2019
June
27
Thursday

Welcome to your Daily. Today we look at high court rulings on partisan gerrymandering and citizenship as a census question, the guardrails of friendship between the leaders of the U.S. and Japan, the explosion of interest in women’s soccer in France, and the best movies of the month.

First, it’s late June. And, yes, that means it’s time once again for Washington journalism’s version of a barn raising: covering the last days of the term of the Supreme Court.

That can be a project that needs many hands. The work isn’t erecting heavy beams but deciphering and writing about the numerous big cases the court typically issues just prior to fleeing for summer vacation.

Increasingly justices leave their biggest decisions to last. Why? They don’t really say. But the most divisive cases often take the longest to resolve among the justices. There may be more writing, of both majority opinions and dissents. Decisions can be splintered with numerous points of view pro and con. The nine may have more difficulty putting together five votes for a majority outcome.

Case in point: today’s decision on possibly including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. The Supreme Court said it would be OK to have such a question, but sent the case back to a lower court because five justices agreed they did not believe the Commerce Department’s stated reason for including it. Some justices affirmed some parts of this decision, but not others. Other justices dissented, but in different ways. (See our story, below.)

The decision that partisan gerrymandering is constitutional was fraught as well. You could almost feel arguments coming through the pages of the opinion, and dissent.

It takes more than one person to handle this on deadline as we search to explain the values and motivations behind some of the most consequential pronouncements of Washington’s entire year.

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1. With redistricting decision, high court draws line on political line-drawing

From one perspective, the Supreme Court’s decision on partisan gerrymandering could stymie efforts to rein in the practice. But if you look in a different direction – toward the states – reforms are already underway.

Peter

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“Snake on the lake.” “The Franklin County sinkhole.” These nicknames describe Ohio congressional districts, created by a 2011 Republican-engineered redistricting intended to favor the GOP.

Citizen activists had hoped federal courts would strike down this map as a too-partisan gerrymander in time for the 2020 elections. Now that’s not going to happen. On Thursday the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, held that federal courts are powerless to rule on the deeply political gerrymandering issue.

“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.

But the “snake on the lake” is almost certainly still doomed. That’s because Ohioans in 2018 approved a gerrymander reform that changes the way state congressional districts will be organized – starting in 2021.

And that’s why the effect of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling may not be as far-reaching as it first appears, according to some experts. The high court did not foreclose the states from taking action. In recent years, many have done so, via such reforms as creating neutral commissions.

“Now they will just try those other fronts, and they are winning on those other fronts,” says Michael Li, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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1. With redistricting decision, high court draws line on political line-drawing

“Snake on the lake.” “The Franklin County sinkhole.” These vivid nicknames describe strangely shaped Ohio congressional districts, created by a 2011 Republican-engineered redistricting intended to favor the GOP.

Democrats and citizen activists had hoped the federal courts would strike down this map as a too-partisan gerrymander in time to draw new, more neutral districts prior to the 2020 elections. Now that’s not going to happen. On Thursday the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, held that federal courts are powerless to rule on the deeply political gerrymandering issue.

“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority in a case that dealt directly with partisan gerrymanders in Maryland and North Carolina.

But the “snake on the lake” – which stretches from Cleveland to Toledo along Lake Erie – is almost certainly still doomed. The “Franklin County sinkhole,” a dense pack of Democratic voters, may be too. That’s because Ohioans in 2018 approved a gerrymander reform proposal that changes the way state congressional districts will be organized – starting in 2021.

And that’s why the effect of Thursday’s Supreme Court gerrymander ruling may not be as far-reaching as it first appears, according to some experts. The Supreme Court did not foreclose the states from taking action. In recent years, many – including Ohio – have done so, via such reforms as handing over the process of redrawing districts to neutral commissions.

The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but may not change the landscape for anti-gerrymander efforts all that much, says Michael Li, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

“Now they will just try those other fronts, and they are winning on those other fronts,” says Mr. Li.

Districts that run through middle of houses

There’s been gerrymandering in America almost as long as there have been political parties. It’s named after Elbridge Gerry, who was governor of Massachusetts and vice president under James Madison.

But modern computers and maps have taken gerrymandering to new levels in recent years. Districts look like twisted pasta. They resemble inkblots. On one street in Cincinnati, Ohio, a district line runs through the middle of houses.

The Maryland and North Carolina cases considered by the Supreme Court are particularly egregious. The former favors Democrats, the latter Republicans; in the North Carolina example one criterion used in producing the map was explicitly labeled “partisan advantage.”

The Supreme Court has twisted itself to avoid ruling on gerrymander cases in recent years. Justice Anthony Kennedy had long mused that there might be some kind of test the court could produce that would determine how much partisan gerrymandering was too much.

But Justice Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Justice Brett Kavanaugh has tilted the court in the other direction. In his ruling, Justice Roberts noted that this issue causes problems for the courts because it is true that legislatures can consider politics to some degree when producing electoral maps. And a test for how much is too much is just beyond the reach of federal courts, Justice Roberts said.

