In the wake of two mass shootings—one at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and another at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas—the U.S. is again confronted with a heated debate about how to prevent such senseless acts of violence.
Most Americans agree that both mental illness and the ease of obtaining lethal weapons explain why these tragedies keep happening in the U.S. But once again, Washington seems unlikely to unify around a solution.
To prevent mass shootings, we must first agree on who is most likely to kill, and here the evidence is unambiguous: Individuals aged 18 to 20 are responsible for a disproportionate number of gun homicides.
It’s unsurprising, then, that most mass killers are mentally ill young men.
Most mass shooters would meet at least some of the conditions for a psychiatric disorder—just not necessarily a widely known, treatable mood disorder like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or a psychotic mood disorder. These are the types of disorders policymakers or commentators typically refer to when they discuss mental illness in this context; but contrary to popular belief, these mood disorders explain just a small fraction of mass shootings (eight percent, according to a recent Columbia University study). An entirely separate, lesser-understood category of psychiatric disorders—personality disorders—is to blame.
While mood disorders like the ones listed above are treatable conditions characterized by a disturbance in an individual’s emotional well-being, personality disorders are characterized by maladaptive beliefs and patterns of behavior affecting an individual’s relationships with others. The majority of individuals who display traits associated with these disorders do not commit crimes. But according to Columbia University psychiatrist Michael H. Stone, who specializes in personality disorders, “Persons committing murder and other forms of violent crime are likely to exhibit a personality disorder of one type or another.”
Especially common among mass killers are traits associated with narcissistic, antisocial, and paranoid personality disorders, and many of the maladaptive beliefs and behaviors associated with these disorders can be observed in the warning signs (threats of violence, attention-seeking behavior, deception, callousness, and a lack of empathy, for example) the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters (and many others) exhibited prior to their crimes. And, while racism and xenophobia are not among the diagnostic criteria for any particular disorder, they should not be discounted as warning signs. One recent study found that several traits associated with narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders were strong predictors of prejudicial behavior.
Unlike those suffering from mood disorders, individuals with personality disorders are typically unable to recognize the problems with their beliefs and behavior patterns and therefore rarely seek treatment. And for the small number who do, cognitive behavioral therapy is exceptionally difficult because deeply-ingrained, maladaptive thought patterns are hard to reframe. In a worst-case scenario, talk therapy can even exacerbate narcissistic or antisocial behaviors because these individuals may see it as a game in which the objective is to manipulate the clinician. And further, there are no medications approved to treat any personality disorders. This distinction from mood disorders is crucial due to its policy implications: While improving access to mental health care is a valuable goal in itself, such an intervention would be unlikely to prevent many of these atrocities.
So what can be done? While there are a variety of factors that contribute to these horrific crimes (including racism and other extremist ideologies in many cases), the bottom line is that we must keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Because individuals who commit mass murder typically show warning signs of violence but are largely incapable of seeking help for themselves, the responsibility to intervene often falls on family members and others (such as friends, teachers, law enforcement officers, and psychiatric professionals) who have relationships with them. Many states give these individuals the ability to file an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) under what is known as a “red flag” law. An ERPO is a petition to a judge to temporarily remove guns from someone who displays alarming behavior indicating that they could be a danger to themself or others. If approved by a judge, the ERPO also prevents the individual from purchasing new guns for a period of time.
While many of the current red flag laws are effective, they have not proven to be a panacea in all of the states where they are operable. New York is one of the 19 states with a red flag law on the books, but the law failed to prevent the recent shooting in Buffalo. Despite the fact that the killer expressed his desire to commit a murder-suicide in a school assignment, he passed a psychiatric evaluation after insisting the threat was a joke he made so that he could get out of class (he revealed in an online post that this story was a lie). The details of the evaluation are unclear, but one thing that is certain is nobody—not a single teacher, school administrator, or psychiatric professional aware of the threat—sought out an ERPO following this incident. As for the shooting in Uvalde, Texas does not have a red flag law on the books at all.
In 2019, the U.S. Congress considered bipartisan legislation that would have established a federal grant program to encourage states to implement red flag laws, but it never passed. Congress should pass a similar law now, and each state and locality that enacts a red flag law should embark on an extensive informational campaign to educate school administrators, mental health and psychiatric professionals, law enforcement, and the public about what the law would entail, when it should be utilized, and how individuals may go about filing an ERPO petition. These campaigns should also emphasize the importance of taking violent threats and other concerning behaviors seriously, especially given that individuals who truly intend to commit violent acts are often skilled manipulators prone to lying about their motivations.
The Uvalde shooting has prompted bipartisan talks on red flag laws in the Senate, and conservative commentators have also begun to show support for such laws. One such columnist, David French, wrote in an op-ed, “in every one of the deadliest school shootings, the shooter exhibited behavior before the shooting that could have triggered a well-drafted red flag law.” This statement is accurate: A National Threat Assessment Center study of school shootings between 2008 and 2017 found that 100% of the perpetrators exhibited “concerning behaviors” before their attacks. Further, 83% made threats or shared their plans with others.
Although some gun rights proponents have warned against the possibility that red flag laws could be used to unfairly confiscate guns from individuals who do not pose real threats, these laws typically come with strong due process protections. After a petitioner files an ERPO, a judge must hear from both the petitioner and the respondent in court before making a decision, and gun confiscations do not come with any criminal charges for the affected individuals. It is crucial to ensure that all potential petitioners are aware of this procedure and the fact that there are no negative consequences for filing an ERPO petition in good faith (false petitions are, however, punishable by law in most states).
