Courts & the Law, News

Breaking news: Trump picks Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, and D.C. girds for a fight

The U.S. Supreme Court. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump at the White House on Saturday introduced federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrettas his Supreme Court nominee, setting off a confirmation battle that could secure a conservative court for generations.

“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect and sterling credentials and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” Trump said in remarks in the Rose Garden with Barrett standing at his side. Barrett’s husband, Jesse, and seven children were in the audience for the event, and took the stage with her at the conclusion.

The president said Barrett “will decide cases based on the text of the Constitution as written.”

Barrett, 48, who sits on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, is a favorite among conservatives for her anti-abortion views, and given her age could serve on the highest court in the land for decades—justices are appointed for life. Her confirmation would give conservatives six of the court’s nine seats, potentially shifting rulings considerably to the right.

“My fellow Americans, the president has nominated me to serve on the United States Supreme Court, and that institution belongs to all of us,” Barrett said to the crowd of about 150 in the Rose Garden. “If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle, and certainly not for my own sake.”

She said she looked forward to the confirmation process.

“I have no illusions…the road ahead of me will be easy, either for the short term or the long haul,” she said.

Senate Republicans are scrambling to schedule what’s expected to be mid-October nomination hearings before the Judiciary Committee for Barrett. Outraged Democrats have pointed out that would amount to unprecedented speed, with only 37 days from Saturday until the presidential election on Nov. 3.

A White House pool report said that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was among those present in the Rose Garden, as were fellow GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Hawley and Sasse also sit on the committee.

Trump said he expects the nomination process to be fairly quick.

“This should be a straightforward and prompt confirmation,” he said, adding, “Should be easy.”

Trump after his remarks was scheduled to head to a rally outside Harrisburg, Pa., scheduled for later Saturday.

Four years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, arguing that the seat should not be filled in an election year. That nomination came 237 days before the 2016 presidential election.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, criticized Trump for nominating a Supreme Court Justice before a next president is selected.

“The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court,” Biden said in a statement.”The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.

On average in recent decades it’s taken 43 days from the time of a president’s formal submission of a nominee to the Senate until the first public hearing, according to a Congressional Research Service report that looked at Supreme Court nominees from 1975 to 2018.

Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87 of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.  Read more

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: What ‘gender reveal’ parties really reveal

I’m just going to say it: Gender reveal parties are dumb. Outside of family and a (very) few friends, nobody cares if your baby is a boy or a girl.

Y’all: But it’s fun and cute! Stop being such a grumpy ol’ bag!

Look, when it was just about cutting a cake and seeing if the innards were dyed pink or blue, that was fine. You do you. Besides…cake. But, as you’ll see in a minute, things are clearly out of control.

On the other hand, I know I should look disappointed when the happy couple goes all cagey and says, “We want it to be a surprise!” What? Do you think there’s a chance it’s a wombat? OK, now I’m interested.

Maybe gender-reveals are the next logical step after extravagant promposals in high school and flash-mob wedding proposals in public places. We don’t want to do anything without an audience. If you didn’t announce the gender of your baby, as a Louisiana couple did, by having an alligator chomp into a blue-tinted watermelon, are you even pregnant?

Last week, a botched gender reveal involving pyrotechnics – PYROTECHNICS, Y’ALL—resulted in a California wildfire that forced 20,000 people out of their homes.

“It was awful being evacuated and not knowing if we’d ever see our home again but, we just have to know…was it a girl or a boy?” said no one ever.

This isn’t some COVID claustrophobic craziness or oddball do-gooding like the ice bucket challenge. These gender reveals need to go because—buzzkill warning ahead—it just makes us seem as shallow and self-absorbed as the rest of the world thinks we are.

We don’t wear masks because “waaahhh.” We don’t pause to think about how dangerous it is to combine flames and dry grass in the name of an over the top gender reveal because we want to crush Insta. And TikTok. And Snapchat. And Twitter. And, for the grannies, Facebook.

Last week’s wildfire resulted from using forced plumes of colored smoke into the air. When the Vatican does this, the whole world watches. Britney and Brandon…not so much.

Ten thousand scorched acres later, the family (unnamed) is feeling as foolish as that poor sap at the Cubs game when he famously reached out to catch a foul ball and nudged it out of the reach of an enraged Cubs outfielder. Instead of getting the out, the whole game went sour and the Cubs lost what looked like a sure chance to advance to the World Series for the first time in 58 years.

Sometimes, in our enthusiasm, we make bad choices.

The Washington Post reports gender reveal parties have been responsible for a plane crash (!), the destruction of 47,000 acres in the Arizona mountains and even the death of a grandmother who was struck by shrapnel when her family unwittingly created a straight-up pipe bomb to go off with a colorful explosion.

