Commentary

Senate fails to curb gun violence; Burr, Tillis once again do the NRA’s bidding

Last night, the U.S. Senate failed for the umpteenth time to pass modest gun safety legislation. Sadly, both of North Carolina’s senators once again bowed to the pressure of the gun lobby.  In response, the good folks at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence issued the following statement:

NC Senators Vote Against Gun Background Checks, Keeping Terrorists from Buying Guns

On Monday, June 20, North Carolina’s two senators cast votes to help kill two amendments to reduce the dangers of gun violence.  Both Richard Burr and Tom Tillis voted against universal background checks for gun purchases and a measure to strictly limit guns sales to known terrorists.

“These were votes to keep the unacceptable status quo of gun laws,” said Becky Ceartas, director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence [NCGV].  “It’s shocking that these harmful votes were cast in the wake of the worst mass shooting of our history in Orlando and, adding to the outrage, they came almost one year to the day since of the killings in the Charleston church.”

“In casting these votes, our senators showed their true colors.  They chose not to put safety of our families first, pushing that aside to demonstrate their loyalty to the gun lobby,” Ceartas said.  She pointed out that the National Rifle Association has given Sen. Tom Tillis $4,418,012 and contributed $805,219 to Sen. Richard Burr.

“Action must be taken.  It’s now up to Speaker Paul Ryan and the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on similar amendments for background checks and bans on terrorists seeking to buy guns.”

The House is scheduled to take a Fourth of July break at the end of this week.  Ceartas called for Rep. Ryan “to do the right thing and have the House vote on these life-saving measures.  The representatives want to go home and see families and work their districts over the Fourth, but now of all times, votes on these life-or-death measures must be a first priority.”

Four proposed gun measures were voted down Monday along party lines for the most part.  Sen. Christopher Murphy offered the proposal on background checks, and Sen. Diane Feinstein sponsored the amendment curtailing gun sales to known terrorists.  The other two amendments were one by Sen. Charles Grassley to allow certain psychiatric patients to buy guns on the day they are released from mental institutions; it also would allow military veterans suffering from mental illnesses to buy guns.  And Sen. Jon Cornyn’s proposal was to allow a suspected terrorist to buy guns unless the U.S. Attorney General could prove in court that the person had committed, or was about to commit, an act of terrorism. In addition, the gun applicant would have had the right to contest the evidence against him in court.  The amendment would have required these things to be done within five business days.

Senators Burr and Tillis voted for the Grassley and Cornyn amendments. “Their votes,” said Ceartas, “were a sad attempt to try and fool the American public into believing they were doing something about gun violence.  They weren’t.  They acted in bad faith and we will not let this stand.”

Commentary

WUNC story highlights Burr’s “pathetic” blockade of African-American judicial nominees

Richard Burr 2

Senator Richard Burr

G.K. Butterfield

Congressman G.K. Butterfield

Justice Timmons-Goodson.jpg

Patricia Timmons-Goodson

While the blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland continues to draw well-deserved national headlines, the ongoing blockade of nominees to serve on the federal bench in North Carolina’s Eastern District (the longest such blockade in the country by four years) remains in the spotlight as well.

Reporter Jeff Tiberii of WUNC radio has the latest in a new story entitled “Judicial Seat in NC’s Eastern District Remains Vacant After More Than A Decade”:

“Eleven years ago, Mike Easley was North Carolina’s governor, the Carolina Hurricanes began with what would be a Stanley Cup season and Apple had yet to unveil the original iPhone to the public. And on December 31st, 2005, North Carolina Eastern District Judge Malcolm Howard assumed senior status, a form of semi-retirement granted to U.S. federal judges.

Since then, Howard’s vacancy has yet to be filled.

‘That vacancy has remained open for 3,800 days,’ University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias said. ‘It isn’t funny for the judges of the Eastern District or the people who live there, or the two nominees who have not been confirmed. So, I guess it’s just pathetic is what it is.'”

As has been the case for years, Senator Richard Burr — the man personally responsible for the blockade — gave an incomprehensible explanation for his action. After stating that the matter is not an emergency (despite the fact that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts officially labeled it a “judicial emergency” years ago) Burr dismissed President Obama’s latest effort to nominate a judge (former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson) out of hand:

“To make a nomination right now is overtly political … there has never been district court judges nominated this late, who got consideration from the U.S. Senate,” Burr added.

But, of course, Obama has been trying to fill the position for almost his entire presidency and Burr has blocked those efforts (as arcane Senate rules give him the right to do) the entire time. What’s perhaps most striking and troubling about all of this are the racial overtones. Both of Obama’s nominees have been African-American and the Eastern District (which has a higher percentage of African-American residents than any other section of the state) has never had a black judge in its entire history. Here’s Tiberii’s conclusion:

“‘It’s certainly political, we all know that,’ said Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose district extends from Durham to Elizabeth City to New Bern. ‘It smells of racism.’

Like Timmons-Goodson, Butterfield is African-American. And he points out the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge on the bench.

‘The judiciary must be a diverse institution,’ he said. ‘We cannot have an all-white federal district court in the Eastern District of North Carolina that is 35 percent African-American. That is unacceptable.’

For Butterfield, it’s about race. Burr cites politics. And other observers say it’s well beyond time to fill the void.”