By now, most Americans are well aware that young men are the most likely demographic category to present an extreme risk. Both the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters were 18 years old at the time of their attacks. In fact, the rate of gun homicides among individuals aged 18 to 20 is about four times higher than that for individuals aged 21 and older. The “age-crime curve,” the observation that criminal behavior increases during adolescence and tapers off in adulthood, is one of the most consistent findings across studies on criminality over time. The reason is partially rooted in psychology. According to Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, “[t]he preponderance of young men engaging in these deadly, evil, and stupid acts of violence may be a result of brains that have yet to fully develop.”
Many studies show that the prefrontal cortex of the human brain, which is responsible for impulse control, judgment, and long-range planning, continues to develop until at least age 26. Until the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, the limbic system, which is responsive to social and emotional factors and responsible for reward seeking, dominates the adolescent brain.
This is the reasoning behind minimum age regulations for other activities that pose a danger to health and safety, such as drinking alcohol (21), buying cigarettes (21), or renting a car (typically 20 or 21, with extra fees for renters under the age of 25).
However, federal law allows individuals as young as 18 to purchase a long gun, including an assault rifle like the ones the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters purchased legally and used in their massacres. Some states (but not Texas or New York) have set higher age minimums for the purchase of long guns. Federal law regulates handguns, which are used in the majority of gun homicides, slightly more strictly—the minimum age to buy a handgun is 21.
If Congress really wanted to make it harder for dangerous young men to obtain deadly weapons, they could set a minimum age of 21 to purchase a firearm (with exceptions for those in military service). Although majority-conservative panels of judges have recently struck down such laws at the state level, the results of a recent Harvard-Harris poll (conducted prior to the Uvalde shooting, but after the Buffalo shooting) revealed that 76% of voters would support raising the minimum age requirement for gun purchases to 21.
Following the Uvalde shooting, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein called for the Senate to revisit the Age 21 Act, which she and former Republican Senator Jeff Flake had originally proposed in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting in 2018. Referring to the two most recent mass shootings, she wrote in a press release, “Both these teenage shooters would have been turned away at a bar. But they were able to walk into gun stores and legally purchase one of the most deadly weapons available.” Similarly, in the House, Representatives Anthony G. Brown (D-MD) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) have renewed calls to support the bipartisan Raise the Age Act.
The United States unfortunately has decades of data proving that young, mentally ill men are the most likely to engage in mass shootings. Two common-sense measures—enacting red flag laws and raising the minimum age to buy a gun—preserve the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and most importantly, could preserve lives. Congress should act on both priorities now.
The recent leak of a draft Supreme Court decision written by Justice Samuel Alito—which, if finalized, would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case which legalized abortion—has dominated the news cycle in recent weeks. Ever since, many have wondered: Who was responsible for the leak? What are the relevant rules and regulations surrounding Supreme Court confidentiality? And what consequences will the leaker face, if any?
It may be awhile before we know answers to any of these questions. But The New Center did some digging to determine the most likely possibilities.
There are several theories as to who could have been responsible for the leak. The prevailing theory is that one of the 36 Supreme Court clerks, who are lawyers hired to assist the justices, leaked the document. While clerks are among the small circle of individuals with direct access to the justices and their work, these individuals also have a very strong incentive not to leak a draft decision. Committing such a breach of confidentiality would mean risking their future careers.
Supreme Court clerkships are among the most prestigious and sought after positions available to young lawyers. The Court receives over 1,000 clerkship applications each year from the brightest young lawyers in the country, and with only 36 positions available, it is typical for justices to hire only top graduates from the highest-ranked law schools. Given the prestige of these positions, those selected to fill them are afforded a wide range of desirable opportunities following their clerkships. For these reasons, Chicago-Kent law professor and former Supreme Court clerk Carolyn Shapiro believes leaking a draft decision would be “career suicide” for a clerk.
Although Supreme Court confidentiality rules are not codified in law, the institutional norms reinforcing confidentiality are strong. The Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees states that “a judicial employee should avoid making public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action.” While this code does not technically apply to Supreme Court employees, the justices regularly consult the code “to resolve specific ethical issues.”
Each new Supreme Court clerk is required to sign a confidentiality pledge, and according to South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman, Chief Justice John Roberts delivers a lecture to each new class of clerks warning that breaches of confidentiality will be punished. In an interview, former Supreme Court clerk Ian Samuel recalled a warning from the late Justice Antonin Scalia: “If I ever discover that you have betrayed the confidences of what goes on in these chambers, I will do everything in my power to ruin your career.”
While the leak of an entire draft opinion is unprecedented in Supreme Court history, there have been instances of individuals disseminating information about Court proceedings and impending decisions to the press. In fact, in 1972, The Washington Post published a story with inside information on the Court’s deliberations relating to the impending decision on Roe v. Wade. The article drew upon a leaked memo written by Justice William O. Douglas to his colleagues in which he expressed frustration with Chief Justice Warren Burger’s delay tactics and demanded “that the abortion decisions be reported out immediately.” The leaker was not identified. Months later, as the decision drew nearer, a Supreme Court clerk revealed the upcoming ruling to a Time magazine reporter under the condition that the story would not be published until the Court handed down their official opinion. However, the final decision was delayed, and the article appeared on newsstands hours before the ruling.