The Constitution provides no direction in this case, and all ways of choosing among different ways to measure fairness in these instances pose “basic questions that are political, not legal,” Justice Roberts said.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing a dissent joined by other members of the minority, lamented that the court was declining to remedy a violation of the Constitution that deprives citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights.

Gerrymanders have “debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people,” Justice Kagan wrote.

Contrary to democracy

The majority and minority opinions in this case are both extremely well-written, but take opposite points of view, says Edward Foley, a law professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Both acknowledge that gerrymandering is bad and contrary to what democracy is, Mr. Foley says.

“The major [takeaway] of the majority opinion is that, ‘Hey, don’t blame us, the Constitution is not written in a way that allows us to deal with this. Our job is to enforce the law. Our job is not to do politics,’ ” he says.

Some critics worry that the ruling could lead to an explosion of even more partisan gerrymandering in states, particularly states where the legislature and governor’s chair is held by the same party. Numbers of these one-party states have been growing. There are now 36 such states, up from 26 a decade ago, according to Ballotpedia.

“We need to embrace the outrage this opinion engenders,” said Allison Riggs, head of the voting rights program at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, on a Thursday conference call for reporters organized by the League of Women Voters.

But opponents still need to keep fighting against “cracking and packing” – splitting up voters of one party, or packing them together to dilute their votes – and other gerrymandering techniques, she said.

“It’s critical that people not lose heart,” said Ms. Riggs.

Some other experts said that they believe it is possible that the U.S. will actually see a decline in extreme gerrymander actions in coming years.

State court action isn’t precluded by the Supreme Court ruling – and some state constitutions have more explicit voting rights protections clauses than the federal Constitution. Last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a congressional map drawn by a GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 violated a guarantee of “free and equal” elections, for instance.

Fight moves to the states

Partisan gerrymandering may undermine democracy, as plaintiffs in the North Carolina and Maryland court cases argued, but now, with Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, the demise of partisan gerrymandering relies on democracy, to the fullest extent.

The Constitution doesn’t give the judicial branch the tools to explicitly prevent partisan gerrymandering, Chief Justice Roberts writes in his opinion, but neither does it preclude action by the executive and legislative branches. Both Congress and state legislatures have the ability to pass legislation and state constitutional amendments to prevent gerrymandering. If voters demand it, even legislators from parties that benefit from current gerrymandered maps may be moved to take action, say some experts.

That’s why experts like the Brennan Center’s Mr. Li have hope. American voters have made it clear: They want action on gerrymandering. In 2018 voters in five states – Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, and Utah – voted to limit legislators’ autonomy and move the redistricting process into the hands of independent commissions.

And these measures passed by large margins. Ohio’s Congressional Redistricting Procedures Amendment passed with almost 75% of the vote.

Of course it would have been better if the Supreme Court ruled against partisan gerrymandering Thursday, says Mr. Li, but the redistricting process is not doomed.

“The Supreme Court won’t be there, so it’s like a neighborhood where we don’t have any cops patrolling,” says Mr. Li. “But will people figure ways to fight crime on their own if they don’t have any cops? Of course.”

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2. Census case: Why a measure of citizenry won’t add a query on citizenship

The mere act of adding a citizenship question to the U.S. census was not the main concern of a divided Supreme Court. What concerned the justices was motive.

Peter
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington April 23 as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

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A proposed question on citizenship to be asked in the census next year has been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a fragmented opinion that surprised and confused in equal measure, the court ruled that the Department of Commerce – which oversees the Census Bureau – failed to provide adequate justification for its inclusion. The Census Bureau itself advised Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross against adding the question, saying it would lead to an inaccurate count. A number of states claimed the question is unconstitutional and the process of adding it illegal. Secretary Ross, citing a Department of Justice memo, had claimed the question is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Legally speaking, the case is not closed. The Commerce Department could add the question using a different justification. Such an action, the Supreme Court also ruled today, could be challenged in the courts.

“It’s worth taking a moment to pause over the court saying, ‘You gave us a reason for this, and you lied.’ That’s what the court said today,” says Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School.

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Census case: Why a measure of citizenry won’t add a query on citizenship

A proposed question on citizenship to be asked in the census next year has been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a fragmented opinion that surprised and confused in equal measure, the court ruled that the Department of Commerce – the agency that oversees the Census Bureau – failed to provide adequate justification for its inclusion. The Census Bureau itself had advised Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross against adding the question, saying it would depress turnout and lead to an inaccurate count. A number of states and nonprofit groups claimed the question was unconstitutional and the process of adding it illegal. Secretary Ross, citing a Department of Justice memo, had claimed the question was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Legally speaking, the case is not closed. The Commerce Department could add the question using a different justification. Such an action could be challenged in the courts however, the Supreme Court ruled today, and the Trump administration has said repeatedly that the 2020 census forms need to be printed next week in order for deadlines to be met. (Census officials have said printing could be delayed until October.)

“You can’t come up with a new reason after months of saying there is no other reason,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, which challenged the addition of the question, on a conference call with reporters.

