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Biden’s Judge Push

President Biden last week named 11 people he plans to nominate to serve on federal courts, more than any recent president this early in his term. Nine are women, three are Black women and one would become the country’s first Muslim federal judge.

I spoke to Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent and the author of a book about Trump-era fights over the judiciary, about why Biden is rushing to shape the courts and how judges became so central to American politics. Our conversation has been condensed.

Ian: Donald Trump’s judicial appointments were a big part of his presidency, and now Biden seems to be making filling vacancies a priority. Why have the courts become so important?

Carl: Because the courts are deciding our political fights now. Climate change, voting rights, immigration, redistricting: Because the legislative branch is so stuck, the courts are getting to be the arbiters. They’ve been amplified as a political issue because of their increased importance in deciding big, cutting-edge issues.

put 220-some judges on there — many of them very conservative, most of them white males and some of them with very little legal experience — the Biden folks concluded they needed to get different kinds of people on the courts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, has a totally white lineup of judges. So Biden picked Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who is a Black woman and a former federal public defender. Public defenders see the federal courts from another side — from the perspective of the defendant. That’s a big change. I think Biden wanted to make a statement about the kinds of judges he wants: people with different life and legal experiences.

There are currently 68 vacancies, with another 26 scheduled to open this year. Does that limit how transformative Biden can be?

The transformation is going to be in the types of judges. Biden is going to have a hard time matching Trump’s numbers, which were over four years. And that was a concerted campaign by Mitch McConnell, to the exclusion of many other things.

a bigger point of emphasis because of Trump. Democrats watched what Senator McConnell did so successfully, and they are eager to replicate that from the other end of the ideological spectrum. Trump’s going to have people on the bench for 30 years, maybe 40. There’s still a few Reagan judges out there.

Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. Many Democrats hope that Stephen Breyer, who is 82 and one of the court’s three remaining liberals, will retire soon. Does that seem like Biden’s best hope to fill a seat?

We’ll see what happens. A lot of Democrats don’t want to get caught in this Ruth Bader Ginsburg situation again. And Justice Breyer is an extremely smart guy, and also a political guy. He knows what’s going on here.

The Virus

Suzanne Nossel argues in Foreign Policy.

  • “A lot of them wanted to blow up Washington. That’s why they thought they were elected,” John Boehner, a Republican who served as House speaker, writes in Politico Magazine about the right’s paranoid turn. (Warning: Profanity abounds.)

  • Morning Reads

    A New SoHo: It was a haven for artists. Now it’s full of luxury storefronts. What’s next? Maybe affordable housing.

    Lives Lived: Winfred Rembert survived a near-lynching in rural Georgia in 1967. He learned to carve figures into leather while in prison, and later became a renowned artist whose work told the story of the Jim Crow South. He died at 75.

    writes in The Times.

    The pandemic has left many reeling from a loss of health, of income, of loved ones or of a normal way of life. Though circumstances vary, the mood is often similar.

    “When people are under a long period of chronic, unpredictable stress, they develop behavioral anhedonia” — a reduced ability to take pleasure in activities — Margaret Wehrenberg, an expert on anxiety, said. “And so they get lethargic, and they show a lack of interest — and obviously that plays a huge role in productivity.”

    How are people trying to cope? Some are meditating, turning to alcohol or edibles, going for walks or re-engaging with a spiritual practice. Others are finding pockets of joy where they can — sending postcards, exchanging gifts with neighbors or adopting pets. And some have embraced the notion that it’s all right not to be productive during a period of major global upheaval.

    “You’re supposed to be inventing something or coming up with the next big business idea,” one person told The Times last year. “I’m trying to be more OK with just being.”

    is miso.

    What to Watch

    The Korean star Yuh-Jung Youn has had a thriving career for five decades. Now, at 73, she’s up for an Oscar for her role in “Minari.” She spoke with The Times about her career.

    Close Read

    Explore the hidden details of this stunning 17th-century portrait of the emperor who built the Taj Mahal.

