Analyst uses Jenga to show ACA's vulnerability at SCOTUS

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig looks at the various legal battles Trump could face if he loses the presidential election, and how his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could impact the Affordable Care Act if she is confirmed by the Senate.
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Polls show Trump is losing ground where the coronavirus is surging
A demonstrator stands outside of a campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence at Weldall Manufacturing on October 13 in Waukesha, Wisconsin — one of the states with the highest rate of new coronavirus infections. | Scott Olson/Getty Images Will the latest Covid-19 wave seal Trump’s fate in the election? The third — and largest — coronavirus wave is hitting the US just in time for the presidential election, with surges in key Midwestern swing states. Numerous polls suggest voters may be taking their pandemic pain and panic with them to the ballot boxes in these places: President Donald Trump isn’t just down in national polls — he’s faring especially poorly in battlegrounds where infection rates are spiking. Over the last two weeks, the coronavirus case count in Wisconsin — where Trump won by a single percentage point in 2016 — has jumped 36 percent, to an average of 4,200 new infections per day. And that’s just among the people who’ve been diagnosed. The test positivity rate in the state is a staggering 28 percent, according to, and health officials have already had to transform the state fair park into a field hospital to manage the crush of new patients. The situation is nearly as worrisome in Michigan: Cases there have risen 73 percent in the last two weeks, to 2,600 per day, while the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital has more than doubled since the end of September. It’s another swing state, which Trump won by an even tinier margin of 0.3 percent in 2016. In these places, and the states around them, the majority of voters apparently prefer Biden. That has mostly been the state of things for some time, but is perhaps even clearer as Election Day approaches. “Biden is doing well everywhere — but his leads are even more solid in places where the coronavirus is hitting the hardest,” said Mike Greenfield, the chief executive officer of Change Research, who has been tracking the impact of the pandemic on voter decision-making. Consider the recent data: According to a pair of Washington Post-ABC News polls, likely voters in Michigan have put Biden ahead of Trump 51 percent to 44 percent, while a Financial Times analysis of RealClearPolitics polling data gives Biden a 7.9 point lead. In Wisconsin, the Post-ABC polls favor Biden by a stunning 17 points, and again, the FT finding was more modest — a 6.8-point edge for the Biden. Registered voters also favor Biden in both states, according to the Post-ABC, which found the Democrat is more trusted when it comes to the pandemic response than Trump. There has also been a small recent shift in Biden’s favor in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. In states that border Wisconsin, including Iowa and Minnesota, Biden is also polling well, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis. In Iowa, a RABA Research poll has Biden at 50 percent and Trump at 46 percent; a Gravis Marketing survey has Biden carrying Minnesota by 14 points. These findings square with Change Research’s analysis. Looking at 110,000 survey responses from a variety of polls between June and October, they found whether a state was experiencing a Covid-19 spike or not moved the election by 3 percentage points on average. The trend even held for Trump supporters. Overall, voters who favored Trump in 2016 and who are living in states with higher Covid-19 rates are about 50 percent more likely than voters in states where the virus is better controlled to support Biden in 2020, Change Research found. “We suspect that Biden’s especially strong lead in Wisconsin is the result of people seeing the ineffectiveness of Trump’s policies in that state,” Greenfield said. We won’t really know the extent to which the spread of Covid-19 in swing states might influence the election until after November 3 — when all the ballots are counted. Voting decisions are complicated, polls can mislead, and we’ll need more data to gauge how much coronavirus motivated decision-making. At the same time, the pandemic has emerged as a key election issue, one that has deeply affected, and continues to affect, all voters’ lives — how they give birth and say goodbye to loved ones who’ve died, how they work (if they still work), shop for groceries, and whether their kids can go to school or college. Most Americans are somewhat or very worried about both being infected by the virus and virus’s effects on the economy. “[People in] places that were hit hard or are currently being hit hard are going to be looking to some solutions for their day-to-day problems,” said Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. They “may be looking to find a solution in the other candidate,” he added. From failing to get Covid-19 testing up and running, to sidelining America’s