“This is not the kind of thing that can happen overnight,” he added. “I think for all intents and purposes this is over.”

There are ways it could not be over, some experts say. For one, President Donald Trump tweeted after the decision came down that he would attempt to delay the census, a constitutionally mandated count that takes place once every 10 years.

Some Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups believe that an undercount may be unavoidable due to a climate of fear, in immigrant communities in particular, generated by the proposed citizenship question.

“Regardless of the decision today, the damage of bringing this issue up and being part of our national discourse over the course of the last year has been done,” California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said today in a press conference.

The Trump administration, he added, is “going to come right back at this.”

‘Contrived’ – but not ‘invalid’

Writing the court’s plurality opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts essentially did two things. Siding with the court’s four liberal justices, he wrote that “the sole stated reason” provided by the Commerce Department for including a citizenship question – the VRA rationale – “seems to have been contrived.” In particular, he cited evidence that Secretary Ross had begun looking into adding the question soon after entering office, long before the Justice Department sent the VRA memo.

The court’s four conservative justices dissented from that section of the opinion, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing that it “reflects an unprecedented departure from our deferential review of discretionary agency decisions.” Where Chief Justice Roberts sided with his conservative colleagues was in holding that the Commerce Department’s action is not “substantively invalid,” and said the agency has broad discretion in deciding what can be included in the census form. In essence: The department can include a citizenship question; it just needs a justifiable reason to do so.

What today’s opinion never mentioned was the discovery, and explosive legal fallout, of research done by conservative political strategist Thomas Hofeller showing that adding a citizenship question to the census would lead to the Republican Party having an even greater advantage in redistricting by undercounting Latino populations.

Mr. Hofeller died last August, but work files discovered by his estranged daughter included both his unpublished 2015 analysis that a census citizenship question would benefit Republican redistricting plans and a document created in 2017 with a paragraph that appears word for word in the Justice Department letter the administration later used to justify adding the question.

The Supreme Court “has left open the possibility that a new rationale could get support from five justices,” wrote Jennifer Nou, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, in an email. “The difficulty the [Commerce Department] faces is whether they would be able to find a new, convincing reason in light of the more recent evidence suggesting that the genuine motivation was to aid partisan gerrymandering.”

The so-called Hofeller files, which came out after the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case, triggered a new claim from plaintiffs in Maryland that adding the citizenship question would also violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by disadvantaging Hispanics. Earlier this week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sent the case back to the Maryland district court in order to evaluate the new claim.

The court “refused to ignore the obvious backstory that resulted in the addition of a question that would have caused a significant undercounting of people of color, among others,” says Martin Flaherty, co-director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham University in New York.

With today’s Supreme Court decision, the Maryland case is now effectively paused – as is a citizenship question case being litigated in California – pending new action by the New York district judge whose decision the justices reviewed.

Once that action is taken the Commerce Department could add a citizenship question again under a new rationale, but the clock is running out, says Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School.

“Given the history of this particular decision, and particularly given the amount of scrutiny likely to be on [Secretary Ross] right now for coming up with a real reason, I’m not sure that time is available,” he adds.

“The Census Bureau has long said that, absent extraordinary resources,” he continues, “June 30 is the drop-dead deadline for figuring out what’s on and what’s off [the form]. That’s Sunday; that’s not much time.”

‘Work to do’

Some conservatives say the Commerce Department should do what it has to to get a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

“The American people want to know how many citizens are in our country. And they deserve to know. We’ve asked the citizenship question in the past,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. (The Census Bureau last included a citizenship question in 1950.)

President Trump also tweeted that he has “asked the lawyers if they can delay the Census, no matter how long” until the Supreme Court can be given information “from which it can make a final and decisive decision on this very critical matter.”

Meanwhile, state governments and advocacy groups are concerned that, regardless of whether there is a citizenship question or not, turnout could be depressed in immigrant communities.

“Even the specter of the citizenship question has intensified this climate of fear,” said Vanita Gupta, former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, on a conference call with reporters. “We still have a lot of work to do to make sure every person in America is counted.”

Governor Newsom noted that days ago in California state officials were warning immigrant communities about possible raids by federal agencies, saying not to answer the door unless there’s a warrant.

“Now we’re letting everybody know it’s critical that they answer the questionnaire and the survey,” he said. “So we have work to do.” 

Whether the citizenship question returns to the courts or not, several scholars noted the significance of the Supreme Court’s pointed rebuke of the Trump administration.

“It’s worth taking a moment to pause over the court saying, ‘You gave us a reason for this, and you lied.’ That’s what the court said today,” says Professor Levitt. “That is extraordinary. It’s an extraordinary window into the decisionmaking process of this administration.”

Staff writers Harry Bruinius and Francine Kiefer contributed to this report from New York and Los Angeles.

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3. G-20 Osaka: A test of Abe’s high-wire friendship with Trump

For international leaders, what is a friendship with Donald Trump worth? Japan's Abe Shinzo seems to hope their relationship will keep Mr. Trump from straying further from the multilateral foundations of the postwar world.