Throughout the 1970s, ABC reporter Tim O’Brien gained access to confidential information on Supreme Court rulings, and he never revealed how he received this information. And in more recent years, reporters have received inside information from “sources familiar with the inner workings of the Court” about how the justices have arrived at certain decisions after the fact. One such situation unfolded in 2004 when a group of clerks leaked confidential details about the Court’s deliberations in the controversial Bush v. Gore decision to Vanity Fair.
Chief Justice Roberts has ordered the Supreme Court marshal to investigate the leak of Justice Alito’s Roe memo, and some have called for the leaker to be prosecuted. Prosecution seems unlikely, as a draft Supreme Court opinion is not a classified document. But there is a slim possibility that a criminal investigation would be warranted depending on the specific circumstances of the leak once they are determined. Criminal prosecution could be on the table if, for example, the draft was obtained illegally. In a Twitter thread, U.C. Berkeley Law professor Orin Kerr wrote, “Perhaps someone or some institution hacked into the computer of someone who had a draft of the opinion. Or maybe someone stole a paper copy of the opinion from someone who had a copy. Both of those are federal crimes.”
Under 18 U.S.C. §1001, any instance of lying or cover-up during the investigation would also be grounds for prosecution. According to Boston College law professor and former Supreme Court clerk Kent Greenfield, questioning each possible leaker as to whether or not they were responsible could open the doors for a criminal investigation if nobody were to confess.
In terms of punishment for the leak itself, some commentators and legal scholars have pointed to 18 U.S.C. §641, which prohibits theft, embezzlement, or conversion of government property for one’s own use. However, the Justice Department has stated that this law should not be applied when the property in question is “intangible property, i.e., government information”, if it was obtained for the purpose of disseminating to the public, and it was not obtained via wiretapping, interception, or trespassing. Barring any new information uncovered in the investigation, the Supreme Court leak appears to meet these three criteria and therefore prosecuting someone under this law seems unlikely.
Ultimately, if the leak did come from a Supreme Court clerk, it seems unlikely they’d be prosecuted, but likely their future legal career options would be severely limited. If a clerk is not responsible, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one of the justices themselves leaked the document (according to Supreme Court historian Douglas Brinkley, for example, “[Justice William O.] Douglas leaked constantly to the press.”). While it is unclear exactly how the Supreme Court marshal will conduct the investigation, clerks, justices, and a select few additional staff members who would have had access to the document all seem to be likely targets for questioning.
The United States appears to be more polarized than ever. While many Americans hoped the divisiveness would wane with the conclusion of the Trump administration, it has continued and in some ways even escalated in the early days of the Biden administration—and the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on Roe v. Wade may fan the flames even more.
According to Pew Research Center, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have moved further to the left and right, respectively, over the past several decades. As a result, the two parties are now further apart ideologically than ever before. This has made it especially difficult for Congress to pass meaningful legislation on the issues voters care about the most.
These trends certainly appear to signal a bleak future. But there is a separate, more promising trend indicating the American people might be eager to mobilize to change the status quo. While the most extreme voices speak the loudest—and are further amplified in the media—more Americans now identify as political independents than as Republicans or Democrats, and this share has been increasing for decades. Further, according to Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans believe both political parties are too extreme in their positions.
In an April 2022 Harvard/Harris Poll, majorities of Americans said they did not think Joe Biden or Donald Trump should run for president in 2024. When asked if they would “consider a moderate independent candidate for president if the 2024 match was between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” 58% said yes.
Of course, openness to voting for a third-party candidate does not necessarily translate to actual votes, as the dominance of the two-party system throughout the past century and a half has prevented even those dissatisfied with the major-party candidates from casting what they perceive to be “throwaway” third-party ballots. The last time a third-party candidate received over 20% of the popular vote was 1912, when two-term president Teddy Roosevelt switched his affiliation to the Progressive “Bull Moose Party” and ran for a third term. And no third-party candidate has won a single electoral vote since 1968.
But then again, the American public has rarely been this dissatisfied with the direction of our country and the condition of our politics. And there are other signs the public is increasingly mobilizing behind more pragmatic, rather than extreme, leaders—regardless of their party labels. According to Morning Consult, the three governors with the highest approval ratings are moderate Republicans in solid blue states, indicating that they have successfully appealed to voters on both sides.
In both the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election, the big outstanding question is whether or not the growing share of Americans who want leaders to govern from the center will vote with the same enthusiasm as those on the fringes. Historically, individuals who identify as moderate or independent have been less likely than their more ideological peers to participate in elections or pay close attention to politics. This could be a reason why there is a slight negative correlation between a Senator’s willingness to work across the aisle (as measured by The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index) and his or her approval rating (given their lower levels of political engagement, independents are more inclined to select “don’t know/no opinion” on approval polls, leaving voters who are more ideological and more engaged to determine their final outcome). Moderates are often stereotyped as dull and uninspiring candidates, but in order to excite independent voters and ultimately drive them to the polls, they must rise above this characterization and present themselves as passionate leaders eager to get things done.