Your baby isn’t even here yet and you’re all competitive about “likes.” Just stop.

Celia Rivenbark knows she’s not invited to the shower now.

News

NC absentee ballot requests top one million. What do we know about these voters?

If you requested an absentee ballot and are still waiting for it to arrive in the mail, you’re not alone.

According to the State Board of Elections, 1,028,648 requests for an absentee ballot had been received as of September 24th.

Roughly 22% (227,761 of those ballot requests) have been returned and processed.

Catawba College political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer and the good folks at Old North State Politics have been taking a closer look at those who have already voted absentee by mail and here’s what they learned:

Source: Old North State Politics

And here’s a look at how things have been trending over the past two weeks:

Source: Old North State Politics

Learn more @OldNorthStPol

North Carolina voters, including voters serving in the military or living overseas, can request an absentee ballot online through the Absentee Ballot Request Portal.

The deadline to request your absentee ballot for the General Election is October 27th.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State Board of Trustees refuses to hear from Faculty Senate chair as tensions continue

The Appalachian State University Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the academic year Friday — but it refused a request by the school’s Faculty Senate to speak at the meeting.

Last month Policy Watch reported on the Faculty Senate passing a resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of App State Chancellor Sheri Everts.  This week, as the school continues to face issues like the COVID-19 pandemic  and an ongoing controversy over an on-campus voting site Michael Behrent, chair of the ASU faculty senate, requested five minutes to address the board as provided for in the board’s by-laws.

In an email this week Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Hank Foreman told Behrent that the board considered but declined his request.

Unable to address the board during its meeting, Behrent recorded and uploaded a video of the comments he prepared.

The faculty reaction to the board’s rebuff was swift and negative. On Friday a large number of them wrote to express their displeasure with the decision.

“Faculty would like to work with you and with the executive administration, together, to make Appalachian stronger,” wrote Martha McCaughey, a professor of sociology and member of the Faculty Senate. “However, you rejected, without any explanation, the formal request of our Faculty Senate Chair, Dr. Michael Behrent, to give a short report, and this therefore does not appear on your meeting agenda.”

“It is poor optics to refuse to engage with the Faculty Senate in the midst of a pandemic, and following the faculty’s voicing serious concerns about shared governance of the university,” McCaughey wrote. “Administrators’ meeting with individual departments is not an acceptable substitute for the administration’s obligations related to shared governance as defined in Article IV of the Faculty Constitution and 7.1 and 7.2 of the Faculty Handbook.”

“The Faculty Senate, on which I serve, stands ready to engage with both the executive administration and the Board of Trustees,” she wrote.

Read more

Environment

DEQ cites Colonial Pipeline for gasoline spill, material includes cancer-causing chemicals

Colonial Pipeline ships gasoline and other petroleum through a 5,500-mile pipeline through the Southeast en route to New Jersey. (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

The cancer-causing compound benzene has been detected in groundwater  from an Aug. 14 gasoline spill in Huntersville, prompted state regulators to cite Colonial Pipeline, which is responsible for the accident.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today that it has issued a notice of violation for impacts to groundwater as a result of the 273,000-gallon spill. So far, DEQ has not fined the company, but wrote in the citation that it could assess civil penalties in the future.

Other chemicals detected in groundwater are xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene. Ethylbenzene exposure has also been linked to cancer, according to federal health officials. Depending on the dose and length of exposure, all four chemicals can harm the neurological system.

Neighbors of the spill have been concerned in particular about benzene in the groundwater. At a community meeting in Huntersville earlier this month, a Colonial Pipeline representative dodged questions about whether benzene was among the contaminants. The representative, Greg Glaze, told attendees that the gasoline was the “same that goes in your car.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” DEQ said it has also directed that Colonial Pipeline sample its onsite monitoring wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, because the material that was used to minimize flammable vapors was found to contain PFAS compounds.

DEQ has also determined that “the risk posed by the discharge or release at the subject site is high.”

Colonial is testing drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of the spill, which occurred off Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve. So far, the company has reported no petroleum detections in the drinking water wells, but the groundwater and soil is contaminated.

Colonial Pipeline has estimated that 96,557 gallons of the gasoline — or just a third of the estimated total — has been recovered.

The cause of the spill was a break in a portion of the 42-year-old pipeline that had been previously repaired in 2004, according to Colonial’s required 30-day report to federal regulators. Two 15-year-old boys riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve discovered the spill.

DEQ is requiring Colonial to take other remedial action:

  • Restore groundwater quality to the standards protective of human health and the environment;
  • Submit detailed reports monthly that include soil sampling, surface water and water supply well sampling results, groundwater flow, public water system hook-ups for residents, status of free product recovery efforts, and soil excavation, transportation and disposal records.; and
  • Submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment report by Jan. 20, 2021.