leading public health agency, to politicizing mask wearing and lying about the danger of the virus, the Trump administration has grossly mishandled the pandemic. And these public health failures don’t even account for the collateral damage from the virus: the stock market is cratering, there are record unemployment claims, people are losing their health insurance and homes, and more Americans are literally going hungry. Rebuilding from the pandemic will take a war-time effort, at a moment when 1,000 Americans are dying each day from the disease. “It is not surprising to me that voters are recognizing the sheer incompetence of the current administration — some of it deliberate — at this task,” Adalja added. Days before the election, Trump is still lying about the reality of the pandemic. “We’re rounding the turn,” he said at an October 25 rally in Lumberton, North Carolina. “Our numbers are incredible.” Biden has cast himself as the candidate who will help America rebuild. There’s no overstating the size of the challenge the former vice president faces in doing that — but he’s the candidate who is owning up to the scale of the problem, said Shannon Monnat, professor and co-director of the Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab at Syracuse University. “The president has been asking Americans to deny what they see happening right in front of them,” she added. “People are tired. They want to see some leadership and a coordinated national coronavirus response.” Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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The Loneliest Planets in the Galaxy
The Milky Way is home to hundreds of billions of stars, and many more planets. Some come in sets, as in our own solar system. But not every planet orbits a star.Some planets actually wander the galaxy alone, untethered. They have no days or nights, and they exist in perpetual darkness. In a kitschy NASA collection of travel posters for destinations beyond Earth, one of these cold worlds is advertised with the motto: “Visit the planet with no star, where the nightlife never ends.”Astronomers call these worlds free-floating, or rogue, planets. They are mysterious objects, and a small group of researchers around the world is dedicated to studying them. Of the thousands of planets that scientists have detected beyond our solar system so far, only about a dozen are sunless and coasting on their own, somewhere between us and the center of the Milky Way. At least, astronomers think they are. “We are sure that these objects are planets,” Przemek Mroz, an astronomer at Caltech, told me. “We are not fully sure whether these objects are free-floating or not.”Mroz has spent perhaps as much time thinking about these strange objects as anyone on Earth. He and his team just announced another finding—the smallest known rogue planet—today. The object is between the masses of Earth and Mars, a blip in interstellar space so relatively tiny that it might seem insignificant. But according to scientists’ best theories about the way planetary systems arise all across the universe, rogue worlds should exist.[Read: The curious case of the evaporating exoplanet]The term rogue planet suggests that these objects desert their stars on purpose, striking out on their own to carve a new path through the Milky Way. In reality, rogue planets are usually kicked out of their star system, banished to a solitary existence circling the center of the galaxy.The beginnings of a planetary system, including our own, are thought to be quite messy. As planets swirl into shape out of the cosmic fog surrounding a newborn star, they jostle one another around. The gravitational game of pool can shove planets toward the edges of a system, and even eject them altogether. Nearby stars can scramble planets too. Most stars are not born alone, but in clusters of dozens to thousands, and in such a crowded environment, a passing star with its own entourage of planets could whisk away a planet from another, keeping it for itself or casting it out into space.Some solitary planets might form another way, without the help of a parent star. These worlds emerge from collapsed clouds of gas and dust, as stars do, but they don’t have enough mass to spark the nuclear reactions that make stars shine. These objects, known as “failed stars”—wow, astronomers—resemble planets from afar.Rogue planets are extremely difficult to detect; astronomers can’t search for them like they do exoplanets, which reveal their presence by gently tugging at their parent stars or briefly blocking out their light as they go around. On the loose and nearly invisible, rogue planets evade detection in much the same way that black holes do.