With pressing issues like rising inflation, energy security and climate change, immigration, and crime top of mind, Americans are tired of hearing calls to defund the police or ban children’s books from school libraries. Extremist rhetoric, the failure of Congress to pass meaningful legislation, and the rise of independent voters have led to a critical moment in which the center is poised to make an impact.
Even as energy costs continue to spiral in the U.S. and around the world, a recent Gallup survey found Americans still overwhelmingly support several key proposals aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
So why aren’t American voters putting more pressure on Congress to move major climate legislation?
It almost certainly comes back to Americans’ concerns about how any climate policies would impact their own personal finances. Even before the latest burst in energy prices worsened by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Americans were only willing to go so far to join the battle against climate change.
According to a 2021 survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC), a majority of Americans said they would be willing to pay one extra dollar on their monthly energy bills to combat climate change. But when that hypothetical cost increased to an extra $10 per month, only 35% of Americans said they would be willing to pay.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted in January 2022 asked respondents how they thought the increased production of renewables at the expense of fossil fuels would affect their household energy bills. The public was split, with as many respondents saying they believed prices would increase as those predicting a decrease. Both groups are partially correct—while it would be cost-effective in the long run, clean energy is a commodity with high upfront costs.
Wind and solar farms are more expensive to build than traditional fossil fuel plants due in part to the variety of minerals these technologies require. Further, the intermittent nature of wind and solar power means that they must be supplemented by fossil fuels or nuclear power to provide the baseload power utilities need to ensure the lights are always on. And transmission costs for renewables like wind and solar can be higher, as electricity from these sources must be transported from windy or sunny locations to populated areas. These factors would certainly be reflected in household energy bills in the short term, which has helped fuel the narrative that a clean energy transition would be too expensive for the U.S., or the world, to take on.
But there are some hopeful trends to suggest a transition to cleaner energy might not be as expensive as some Americans fear. Based on the increased efficiency of renewables and the current trajectory of technological advancements (for example, advancements in battery storage for wind and solar power could address the intermittency problem, and modernization of transmission infrastructure could lower associated costs), an increased reliance on renewables could actually result in household savings in the long run. According to the International Energy Agency, if global investment in clean energy were on track to reach decarbonization goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, the average household in an advanced economy would pay less for energy in 2030 than they do today. The Rhodium Group predicts that these energy bill savings would amount to between $400 and $600 annually compared to average 2020 costs.
Even with rapid expansion of renewables, the goal of achieving a fossil fuel-free future within the next decade is almost certainly not possible. Even as renewables’ share of American energy consumption has grown exponentially in recent years, fossil fuels account for about 80% of our overall energy usage today. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that fossil fuels will still account for 56% of U.S. energy consumption by 2050.
The American people desperately need some straight talk from Washington about what it will take for us to achieve the twin goals of energy security and climate change mitigation.
Many policymakers have responded to concerns about the costs of clean energy by claiming that we can’t afford not to combat climate change. They’re right, but they need to be more explicit about the fact that the clean energy transition will come with upfront costs and that some of the savings will be realized in the future.
Leaders in Washington hoping to take definitive action on climate would be wise to start framing the clean energy transition as a long-term investment and more directly addressing the ways in which it would affect American families.
Advancing clean energy to meet climate goals has been a signature priority of the Biden administration. But Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine has forced a crucial and long-ignored question to the fore:
Where will America get the raw materials required to build and deploy more clean energy technologies?
Minerals like copper, nickel, lithium, and cobalt—which must be extracted by mining—are key components of renewable technologies like electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines.
And right now, many of these minerals are mined in countries that are unstable or hostile to U.S. interests. Russia, for example, is the world’s second largest producer of cobalt and third largest producer of nickel. Meanwhile, large pockets of mineral reserves in the U.S. are going untapped due to pressure from anti-mining environmental activists.
The United States needs to confront a stark reality. We need cleaner energy sources, but we can’t expand them safely or reliably until we get serious about mining more of the minerals essential to these sources here at home.
Demand for critical minerals is projected to skyrocket as the world transitions to clean energy. According to the World Bank, production of minerals such as cobalt and lithium will need to increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet demand. To meet growing demand for copper, the world will need to produce as much of it over the next 25 years as it has in the last 5,000. Increasing production at this scale will certainly require a major mining expansion. The U.S., which has abundant reserves of many critical minerals, has a major role to play in meeting projected demand, and the Biden administration invoked the Cold War-era Defense Production Action and announced several new funding streams intended to boost domestic mining. However, this action comes after Biden administration regulators blocked multiple domestic mining proposals over the past year.
Ultimately, the U.S. has simply not built out the mining infrastructure necessary to take full advantage of its untapped resources, instead relying heavily on foreign imports.
The Mining Debate
Mining is energy intensive, meaning it inevitably produces greenhouse gas emissions. It can also have a significant impact on surrounding ecosystems and waterways. For these reasons, environmental groups have generally been effective in stalling or blocking mining projects in the U.S. via litigation. However, the production of clean energy technology does have a net positive impact on the environment in the long term. And the mining industry is a global market in which demand is only increasing. Simply put, if we don’t do it here, it will have to happen somewhere else.
Environmental and climate activists claim victory when their lawsuits are successful in halting domestic mining projects. But, while their concerns may be valid, their strategy is often counterproductive. No matter where they originate, greenhouse gas emissions have a global impact, and each domestic mine thwarted means another will be built overseas—likely in a country with lax environmental or labor regulations.