Commentary

Even Richard Burr is now openly criticizing HB2

Richard Burr 2It would appear that recent poll numbers and the increasingly formidable challenge that he is facing from Democratic Party nominee Deborah Ross are forcing Senator Richard Burr to break with Gov. McCrory and state legislative leaders.

The Huffington Post reports that Burr was highly critical of HB2 in an interview yesterday:

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that Republican lawmakers in his state went too far when they passed a sweeping anti-LGBT law this year, and said they need to rein it in before a judge does it for them.

“Yeah, I’ve got issues,” Burr told The Huffington Post when asked if he has problems with his state’s new law, also known as HB 2.

“The legislature botched what they were trying to do,” he said. “It was far too expansive….”

Burr has largely avoided talking about the law. He previously said he was out of the country when it passed; stated it’s up to the courts to decide if it’s valid; suggested it doesn’t actually discriminate; and declared it a state issue.

On Tuesday, though, he was clear that he wasn’t happy with it. He also predicted that the law is going to be changed one way or another, so the question now is which branch of government does it.

“It will be decided one of two ways: through the courts, where everybody’s chosen to place it now, or the General Assembly and the Charlotte City Council getting together and solving what was blundered on both sides,” Burr said.

Not surprisingly, Burr went on to make some other less insightful comments — blaming Charlotte officials and President Obama (naturally) for their roles in the controversy — but he also explained that he thought the Charlotte City Council made the right move in not repealing the non-discrimination ordinance that HB2 targeted this week:

“To repeal it before you know what the General Assembly is going to do would be a mistake,” he said, hopping into a Senate train car taking him away from reporters. “That’s why it’s got to be the General Assembly and the City of Charlotte getting together and coming up with an agreed-upon package.”

Commentary

Editorial: “No excuse” for Richard Burr’s blockade of Judge Timmons-Goodson

Richard Burr 2There have now been dozens of editorials and op-eds in recent months and years calling on Richard Burr to end his absurd blockade of President Obama’s attempts to fill a decade-old vacancy on the federal bench in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Today, it’s the Winston-Salem Journal with a reprint of an editorial that the Greensboro News & Record featured last week.

“When Patricia Timmons-Goodson ran for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court in 2006, she polled 58 percent of the vote. She’d already proven her mettle on the state Court of Appeals and as a District Court judge in her native Cumberland County.

President Barack Obama has nominated Timmons-Goodson to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. District Court bench in Raleigh. She is eminently well-qualified. She is a leader in the American Bar Association, a trustee at Guilford College and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem called the nomination “an election season stunt” and “a brazenly political nomination.”

If North Carolina residents want to know what Timmons-Goodson did that turned her from a distinguished, easily elected jurist to this political pariah, they won’t hear the reason from Burr. Instead, he issued a statement blaming Obama for breaking an agreement about appointments and not consulting with him before making the nomination.

There is no excuse for denying Timmons-Goodson a hearing, even if Obama failed to call him about the nomination. That might be a breach of protocol, but Burr is equally responsible because of his unreasonable positions on the Loretta Lynch and Merrick Garland nominations.

Perhaps election-year politics is playing an oversized role once again. On April 18, Timmons-Goodson joined a majority on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in issuing a strongly worded statement denouncing North Carolina’s House Bill 2. Maybe that action influenced Obama’s decision or Burr’s reaction. It shouldn’t have, because, as an experienced, fair-minded judge, Timmons-Goodson doesn’t let political considerations dictate her conduct on the bench. That’s what makes her a good choice for the federal court seat.

Burr should reconsider and support her confirmation, or else there may be political consequences for his recent pattern of obstructionism. It’s not likely he’ll do as well in November as winning 58 percent of the vote.”

 

Commentary

HB2 continues to confuse, divide conservatives: Burr rebukes McCrory

burrMcCrory_budget305-aWhen HB2 was passed in March, it was conservatives who were united and progressives who were divided over the issue in North Carolina. As many will recall, the law was passed with several Democratic votes in the state House.

Now, less than two months later, things have changed dramatically. While progressives have come together in concluding that the new law is a legal and political disaster and around proposals to repeal it, conservatives are all over the place. Some want to repeal it, some want to rewrite it, some want to double down with the law and some just want the whole thing to go away.

The two poster children for the last two categories are clearly Governor Pat McCrory and Senator Richard Burr. In recent days, McCrory appears to have abandoned his former stance as a reluctant HB2 warrior and gone all in with the law — apparently deciding that he will make his reelection campaign a referendum on the discriminatory law.

Burr, on the other hand, seems to have no such interest. For the most part, he has distanced himself from the law — at one point responding to a reporter’s question about the issue by declaring “Oh, I’m not getting into that crap.”

Now, yesterday, Burr specifically rejected Gov. McCrory’s repeated suggestion that the solution to North Carolina’s dilemma lies in congressional action. This is from a story yesterday on the Washington news site, Roll Call:

“North Carolina’s senior senator said his state’s Gov. Pat McCrory is “off base” in calling for congressional intervention to resolve a state dispute over restroom access for transgender people.

‘I’ve never seen Congress get involved in judicial matters and this is turned over to the court system now,’ Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr said Tuesday. ‘So, I think the governor’s off base.’”

Burr’s stance of just wanting the whole thing to go away was, of course, echoed yesterday by the conservative pols running the University of North Carolina.

The bottom line: It’s looking more and more like HB2 could end up being just as destructive a force amongst North Carolina conservatives in 2016 as a certain New York real estate magnate. Stay tuned.