Commentary, Courts & the Law

NC GOP raffling off assault weapons to boost judicial candidates

Image: Adobe stock

There’s no explanation as to why one needs to be a man or own an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon (a weapon banned in some states) or a handgun to hunt game, but that isn’t stopping the North Carolina Republican Party from conducting a raffle for “North Carolina Republican Sportsmen” to benefit its “Judicial Victory Fund.”

Among the items one can get a chance to obtain through the raffle: a “Custom Built Trump AR-15 .223/5.56” (which appears to feature — we’re not making this up — engraved images of Trump’s signature comb over) and a “DPMS Oracle AR-15 .223/5.56.”

For those “sportsmen” who want to hunt with handguns (and since the raffle tickets feature an image of what appear to be deer antlers and the website an image of what appears to be Carolina woodlands, one presumes that’s the activity being suggested here) there’s also an “Auto-Ordnance 1911 – ‘MAGA’ Edition V1 .45 ACP Limited Edition” and a “Glock G19 Trump Edition 9mm” — both of which are also emblazoned with images of you-know-who.

Thankfully, the website promoting the event includes a sentence reading: “Ticket Buyer is responsible for verifying they are legally allowed to purchase or own a firearm.” One fervently hopes that it will be enforced.

And one also hopes that the would-be North Carolina jurists who will benefit from the proceeds from this fundraiser are having at least some inklings of discomfort in being associated with such an event and stand prepared to rule in a fully unbiased and impartial manner when it comes to any kind of firearm regulation or enforcement action that comes before them.

Click here to learn more about the raffle.

Commentary

Editorial blasts Berger and Moore’s laughable feigned outrage over voting changes

House Speaker Tim Moore (L) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R)

In case you missed it, Raleigh’s News & Observer published one of its best editorials in some time yesterday. It deserves to be shared widely.

The subject is the — pardon the pun — “Trumped up” outrage being expressed by powerful Republican politicians at the recent action of the State Board of Elections in agreeing to some one-time improvements to voting rules to make sure that lots of North Carolinians aren’t disenfranchised this fall. As you’ve probably heard, the board settled a lawsuit challenging some of the state’s unnecessarily burdensome rules that would have assured that many North Carolinians voting by mail would have their ballots rejected for no good reason. The editorial rightfully dismisses Senator Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore’s recitations from the Trump playbook that this will somehow threaten the integrity of the election (absurd claims later repeated by Sen. Thom Tillis) as “comic relief.”

This is from “NC GOP leaders aren’t worried about voter fraud. They’re worried about a true vote.”:

The settlement in a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans was announced Tuesday. It extends the acceptance deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. It also allows voters who fail to have a witness sign their ballot to fix the error by signing an affidavit attesting that the ballot is indeed their own.

These are commonsense changes given the Postal Service’s delays in delivering mail, the risk of meeting with a witness during a pandemic and the unfamiliarity with the rules on the part of many people who will be voting absentee for the first time. Other states have extended their deadlines for absentee ballots and changed their witness requirement for this pandemic election.

All five members of the State Board of Elections – including its two Republicans – agreed to the settlement, which must be approved by Wake Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins.

Of course, after they agreed to the improvements, the two GOP members of the board changed their minds — presumably after getting marching orders from higher up — and resigned. Then Berger and Moore let loose with their absurd claims that the changes will somehow allow officials to “undo” the election.

Here again is the N&O:

The funniest line was Berger fuming that the one-time tweaks in response to the pandemic would constitute “a full-frontal assault on election integrity laws.” This from a leader who has pushed through election laws that courts have found to be unconstitutional efforts to suppress votes or alter outcomes through extreme gerrymandering.

The Republican leaders don’t fear voter fraud. They fear voters. A closer look at the settlement shows the State Board of Elections made a prudent decision to settle the legal challenge to help absentee voters and head off confusion as Election Day nears.

Amen to that. As the editorial notes, the changes are minor no-brainers and the only reason the GOP leaders oppose them is because they’re worried about the prospect of more North Carolinians having their votes counted.

Click here to learn the specifics of the rules changes and to read the full editorial.

Commentary, COVID-19, News

Is this really America? New and shocking numbers on the impact of the botched virus response

Most of us are already aware of the tragic fact that more than 200,000 of our fellow Americans — more than two-thirds the number of American combat deaths in all of  WWII — are now dead as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disastrously incompetent response of the federal government. But the latest numbers from the Census Bureau remind us that the devastation from the pandemic extends well-beyond the ghastly death toll. As a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, human suffering now afflicts the nation on a truly massive and frightening scale — particularly for people of color:

Millions of households are having serious trouble affording food and are falling behind on the rent, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for September 2-14 shows. Twenty-three million adults reported that their household didn’t get enough to eat, and an estimated 1 in 4 renters with children lived in a household that was behind on rent. Also, data for August show that some 35 million people — including 9 million children — either met the federal definition of “unemployed” (which understates the actual number of jobless workers) or lived with an unemployed family member, according to Census’ latest Current Population Survey.

These data underscore the urgent need for federal policymakers to agree on further robust relief measures. The measures enacted earlier this year — such as expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus payments — mitigated hardship but were temporary and had significant shortcomings. Without a new relief package, hardship likely will rise and grow more severe, endangering children’s long-term health and educational outcomes.