Peter

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Last summer, as the Group of Seven convened in Quebec, photographers snapped an immediately iconic image: a group of European leaders appearing to lecture to an unamused and cross-armed Donald Trump.

And standing right in the middle? Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Mr. Abe has lavished attention on his relationship with Mr. Trump, hoping to prevent the president, a disruptor-in-chief of the post-World War II order, from straying any further from the world’s multilateral system.

“Tokyo’s view, and they’re probably right, is that Abe is better positioned to do this than any other democratic ally of the United States,” says Michael Green, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

But, as the G-7 photo captured so well, it’s not always a comfortable role. On Friday, when the G-20 convenes in Osaka, Japan, Mr. Abe will be walking something of a tightrope: hosting leaders of the world’s top economies; keeping attention on their shared economic agenda, rather than spotlight-stealing sideline tête-à-têtes; and developing a summit statement that sounds no alarm bells about global trade.

For Japan, it’s an “exciting position to be in but also very worrisome,” says Mr. Green.

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G-20 Osaka: A test of Abe’s high-wire friendship with Trump

The agenda Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has planned for this weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka is an ambitious one – infrastructure, health care, rules of the road for e-commerce and data flow, and shoring up the global trading system and weakening global economy. New this year to the agenda are the “global aging crisis” and marine plastics, two issues of urgency to the summit’s fast-graying, archipelago host nation.

But as the world’s largest economies meet, Mr. Abe is likely to have in the back of his mind another goal that has been a top personal priority for more than two years: keeping Donald Trump happy, while preventing the disruptor-in-chief of the post-World War II order from straying any further than he already has from the world’s multilateral system.

In particular, Mr. Abe will be looking to head off any further deterioration of the international trading system on which Japan’s postwar prosperity was built, some Asia economic experts say. That means avoiding the kind of tense debate over trade and rising protectionist practices (like Mr. Trump’s preferred trade tool, tariffs) that marked the discussion at last year’s G-20 summit in Buenos Aires – and keeping leaders focused on their shared economic agenda, in the first place, rather than sideline tête-à-têtes.

“The Japanese government, and especially Prime Minister Abe, want to keep the U.S. engaged in international institutions – the World Trade Organization, the G-20, and the G-7” group of industrial economies, “which is very, very important to Japan,” says Michael Green, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia under President George W. Bush.

“Tokyo’s view, and they’re probably right, is that Abe is better positioned to do this than any other democratic ally of the United States, because he has the best personal relationship with Donald Trump of any of the G-7 democratic leaders,” says Mr. Green, now senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It puts him in an important position.”

That “position” which Mr. Abe occupies was captured in now-iconic photos taken at last year’s G-7 summit in Quebec, showing a resolute and unamused Mr. Trump, arms folded across his chest, appearing to be lectured by European leaders and the summit’s host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the middle, “looking concerned and sort of by body language in between Europe [and] the president, is Mr. Abe,” Mr. Green says. “I think Abe sees himself in a position almost to bridge Europe and Canada and the U.S., which is a really unique, and in some ways for Japan, exciting position to be in but also very worrisome,” he adds. 

Eyes on the sidelines

Large multilateral gatherings like the G-20 tend to be overshadowed and even dominated by the big international news events of the moment and by the key bilateral meetings taking place in the margins – and Osaka is almost certain to follow that pattern.

All eyes will be on Mr. Trump’s sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping, now expected to take place Saturday. Can the two professed “friends” find a way out of the trade war that has dampened global economic growth forecasts – and which threatens to intensify, with Mr. Trump poised to increase tariffs up to 25% on an array of Chinese goods if a solution is not found?

That’s the first out-of-the-blocks question dominating pre-summit conversations at Osaka’s Intex convention center, where the gathering of more than 30 world leaders and international institutions begins Friday.

Reports out of Washington and Beijing Thursday said the two sides had tentatively agreed to a “truce” in the trade war that would allow for a resumption of negotiations without the imposition of any new or higher tariffs. According to Chinese reports, the truce was the condition Mr. Xi set to agree to talks with Mr. Trump in Osaka.

The runner-up topic of interest is the rising tension between the U.S. and Iran, and whether or not another U.S. Middle East war will be avoided.

In addition to his conversation with Mr. Xi, Mr. Trump will hold bilateral talks with eight other leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Abe. But some countries are letting it be known they do not think the important issues the G-20 leaders are slated to address all together should be given short shrift. French officials – whose president, Emmanuel Macron, pursued a brief “bromance” with Mr. Trump in what looked like an (eventually unsuccessful) attempt to woo the U.S. president to pursue a traditional American leadership role – have been especially blunt.

Their view? The G-20, whose leaders represent 80% of the global economy, should not be “hijacked” by bilateral issues and tensions. 

Fruits of friendship?

As host, then, Mr. Abe will be walking something of a tightrope, keeping attention on the global economy while underscoring his own special relationship with Mr. Trump.