In some cases, the U.S. relies heavily on countries with lower-grade minerals than those available in the U.S. Nickel, for example, can be extracted from two types of mines—sulfide and laterite. Laterite mining comes with a larger carbon footprint, as it produces a lower-grade nickel which must be refined using extremely energy-intensive processes. Indonesia and the Philippines, the top two producers of nickel worldwide, largely rely on laterite mining, while several U.S. mines stuck in the permitting process and facing opposition are nickel sulfide mines.
Further, imports from anywhere are inevitably energy intensive. And, all climate impact aside, importing critical minerals often means funneling funding to our adversaries like China and Russia as well as other countries with longstanding records of human rights abuses, such as the Congo.
The chart below examines four minerals critical to the clean energy transition. These minerals are abundant in the U.S., but domestic reserves are being severely underutilized.
|Critical Mineral||Uses||Top Producers||U.S. Mining Production |
as % of Reserves
|U.S. Import Reliance|
|Cobalt||Electric vehicle batteries, other rechargeable batteries||Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Australia||<1%||76%|
|Copper||Wind turbines, solar power, electric vehicles||Chile, Peru, China||2.5%||38%|
|Lithium||Electric vehicle batteries, other rechargeable batteries||Australia, Chile, China||<1%||>50%|
|Nickel||Electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines||Indonesia, Philippines, Russia||5%||49%|
Minnesota as a Microcosm
One state in particular, Minnesota, illustrates some environmentalists’ counterproductive approach to mining.
According to the mining advocacy group Mining Minnesota, a volcanic outcropping called the Duluth Complex in the northeastern part of the state holds the world’s second largest copper deposit and its third largest nickel deposit. According to mining company Twin Metals, it contains 95% of the nation’s nickel reserves, 34% of the nation’s copper, and 88% of the nation’s cobalt. Minnesota is home to the nation’s only active nickel mine, but it is expected to close in 2025 once resources are depleted.
Two pending mining projects have made headlines in the past several years as the companies leading them have navigated the permitting process. After spending 14 years under environmental review, proposed copper-nickel mine Polymet finally received all of the necessary permits to begin construction in 2019. But, despite bipartisan support for the project in the state legislature, environmental groups have been effective in stalling the project, challenging the thoroughness of the review process in state and federal courts and arguing that certain permits should be revoked due to environmental concerns.
In January 2022, the Biden administration canceled two federal land leases held by Twin Metals, a proposed nickel, cobalt, and platinum mine in Minnesota. Twin Metals was in the middle of state and federal environmental review, but the process came to a halt with this decision. Environmental groups praised the decision, calling it “a major win” for the Boundary Waters, a nearby region characterized by a vast network of waterways.
But supporters of the project have been outspoken in their frustration. Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, explained, “the Biden administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, it wants domestic critical minerals for a supply chain to address climate change. And on the other hand, it’s locking us out of the vast majority of the U.S. supply of these metals.”
Both Polymet and Twin Metals are sulfide mines as opposed to the energy-intensive laterite mines in Indonesia and the Philippines which produce a majority of the world’s supply. And Twin Metals has committed to using an almost exclusively electric fleet of vehicles, which will reduce the mine’s greenhouse gas emissions by 65%.
Climate Mitigation Strategies
It is clear that America cannot make the transition to clean energy without scaling up mining production. But the concerns of environmental groups opposing new mining projects are not without merit—mining does have a significant impact on the environment. While increasing mining production, the U.S. can and should focus on ways to mitigate this impact and make mining as eco-friendly as possible.
One way to do this involves providing incentives for recycling. Lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, smartphones, and laptops, for example, can be recycled, and all of their mineral components can be reused. Recycling could reduce the need for mining raw materials, but the U.S. currently recycles only five percent of its lithium-ion batteries. Due to a historical lack of recycling incentives, there are only a few mineral recycling facilities operating in the U.S. However, President Biden and the Department of Energy have announced plans to provide funding support for new battery recycling facilities.
In addition to recycling, the U.S. needs to improve its mineral processing capabilities. Following extraction, minerals must be refined and processed. China is a leader in mineral processing, and there are only a handful of processing plants in the U.S. Most of the minerals extracted in the U.S. are sent to China for processing. The U.S. should scale up mineral processing, which would be even simpler than scaling up mining, as it would not come with nearly as many regulatory hurdles.
Another glaring issue is that mining companies are not required by law to clean up abandoned mines. As a result, there are about 500,000 abandoned mines in the U.S., many of which are still polluting waterways and surrounding ecosystems. Mining in the U.S. is governed by the General Mining Law of 1872, a relic of the California gold rush. Reforms to the law are past due to ensure that mining companies bear full responsibility for their environmental impact.
Beyond improving our recycling and processing capabilities and ensuring that abandoned mines are cleaned up, the U.S. must prioritize the most environmentally friendly mining techniques available. As discussed above, sulfite nickel mining should be a priority, as it is much less energy intensive than laterite nickel mining. And new technologies to extract lithium with a net-zero carbon footprint are also being developed by private companies with the help of federal funding.
