Courts & the Law, News

Trump releases new federal judicial nominees; Farr not among them

Thomas Farr

Thomas Farr was not included among a list of nominees President Donald Trump sent Wednesday to the Senate.

Farr previously was nominated and re-nominated by Trump to fill the longest running judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. He never got a vote last year after Republicans broke ranks amid concerns about his ties to voter suppression.

There was some question about whether Trump would nominate Farr again, and North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis recently told McClatchy he was still looking into whether he would have to push to make that happen.

It is unclear if Farr is still being considered for the lifetime appointment, as no one else was named in a news release of nominees to fill the Eastern District vacancy. Democrats and civil rights leaders have been adamantly opposing Farr’s nomination, particularly to the Eastern District of North Carolina, which houses almost half of the state’s Black population, but has never had a Black federal judge there in the District Court’s 145-year history.

Trump did re-nominate a number of people for other judgeships, including former federal prosecutor and current Charlotte-area attorney Kenneth Bell to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina and North Carolinian Allison Jones Rushing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

He also re-nominated dozens of judges that have been opposed by progressive court advocates across the nation and organizations fighting for abortion and LGBTQ rights.

In response to Trump’s announcement, People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker issued the following statement:

“Donald Trump has spent the last two years nominating some of the most extreme, unqualified judicial nominees in recent memory. At the end of last year, in the face of strong opposition by Democrats, the Senate sent back dozens of those nominees to the White House. The intervening weeks haven’t made those nominees any better. The list includes nominees like Chad Readler, who signed onto a brief attempting to strip millions of Americans of the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions — a brief so extreme that three other Department of Justice officials resigned rather than put their name to it. It includes nominees like Eric Murphy, who fought to make it easier to strip voters, especially African American voters, of their right to cast a ballot. It includes Wendy Vitter, who pushed dishonest junk science to scare women about abortion, and Neomi Rao, who cast rape as ‘a choice’ made by women who drink too much.

“These nominees are blatantly unqualified for lifetime seats on the federal bench. The fact that Republicans have fallen in lockstep behind so many unfit judicial nominations is an appalling testament to their willingness to put partisanship over principle and the wellbeing of their constituents. Democrats need to stand up against this kind of extremism with everything they’ve got and make clear that they won’t be a party to Trump’s effort to pack the courts with extreme, unqualified nominees.”

Planned Parenthood Action Fund also released a statement after the news expressing their disappointment in the new, not-so-new nominees.

“The courts’ power to dictate people’s access to health care cannot be overstated. Long after Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence are out of office, the judges they put on the bench will continue restricting people’s access to abortion, birth control, and basic care for generations,” said Dana Singiser, Senior Vice President, Policy, Campaigns, and Advocacy of PPAF. “The American people want and deserve judges who will safeguard their rights, rather than try to impose their personal beliefs on all people. We call on all senators to reject these and any nominees who will not protect individual liberties and freedoms.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal courts will close Feb. 1 if government shutdown continues

Federal courts will shut down next week if the partial government shutdown continues.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC) estimated yesterday that the judiciary can sustain funded operations through Jan. 31. It also will continue to explore ways to conserve funds so it can continue paid operations through Feb. 1, according to a news release, but no further extensions will be possible.

The AOC had previously estimated exhausting available funds sometime between Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, the longest in U.S. history.

The full AOC release sheds some light on what happens next if the shutdown continues:

The extensions have been achieved through a multi-pronged strategy of deferring non-critical operating costs and utilizing court filing fees and other available balances. Most of the measures are temporary stopgaps, and the Judiciary will face many deferred payment obligations after the partial government shutdown ends.

In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.

Should funding run out before Congress enacts a new continuing resolution or full-year funding, the Judiciary would operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which permits mission critical work. This includes activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services. Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its mission critical work.

In response to requests by the Department of Justice, some federal courts have issued orders suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party, and others have declined to do so. Such orders are published on court internet sites. Courts will continue to conduct criminal trials.

The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system remains in operation for electronic filing of documents, as does PACER, which enables the public to read court documents.

Courts have been encouraged to work with their district’s U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and Federal Protective Service staff to discuss service levels required to maintain court operations. The General Services Administration has begun to reduce operations and courts are working with their local building managers to mitigate the impact on services.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Report: Corporations are stiffing North Carolina on $373 million in state taxes

We all know that rich shareholders and global corporations find ways to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, often through complex accounting schemes that boggle the mind. That’s why everyone should take heed of a new report showing that a few tweaks to North Carolina’s corporate tax code could stop global companies from dodging an estimated $373 million in state tax obligations.

It turns out that state leaders can ensure that companies pay the proper amount of taxes on income generated from business conducted in their jurisdictions, but existing tax codes at the state level often allow loopholes for smart corporate tax lawyers to exploit. Corporations often use accounting sleights of hand to move income around within the United States and to offshore tax havens, regardless of where the sales and production that created that income took place.