    Late Night

    Daniel Kaluuya, star of “Get Out” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” hosted “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend. Here’s a recap.

    Now Time to Play

    play online.

    And Friday’s Bee Plus answer: CHINA, CHIA, ECHINACEA

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Gas that comes down as rain on Jupiter (four letters).

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    Virus Variants Can Infect Mice, Scientists Report

    Bats, humans, monkeys, minks, big cats and big apes — the coronavirus can make a home in many different animals. But now the list of potential hosts has expanded to include mice, according to an unnerving new study.

    Infected rodents pose no immediate risk to people, even in cities like London and New York, where they are ubiquitous and unwelcome occupants of subway stations, basements and backyards.

    Still, the finding is worrying. Along with previous work, it suggests that new mutations are giving the virus the ability to replicate in a wider array of animal species, experts said.

    “The virus is changing, and unfortunately it’s changing pretty fast,” said Timothy Sheahan, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the new study.

    only animals known to be able to catch the coronavirus from humans and pass it back. In early November, Denmark culled 17 million farmed mink to prevent the virus from evolving into dangerous new variants in the animals.

    More recently, researchers found that B.1.1.7 infections in domesticated cats and dogs can cause the pets to develop heart problems similar to those seen in people with Covid-19.

    To establish a successful infection, the coronavirus must bind to a protein on the surface of animal cells, gain entry into the cells, and exploit their machinery to make copies of itself. The virus must also evade the immune system’s early attempts at thwarting the infection.

    Given all those requirements, it is “quite extraordinary” that the coronavirus can infect so many species, said Vincent Munster, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Typically, viruses have a more curtailed host range.”

    Mice are a known reservoir for hantavirus, which causes a rare and deadly disease in people. Even though the coronavirus variants don’t seem to be able to jump from mice to people, there is potential for them to spread among rodents, evolve into new variants, and then infect people again, Dr. Munster said.

    black-footed ferrets. “This virus seems to be able to surprise us more than anything else, or any other previous virus,” Dr. Munster said. “We have to err on the side of caution.”

    Dr. Sheahan said he was more concerned about transmission to people from farm animals and pets than from mice.

    “You’re not catching wild mice in your house and snuggling — getting all up in their face and sharing the same airspace, like maybe with your cat or your dog,” he said. “I’d be more worried about wild or domestic animals with which we have a more intimate relationship.”

    But he and other experts said the results emphasized the need to closely monitor the rapid changes in the virus.

    “It’s like a moving target — it’s crazy,” he added. “There’s nothing we can do about it, other than try and get people vaccinated really fast.”

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    Russia Claims to Be the First Country to Develop Coronavirus Shots for Animals

    MOSCOW — Russia’s state veterinary service said on Wednesday that it had become the first regulator in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine for animals, intended for use on fur farms or for pet cats and dogs.

    The agency said it had developed the vaccine for animals in part as a public health tool, lest the virus spread from animals to humans or — in a worst-case scenario — mutate in animals and then spread back to humans in a more virulent form. It could also revive fur farming after infections on mink farms devastated the business last year, it said.

    The agency, the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision, said it did not recommend routine vaccination of animals, for now. The World Health Organization has found no instances of infections in humans caused by pets, the agency said. Though cats and dogs do rarely catch the coronavirus, neither species gets very sick. Lions, tigers and snow leopards can also catch the coronavirus.

    The Russian agency noted four reports of pet infections just in the last week, in Italy and in Mexico. It that said a vaccine for pets was needed as insurance against variants that might spread more easily.

    culled millions of the creatures because of infection.

    Denmark killed all farmed mink — some 17 million animals — after the virus spread from a mink to a human. Separately, a farmed mink in Utah seemed to have passed the virus to at least one wild mink. Scientists have raised alarms about the virus establishing a “reservoir” in wild animals that could later spread back to people.

    Russia last August also claimed to be the first country to approve a human vaccine, Sputnik V, though other candidates were in fact further along in clinical trials at the time. It has since promoted Sputnik V to countries around the world, bolstering the Kremlin’s soft power.

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