Indeed the Japanese leader may be hoping that the attention he has lavished on Mr. Trump will pay off in small ways in Osaka, even if he knows cultivating the U.S. president remains a work in progress, some regional experts say.

“For Abe, molding Trump is a long-term project, and I don’t think he believes in any case that he can influence Trump to appreciate multilateralism and reverse his instincts on that,” says Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of East Asian studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts.

“But I do think he hopes that by maintaining these very close ties he can keep Japan close to the United States and play some role in keeping the United States favorable to Japan and to an active role in Asia,” he adds.

Demonstrating the importance he places on keeping the U.S. as Japan’s top ally, Mr. Abe treated Mr. Trump to a lavish visit in May that included an audience with Japan’s new emperor.

But before leaving Washington for Osaka Wednesday, Mr. Trump assumed his “America First” stance in a Fox News interview, saying U.S. relations with Japan are unfair. He referred to a postwar security pact between the two countries that commits the U.S. to defending Japan in the case of an attack, and said the U.S. gets no reciprocal commitment from Japan.

Japanese officials bristle at such charges, noting that Japan provides bases for the U.S. military on its soil – including a Marine base in Okinawa that is the largest outside the U.S.

Mr. Abe is also hoping his sustained charm efforts – he was the first leader to visit then-President-elect Trump in December 2016 – will quell Mr. Trump’s occasional threats to impose tariffs on foreign automobiles.

But that issue will have to wait. As host this weekend, Mr. Abe will likely be more focused on leveraging his friendship with Mr. Trump to achieve a summit statement that sounds no alarm bells on global trade.

Guided by Mr. Abe, “the Japanese team [at the G-20] will be trying to avoid deadlock,” says Mireya Solís, director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. What the Japanese learned from the dust-up at last year’s G-20 is that pushing language like “fighting protectionism” and “unfair trading practices” is “going to get you nowhere” in the current global climate and with the current U.S. president.

As a result, Ms. Solís says, the Japanese are going for “new language” for the G-20 final statement on trade that “highlights where we all want to go” and focuses on a “predictable trading system.” The hope, she adds, is that this less-pointed language will pass muster with the Trump administration.

Mr. Abe may learn soon enough if his long courtship of Mr. Trump has paid off.

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4. No longer sidelined in France, women’s soccer attracts players and fans

Getting people to embrace women’s soccer, even at the highest tier of performance, has been a struggle in Europe. But this year’s Women’s World Cup seems to be a breakthrough moment, especially for host France.

Peter
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Brazil's Tamires Cássia Dias Gomes (l.) battles for a ball with France's Viviane Asseyi during the World Cup match at the Stade Océane in Le Havre, France, on June 23.

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Women’s soccer is exploding in France, with the number of players nearly tripling over the past eight years, commercial sponsors investing big money in the sport, and a French team dominating the European club scene. The Women’s World Cup, currently underway in cities across France, has generated exceptional enthusiasm and drawn record numbers to stadiums and TV sets.

Almost as many people watched France play Brazil last Sunday as had watched the French men’s national team play an equivalent game in Moscow last year. TF1, the most-watched French TV channel, has upped its advertising rates for the French team’s matches twice and decided to screen both semifinals, even if France is not playing; it had previously relegated the games to a subsidiary channel.

“This tournament looks like it is going to be a breakthrough event,” says Matthieu Barberousse, the man in charge of World Cup coverage for the French sports daily L’Equipe. “We haven’t seen anything like it.”

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No longer sidelined in France, women’s soccer attracts players and fans

When Nolwenn Legouic first played soccer 20 years ago as a young teenager, she had to brave her parents’ disapproval, play in boys’ cleats and uniforms, and put up with derisive taunts from her male neighbors.

But that was another era. Since then, she says “it’s night and day, things have changed so much” in France. The parents of girls she now coaches are delighted to see them play soccer, she says, and “soccer is becoming a game for everyone.” Sales of women’s soccer gear at the sporting goods chain store where Ms. Legouic works have risen this year by 90%, she says.

Women’s soccer is exploding in France, with the number of players nearly tripling over the past eight years, commercial sponsors investing big money in the sport, and a French team dominating the European club scene.

The Women’s World Cup (WWC), currently underway in cities across France, has generated exceptional enthusiasm and drawn record numbers to stadiums and TV sets. “This tournament looks like it is going to be a breakthrough event,” says Matthieu Barberousse, the man in charge of World Cup coverage for the French sports daily L’Equipe. “We haven’t seen anything like it.”

This all reminds Brigitte Henriques – a former French international player and now vice president of the French Football Federation (FFF) – of the United States. “When I used to play in America it was like a dream, how much recognition the game had, how the players were stars,” she recalls. “Now that dream is coming true in France.”

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor
A player and coach, Nolwenn Legouic says there was no equipment on the market for women and girls when she first started playing the sport as a child. Sales of women’s soccer gear at the sporting goods chain store where she works have risen by 90% this year.

And elsewhere in Europe: Women’s club games have attracted record crowds this year in Italy and Spain. And in the U.K. Barclay’s Bank, which sponsors the men’s Premier League, recently announced it will also sponsor the Women’s Super League to the tune of a reported $13 million over the next three seasons.

