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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Political figures are exploiting the slowness of the U.S. justice system, Donald Trump's attacks on its integrity and divisions in society to defy the law.

Why it matters: As polarization intensifies, it's placing tribalism above a shared national code of conduct. Increasingly, accountability rests not on the ballot box but with the nine-member, lifetime-appointed and currently conservative-majority Supreme Court.

Driving the news: The House and its committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted this week to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with its subpoena.

  • But even if Attorney General Merrick Garland ultimately signs off on prosecuting Bannon, getting through motions, a trial and appeals could take months if not years and outlast Democrats' control of Congress.
  • Former President Trump filed his own lawsuit this week to try to block relevant records from being turned over next month.
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) branded Bannon's subpoena "invalid" on Thursday, and said he has a right to challenge it.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), indicted Tuesday on charges of lying to federal investigators and falsifying records, posted a preemptive video.

  • With his wife and dog beside him in a truck, he denied wrongdoing, pledged to fight and decried "FBI agents from California."
  • He'd taken a page from Trump's playbook: attack the agents who'd questioned him.

Even President Biden, who's implored Americans to embrace civility, compromise and shared values, has pushed the envelope and looked to the courts to stop him.

  • He recently admitted his own extension of a federal eviction moratorium likely wouldn't stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
  • The president indicated he was forging ahead anyhow to try to give renters protection while the case worked its way through the courts.

How we got here: The defy-default accelerated two decades ago with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as the White House and federal agencies assumed emergency powers and pushed the bounds of their authority.

The bottom line: Speed brakes put into the system by the Founding Fathers often let defiance go unchecked for years.

  • Today, plaintiffs and defendants weigh the conservative or liberal biases of state and federal courts as they calibrate their moves.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Jan. 6 panel approves contempt referral for Trump DOJ official

Former acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark in October 2020. Photo: Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images

The Jan. 6 Select Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend holding former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in contempt of Congress.

Driving the news: The committee offered Clark another chance to give his deposition this weekend before finalizing the measure.

Updated 37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.