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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today, a federal judge holds a hearing before lawyers for and prosecutors of former President Donald Trump.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The ex-president tried to overturn his well-documented defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The question for the court is whether his failed effort qualifies as a crime. District court Judge Tanya Chutkan will rule on whether this trial about the last presidential election should be held before the next one.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the possible range of dates for a trial?

JOHNSON: It's a huge range, Steve. Trump's lawyers have asked for this trial in D.C. to take place in April 2026. They're citing 11 million pages of documents and other evidence they need to sift through. They've compared it in court papers to the height of the Washington Monument and reading the book "War And Peace" multiple times. But prosecutor Molly Gaston says that's just silly. She says many of these pages are duplicates. Some already came out through the House Select Committee investigation last year. And the special counsel team says it's ready for trial in January 2024. Ultimately, the decision will be up to Judge Tanya Chutkan.

INSKEEP: Well, how does she approach this case as best you can determine?

JOHNSON: You know, I interviewed about six people for a profile of her, and they felt certain she would schedule Trump's D.C. trial for next year, well before the presidential election. The judge is very comfortable in the courtroom. She had about 40 trials as a lawyer, mostly during her time as a public defender. Friends say she's going to keep the defendant's rights, Donald Trump's rights, at the top of her mind. But she's pretty no-nonsense and is not going to be a fan of delay. Here's what her longtime friend Karl Racine told me.

KARL RACINE: The judge has made very clear that she wants to move this case in a way that doesn't compromise fairness and justice for the defendant.

JOHNSON: Another legal source told me he thought the trial might be scheduled for the first four months of next year, meaning that it could end well before the Republican National Convention next summer.

INSKEEP: You know, Trump has made such striking statements on social media that I'm surprised we have not already heard back from the judge about them, because didn't she warn Trump's lawyers not to make inflammatory or threatening statements?

JOHNSON: She absolutely did. Judge Chutkan says she's not issuing a gag order against Trump, but she's already said his First Amendment rights must yield in some respects, so there's going to be no intimidation of witnesses or statements that pollute the D.C. jury pool. The judge has said if Trump violates those rules, she may move the trial date up to prevent additional damage to witnesses and prospective jurors. But in reality, Steve, it's going to be hard for her to fashion a punishment for Trump. Since he's running for the White House again, is she really going to fine him or lock him up, pending trial? We all know Trump is likely to test the limits of the judiciary, just like he has done with the executive branch.

INSKEEP: So if this trial is months away, at best, what happens in the meantime?

JOHNSON: A bunch of motions, fighting on paper - a little boring maybe, but very important. The former president has signaled he might try to get some of the evidence thrown out before trial. He also might try to move the case to a place like West Virginia. But here in D.C., it's really hard to do that before jury selection even begins. Most judges here find they can come up with an impartial jury using a special questionnaire and some back and forth. Some of these motions might aim to delay this case, a favorite tactic we know of Donald trump. But over nine years on the bench, Judge Tanya Chutkan can anticipate many of those moves.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks as always for your insights.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

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INSKEEP: Who was the man responsible for a mass shooting in Jacksonville, Fla.?

MARTÍNEZ: He opened fire over the weekend in a Dollar General store, killing three people and then himself. All of the victims were Black, and the white shooter posted his racist views online.

INSKEEP: Now authorities are saying a little bit more about him, so we have called Will Brown of our member station WJCT in Jacksonville. Good morning, Will.

WILL BROWN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from the Jacksonville sheriff's office about the gunman?

BROWN: Ryan Christopher Palmeter is the gunman. He is 21 years old and lived in neighboring Clay County with his parents. His parents called police after Ryan told them to look onto his computer. There they found a suicide note and writings that were filled with racial slurs used against Black people. It was reported to the Clay County sheriff's office, but by then the shooting was already taking place. Here's Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters. He was incensed by the gunman's writing.

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T K WATERS: The manifesto was, quite frankly, the diary of a madman. He was - I mean, he was just completely irrational.

BROWN: What we do know is that Palmeter also went to Edward Waters University, Florida's oldest historically Black university, but security there asked him to leave. He then drove to the dollar store, which was nearby. Authorities said he did not have a prior police record. But in 2017, he was hospitalized under the Baker Act, which meant he was considered a threat to himself or others. He was released after 72 hours. The sheriff also noted that the two guns used in Saturday's attack, an AR-15-style rifle and a Glock, were purchased legally. The gunman used one of the guns to take his own life at the scene.

INSKEEP: Now, after the shooting, I gather there have been vigils in Jacksonville for the victims. What more are you learning about them?

BROWN: Yes. We are learning that there's overarching sadness and anger. There's sadness for the victims, who were identified yesterday as A.J. Laguerre Jr., who's 19, Jerrald De'Shaun Gallion, who's 29, and Angela Michelle Carr, who is 52. Those at the vigils also expressed anger for what happened, as well as a resolve to ensure that this type of violence doesn't happen again in Jacksonville or anywhere else. I heard repeatedly that people are being taught to hate each other and the way to eliminate that and such shootings, such as what took place Saturday, is to teach against racism. I had the chance to speak with Paula Findlay. She's the principal at Jacksonville's Arlington Elementary.