But nowhere else in Europe has the women’s game grown so fast over the past few years as in France, where the number of players has shot up from 54,000 in 2011 to 140,000 today, according to the FFF.

A lot of that, say observers, is down to Noel Le Graët.

In 2011, recently elected as FFF president after the national men’s team had disgraced itself at the World Cup, Mr. Le Graët went to Germany for the Women’s World Cup. He was no fan of women’s soccer, but he found enthusiastic crowds in full stadiums watching entertaining games. What’s more, France made it as far as the semifinals, the national team’s best performance.

With Ms. Henriques newly elected as the FFF’s first female secretary-general, the federation set about revamping women’s soccer in France from bottom to top, encouraging schoolgirls to take up the sport and establishing a network of elite training centers for adult female players modeled on the federation’s existing system for men. The FFF doubled its budget for women’s soccer to $16 million a year.

A key part of Mr. Le Graët’s vision was to host the 2019 Women’s World Cup, with all its attendant media attention and patriotic hoo-ha. “Winning the World Cup bid was the best thing that could have happened to us,” says Ms. Henriques.

Francisco Seco/AP
Fans hold Swedish flags prior to the Women's World Cup soccer match between Canada and Sweden at Parc des Princes in Paris on June 24.

At L’Equipe, editors had a hunch that this World Cup could be different, pushing women’s soccer into the big time. “It is evident that we are living through a moment in society when people are looking at women’s issues with new eyes,” says Mr. Barberousse. “That leads to a new balance.”

L’Equipe assigned 17 reporters to the WWC, only one less than it sent to Moscow last year for the men’s tournament. In 2015, when the last WWC was played in Canada, the magazine sent only two journalists.

The response from readers, who are overwhelmingly male, has surprised Mr. Barberousse. “Three weeks ago they had nothing good to say about women’s soccer,” he says. “Whenever we wrote anything about it hardly anyone read the stories and all the comments were negative.

“Now we are getting a lot of positive feedback,” he goes on. “A lot of men have changed their attitude. They don’t talk about players on the French team as women; they talk about them as players.”

Ms. Legouic says she has been surprised by the number of men and boys attending the WWC matches. And she is delighted. “When boys see women play football at this level,” she says, “that means a 50-year jump forward in attitude change.”

TF1, the most-watched French TV channel, has been surprised too. Almost as many people watched France play Brazil last Sunday as had watched the French men’s national team play an equivalent game in Moscow last year. (France’s next match will be Friday, when it faces off against the U.S. in what some are calling “the final that should have been.” France is one of seven European teams to make the quarterfinals, the first time that has ever happened.) The channel has upped its advertising rates for the French team’s matches twice and decided to screen both semifinals, even if France is not playing; it had previously relegated the games to a subsidiary channel.

“A cultural barrier has fallen and things are moving,” says Ms. Henriques. “Soccer is a game for both men and women now.”

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Film

5. From blockbusters to unexpected treasures, the best June movies

Besides the satisfying “Toy Story 4,” the lesser known “American Woman,” “Pavarotti,” and “The Spy Behind Home Plate” are June offerings worth seeing according to Monitor film critic Peter Rainer. 

Peter
Disney/Pixar/AP
‘Toy Story 4’ reunites characters from the franchise's first three outings.
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From blockbusters to unexpected treasures, the best June movies

This month, film critic Peter Rainer’s top picks were dark horses. Who knew that the fourth installment in the “Toy Story” franchise would shine? Or that the arc of an opera singer’s career could be so engaging in “Pavarotti”? 

‘Toy Story 4’: A satisfying return for Woody and Buzz

For many of us, the big question coming into “Toy Story 4” was, of course, “Why?” From every standpoint except commercial expediency, there was scant reason for Pixar to sequelize the glorious “Toy Story 3,” which nine years ago capped the franchise with a perfect denouement. How many movie trilogies can you name where the third entry was the best? Creating a fourth anywhere as good would appear to be an impossibility.

Unlike “Toy Story 3,” “Toy Story 4” is not a masterpiece, but I was almost relieved about that. It doesn’t put you through the emotional wringer the way its predecessor did, but it’s consistently inventive, funny, witty, and heartfelt. In other words, it’s a lot better than it has any right to be. It’s more than good enough to justify its existence.

The new film picks up with college-bound Andy’s toys now the playmates of little Bonnie. Woody (voiced, feelingly as always, by Tom Hanks) oversees the assemblage, but he’s no longer a favorite toy. What gave “Toy Story 3” its deep poignancy was the crushing realization that even favorite toys are eventually discarded. More so than ever, Woody has to face up to this fact in “Toy Story 4.” If a toy exists to be loved by a child, what then is its reason for being if it is no longer loved?

It should be past debate that wonderful children’s movies, almost by definition, are also wonderful for adults. The glowing subtext of “Toy Story 4” has resonance for everybody: What happens to us when we no longer feel useful? If the “Toy Story” franchise were to end right here I would be more than happy, but then again, I felt this way nine years ago with “Toy Story 3.” Never say never. Grade: A- (Rated G.)

