The Excerpt podcast: Supreme Court adopts code of conduct for first time

On today’s episode of The Excerpt podcast: USA TODAY Supreme Court Correspondent John Fritze breaks down the high court’s decision to adopt a code of conduct. Gaza hospitals face dire conditions. President Joe Biden’s issues with his party’s left flank are on display at the APEC summit. USA TODAY Congress, Campaigns and Democracy Reporter Rachel Looker talks about proposed legislation around insulin deserts. A missing hiker has been found dead, while his dog was found next to him alive.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:…………

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson, and today is Tuesday, November 14th, 2023. This is The Excerpt.

Today what a Supreme Court Code of Conduct means for justices going forward, plus conditions worsen at Gaza hospitals, and we look at a potential solution to the crushing cost of insulin in America.

The Supreme Court has announced that it will honor a Code of Conduct for the first time in its history. I spoke with USA Today Supreme Court correspondent, John Fritze to better understand what effect this will have on the high court and what led to this moment.

John, thanks for hopping on.

John Fritze:…..

Thank you, Taylor.

Taylor Wilson:…………

What does this functionally mean for the court going forward, John?

John Fritze:…..

Well, I think functionally it’s a little unclear and the critics of this code, mostly on the left, have noted that it appears to have virtually no enforcement mechanism. And that’s sort of their first and most vociferous criticism of this is that basically this allows the justices to continue to police themselves. I do think what this is though is a symbolic victory for groups that wanted to have a Code of Conduct. It is, at the very least, a recognition by the Supreme Court that they have or had a problem with ethics. And it is a response to this criticism. The Supreme Court does not very often respond to public criticism. It’s sort of designed not to do that. The fact that they’ve done it here, I think, is significant.

Taylor Wilson:…………

Yeah. And what exactly led to this moment, John? What sparked the criticism that you’re talking about?

John Fritze:…..

Well, a year of stories about Clarence Thomas is what stemmed this, right? I mean we had these stories earlier in the year about Justice Thomas and his escapades, his wild travel, his lavish private jet flights, and the yacht and exclusive resorts mostly paid for by the same person, Harlan Crow, a wealthy GOP donor. And those stories, I think really caught the public’s attention. There’s no way to really tie the court’s polling to the ethics scandals and disaggregate that from some of the controversial opinions they’ve had. But I can’t imagine the ethics scandals have bolstered the court’s public opinion.

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Now of course, Thomas is not alone here, right? There was a similar revelation involving Justice Alito. There have been some questions about some property from Justice Gorsuch, and it’s not all conservatives. There was a story over the summer about Justice Sotomayor and some of the way her aides handled book deals that she had. She’s come under criticism before for book arrangements. She’s published several books. And so, I think that is a little bit different than some of these travel stories, but certainly the travel stories have captured the public’s attention and also captured the attention of Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Taylor Wilson:…………

John, the court said in a statement that it’s long had the equivalent of common law. What is that in this context and how does this Code of Conduct differ?

John Fritze:…..

Yeah, I mean I think what Roberts is trying to say here is that, look, we’ve been sort of doing this already. I’m not sure I would read a whole lot into that. I mean I think there’s been a framing of this as a for instance, the Supreme Court for a long time has said, “Look, we don’t have to adhere to disclosure requirements, annual disclosure requirements where we list all of our assets and income. We don’t have to do that, but we choose to do it.” And he’s sort of saying a similar thing here. He’s saying, “Look, we’ve always done this. This is kind of what we’ve done. But a lot of people don’t understand.” In fact, they twice used the word misunderstanding.

The misunderstanding language has certainly bothered some on the left who think that what has happened, particularly with Thomas, is far more than a misunderstanding. But I think that’s what Roberts is getting at. I think Roberts is saying, “Look, we sort of internally have had our own kind of internal code,” but putting it out there publicly like they did, again, I think is a recognition that they had to do something.

Taylor Wilson:…………

All right, John Fritze covers the Supreme Court for USA Today. Thank you, sir.

John Fritze:…..

Thank you.

Taylor Wilson:…………

President Joe Biden told reporters yesterday that hospitals in Gaza must be protected. The comments came as Israeli ground forces closed in on Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza, where more than 3,500 staffers, patients, and sheltering civilians remain inside. Mohammed Zaqout, Director of Hospitals in Gaza said yesterday that there are 36 at-risk newborn babies who need to be evacuated. And World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Sunday that the situation at Al-Shifa was dire and perilous while calling for a ceasefire.

Israeli military officials say Al-Shifa and other hospitals are housing Hamas operation posts and militants. Hamas denies the claims and says the Israeli military is using them to justify airstrikes while advancing ground forces. The now nearly six-week long war has followed a surprise Hamas attack on October 7th into Israel. Israeli officials recently revised the number of people killed in that attack from 1,400 to 1,200, while around 240 hostages were taken. Israel has said it won’t consider a ceasefire until all hostages are released. The Israeli military says 44 soldiers have been killed since beginning ground operations. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began.

