Have you noticed something different about CNN in the past few weeks?
Sure, its round-the-clock coverage of the COVID-19 coverage is repetitive, urgent and filled with expert opinion and commentary. You’d expect nothing less from the cable network. I know I can turn the station on at any time for an update.
But in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a glaring gap – the absence of legal commentary. What’s become of The New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin, or the surrogates for the various presidential candidates? It’s as though this pandemic were evolving in a legal vacuum.
Oh, the law gets referred to time and again.
Last night, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on camera stating that should President Trump quarantine New York and several New England states, it would be civil-war like. The governor also announced he might file suit against Rhode Island on behalf of New Yorkers harassed upon entering seeking refuge there from the viral hotspot that has become New York City.
You would think that might get the lawyers talking. After all, we endured endless discussions about what obstruction of justice entailed during the recent impeachment of the president. And we heard hour upon of hour of speculation about just where Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling might lead.
These were important controversies, and they merited the attention of the viewing public. Lawyers contributed greatly to understanding what was at stake.
The pandemic yields more fundamental challenges, changes that will affect us all, not just the political elite.
This virus changes everything, we’re told, over and over again. And then we endure coverage of mass quarantines, the shuttering of business, travel restrictions, and states treating one another’s citizens as foreign invaders.
Do we get a discussion of whether these steps and moves are justified as a matter of state and federal law? What about the shifting balance between state and federal powers, a perpetual theme in a federal republic? What about the right to interstate travel? What about fundamental rights, and role of reasonableness in shedding light on constitutional doctrine?
Or how about an examination of the corrosive impact that panic can have on legal doctrine?
Or what to do about vindicating fundamental rights when courts throughout the country are all but closed? Not a whisper. Not a whimper.
Instead ,we get the Cuomo brothers – Governor Andrew and anchor Chris – engaged in on camera brotherly jousting that gives an entirely new and insipid meaning to the term nepotism.
Instead, the medical profession governs. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on morning, noon, and night. The message is always the same – a medical prescription for what ails us. That prescription is offered to a body politic of a certain sort – our Constitution defines our properties. Shouldn’t the doctor, or at least CNN, give at least passing consideration to whether the cure prescribed can take hold given the patient’s constitution?
Can you quarantine a free people any more than you can teach a butterfly to walk? Not a word.
Yes, Donald Trump is inconsistent, a prevaricator, a blowhard. Yet his approval ratings increase, as do those of national leaders in times of crisis. What value does endless repetition of his acts and omissions have? But yet, you can count on Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blizter and Erin Burnett to list them all. It’s like being scolded by your spouse for comments made at dinner party a decade ago.
By all means, focus instead on Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Gupta. They are reliable doctors. They know medicine and public health. I learn from them.
But rather then tell us to follow their prescriptions blindly, at least discuss with us the legal environment in which the momentous changes in our lives are taking place. What will the republic look like when the pandemic passes? Where do people turn to what the courts are closed and government overreaches? Can the checks and balances of the separation of powers doctrine work when the courts are closed?
CNN can do better. It routinely does.
The shock of this new world of ours is passing. It’s time to get back to basics, and to discussions of the basic laws that govern our lives.
So ordered, CNN. You just reported Dr. Fauci's latest estimate that as many as 100,000 of us will die in the pandemic. Tell us what that means for the 371,100,000 who will survive.