Adopting a policy generally known as “combined reporting” that bases a company’s income tax bill on how much of its activity takes place within a given state would prevent large companies from ducking an estimated $17 billion in state taxes that they are currently avoiding. Here in North Carolina, preventing companies from exploiting domestic tax havens (like Delaware) could bring in an additional $151 million in revenue, and stopping the practice of parking income outside of the United States could net another $222 million.

Global tax avoidance doesn’t just leave the rest of North Carolinians to pick up the tab, it undermines homegrown companies that don’t have a footprint outside of the state. When global corporations hide income in corporate tax havens, they often get a leg up on companies here in North Carolina that actually pay their state taxes in full, making it all the more difficult for smaller enterprises to contend with their global competitors.

Global corporations have already gotten enormous breaks on their federal and North Carolina taxes in recent years which only tilted the economic playing field further in favor of the very wealthy. It’s high time that we compel wealthy shareholders and profitable corporations to reinvest in the county that made them rich in the first place.

As legislators return to Raleigh with a long list of vital public needs to address, and not nearly enough state revenue to do the job, this report provides some invaluable guidance. Preventing large corporations from dodging taxes is a win for mom-and-pop businesses, for resident North Carolina taxpayers, and would make our tax system far more balanced than it currently is.

Environment, Trump Administration

Federal judges puts the kibosh on seismic testing permits during government shutdown

Last February, BOEM held a public comment session in Raleigh about its plan to allow seismic testing and offshore drilling off the NC coast. Hundreds of people protested against the proposal beforehand. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The Trump administration is prohibited from issuing permits for seismic testing in the ocean during the government shutdown, a federal court ruled Tuesday.

Energy exploration companies conduct seismic testing to try to discover potential spots that contain oil or natural gas below the ocean floor. Science has shown that seismic testing, which produces extremely loud, persistent blasts of sound beneath the sea, can harm and even kill marine life, from whales down the food chain to plankton. Five exploration companies have asked for permits to begin the testing.

The Hill reported the story yesterday afternoon.

In addition to environmental groups, Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has opposed energy exploration and seismic testing off the North Carolina coast, citing potential environmental damage and economic threats to tourism because of accidents or spills. Likewise, nearly every coastal government in North Carolina has publicly stated its opposition.

From The Hill:

Justice Department attorneys representing the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had asked [Judge] Gergel to pause the case during the shutdown because they could not write filings. Gergel granted that pause, but said that the same logic means BOEM should be prohibited from granting any permits until the government reopens.
He noted that last week Interior asked furloughed employees to return to work in order to process the seismic testing applications. …

The story goes on:

Federal attorneys had told the judge previously that the BOEM would not issue testing permits during the shutdown. But the agency later updated its shutdown plan to bring in employees to work on the permits, and attorneys told the court that the permits might be issued as early as March 1.

 

Commentary

Charlotte Observer editorial: Thom Tillis is no moderate

Be sure to check out a new Charlotte Observer editorial that’s running this morning in the Queen City and here in the Observer’s McClatchy twin, Raleigh’s News & Observer. In “Thom Tillis the moderate? Be skeptical,” the authors rightfully call out Tillis for his recent, pre-2020 election posturing and pretenses of moderation.

After documenting how Tillis keeps sponsoring bills with Democrats and touting his supposed “bipartisanship” on multiple issues, but then backs away when the chips are down, the editorial concludes with this on-the-money assessment:

This is the problem with Tillis’s move to the center. He boasts of bipartisanship and files bills with Democrats on smaller-ticket issues, but when the big moments arrive, Tillis doesn’t. At least not as a centrist.

So it is with immigration this week. So it was with a bill last year on protecting Robert Mueller’s investigation — a measure that Tillis introduced but has declined to forcefully pursue. Tillis also has been anything but centrist on significant policies Americans support, such as basic gun control measures and protecting Obamacare. He voted against his party only 1.8 percent of the time last Congress, ranking him 95th among all senators, according to ProPublica.

Most importantly, when his country needed Republican senators to stand up to the president’s reckless statements and policies the past two years, Tillis has too often been quiet. In fact, he said this two weeks ago to the Huffington Post: “I’m going to defer to the president on the best strategy, and I would never vote to override a veto on something that the president didn’t think was the best approach.”

We understand the challenge Tillis faces. If he votes against the president on high-profile issues, he risks losing the support of N.C. voters who are passionately behind Trump no matter what. He has apparently chosen a different strategy: Keep those Trump backers happy, but talk a good centrist game in hopes of grabbing enough moderates to win. Will it work? Perhaps. But Tillis should own who he is, and North Carolinians should recognize what he isn’t.