‘American Woman’ offers a new take on the missing-teen story

Tour de force acting doesn’t always show up in great movies. Case in point: Sienna Miller’s career-high performance in “American Woman.” But the film is just good enough to do her acting justice. She plays Deb Callahan, a working-class single mother from Pennsylvania who confronts the unthinkable when her teenage daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira) goes missing. The police have no leads. With a void at the center of her ramshackle life, Deb is left to care for Bridget’s baby boy.

One of the best aspects of “American Woman,” directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby, is that it portrays its people without the usual special pleading that often accompanies movies about the working class. 

Because Bridget’s disappearance hits early in the movie, I was initially expecting a whodunit. But the filmmakers soon make it clear that the movie is much more about how Deb moves through, rather than solves, the catastrophe. There is a resolution of sorts, but because the film covers more than a decade in Deb’s life, until baby Jesse (played as an adult by Aidan Fiske) is in high school, the wrapup has the effect of a sad, slow fade-out rather than a deafening finale. The harm, in a sense, has long since happened.

The role of Deb is not written with any great depth, but Miller gets into the character’s psychological complications in a way that almost compensates for the lack. She understands how this controlling woman could also choose to submit herself to controlling men. Although the movie could have filled in more fully her emotional progress through the years, we can see how she arrives at a kind of uneasy peace by the end. She refuses victimhood. Grade: B+ (Rated R.)

Ron Howard’s ‘Pavarotti’ offers a tenor for the masses

My favorite moment in Ron Howard’s documentary “Pavarotti” is when we see the great Italian tenor singing in the shower. For those of us who think we sound like Luciano Pavarotti while soaping up, this sequence is quite a comeuppance. Shower or no shower, only Pavarotti sounds like Pavarotti. 

Marka/Alamy Stock
Luciano Pavarotti’s life and music are celebrated in a new film, which includes interviews with his second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani (l.), and others who knew the ‘King of the High Cs.’

Howard’s engaging portrait of the great tenor occasionally verges on the hagiographic. But with singing like this, who can blame him? Although Howard doesn’t go in for a lot of musicological analysis of Pavarotti’s genius, which would have enriched the presentation, he compensates by giving us an ample dose of the singing. 

It comes as something of a shock to discover that the “King of the High Cs,” on the surface so boundlessly joyous, endured terrible stage fright. Before venturing onstage he would regularly mutter to himself “I go to die.” 

But maybe this fear is also a clue to his greatness: He never took his gifts for granted. Interviewed by Clive James on British TV, he is asked if he can ever be certain he will hit the notes, and his answer is a simple “No.” But we can spy in that uncertainty a rapturous reckoning. He knows that art is not something casually handed to him, that he must reach for it. When it all comes together, there is no greater ecstasy. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13.)

Espionage and curveballs: ‘The Spy Behind Home Plate’ has both

He was known as “the brainiest man in baseball,” but it was his exploits off the playing field that account for his one-of-a-kind life story. Morris “Moe” Berg, the subject of the creditable Aviva Kempner documentary “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” was a standout ballplayer at Princeton, going on to play in the big leagues for 15 years.

Somewhere in there he also found time to attend Columbia Law School and become fluent in at least 10 languages, including Sanskrit. Here’s the most amazing part: During World War II and the lead-up to it, he was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. (His anti-Nazi spy-mastering overseas was particularly fraught, as he was Jewish.) 

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was also the basis for last year’s bland biopic “The Catcher Was a Spy,” starring Paul Rudd. Seeing the story played out with reams of interviews and archival footage is so much better. It makes the unbelievable believable. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)

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The Monitor's View

It’s back to voters to curb partisan gerrymandering

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

When the U.S. Supreme Court takes on a big case, it usually assumes it has the authority and wisdom to decide what would be a fair ruling. Yet on one historic issue in American democracy – state legislatures drawing the boundaries of voting districts to favor one party – this was not to be. On Thursday, the justices decided that gerrymandering is too inherently political, complex, and unpredictable for federal courts to set a workable legal standard.

The ruling now throws the problem of gerrymandering back to citizens and their state representatives. “The avenue for reform,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the 5-4 majority, “remains open.”

With the outcry over gerrymandering at a peak, Justice Roberts did point to efforts in several states to find solutions. These include referendums, independent commissions, or the designation of demographers to draw up political maps based on certain criteria.

Voters are capable of discovering the collective good in the exercise of designating voting districts. But this restraint on partisan politics will require them to respect the views of others, listen for shared concerns, and define what is fair in the democratic process.

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It’s back to voters to curb partisan gerrymandering

When the U.S. Supreme Court takes on a big case, it usually assumes it has the authority and wisdom to decide what would be a fair ruling. Yet on one historic issue in American democracy – state legislatures drawing the boundaries of voting districts to favor one party – this was not to be. On Thursday, the justices decided that gerrymandering is too inherently political, complex, and unpredictable for federal courts to set a workable legal standard.

