Commentary

Powerful essay underscores absurdity of Burr/Tillis judicial blockade

In case you missed it, the essay below (which originally appeared here) does a great job of explaining the outrageous nature of the ongoing blockade of Judge Merrick Garland and numerous other Obama judicial nominees by the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate — a blockade in which both of North Carolina’s senators — Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — continue to play a sadly prominent role.

The Need for a Reflective Judiciary Demands a Return to Normal Order
By Danyelle Solomon and Michele Jawando

Fifty-two federal judicial nominees are currently waiting for Senate action, underscoring congressional gridlock and the need to put people before politics.

Edward Stanton III, the highly respected African American U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has been waiting for more than a year for the U.S. Senate to vote to confirm him as a federal judge. Despite his stellar record and bipartisan support, it is looking less and less likely that the Senate will confirm him before the year is out. Unfortunately, Stanton’s story has become the norm rather than an exception.

The president nominates judicial candidates with the advice and consent of senators. The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary—chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and comprising senators from both parties—is responsible for reviewing nominees’ credentials, making evaluations of their records, and then voting on their nominations before sending nominees forward for full consideration before the Senate. This process used to work more smoothly, with just a few months being the average wait time between nomination and confirmation. That is no longer the case, with confirmations now regularly taking more than a year.

To have a fully functioning judicial system, courts need judges. And for courts to maintain their legitimacy with the public, judges must reflect the populations they serve. As much as judges strive for fairness, judges’ backgrounds’ can affect their decisions and the public’s acceptance of their decisions. A 2014 Rasmussen Reports poll found that 84 percent of black voters and 56 percent of other voters of color consider the justice system to be unfair to black and Hispanic Americans. Without more equal representation on the bench, that number will just continue to grow. Read more

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.”