Commentary

Veteran law professor: Trump’s new Attorney General is a frightening extremist

Be sure to check out the new essay published yesterday on the American Constitution Society website by veteran law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. The essay is entitled “An Extremist Attorney General,” and in it Chemerinsky offers a remarkably damning portrait of Matthew Whitaker and his bizarre beliefs. Here are some excerpts:

Matthew Whitaker – Image: American Constitution Society

I didn’t think that President Trump could find someone more conservative to be Attorney General than Jeff Sessions, but I was wrong. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s beliefs are at the far-right fringes of the Republican party. Thankfully, there is a strong argument made by conservatives such George Conway, Alberto Gonzalez, and John Yoo that the appointment of Whitaker is unconstitutional.

Whitaker’s views on constitutional law are stunning. While running for the Senate in Iowa four years ago (he finished fourth), he was asked what Supreme Court cases were wrongly decided. “There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

Also, while running for the Senate, Whitaker said that states did not have to follow federal law and could nullify it if they wished….

In just a few sentences, Whitaker rejected foundational constitutional principles that have been followed since the earliest days of American history. Whitaker rejects Marbury v. Madison and the power of courts to review the constitutionality of statutes and executive actions.

He rejects “all” of the New Deal cases. These included decisions upholding Social Security, the federal minimum wage, and federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board. These are the cases that provided the basis for federal civil rights laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination by hotels and restaurants and forbids employment discrimination based on race, sex, or religion.

But Whitaker goes even further and says that states can nullify federal law because states created the federal government. The Supreme Court expressly rejected this argument in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, when Chief Justice John Marshall explained that it was the people, not the states, that created the national government and held that states cannot nullify federal actions….

If this is not enough, Whitaker has taken the position that only Christians should be federal judges. While running for the Senate in Iowa, Whitaker was asked about his criteria for evaluating federal judges. He said, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.” The moderator asked, “Levitical or New Testament?” “New Testament,” Whitaker replied.

Chemerinsky closes by questioning whether it’s even constitutional to have an attorney general who has never been confirmed by the Senate, as has been the tradition with past interim replacements. He notes that even many on the far right find such a proposition doubtful. Here’s his remarkable conclusion:

Jeff Sessions did many terrible things as Attorney General. He initiated and defended the policy of separating parents and children at the border. He mandated charging every crime to the maximum. He withheld federal law enforcement funds from cities that did not cooperate with federal immigration officials, which several federal courts declared unconstitutional. But he did the right thing and recused himself from the Mueller investigation and never interfered.

For that he drew President Trump’s ire and insults and it led to his firing. In Matthew Whitaker, President Trump found someone more extreme than Jeff Sessions. Whitaker is one the most frightening people to occupy the role of Attorney General in American history.

Commentary

Some quick facts about Veterans Day

Image: NC Dept. of Veterans & Military Affairs

CNN has posted a handy infographic about Veterans Day that includes some quick and important facts about the holiday. The following was adapted from that post:

#1 – It’s celebrated annually on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I (yesterday was the 100th anniversary).

#2 – There are 19.6 million veterans in the U.S. , which equals about one of of 15 people.

#3 – 9.2 million vets are over the age of 65.

#4 – There are 1.9 million female veterans.

#5 – Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day — President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation in 1919. The word “veterans” replaced the word “armistice” by an act of Congress in 1954.

#6 – For a brief period during the early 70’s the holiday was moved to late October.

#7 – The date was moved back to Nov. 11 in 1978.

For more information on veterans in North Carolina, check out the website of the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs at https://www.milvets.nc.gov/.

 

Commentary, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Now what? Five election takeaways for North Carolinians

The 2018 election is finally and mercifully over and, as was noted in this space yesterday, now is no time for progressives to rest on their laurels. Having taken some promising initial steps in the struggle to overcome Trumpism and build a better, fairer, freer and more sustainable nation and planet, now is the time for caring and thinking people to redouble their efforts and turn their electoral energy toward the cause of governance.

Here in North Carolina, this will remain an enormous challenge. Despite important progressive victories in several races, the state legislature and congressional delegation both remain absurdly and illegally gerrymandered and highly unrepresentative of the state’s closely divided and increasingly urban and diverse voter population. Despite being headed for victory in the combined popular vote in congressional and legislative races (the Democrats only ran candidates in 12 of 13 U.S. House races), North Carolina Democrats remain mired in minority status.

That said, last night’s results offer some significant glimmers of hope for the future. Here are five initial takeaways…

[Read more…

2. Black sheriffs make history in sweep of seven larges NC counties

While Congressional and General Assembly races got most of the election headlines this week, history was quietly being made in a series of law enforcement races.

On Tuesday the state’s seven largest counties – Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake – all elected Black men sheriff.

Five – Buncombe, Cumberland, Guilford, Durham, Forsyth – did so for the first time.

In Pitt County — the state’s 14th largest — voters elected Paula Dance as their first Black female sheriff.

[Read more…]

3. A requiem for the GOP supermajorities and other post-election thoughts

Ever been to a funeral where no one had anything nice to say about the dearly departed?

“Well, they certainly were bellicose,” we might say through gritted teeth.

That’s the feeling today, with North Carolina now weeks away from burying the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly.

North Carolina voters handed down a good many split decisions in these elections, which like it or not, were always going to be skewed to the right by GOP gerrymandering. But in the legislature, Republicans may be surprised by their losses today, losses which, presuming the final vote counts are upheld, would break the GOP supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. [Read more…]

4. Midterm election proves to be Independence Day for NC courts

The North Carolina courts have a lot to celebrate after Tuesday night – voter turnout in statewide judicial races was higher than the past three midterm elections, voters elected the first openly LGBTQ candidate in any statewide political race, and there was a rejection of lawmakers’ efforts to politicize the judicial branch.