Currently, most lithium mining either involves drilling directly into the earth—a process which comes with a large carbon footprint, or extracting the mineral from a salt brine—an extremely water-intensive process which typically occurs in places where water is scarce to begin with. Direct lithium extraction would not require construction of any new facilities, as it would make use of geothermal plants already in operation. These plants operate by extracting a saline solution enriched with minerals, such as lithium, from deep underground. Heat and steam are extracted from the solution, leaving the minerals behind. This technique is being tested in the U.S., and if it proves to be feasible, eleven existing geothermal plants along the Salton Sea in California could produce ten times the current U.S. demand for lithium. Investment in technologies such as direct lithium extraction will be crucial as America scales up mining production to prepare for a cleaner energy future.
President Joe Biden recently announced his nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—the first Black woman in history to earn such a nomination—to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. This historic nomination will kick off a series of confirmation hearings as part of a process that has become increasingly vitriolic and contentious in recent years.
With the nation’s highest court entering the spotlight once again, America has a new opportunity to address the blatant partisanship that plagues it and examine ways to restore public trust in the Court as an institution.
Trust in the Supreme Court has been on a steady decline for decades. In a September 2021 Gallup poll, only 54% of surveyed Americans said they had at least a fair amount of trust and confidence in the Supreme Court—down from 66% in 2010 and 75% in 2000. In a January 2022 Pew Research Center poll, 84% of respondents said they believed Supreme Court justices should set aside their personal political views when making decisions on major cases, but only 17% believed the justices were doing a good or excellent job of adhering to this principle. And they are largely correct—when a particularly partisan or charged issue is at stake, Supreme Court decisions have become increasingly divided along predictable ideological lines.
The Justices themselves have voiced concerns about the future of their institution. Following the heated confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Justice Elena Kagan explained, “The court’s strength as an institution of American governance depends on people believing it has a certain kind of legitimacy—on people believing it’s not simply just an extension of politics, that its decision-making has a kind of integrity to it. If people don’t believe that, they have no reason to accept what the court does.”
To this end, the Supreme Court is due for structural reforms to help depoliticize it. But, as we have discussed in a previous post on Congressional stock trading, trust in any government institution is not just about how well it performs—it’s also about optics. Given this, the decisions Supreme Court justices make in their lives outside the courtroom can be just as important in shaping public trust as their rulings on the bench.
Although Supreme Court justices claim that they are nonpartisan interpreters of the law, they are doing a poor job of demonstrating this to the public. For example, it is not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to speak at events hosted by explicitly partisan organizations despite widespread public disapproval of this practice. In a survey conducted by political scientists at Syracuse University and Purdue University, a majority of respondents said they believed it was inappropriate for a Supreme Court justice to speak at a meeting hosted by a political organization.
It is true that a majority of the Supreme Court Justices’ speaking engagements are hosted by law schools, bar associations, and cultural organizations. But many others are hosted by explicitly partisan groups. All six conservative justices (and none of the liberal justices) on the Supreme Court have spoken at events hosted by the Federalist Society, a highly influential force dedicated to advancing the conservative legal movement and solidifying a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, all three liberal justices (and none of the conservative justices) have spoken at events sponsored by the American Constitution Society, a newer organization that aspires to be a liberal counterweight to the Federalist Society.
Last year, Justice Amy Coney Barrett gave a speech in which she argued that the Supreme Court “is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” Ironically, this speech was delivered alongside Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking Senate Republican, at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at several events hosted by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, and in 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at an event hosted by the conservative Fund for American Studies held at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
While the sitting liberal justices largely stick to the American Constitution Society when it comes to partisan speaking engagements, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a toast at a gala celebrating the 100th anniversary of liberal magazine The New Republic in 2014. She also faced criticism for a 2016 interview in which she expressed her strong disapproval of then-candidate Donald Trump.
Another way in which Supreme Court justices reinforce mistrust involves their frequent failure to recuse themselves from cases when personal conflicts of interest arise. One recent example involves Justice Clarence Thomas, who failed to recuse himself from a case involving the House investigation of the January 6 insurrection despite the fact that his wife had previously praised the insurrectionists and condemned the investigation. The Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the investigation, with Thomas as the only dissenter.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the subject of the most recent Supreme Court confirmation spectacle, was confirmed with the help of several activist groups. One such group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), spent over $1 million in support of her confirmation. After Barrett was confirmed, she failed to recuse herself from a case in which AFP was the plaintiff, and she joined the conservative majority in support of AFP.
Justice Elena Kagan served as the U.S. Solicitor General prior to her Supreme Court nomination—a role in which she represented the federal government in Supreme Court cases. The Court has revisited several of these cases in the years since Kagan joined the bench, but she has failed to recuse herself from several of them.
Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Gorsuch each have book deals with the publishing company Penguin Random House. In 2019, Breyer was the only justice to recuse himself from a copyright infringement suit involving the company. (Breyer’s recusal was likely due to the fact that a company founded by his wife’s family owned a large stake in Penguin Random House at the time.)
Some have argued that Supreme Court justices who speak at partisan events or decide against recusal are technically within their rights, as there is no clear, enforceable code of conduct governing their behavior (the Code of Conduct for United States Judges applies to federal judges on lower courts, but not Supreme Court justices). While this may be true, it is largely irrelevant to the discussion of Supreme Court legitimacy, as the simple appearance of impropriety is enough to shape a negative public perception of the Court.