PAULA FINDLAY: Because this is about teaching and learning from an early stage in age. And unfortunately, in my 30 years, I've learned how children are planted with those seeds of doubt or dislike or distrust.

INSKEEP: So the community is thinking broadly about the future and about how to prevent other shootings like this. And at the same time, investigators are looking into this incident specifically. Where does the investigation go now?

BROWN: Yes, the sheriff's department is looking into Palmeter's background. And while they have said that they believed that the shooter acted alone, they still want to know more about who he was associated with, whether he had any known affiliations with hate groups and other organizations. You know, the FBI has also said it has opened a federal civil rights investigation because they are calling the shooting a hate crime and will be examining Palmeter's social media and anything else that can help with the case.

INSKEEP: Will Brown of our member station WJCT in Jacksonville, Fla. Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: Did you realize this? July was Earth's hottest month on record.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Now, not many days later, students across the United States are returning to school. Millions of those students take class in buildings that have poor air conditioning or none at all.

INSKEEP: How does that affect their learning? NPR education reporter Sequoia Carrillo is here. Good morning, Sequoia.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I hope you were able to stay cool enough while reporting this story. But what do teachers observe about kids in an overheated classroom?

CARRILLO: Well, first and foremost, when you're dealing with kids around this time of year, focus is challenging. Ask any teacher. On the best of days, some kids will still have trouble focusing. But when you introduce a very hot classroom to the equation, it just kicks everything up a notch.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

CARRILLO: A study out of Harvard in 2016 looked at data from students in New York City public schools. It found that kids are more likely to fail an exam on a hot day, like 90 degrees, than on a 72-degree day. And in speaking with teachers around the country over the last couple of weeks, they say sometimes it's so hot in these classrooms that no one even wants to move, much less try to learn.

INSKEEP: Yeah, and we should emphasize there are some schools around the country, some even connected with my family, that have already been back for a couple of weeks. So the temperatures of the last few weeks are real for kids. But how many schools are we talking about here?

CARRILLO: So the Government Accountability Office set out in 2020 to look at the state of public school infrastructure around the country. And they found complaint after complaint about one thing, heating, ventilation and cooling - or HVAC systems. The GAO found that an estimated 41% of districts need to update or replace HVAC systems in at least half of their schools. So we're talking about around 36,000 schools here.

INSKEEP: Wow.

CARRILLO: I should note that, that study was conducted pre-pandemic. So since then, schools have received a lot of emergency relief funding. And in an ideal world, it would be used for HVAC repairs. But sometimes it's more complicated than that.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

CARRILLO: So I spoke with one teacher in Philadelphia. His name is Eric Hitchner and he's a high school English teacher. His classroom is on the fourth floor of an 111-year-old building without A/C. And of course, heat rises. When he came back to his classroom after teaching from home during COVID, he did see some upgrades, but it wasn't what he'd been hoping for. He got a SmartBoard, which is like an interactive blackboard. Here he is talking about it.

ERIC HITCHNER: Those things are not inexpensive. I would have allocated that money for air conditioning, but nobody asked me. But ironically, they have sensors in them that can tell you humidity and temperature. So I use this really expensive SmartBoard to just begrudgingly, like, see what the temperature is. One of our early release days, it was 93.1 degrees when staff was allowed to leave.

CARRILLO: Hitchner says his school was supposed to get A/C a few years ago, only to be told it would be too hard on the electric grid. And you hear that a lot. Sometimes schools are just old, and you'd have to fix a lot of things in order to get to a place where air conditioning could be feasible.

INSKEEP: Ninety-three-point-one degrees inside. That is hot even in the shade of being inside a room, tough for learning, can't be good for students' health either.

CARRILLO: It's definitely not. Kate King is the head of the National Association of School Nurses and says that they've seen a higher rate of heat-related illness from students in the past few years. And all over the country, teachers are really trying their best to beat this heat, whether it's at recess or in the classroom. They're really trying their best.

INSKEEP: NPR education reporter Sequoia Carrillo. Thanks so much.

CARRILLO: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: One other story we're following today is that of Simone Biles, who made history by winning her eighth national all-around title yesterday at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in San Jose, Calif.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS BROADCASTER: She's the best in the world and back in a big way. Simone Biles...

MARTÍNEZ: Biles, who's 26 years old, also became the championship's oldest woman winner. She finished ahead of Shilese Jones, the all-around silver medalist at the 2022 U.S. and World Championships. And her eighth title breaks a record she previously shared with American Alfred Jochim, who scored his seventh all-around gold medal 90 years ago, back in 1933.

INSKEEP: Whoa. Now, Biles gets her eighth title here after taking a two-year break to focus on her mental health. Now she's added to her reputation as the best of all time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.