Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Burr, Tillis, help Senate confirm true extremist to nation’s second highest court

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

It’s easy to become numb to the steady parade of extreme reactionaries that the Trump administration continues to install in offices of great responsibility, but here’s one that folks ought to take notice of. Today, the United States Senate approved Trump’s nomination of Neomi Rao to serve as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the court generally recognized as the nation’s second highest. Rao takes the slot vacated by Brett Kavanaugh when he ascended to the Supreme Court. North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voted “yes” on the nomination.

Check out what the nonpartisan court watchers at the Alliance for Justice had to say about today’s vote and Rao’s abhorrently extreme views:

“The Senate voted today to confirm Neomi Rao for Brett Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit over the objections of advocates and communities representing millions of Americans, including sexual assault survivors, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and people with disabilities. Rao has blamed sexual assault survivors for being attacked, shamed women for seeking equality in the workplace, belittled the fight for racial justice, and demeaned LGBTQ people. She has proven her willingness to put her dangerous rhetoric into policy time and time again during her tenure at OIRA, rolling back public protections for these communities, the environment, immigrants, and more. She has made clear she wants to use the courts to weaken protections for health and safety, workers, and consumers. Neomi Rao is unfit to serve for a lifetime on the federal bench, but Senate Republicans strong-armed members of their own party to confirm her anyway. With this vote, they have proven that they will go to outrageous lengths to pack our courts with more of Trump’s abhorrent judicial nominees.”

And this is from the good people at the Center for American Progress:

“President Donald Trump and the Senate majority are trying to pack the courts with yet another narrow-minded, partisan judge who will put the interests of big business and the wealthy before those of everyone else. While serving as Trump’s regulatory czar, Neomi Rao signed off again and again on regulations that give powerful corporations special breaks at the expense of people’s health and safety. She has also shown a disturbing bias against victims of sexual assault and has an unacceptable history of disparaging women’s rights.

But this is about more than just one judge; it’s about the whole conservative court-packing scheme playing out before our eyes. The Senate majority refused to confirm scores of federal judges in the last two years of the Obama administration and is now changing the rules to fill those stolen seats as fast as humanly possible. Conservatives have cut home-state senators out of the process, ignored negative ratings from the American Bar Association, and rubber-stamped judges without looking closely at their records. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to put the process on steroids by changing the rules for district court judges. Court-packing is happening right now. And if we do nothing, it’s going to have consequences for an entire generation. We need to fight for a fair-minded judiciary that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

All in all, it’s a truly sad day for the country.

Commentary

Editorial: Did Richard Burr campaign violate federal law?

Sen. Richard Burr

In case you missed it, be sure to check out a new editorial posted in the Charlotte Observer entitled “Burr, NRA appear to be even tighter than we thought.” In it, the authors explore the evidence of illegal coordination between Richard Burr’s 2016 reelection campaign and the National Rifle Association.

This is from the editorial:

We already knew North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, was awash in NRA cash. We already knew the pro-gun group spent $5.6 million in 2016 against his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross — twice as much as it spent on any other House or Senate candidate.

But only now do we know that Burr and the National Rifle Association may have broken the law by coordinating their advertising campaigns. Documents from the Federal Communications Commission show that the NRA’s ads in Burr’s race were authorized by the same media consultant working for Burr’s campaign, Mother Jones and The Trace reported on Friday.

That would appear to break federal law that requires candidates and outside groups to be independent of each other. Outside groups can make “independent expenditures” on so-called “issue ads,” which typically back or attack one candidate or the other. But the spending can’t be coordinated with an individual’s campaign. That law is designed in part to keep advocacy groups from exceeding contribution limits to individual candidates.

In a series of TV ads in 2016, the NRA attacked Ross for her record as a state legislator on gun control, saying she voted against gun rights and “personal liberty.” It was part of an avalanche of outside money dumped into the swing-state race with control of the U.S. Senate at stake.

