Analysis by Stephen Collinson
Imagine going to work knowing that millions of people want you to quit.
We’re not talking about a football manager who just led his team to a first-round exit in Euro 2020. Or a public health official like Dr. Anthony Fauci or Chris Whitty assailed by public ire over lockdowns.
The person in question is US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the 82-year-old liberal facing frenzied speculation about his possible retirement. It is not as if the learned judge has lost step or had a bad performance review. As CNN’s Supreme Court expert Joan Biskupic notes, he has taken a bold role in recent decisions that preserved Obamacare and is leading liberal dissent.
But liberals who want to nudge Breyer out are panicked that if he doesn’t go soon, they’ll miss the opportunity to replace him. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority and while not absolute in all cases, it is already poised to deliver decades of conservative jurisprudence. A 7-2 conservative margin would be a cataclysm for liberals and potentially have huge consequences for women’s rights, LGBTQ issues and even climate legislation.
Supreme Court nominees must be confirmed by the Senate, where Democrats fear losing their minuscule 50-50 majority in midterm elections next year. An untimely death of just one aged senator could erase it tomorrow. Democrats are haunted by the passing of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year, which allowed Republicans to cement their majority on the court, so while Breyer seems chipper, they want to replace him with a younger model as soon as possible.
Their anxiety is being exacerbated by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up to his usual Machiavellian tricks — refusing to guarantee he will accept a Joe Biden nominee if the GOP takes back the Senate.
While prominent liberals have said it would be best for Breyer to retire, the White House won’t touch the issue with a 10-foot pole, at least in public. Supreme Court justices expect a certain deference. And pressure might cause Breyer to dig in for the long haul. As the court’s current term ends, there’s no sign he’s ready to end his bright twilight as the court’s most prominent liberal voice.
The search in Surfside
The grisly search for victims goes on in Surfside, Florida, where a condo block crashed to the ground, killing at least 11 and leaving 150 unaccounted for. Damning details are beginning to emerge about the building’s condition: Revelations of extensive deterioration in the concrete and a massive bill facing residents for repairs suggest that a far wider crisis may be looming for the state of Florida and sun seekers who live there in search of their American dreams.
Several assessments of Champlain Towers South in recent years turned up serious decay in the building. Residents were also recently informed of a $15 million repair bill for which they would be liable. That adds up to $80,000 for owners of a one-bedroom apartment and $336,000 for someone living in a penthouse, which would be huge expenses for middle-class condo owners.
This tragedy has caused significant trauma in the US, where people who might not think twice about news of a building collapse abroad can’t quite believe it has happened in the Sunshine State. There is now new scrutiny about building codes when the towers were built 40 years ago, and the condition of other nearby buildings exposed to corrosive sea air.
Investigations will take months. But if it turns out that this disaster is part of a wider problem, it could call into question the entire premise of the Florida condo economy and the wisdom of investing in older buildings. This would especially be the case if factors like the building’s proximity to the sea or unstable soil conditions were to blame, in a region already experiencing significant environmental effects from global warming, rising sea levels and flooding.
‘That instinct … for the preservation of the human race’
Formed in the wake of Mexico City’s deadly 1985 earthquake, Mexico’s international rescue team Topos Azteca — the “Aztec moles” — has arrived in Florida to join search and rescue efforts in Surfside, where dozens of people from Latin America are still unaccounted for.
CNN’s Karol Suarez in Mexico City spoke with the emergency corps’ leader Hector Méndez, also known as Topo Mayor, or the “head mole.”
“I’ve been on this team since the earthquake in Mexico, and I’ve been all over the world; when you have already seen death, you have had the opportunity to rescue someone, when something serious like this happens, that instinct inside you awakes for the preservation of the human race,” he said.
Méndez previously worked as a volunteer in the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Although his team are heroes in Mexico, he recognized the delicacy of rushing into a busy search and rescue site in a foreign country: “I know the US way of work. You have to be patient and respectful; you have to wait for your turn because you’re coming from another country. We got permission; now we’re waiting for our turn.”
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