[Read: A breakthrough way to see distant planets]So astronomers rely on a cosmic quirk of gravity. Imagine a line of sight from Earth’s telescopes to a distant star. When an object crosses that line, its presence can bend and magnify the star’s light, making the star appear more luminous than usual to us. The duration of the brightening signals the nature of the object responsible—a brightening that lasts several days indicates a star, a day means a Jupiter-mass object, and hours suggest something equaling the mass of Earth. The rogue planet recently discovered by Mroz’s team signaled its existence for just a few hours.The tricky part is figuring out whether rogue planets are, in fact, rogue. The stars whose light they bend can’t be their parent stars because they’re simply too far away. And even if a parent star were closer by, it would be impossible to see through the luminous star’s glare. Astronomers must wait years, usually a decade, for the luminous star to move before they can check for a parent star. If no such star appears, the planet is probably going solo. The process takes long enough that scientists haven’t reached this milestone for any of the dozen rogue-planet candidates, including the latest, tiniest addition.Mroz and other astronomers studying rogue planets don’t know how many of these worlds might be coasting through the Milky Way, nor do they know much about the ones they’ve found so far. They can discern the mass of an object through their observation and compare it with worlds in our own solar system—objects with masses similar to those of Earth and Mars, for example, are probably rocky, while objects as massive as Neptune and Uranus are icy. But those analogies cannot fill in the details of rogue planets’ unknown surfaces, or the atmospheres that separate them from space.There’s no doubt about one thing: Without a star to warm themselves by, rogue planets must be frozen—if not to their core, certainly at their outermost layer. They might not be so alone, either; planets could take their moons with them when they’re hurled out of their cosmic homes.[Read: A faraway solar system is an uncanny reflection of our own]As they roam through the galaxy, what can happen to rogue planets? Could a free-floating world find a home out there with a different star? Michael Liu, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, thinks it’s unlikely. Interstellar space is quite, well, spacious, and it’s difficult for even a hefty star to slow down and lasso a fast-moving planet. In 2017, an interstellar asteroid the size of a skyscraper barreled right through our solar system and just kept going. “Normally, things just whiz by each other,” Liu says.Could something bigger—an entire rogue planet—catch us by surprise as that asteroid did? The answer to this unnerving question depends on how common rogue planets are. “Do I worry about a free-floating planet hitting the solar system? No, but maybe I should?” says Jennifer Yee, an astrophysicist at Harvard who uses the same line-of-sight technique to find exoplanets. “It really depends on how many there are. If there are one per star, it isn’t very likely that we would run into one.”A surprise visit from a rogue planet would present astronomers with a great research opportunity. It would also likely terrify the rest of us. “Probably we would be fine because the solar system itself is pretty empty,” Yee says. “On the other hand, depending on how massive the planet is, it might perturb the orbits of the existing planets, which could be bad.”The orbits of our planets will someday become perturbed anyway. About 5 billion years from now, our sun—that glowing, life-giving, seemingly immutable orb—will start to die. The star will lose mass until it can no longer hold onto its outermost planets. Neptune and Uranus—and Pluto too—will probably become rogue planets. They will drift away, taking their icy atmospheres with them. Unbothered by the cold of interstellar space, the planets will remain mostly unchanged, relics of a solar system that once huddled close around a warm sun.[Read: The mystery at the center of the solar system]Earth will meet a different fate. Dying stars lose mass because they eject gas and dust in all directions, leaving exposed their spent cores. Our planet is expected to become enveloped in this hot mist and vaporized.For now, Earth remains safely tucked into the solar system, on a cozy orbit from which we can look out at other, lonelier worlds. Astronomers are eager for the launch of a new telescope scheduled for the mid-2020s. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope—named for NASA’s first female executive, recognized for helping make the agency’s best-known space telescope, the Hubble, a reality—will have an exquisite view of the night sky. Free from the atmosphere that often stymies ground telescopes, Roman, as the telescope is called, will peer toward the heart of the Milky Way, crowded with stars. A recent study predicted that Roman could detect hundreds of rogue planets, and would provide the best estimate for these worlds yet. Right now, estimates range from tens of billions to trillions.Roman might find fewer true rogue planets than astronomers expect, or perhaps none at all. Their obsession could turn out to be a very minor footnote in the galaxy’s story. Or it could change our understanding of the place we live. Sam Johnson, a graduate astronomy student at the Ohio State University and the lead author of the Roman study, likes to imagine himself on one of these worlds, blanketed in pure darkness, the rest of the Milky Way stretching out in front of him. “They can feel pretty lonely, I would imagine,” Johnson says.
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