Mother Jones and The Trace report that Jon Ferrell, CFO of a company called National Media Research, Planning and Placement, authorized ad purchases both for Burr’s campaign and for NRA ads in Burr’s race. He placed some TV ads in the closing weeks of the campaign as an “agent for Richard Burr Committee” and others at around the same time for the NRA against Ross. Mother Jones found similar activity in 2018 Senate races in Missouri and Montana.

Campaigns and outside groups can hire the same vendors but those vendors must have strict firewalls to prevent collaboration. A Burr campaign official suggested to the Observer editorial board that such a firewall was in place. But it’s hard to see how that’s so since Ferrell was involved with both sets of ads.

The editorial concludes by calling on the Federal Elections Commission, which has a record of being pretty slack in its enforcement of the coordination ban, to get moving and enforce it strictly in 2020 — especially given the flood of cash the NRA seems likely to dump on Thom Tillis’ campaign.
Commentary

Another editorial pleads with Burr, Tillis to end ideological attack on federal courts

Sen. Thom Tillis, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Richard Burr

As Clayton Henkel noted yesterday, the Winston-Salem Journal published a strong editorial blasting Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis for supporting Donald Trump’s “woefully bad” nominee for federal judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District, Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr, This morning, a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com offers a follow-up in which it takes the two senators to task for their general approach to advancing Trump judicial nominees.

In “Burr, Tillis must set higher standards for judicial nominees,” it’s noted that the two senators’ ideological crusade has led them stoop so low as to even support three court nominees rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

It is extremely rare for a presidential nominee to receive a “not qualified” rating — just six of Trump’s 159 picks. But Burr and Tillis have voted for three who have come to the Senate for roll calls.

Two of those, most recently Jonathan Kobes in the Eight Judicial District Court of Appeals and earlier Stephen Grasz (of the same district appeals court) got critical votes from Burr and Tillis that provided the margin of victory. Grasz was approved 50-48 while Kobes, who won approval earlier this week, was approved 51-50 – with Vice President Mike Pence casting the history-making tie-breaker vote.

Kobes, who was general counsel to U.S. Sen. Mike Round, R-.S.D., couldn’t provide examples of his legal writing that were “reflective of complex legal analysis, knowledge of the law, or ability to write about complex matters in a clear and cogent manner – qualities that are essential for a circuit court judge,” said Paul T. Moxley, chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

What defense is there to support a nominee the ABA deems unqualified? It is not an ideology issue. It is not that these nominees possess some unique qualification that somehow the ABA is overlooking (other than chummy connections with powerful Republicans).

Mere competence is not an excessive qualification for a lifetime appointment to critical job.

When it comes to administering justice, Burr and Tillis aren’t doing the job for the North Carolinians who put them in office. They need to demand more of judicial nominees than a pleasingly partisan resume and fealty to Donald Trump.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: Burr, Tillis failed state in partisan support for flawed judicial candidate

The Winston-Salem Journal takes Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to task for their blind and partisan support of Thomas Farr to be a US district judge in North Carolina.

The editorial board explains in its latest editorial:

Thomas Farr (L) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Thomas A. Farr was a woefully bad choice to be a federal district judge in North Carolina.

Thank goodness Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, stood up for principle over blind party loyalty and announced that he would oppose Farr’s nomination. With all 49 Democrats in the Senate and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also unwilling to vote for Farr, Scott’s opposition was all it took to sink the nomination.

Flake is opposing all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations until the Senate votes on a bill to protect special counsels, but he’s on record as saying he would have opposed Farr anyway. Principle is something that seems to be lacking among many Senate Republicans these days.

Where were North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, when news emerged recently about a 1991 Justice Department memo written under President George H.W. Bush — a memo that raises serious concerns about Farr’s role in racially discriminatory tactics used in Jesse Helms’ campaigns for Senate from North Carolina? They were holding firm in their support of Farr, no matter what.