Adoption of a code of conduct (which the justices could choose to do collectively, or which could be mandated by an act of Congress) would certainly be a welcome change for the Supreme Court. But if individual justices want to take an even simpler step to protect the legitimacy of their institution, they can each be much more selective about the forums they attend and much more willing to recuse themselves from cases when they might have a conflict of interest. These are two relatively small changes that could significantly impact public trust for the better.
To hear Republicans tell it, they had to pass dozens of new state voting laws to counteract rampant voter fraud by Democrats.
To hear Democrats tell it, they have to pass a sprawling federal election bill to counteract rampant Republican voter suppression.
They are both wrong. In recent elections, fraud has been so rare that it’s almost nonexistent. According to an analysis of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation’s election fraud database by researchers at MIT, only about 0.00006% of all votes cast over the past 20 years have been fraudulent. And if Republicans are trying to suppress votes, they are doing a terrible job of it considering voter turnout—including among Black voters, Hispanic voters, and young people—grew significantly between the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Now, of course, there’s fear among Democrats that new Republican voting laws at the state level will reverse this progress and reduce voter turnout among key Democratic constituencies. And Republicans believe their restrictions will go a long way in preventing voter fraud. But if history is any guide, neither is likely to happen. Just consider several studies on the impact of voter ID, no-excuse mail-in voting, and early voting rules:
- Voter ID: A 2021 study published in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics analyzed ten years’ worth of elections to assess the impact of voter ID laws on voter turnout and election fraud. The authors found no negative impact on voter turnout, perhaps because the enactment of these laws mobilized campaigns to contact voters and inform them of the requirements. Further, these laws had no impact on actual or perceived voter fraud.
- No-Excuse Mail-In Voting: A Stanford University study analyzed the effects of no-excuse mail voting on turnout in the 2020 election. Turnout did increase in states that implemented this change in advance of the 2020 election, but no more than it did in other states. They also found that there was no partisan advantage to no-excuse absentee voting—while the number of Democrats who chose to vote by mail increased, this was offset by a decline in their rate of in-person voting.
- Early Voting: In 2016, the Government Accountability Office reviewed 20 studies on the effects of early in-person voting. A majority of these studies found that early in-person voting had an insignificant or even negative impact on turnout. One possible explanation is that spreading out the election period might remove some of the social and party-driven pressure associated with a single day of voting.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t care about optimizing voter access and election security. We should, and after a 2020 election in which so many different rules and procedures were changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, American elected officials need to work to find a new normal that preserves and expands voter access while also ensuring the integrity of elections.
But that’s impossible in our current environment in which every proposed or passed election rule change is framed as a crime against our democracy. In the end, changing some of the particulars around voter ID, no-excuse mail voting, and early voting doesn’t do much to determine who votes and who does not.
So what does?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, lack of interest in the election, the candidates, or the issues was the most common reason why non-voters did not participate in the 2020 election.
Politicians on both sides would be doing all Americans a favor if they spent less time hyping threats to our elections and more time convincing people why they should show up in the first place.
Over a year has passed since the contentious 2020 election, and America is no closer to ending its endless war over voting. Nineteen Republican states have plowed ahead with partisan changes to their own voting and election procedures, while Democrats in Congress continue to push for expansive federal legislation to curb the Republicans’ moves and to advance Democratic voting and election priorities. But it has become clear that any sweeping, partisan election reform package is doomed to fail in Congress, so it’s time for Washington to focus on more targeted reforms that are both politically feasible and that would actually solve real problems as opposed to just currying partisan advantage.
While Democrats have fixated on ballot access and Republicans on election security, these don’t need to be competing priorities. In fact, one measure in particular—designating Election Day as a national holiday—could serve to advance both. It should appeal to Democrats, as it makes voting more accessible to workers and parents who otherwise might not be able to get time off to vote. And it should appeal to Republicans because it promotes more in-person voting and the extra security that comes with it.
Despite record-high turnout in the 2020 election, about one-third of all eligible voters—80 million people—did not vote. Apathy about politics and dislike of the candidates were largely to blame, but these motives don’t tell the whole story. When asked in a Census Bureau survey why they abstained from participating in the 2020 election, 13.1% of nonvoters cited their busy or conflicting schedules.
Most developed countries hold their national elections on a weekend, and a handful of others hold them on a weekday but designate election day as a national holiday. In several cases, countries that hold their elections on non-work days have performed better than the U.S. with respect to voter turnout. For example, in their most recent parliamentary or presidential elections, Sweden (Sunday election day) and South Korea (national holiday) saw turnout rates of 87.2% and 77.2%, respectively.
Of course, we cannot attribute such high turnout rates to this factor alone. Designating election day as a national holiday will not be a silver bullet, but it would be a meaningful step in the right direction—and something both parties should be able to agree on.
One way this could work in practice, as proposed by the Brookings Institution, could involve moving Veterans’ Day to Election Day. Veterans’ Day is about one week after Election Day in November, and moving it would both eliminate the need for a new holiday and “emphasiz[e] that voting is both a service to the country and a celebration of the rights and freedoms for which our servicemembers fight.”
If Democrats and Republicans truly care about improving voter access and election security, designating Election Day as a national holiday is a logical place to start.
Earlier this summer, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) appeared on the cusp of forging a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on reforming policing in America. But there are still a few outstanding issues, and one in particular—qualified immunity—appears to be the biggest hurdle left to clear.