President Joe Biden’s problems with his party’s left flank will be on display in San Francisco this week as progressives use a summit with world leaders to put a spotlight on disagreements with his trade agenda and his administration’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war. World leaders are gathering for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC Summit this week, and so too are protestors, pro-Palestinian groups along with anti-capitalists, anti-neoliberal, and other demonstrators are taking to the streets. And organizers with the group No to APEC have vowed to block access to the summit. The largest demonstration is expected to take place tomorrow when Biden and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, are set to meet in the Bay Area.

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Even in largely liberal California, 52% of voters say they are unhappy with Biden’s performance as president. According to a survey from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. And the president’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war is one of his more polarizing issues. In an Associated Press Newark survey out last week, 50% of Democrats approved of how Biden has navigated the conflict, while 46% disapproved. Far left protesters have increasingly demonstrated over calls for a ceasefire to the conflict and a pro-Israel protest is expected in Washington today when Biden is scheduled to leave for San Francisco.

Americans are being crushed by the cost of insulin. But bipartisan lawmakers on Capitol Hill are targeting the prices. I spoke with USA Today Congress, Campaigns, and Democracy reporter Rachel Looker to learn more.

Rachel, thanks for hopping on The Excerpt.

Rachel Looker:……

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:…………

So, what did this analysis out today from Senators Raphael Warnock and John Kennedy find about so-called insulin deserts in America?

Rachel Looker:……

So this really interesting analysis came out today, it’s World Diabetes Day, and it found that there are 813 counties throughout the United States that are designated as this term that they’re calling insulin deserts. So insulin deserts are pretty much counties across the country that have both high uninsured rates and a high prevalence of diabetes. So this analysis found that most of these counties that have insulin deserts are located predominantly in the south and the southeastern parts of the United States.

Specifically in these areas, there’s less likely to be college graduates, it’s more challenging for people who live there to have high speed internet access, there’s more likely to be people of color. And all of these factors make it even more difficult for people who need insulin to navigate the programs to be able to obtain this drug that they need to survive. And this analysis is really all in response to a significant increase in the cost of insulin. The analysis cited this report that found over a five-year time span, the list price of certain types of insulin increased to more than $500 per unit, that’s up more than 50%.

Taylor Wilson:…………

Yeah. And I want to just hear a little bit more about how difficult it is for so many Americans to access insulin. You talked with one such person, Lacey McGee. What did she say, Rachel, about her experiences?

Rachel Looker:……

She lives in Georgia and has an absolutely heartbreaking story. Lacey was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 17 years old and at the time, she qualified for state Medicaid, which she was able to stay on until she was about 21. And leading up to that point, she knew that she would lose this coverage. So her doctor started prescribing her extra supplies that she would keep and try to ration as best as she could. And when she finally lost that state Medicaid coverage, she opened up the fridge, counted what she had left, and it was a two-year supply, but most of it at that point had expired.

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So Lacey really turned to doing anything and everything she could to get insulin. She would rely on friends who had loved ones pass away and would share the insulin supplies of their deceased family members with her. Some of her friends who were in nursing school would sneak her used vials from the hospital. She even turned to Facebook groups where she would meet people and pay them to either mail her insulin or meet up with them in Chick-fil-A and grocery store parking lots to get supplies. And she has a full-time job now and she has insurance, but she still lives in constant fear of losing it and what that could mean for how she can get the insulin that she needs to survive.

Taylor Wilson:…………

A heartbreaking story. So, this proposed bill introduced by Senator Warnock, the Affordable Insulin Now Act, what would it do for insulin prices and access?

Rachel Looker:……

The legislation would cap insulin products at $35 per month under private insurance plans. And this would help an estimated 2.5 million Americans who have private insurance and use insulin. The legislation also would create a new program through the Department of Health and Human Services for uninsured Americans to access insulin for no more than $35 per month. And it would reimburse insulin providers for any costs above $35.

And all of this builds off of previous efforts. In 2022, a provision of one of his bills looking at this issue was included in the Inflation Reduction Act and that capped insulin at $35 for seniors and Medicare recipients.

Taylor Wilson:…………

Senator Warnock has said that there’s a bipartisan path to get this done. What does that path really look like, Rachel?

Rachel Looker:……

Right now, the legislation has six Republican co-sponsors. Some of them include Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, and Alabama Senator Katie Britt. So Senator Warnock feels that with the bipartisan support, there would be a path forward for this legislation.

Taylor Wilson:…………

All right, Rachel Looker, great insight as always. Thank you so much, Rachel.

Rachel Looker:……

Thank you so much for having me.

Taylor Wilson:…………

A Colorado hiker who was missing for months was found dead late last month, but his 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier was found alive waiting by his side. A hunter found the body of 71-year-old Rich Moore last month after he and his dog named Finney were reported missing on August 19th in a rugged area near the Colorado-New Mexico border. Authorities carried out an extensive search of the area, spending almost 2,000 hours looking. Moore’s cause of death is currently unknown. It’s not clear how Finney survived her time in the wilderness, but she’s since been reunited with her family after she was examined and treated at a local animal hospital.

Thanks for listening to The Excerpt. You can get the podcast wherever you get your audio. If you use a smart speaker, just ask for The Excerpt. And if you have any comments, you can always find us at [email protected]. I’m back tomorrow with more of the excerpt from USA Today.