Civil rights groups and others were already opposing Farr’s nomination before the memo surfaced, because of his work helping to discourage minority voters. Republicans who controlled the N.C. General Assembly hired Farr and his law firm to defend the congressional boundaries they drew in 2011 — boundaries that were eventually struck down by a federal court as racial gerrymandering. Farr also defended the 2013 N.C. voter ID law that was found to target minority voters.

Supporters in the U.S. Senate said Farr should not be judged on the basis of positions he was hired to defend. Then the 1991 memo, suggesting that Farr, as the leading lawyer for Helms’ Senate bid in 1990, had a role in devising the campaign’s controversial “ballot security” voter-suppression efforts, raised serious questions about his fitness for a lifetime appointment.

Yet Farr’s home-state senators, Burr and Tillis, still supported his nomination, making it easier for their fellow Republicans to do the same. Rather than backing a highly questionable nominee, the senators should rise above pure partisanship and work to find a good nominee for the Eastern Judicial District, which includes 44 counties from Raleigh eastward.

That judgeship has the unwelcome distinction of having been empty for nearly 13 years — the longest-lasting judicial vacancy in U.S. history. The empty seat has caused a massive backlog of cases, especially civil cases. Farr first surfaced as a nominee under President George W. Bush in 2006. That nomination went nowhere, for good reason. During his two terms, President Barack Obama tried twice to fill the seat. He nominated two well-qualified African-American women, Jennifer May Parker and, later, Patricia Timmons-Goodson. Burr blocked both. Burr’s actions are especially troubling given that the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge even though more than a quarter of its residents are black.

Then, when Trump took office, Farr’s nomination resurfaced. Who knows? With Republican gains in the Senate, the nomination might resurface next year.

Rather than stubbornly backing a flawed nominee, Burr and Tillis should encourage Trump to nominate a worthy candidate for the seat. They should do the right thing.

Read more

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Kavanaugh update: Trump acts like fool; editorials blast NC GOP leader, call on Tillis and Burr to act

The toxic and destructive presidency of Donald Trump continues. Yesterday, the President of the United States once again behaved like a complete nincompoop at a rally in Mississippi by mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, one of the accusers of his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. As AP reported, Trump actually even stooped to attempting to imitate Ford in an offensive and below-the-belt performance that Ford’s lawyer Michael Bromwich accurately described as “vicious, vile and soulless.” This is from the AP story:

“Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well?” Bromwich tweeted. “She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice.”

Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, two major new outlets blasted prominent Tar Heel Republicans for their performances in the Kavanaugh saga.

The lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer skewered GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse for his outrageous attacks on a Kavanaugh accuser. In “In North Carolina, the embodiment of why women stay silent about sexual assault,” the Observer put it this way:

The head of the North Carolina Republican Party calls one of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers “a criminal” who “should go to prison.” And we wonder why women are hesitant to report sexual assault?

Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina GOP, said of Julie Swetnick’s claims: “These things not only did not happen, they are impossible. So she needs to be prosecuted…”

How many women decide to remain in hiding when they hear comments like that? Republicans, from President Trump on down, have questioned why Kavanaugh’s accusers stayed quiet about the Supreme Court nominee for so long. But with his tweets about Swetnick on Sunday, Woodhouse himself becomes the living embodiment of why a woman might keep her secret hell to herself.

Finally, this morning’s lead editorial on WRAL.com (“Burr and Tillis, tell Trump to find new Supreme Court nominee”) explains why Kavanaugh’s juvenile behavior last week ought to be sufficient grounds to reject his nomination:

The scrutiny that Kavanaugh’s faced in his confirmation has been intense. But that’s just the way things are and given his experience – as a lawyer working with Ken Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton, working in the White House and as a federal judge – shouldn’t have been a surprise or anything he’d be unprepared for.

When that scrutiny reached its height and put him to the test, Kavanaugh failed to exhibit the kind of behavior appropriate of a justice on the highest court in the land. Read more