“No doubt this is an encouraging sign,” said Douglas Keith, counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “The public’s broad rebuke of these efforts and the bipartisan public officials’ rebuke of these efforts will hopefully be kept in the back of the minds of anyone who thinks of revisiting efforts to politicize the judicial branch.”

[Read more…]

**BONUS READ: NC voters pass 4 constitutional amendments; lame-duck session looming

5. Half-truths and sometimes no truth at all: Public debates pollution limits at Enviva’s wood pellet plant in Hamlet

About a quarter-mile off NC 177 in Richmond County, just north of Hamlet, skeletons of buildings gouge the horizon, as bulldozers coerce the dirt into mounds and flats. This is the site of Enviva’s new wood pellet production plant, its fourth in North Carolina. Logs timbered from area forests are chopped up, dried and made into pellets that resemble dog kibble. Those pellets then begin their long journey, far from their birthplace in North Carolina forests.

At the nearby CSX terminal, they are transported by diesel train to the port of Wilmington, then loaded on ships powered by sulfur-spewing, low-grade bunker fuel that are bound for the United Kingdom and the European Union. Upon arrival, the pellets are again transported by rail or truck to power plants, where companies, benefiting from large government subsidies, burn them instead of coal.

Every step of wood pellet production carries significant environmental and climate consequences…

[Read more…]

**BONUS READS:

6. Editorial Cartoon: The Real ‘Wave’

Commentary, Courts & the Law

Not dead yet? Conservative website claims court-packing scheme could be on tap at special session.

For years now, rumors have persisted in North Carolina political circles that Republican legislative leaders were seriously considering the idea of adding two new justices to the state Supreme Court in order to eliminate or dilute the court’s Democratic majority. The scheme has always been fraught  with huge challenges — not the least of which at present is that: a) Democrats will enjoy a 5-2 majority come January and b) any new seats created would be filled until the 2020 election by Gov. Roy Cooper.

All that said, the rumor persists. This morning, the right-wing website known as the Daily Haymaker included a post entitled “#ncga: TWO MORE justices?” in which the author reported the following:

“I am hearing from sources inside and outside the legislative building in Raleigh that the GOP super-majority will attempt to use its last days in power to ram through an expansion of the state Supreme Court’s membership. Word is they will try to add TWO additional justices — basically cancelling out the gains by Democrats in the last two years.”

Though the idea makes little apparent sense — even the Haymaker dismisses the scheme as “a bad idea for many reasons” — one supposes that anything is possible when it comes to the current GOP leadership and its desperate ongoing efforts to cling to absolute power as long as humanly possible.

Another plausible explanation for the rumblings might simply be to provide cover for the other plans that Republicans are genuinely hatching for the Nov. 27 special legislative session. If North Carolinians get themselves all fired up to oppose court packing, maybe other, more likely schemes (like a new and restrictive voter ID law or other efforts to further erode the power of the Governor) will get lost in the shuffle and seem less objectionable.

Or, maybe, the Haymaker’s anonymous sources are simply all wet and the whole thing is just another wild, wacky and baseless rumor. That certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for the website in question.

One thing that does seems certain, however, is that Republicans are indeed scheming about how to best take advantage of their remaining weeks of supermajority status on Jones Street. What’s more, caring and thinking North Carolinians ought to be watching carefully and preparing for action with great vigilance.

Commentary

Editorial neatly sums up NC’s absurd gerrymandering crisis

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial on WRAL.com, “Voters lose, gerrymandering wins. It needs to stop.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Imagine buying seven apples and six oranges at the grocery store only to get home and discover the store decided you should have 10 apples and just three oranges.

That’s exactly what is happening to voters in North Carolina. Tuesday 49.7 percent of the state’s voters picked Democrats to send to the U.S. House of Representatives. But only three Democrats (23 percent) actually were elected.

It gets worse. Fifty-one percent of the voters picked Democrats to serve in the state Senate. How many won? Just 42 percent. So Republicans will hold 29 of 50 Senate seats. The same thing happened in the state House of Representatives. Republicans will hold 66 of the 120 seats even though 51 percent of the voters picked Democrats.

How can a majority of voters cast their ballots one way only to see the result be the opposite?”

After explaining that the answer is, of course, North Carolina’s absurdly gerrymandered districts, the editorial continues:

“The unfairness is to voters who expressed their will but see it subverted and ignored by those who are supposed to serve them. The result is an out-of-control legislative majority and leadership with a radical agenda that’s out of step with citizens’ views and desires. The evidence is overwhelming – highlighted by policy blunders like House Bill 2 and the two power-grab state Constitutional amendments voters just overwhelmingly rejected.

This is not a surprise. The courts have repeatedly ruled, since the districts were redrawn in 2012, that they are illegal – both because of racial discrimination and excessive partisanship.

North Carolina has suffered too long under laws passed by an illegally constituted legislature. North Carolina taxpayers have wasted millions in legal fees defending the indefensible.

Sixty-nine current and newly-elected legislators (44 Democrats and six Republicans in the state House and 19 Democratic state senators) have signed Common Cause’s ‘Fair Maps Pledge.’ In addition, eight Republicans were among the sponsors of a bill, that was never heard, to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

When legislators convene later this month, rather than looking to weaken Gov. Roy Cooper and further shore up their diminished authority, legislative leaders should openly discuss and have the General Assembly adopt an independent, nonpartisan process for congressional and legislative redistricting.

Get the job done. Make North Carolina elections fair again.”