Among the report’s disturbing findings:

  • About 23 million adults — 10.5 percent of all adults — reported that their household sometimes or often had “not enough to eat” in the last seven days. This was several times the pre-pandemic rate: a recent survey released by the Agriculture Department found that 3.7 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” over the full 12 months of 2019. This included 739,000 adults in North Carolina.
  • Adults in households with children were likelier to report that the household didn’t get enough to eat: 14 percent, compared to less than 8 percent for households without children.
  • Some 9 to 14 percent of adults with children reported that their children sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it, well above the pre-pandemic figure. Households typically first scale back on food for adults before cutting back on what children have to eat. (The range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the Household Pulse Survey.)
  • One in 6 adult renters — or 17 percent — reported that they lived in a household that was not caught up on rent. That translates to roughly 13 million renters after adjusting for underreporting in the Pulse survey.
  • Renters of color were more likely to report that their household was not caught up on rent: about 1 in 4 Black (25 percent) and Asian (24 percent) renters and 1 in 5 Latino (22 percent) renters said they were not caught up on rent, compared to just 1 in 9 white (12 percent) renters.
  • Households with children were twice as likely to be facing challenges paying rent than households without children. Some 25 percent of renters who are parents or otherwise live with children are not caught up on rent, compared to 12 percent of adults not living with anyone under age 18.
  • Some 35 million people either met the official definition of “unemployed” (meaning they actively looked for work in the last four weeks or were on temporary layoff) or lived with an unemployed family member in August. This figure includes 9 million children.
  • The official definition of “unemployed” leaves out some workers sidelined by the crisis, such as those who are absent from their jobs without pay and jobless workers who want to work but aren’t currently looking for work (including people who have health concerns, are sick or caring for a sick relative, or need to care for their children because school or child care is closed). If we also include the family members of these workers, as many as 61 million people, or nearly 1 in 5 people in the country, live in families with a sidelined worker.

Click here to read the full report.

Commentary, Housing, Trump Administration

Housing advocates: New Trump administration rule will promote discrimination

The good people at the National Housing Law Project issued a sobering statement this afternoon about yet another effort by the Trump administration to weaken the nation’s civil rights laws.

Trump Administration Promotes Housing Discrimination with New HUD Rule

In yet another attack on the nation’s civil rights laws, the Trump administration has announced that it will publish a weakened fair housing rule tomorrow. The new disparate impact rule dismantles decades of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policy embodied in the 2013 rule and undermines the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Inclusive Communities, which affirmed the disparate impact doctrine under the Fair Housing Act.

“It is difficult to believe that our nation’s federal housing agency is promoting housing discrimination in the middle of a pandemic and related housing crisis,” said Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project. “While the rest of the country is demanding racial justice, the Administration attempts to eliminate one of the nation’s most important civil rights tools and writes the playbook on how to discriminate without getting caught.”

Practically speaking, the new HUD rule would sideline disparate impact as a usable legal tool to tackle systemic housing discrimination. This means that landlords, lenders, and other housing providers would be free to engage in activities that deprive people of color, domestic violence survivors, families with children, people with disabilities, and others of housing opportunities – so long as a discriminatory intent could not be shown.

“The core of the National Housing Law Project’s mission is to promote access to safe, decent, and affordable housing for those who are all too often denied such opportunities. HUD’s attack on disparate impact may make our mission harder, but we resolve to continue this fight,” continued Roller.

Civil rights and housing groups uniformly oppose the rule, which received more than 45,000 comments. The new regulation dismisses the majority of comments opposed, as it did with the new HUD rule that replaced the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule. NHLP and partnering organizations worked to oppose both rules through the #FightforHousingJustice campaign.

The publication of this rule continues the Trump Administration’s abysmal record on fair housing and civil rights. HUD just concluded public comment on the agency’s proposed anti-trans rule that would allow shelters funded with taxpayer dollars to turn away transgender and gender non-conforming people simply because of who they are. The proposed rule would eliminate the Equal Access Rule that ensures transgender people can access HUD-funded shelters that align with their gender iden

Commentary, Courts & the Law

In SCOTUS controversy, the hypocrisy is all red

As part of an P.R. effort to quell public outrage at their 180 degree flip-flop over the appropriateness of confirming a new Supreme Court Justice during a presidential election, Republicans, their allies and some ill-informed media types have attempted to argue as a defense in recent days that both parties are acting hypocritically.

You’ve probably read or heard this argument somewhere (I know I have in some of the hate mail that comes my way). It goes something like this: “Those blankety-blank Democrats would have done the same thing if the roles were reversed. Look at what they’re doing now. By arguing that no replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be considered until 2021, they’ve demonstrated their hypocrisy.”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this “logic.” It’s akin to arguing that victim of a physical assault is just as guilty as his attacker, because he bore ill will toward the person who attacked him and might have been the perpetrator if the circumstances were different.

Earth to the GOP and its apologists: Your argument might hold some validity if it was the Democrats who had held up a previous confirmation process on the grounds that it conflicted with an election. Maybe. The fact, however, is that they did no such thing.

What happened in 2016 was that U.S. Senate Republicans announced a new standard and established a new precedent by refusing to consider President Obama’s moderate and highly qualified nominee, appeals court judge Merrick Garland, during an election year.

North Carolina’s Thom Tillis helped spell out this change when he stated that it would be wrong to have a “partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president.”

There are many intelligent observers across the nation who believe that shift was an unwise and destructive change, but the simple fact is that it happened.

Having established this new standard and precedent, the Republicans shouldn’t be free now to simply abandon it and return to the old way of doing things out of political opportunism and convenience. And Democrats — the victims in 2016 of this shift — certainly can’t and shouldn’t be blamed now for demanding that Republicans lie in the new bed they have made.

The simple fact is that for democratic government to work properly, precedent and rules must mean something. Republicans, however, have demonstrated that the only rules and precedents they respect are the ones born of raw power.

On shudders to think what new assaults on our Constitution that a justice confirmed under such dishonest circumstances will endorse.