: Okay... That Kristen lady seems busy.

DH: She is a very very smart lawyer.

JF: The next thing we're going to talk about has been all over everyone's news feeds. So this is from a protest in New York City that happened this week:


Donal Trump: shame!

Supreme Court: shame!

Immigration Customs Enforcement: shame!

Customs and Border Protection: shame!

DH: So this is a protest where they are shaming Trump's travel ban, which he had originally telegraphed as being a ban on Muslims entering the country. This is another one of those five to four decisions at the Supreme Court along ideological lines. And because the actual text of the order the third travel ban didn't refer to muslims, then it was acceptable and it was not unconstitutional. So boom Trump's third attempt at a travel ban goes into effect and is upheld by the Supreme Court.

JF: Oh my god. Wow. Okay Dom. Here's the next one.

TAPE: The Texas decision comes in a case that has lasted so long and is so complicated, that even election experts find it daunting to discuss.

"This is just such a mess."

"It was a mess; there's no question it was a mess."

That's NYU Law professor Richard Pildes, followed by Loyola professor Justin Levitt.

JF: Dom my question for you is: what is a mess?

DH: So the mess, as referred to by those lawyers, and so excellently described by Nina Totenberg at NPR is--

JF: Shoutout NPR!

DH: Shout-out to Nina Totenberg. Um, there is this huge gerrymandering dispute. It's all over the country. But this case arose out of Texas over these statehouse maps and congressional maps that were allegedly drawn with a racial intent, specifically to suppress the vote of Latino and African-American voters. And the case went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court largely argued in favor of the Texas lawmakers who had drawn the maps this way. What this means, five years after the Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights Act, is that states could see an opportunity to draw lines as they see fit, not worry that the Supreme Court is going to find a violation, not worry that the federal government is going to impose some sort of oversight. And discourage people who live in these gerrymandered districts from bringing complaints because they're worried now that they're not going to win and we will see more gerrymandered districts which often will either disperse, uh voters of color or collect voters of color so that even if they are a majority of a population, or have a good stronghold, they're not fully represented in the Statewide vote results.

JF: Dom you did a great job, thank you very much.

DH: I'm glad I passed this test!

JF: You passed this extremely difficult test.

DH: I'm never gonna give up Twitter! It tells me everything.

JF: So what--if you took a step back, what are the larger things that you see at work in these cases and also all of the other ones that you have been covering and following?

DH: I think the big takeaway here is that Mitch McConnell in the Senate denied a hearing of Merrick Garland to be a Supreme Court Justice who had been nominated by former President Obama. And instead they keep kept the seat vacant and instead they got Neil Gorsuch, a hard-line conservative who has consistently formed the fifth vote in these five-four decisions. So Republicans have really prevailed by using a political sleight of hand in the Senate to influence the Supreme Court bench. They're getting the policies that they want. Even if Congress ends up doing very very little in the meantime.

JF: Okay. Dom, thank you so much for playing the game show that's really sweeping the nation; all the youths are playing it: 30 Second Supreme Court.

DH: We're gonna be robin' deep.

JF: Robin' deep!

Data With A Heartbeat - 22:54

JF: Oh, this is so familiar to me. It hits me right in my heart.

LTV: So this kind of ambience has been part of the block for decades. But more recently this kind of noise may have also contributed to the submissions of thousands of 311 complaints on that block.

JF: And 311, of course, is the city thing that you call for like non-emergency issues that you have living in New York and other cities too.

LTV: Quality of Life complaints, is what they call them.

JF: Okay, cool.

LTV: Um, and so we looked at a specific subset of those complaints: neighbors complaining about neighbors. And we found that starting 2015 all the way through 2017, this short block was affiliated with close to 3,000 complaints.

JF: That's like 10 calls a day. Like almost ten calls a day.

LTV: Yeah. That's also like with online complaints and calls, people just kind of like going ham on the subject right.

JF: Mhm.

LTV: And during that time what also happened is that police came more often. And we talked to about a dozen residents who are Dominican, who have lived on that block for their entire lives, and they said that after gathering outside for decades, kind of undisturbed, doing their thing, they suddenly had to stop.