Qualified immunity has never been codified in law; rather, the original qualified immunity doctrine was established by the Supreme Court in 1967 as a way to protect law enforcement officers accused of misconduct from civil liability if they could prove they acted in “good faith and [with] probable cause.” This standard protected officers who made mistakes despite good intentions, but allowed for those who committed more egregious or intentional acts of misconduct to be held accountable.
However, this “good faith” standard is no longer in use. In 1982, the Supreme Court relaxed its standards for granting qualified immunity in such a way that it is now virtually impossible to find law enforcement officers individually liable for civil damages. In an effort to remove some subjectivity from qualified immunity decision making, the Supreme Court ruled in Harlow v. Fitzgerald that law enforcement officers would be entitled to qualified immunity as long as they did not “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
Under this “clearly established law” standard, even if an officer’s actions are intentional or malicious, a victim cannot file suit unless there is an exact judicial precedent in that jurisdiction demonstrating the unlawfulness of the conduct in question. If a victim wishes to sue a law enforcement officer, the facts of the incident in question must be virtually identical to those in a previously decided case. In 2020, Institute for Justice attorney Joshua Windham argued, “Qualified immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought of before.”
This isn’t a hypothetical—it’s happened before.
In 2014, after following a suspect into Amy Corbitt’s Douglas, Georgia yard, a police officer fired his gun at a non-threatening pet dog. He missed, hitting Corbitt’s 10-year-old son in the leg. Corbitt filed suit, but the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that “Corbitt failed to present [the court] with any materially similar case… that would have given [the officer] fair warning that his particular conduct violated the Fourth Amendment.”
In 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted qualified immunity to an officer who, without justification, attacked an inmate with pepper spray in his cell. In his dissent, Judge Gregg Costa expressed disapproval of the doctrine that led to the Court’s decision: “Despite recognizing that an unprovoked assault violates the Constitution, the majority grants the guard immunity because we have not decided a similar case involving pepper spray.” (A similar case cited by the plaintiffs involved an officer tasing an inmate for no reason.)
It is worth noting, however, that the idea behind qualified immunity makes sense. As the Supreme Court explained in 2011, “[T]he doctrine of qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” A law enforcement officer must make split-second decisions without inhibition, and in the absence of qualified immunity, the fear of liability could reasonably compromise an officer’s ability to perform this role effectively.
Some who support maintaining the current qualified immunity standard also point out that a repeal of the doctrine could adversely impact police recruitment and retention at a moment when police departments nationwide are dealing with officer shortages. According to a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey, the retirement rate for law enforcement officers was 45% higher between 2020 and 2021 than in the previous year.
But, as many Democrats as well as jurists claim, unrestricted protections not only make it difficult to hold officers accountable for their actions after the fact, but can also incentivize them to err on the side of excessive force. In a 2015 dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that qualified immunity gives rise to a “‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing.”
In general, Republicans are supportive of maintaining qualified immunity while Democrats want to see it overhauled.
Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has expressed his willingness to compromise on the issue, suggesting a reform that would involve liability for police departments rather than individual officers. Scott has been involved in bipartisan talks with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), but these negotiations are at a standstill.
One option for compromise, which lawmakers have yet to discuss openly, would involve keeping qualified immunity but reverting back to the 1967 “good faith and reasonableness” standard. According to the nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice, “Under that standard, at least intentional and obvious constitutional violations would not be protected. This middle position would eliminate many of the problems created by the impossibly specific ‘clearly established’ requirement.”
Clearly, qualified immunity in its current form is not working as intended. Lawmakers must examine all available options for bipartisan reform before forfeiting their efforts.
The American public is clear on what it wants from its elected officials: in a recent poll conducted by George Washington University, 79% of Americans said they “prefer politicians who compromise and get things done rather than standing on principle and not acting.”
Specifically, in this moment, Americans are eager for Congress to find the common ground necessary to pass another COVID-19 relief bill. According to an August NPR/Ipsos poll, 65% of respondents were in favor of a new package that would include another round of stimulus checks, and 63% were in favor of renewing the extended unemployment benefits program.
On Tuesday, the House Problem Solvers Caucus—a bloc of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans committed to finding bipartisan policy solutions—answered this call for compromise with a COVID-19 relief policy framework entitled “March for Common Ground.” The proposal bridged the divide on some of the thorniest issues that had been dividing the two parties including aid for small businesses, states and localities, COVID testing, and election security.
At $1.52 trillion, this relief package strikes a balance between the $3 trillion Democratic proposal passed in the House and the $650 billion “skinny” relief bill that Republicans had been debating. This breakthrough is an encouraging testament to the fact that bipartisanship is alive and well—even in an era of intense polarization.
However, following a conference call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) just a few hours after the proposal’s release, eight House Democratic committee chairs released a joint statement dismissing the bill as one that “falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy.” Understandably, this election-year politicking frustrated the Problem Solvers.
Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) called it “unacceptable that congressional leadership is not at the table when businesses are closing, Americans are out of work, and families need help.” Similarly, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) remarked, “my conviction is to actually do my goddamn job and come up with a solution for the American people.”
They’re right to be unhappy, and they are speaking for the vast majority of the country. The American public could not be clearer about what it wants from its leaders during this economic and public health crisis. Hopefully, House and Senate leadership will recognize this before it’s too late and get moving on a bipartisan relief bill that looks something like what the Problem Solvers proposed.