The ruling now throws the problem of gerrymandering back to citizens and their state representatives. “The avenue for reform,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the 5-4 majority, “remains open.”

The high court did join the chorus of complaints over gerrymandering, which is a type of winner-take-all tactic that can discourage voters from participating in civic life. But it admitted courts are ill-equipped to tell states what a fair voting district would look like.

The court reasoned that voting districts are political communities that must, through a mix of competitive and cooperative politics, define the fairness of each community’s boundaries. Courts can ensure each person has an equal vote and that racial minorities do not suffer discrimination. But on the question of how to group voters in the shifting sands of diverse interests over time, it is up to individuals and their representatives to join together and conceive the identity of each political community. In their choices of elected leaders, voters can help determine how to allocate power during the redistricting that is required every 10 years after each census.

With the outcry over gerrymandering at a peak, Justice Roberts did point to efforts in several states to find solutions. These include referendums, independent commissions, or the designation of demographers to draw up political maps based on certain criteria. The framers of the Constitution knew that redistricting would be difficult and political. They set up a system in which voters themselves, rather than federal judges, would be forced to find common ground.

Voters are capable of discovering the collective good in the exercise of designating voting districts. But this restraint on partisan politics will require them to respect the views of others, listen for shared concerns, and define what is fair in the democratic process.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Life is more than a game of chance

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 4 Min. )

It can too often seem that good is limited and some people gain while others inevitably lose. But humbly turning to God for answers enables us to experience God’s limitless goodness in very tangible ways.

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Life is more than a game of chance

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Suppose you were driving home over a snowy mountain pass on New Year’s Day and suddenly heard a loud dragging sound that told you something wasn’t right with your car. And you knew that would mean an hours-long wait for roadside assistance at the base of the mountain. What do you think the chances would be that, despite the cold temperatures, a group of young men with the skills to not only assess the problem, but also to fix it, would be chatting outside a corner shop right where you pulled over?

That’s what happened to my daughter and me at the beginning of this year. The young men crawled under our car to investigate, fetched their tools, and in short order had fixed the part that had come loose on our car.

My daughter and I expressed gratitude all the way home, not just because the men had been so helpful and even refused the money we’d offered them for their assistance, but because to us the situation didn’t feel like random chance at all. First, because we had begun praying as soon as we became aware of the problem with the car. And second, because it was not unlike many other times I’ve required aid, prayed, and received help right when I needed it.

By prayer I don’t mean asking God for special favors, but understanding and proving the practicality of knowing God’s goodness in a way that is equally available for all. To me, it’s life without prayer that can sometimes seem like a set of random events in which good is limited and some people gain while others inevitably lose. An “aha” moment for me was when I was in grade school. We used to play bingo on rainy days, and I never won. That began my questioning of whether we’re all worthy recipients of good – even if taking the prize only meant a trip to the teacher’s candy jar!

But this view didn’t add up with how I was learning to think about life from a spiritual perspective. I was a student at the local Christian Science Sunday School, where I could ask questions on these kinds of issues and find satisfying answers rooted in the Bible. There I was learning about a God that loves everyone equally and infinitely and provides for us abundantly. In fact, God expresses limitless goodness in His children at all times. And we can actually experience in very tangible ways the consistency of this God who is wholly good.

There are a number of stories in the Bible that illustrate how this holds true even when the stakes are high. One is the story of Hagar, a mother who is sent with her young son into the wilderness with only a meager amount of bread and water. Hagar’s provisions quickly run out, and tragedy looms. She cries out to God, “Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept” (Genesis 21:16).

But the story continues, “And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (verse 19). Both survived.

As I’ve considered this story of finding water in the wilderness as well as examples of God’s care in my own life, it’s hard not to see a divine law of good that is universal and available to all. It has nothing to do with luck or relying on chance for supply, but rather a deep conviction that God supplies answers for all of our needs. That’s not to say things are always easy, but answers do come when we’re humbly open to God’s guidance.

There’s a part of a hymn in the “Christian Science Hymnal” I find most reassuring. It gives me the calm, clear confidence that God, or divine Love, cares equally and efficiently for us all and that His “angels,” or inspiration, always answer our prayers. It says: “He knows the angels that you need,/ And sends them to your side,/ To comfort, guard and guide” (Violet Hay, No. 9).

Each of us can claim the good that is our divine right today. When we reach out to God for aid, conforming our view of things to what God, good, knows and is showing us, the result is that we see more evidence of God’s overflowing wellspring of good right in front of us. Not because of chance, but because we’re all winners in God’s eyes, and divine good never runs out.

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Viewfinder

Go jump in a lake

Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone/AP
A person jumps into Lake Geneva on a hot summer day at sunset in Saint Saphorin, Switzerland, June 26. Switzerland is preparing to face a heat wave that will last for several days.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 28th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Monitor congressional correspondent Jessica Mendoza is at the Democratic debates. We’ll have her report from Miami tomorrow.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 27, 2019
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