JF: And they've been playing dominoes in that like classic New York way for years and years and years, right?

LTV: Yeah. We talked to this really nice man. He was 105 years old.

JF: Whoa!

LTV: Who'd been sitting out in the streets like that every summer for decades. 40 years, he said.


No me siento bien. Sí hay desorden.

He said that he doesn't feel good. He said, "I don't feel good."

LTV: Some people that we talked to said that they felt harassed, and what also happened on that block was that it had heavily gentrified and more white people had moved in.

JF: That sounds familiar to me. I feel like I've heard this story before.

TAPE: She calling police on the eight year old little girl.

There's laws about this park and--

I know the laws about this park.

--and charcoal grills are not allowed.

The whole world going to see you boo.

Yeah and um, illegally selling water without a permit.

What did they get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here, meeting me?

JF: It seems like um, variations on a theme.

LTV: Right, right. And I think while all of these other incidences went viral, we wanted to see how that looked across one major city. We looked at millions of 3-1-1 complaints, filtered them down to find out basically how many complaints are out there in New York where people are complaining about noise, about the neighbors, about each other. So to see whether there was a correlation of 3-1-1 calls and gentrification, we looked at median home values, median incomes, and education levels.

JF: Some of the signifiers of gentrification.

LTV: Exactly. So what we found was that in gentrified areas and gentrified census tracts, there were more complaints per capita, right.

JF: Interesting. Unsurprising.

LTV: Yes. As a place changes, as more white people move into a space, as the home values go up, there are more 3-1-1 calls.

JF: And that means more interactions with police in the neighborhood too, right?

LTV: Correct.

JF: And what are the potential effects of these increased police calls?

LTV: So the police has to respond to these calls, right? Some people in the neighborhood that we looked at in Harlem were like police officers told them, "look we know you guys don't have any crime, but we just have to show up." People keep complaining, we can't change this. And this can play out in a bunch of different ways. Sometimes police may park their car there and then leave, other times there may be tensions or maybe an arrest would happen.

JF: And then there's the possible threat of police violence which can flare up in a moment and puts everybody in this very difficult situation.

LTV: There's basically also then more data collection about those neighborhoods. Like over-surveillance of a space makes it easier for people than to make a case later. If you have a thousand noise complaints about one block, they can be like, "this is a block that has traditionally caused a lot of trouble," right?

JF: Yeah.

LTV: And that could then have detrimental like consequences when it comes to uh to predictive policing, things like that.

JF: So what do the gentrifiers say about all this?

LTV: Um interestingly enough, we talked to a lot of people on that block. Some who had moved in like a few months ago, and they were just saying things like, "oh, I like this neighborhood, but I don't feel like I belong." But the vast majority of the newcomers say that they've never filed a complaint. There were two white men however that we spoke to on the streets, um one who was in the same census track a block over,

TAPE: It's people who are trying to sleep, or trying to raise children, trying to get up for work early.

LTV: And another who was actually on that same block,

TAPE: Because you can imagine someone calling 9-1-1 to claim that someone in their building. They just don't want to have that kind of confrontation with a neighbor.

JF: So like, these folks are saying that they'd rather call 3-1-1 than go downstairs and say like, "hey Tony, can you turn it down?"

LTV: Yes. I talked to all of these long-term neighbors. They know each other! They grew up around each.

JF: Right, right.

LTV: So they would not call the cops on each other. What we've shown through the data is that what factors into whether someone calls 3-1-1 or not, from talking to lawyers, from talking to experts, and from looking at the data, is yes a class issue. And there could be a race issue because people don't know each other. For them, a certain culture is foreign. But what also is important is that there's a lack of community when you have a neighborhood change so rapidly. One of the neighborhoods we went into went from 5% to 20% white within just 16 years. That's a huge difference. That's a huge change over, right. And so understanding that there's a breakdown of community, that then shows itself in 3-1-1 calls.

JF: Right.

LTV: And so figuring out how to speak to one another and building longer-term, lasting relationships with your neighbors is something that may have gotten lost with gentrification. But it doesn't have to be.

What In The World? - 30:55

Miriam Elder: We are hours away from a major presidential election in Mexico and I am joined by Karla Zabludovsky, BuzzFeed News's Mexico bureau chief and Latin America correspondent, who's joining us from Mexico City. Hi Karla.

Karla Zabludovsky: Hi Miriam. Thank you for having me on.

ME: Thanks for joining us. I have so many questions, but let's just start with the basics:

so this election is big, it's exciting, but who are the major candidates and how do their positions on the U.S. differ in particular?

KZ: So there are four main candidates all men and they all agree on their positions in regards to the U.S., and that is that there needs to be a dialogue with the U.S., but first and foremost there needs to be respect.

ME: Right, Trump has not been quiet about his feelings about the Mexican government or the Mexican people. Do they-- like does his name come up a lot in rallies and in campaign commercials and things? Is he a big presence in the campaign?

KZ: Surprisingly not. Uh, Mexicans' plates are so full. There's like horrible record corruption, there are record homicides, the economy is not doing well... And so Mexicans are so concerned with how things are going at home that there's really not a lot of bandwidth for them to think about Trump.

ME: So Karla, you mentioned that uh violence is a huge problem. And this has been one of the most violent elections in Mexican history. More than 120 candidates or politicians have been killed throughout this campaign. That is a huge number. What's happening? Well, first of all, this is the biggest election in Mexico's history. There are 3,408 positions up for grabs. Um, but this is also the first time that organized crime is looking to have a place within government rather than just making a deal with it, you know. So they are looking to eliminate rivals and that's exactly what they've been doing.

ME: So now I want to talk about the clear front-runner who's Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Did I say that somewhat correctly?

KZ: Yes, but uh it gets easier because we all call him Amlo.

ME: Perfect. So let's talk about Amlo. So as I understand it Amlo is a populist but he's also a super leftist, and yet you hear a lot of comparisons to Donald Trump. Is that because of the rhetoric or his style? Like who is this Amlo?

KZ: Yes, he's a populist and that makes them similar to Trump ,but it's it's too tempting to draw strong comparison and there really isn't that much that is similar between them. I think one of the things that makes them um similar is that they're both really good at simplifying concepts and making them accessible to the general population. So for example, corruption is a huge issue in this election. And Amlo, he's not talking about corruption in let's say a specific program within a specific government office and then say like he's going to decrease corruption there by 5% or whatever. He just says he's going to be honest, and other people will be honest because they'll follow his example, and that's what people connect with.

ME: And so he's run several times before and lost. What do you think is different this time? Why is he so clearly in the lead?

KZ: Because Mexicans are so fed up with the system, you know. The ruling party, it's called the PRI, they ruled for 71 years uninterruptedly and then they were kicked out of office by the PAN, and the PAN ruled for two administrations, and then the PRI came back. So this is the first time that people in Mexico are just like hopeless in regards to what we've already seen, and a little bit hopeful, uh, because he's new. I mean well he was mayor of Mexico City, but he's never governed the country. So it's just like this last hope that this will be the way out of our problems.

ME: Right, and so sorry to come at this from an American perspective, but I'm curious. So let's say you know the election happens, Amlo wins, and then for all of us sitting up here, uh in the U.S. where Mexico has become a huge issue for Trump and for his administration, be at the border wall, be it immigration, be it NAFTA, like what would an presidency mean for the United States?

KZ: Well, Amlo is very inward looking. Um, so he's like Trump in that regard. He is like I said a populist and he really represents like, you know workers and the people that work in agriculture. And so he's going to really take care of Mexican people within Mexico. He's not looking, you know to make a lot of free trade agreements or to make a lot, you know to bring neighbors closer. He's kind of just like Trump, he's catering to the population within Mexico. And so I think that the relationship... it doesn't look like it's going to get closer and I think that the best we can hope for is just that it doesn't deteriorate any further.

ME: And maybe that's the type of person honestly that Trump can understand. Karla, thank you so much for joining us and for explaining, uh, this wild election, and we will be watching the results right along with you. So, thank you.

KZ: Thank you Miriam.

ME: Bye.

KZ: Bye.

This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That's Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and me, Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

You can listen to the full episode here if you'd like! And don't forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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