Commentary, News

NC Supreme Court authors highly questionable, Election Day power grab

Here’s a piece of troubling news that got buried (almost assuredly not by accident) last Tuesday when the public’s attention was elsewhere: the North Carolina Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of issuing a new rule on its motion to allow the Chief Justice to appoint temporary substitute justices in certain circumstances. Here’s the full text of the new Rule 29.1 of the N.C. Rules of Appellate procedure:

“In the event that an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is recused or disqualified from participation in a specific matter, the Chief Justice may, when necessary to avoid the possibility of an evenly divided disposition, appoint a substitute justice who will participate in the consideration and decision of the matter. The substitute justice shall be selected using a neutral rotation process from a list of eligible retired justices maintained by the Supreme Court.”

The rule became effective immediately — that is, last Tuesday.

A preliminary look at the rule raises real questions about its constitutionality/legality. There is no state statute or constitutional provision that specifically confers such authority on the court. While state law contemplates the appointment of emergency temporary justices when a sitting justice becomes incapacitated, there is no provision to do anything of the kind merely when justices must sit out cases due to conflicts of interest. Moreover, the rule’s vague prescription that such appointments will be allowed only “when necessary to avoid the possibility of an evenly divided” panel raises all kinds of questions. Many decisions of the court include multiple findings and rulings. What if the court is unanimously agreed on one part of a case and evenly divided on another? Does the temporary justice get appointed to help decide the whole case? And when will the appointment take place — halfway through deliberation when the even divide becomes apparent?

The bottom line: This is a very important matter that goes to the heart of the citizenry’s constitutional right to elect the members of the Supreme Court. While there may conceivably be some good reasons to enact such a rule, it deserves a lot more notice and opportunity for public input than the court provided — especially at a moment in time in which several fundamental disputes (including the outcome of the Governor’s race and a plan to pack the court with additional appointees) are currently before the public. At best, the court acted obliviously in issuing such a potentially far reaching new rule last Tuesday.


Expert: North Carolinians should keep enrolling in Obamacare

There was a fine and important post yesterday from Center of Budget and Policy Priorities health policy expert Susan Lueck entitled: “Consumers Should Keep Enrolling in Marketplace Coverage” that was worth sharing widely. Here’s Lueck:

“Donald Trump’s election and incoming House and Senate Republican majorities have millions of people who buy their health insurance on the individual market — as well as many uninsured people poised to buy a plan there — concerned about what may happen to that coverage.  But the marketplace plans and the subsidies to help modest-income people afford them are still available and will likely remain so for some time.

Open enrollment — the annual period when people can newly enroll in a plan or change plans for 2017 — extends through January 31.  People who want their coverage to start January 1 must sign up by December 15.

Some good news came last Wednesday, when more than 100,000 people signed up for plans through the federally run marketplace — the largest influx of enrollees in a single day since enrollment started on November 1.

Other people may be unsure of what to do amid news of Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the law that made the individual market more accessible for people with health conditions and provided subsidies to offset premiums and other cost-sharing charges to people who lack access to other coverage.  It would be a mistake to miss the open enrollment deadline and lose the chance to get coverage.  People should enroll now, so they can make sure they can obtain preventive benefits at no cost, get coverage of checkups and prescriptions, and protect themselves financially in case they face significant health care needs during the year.  Those currently covered by a marketplace plan should visit (or the marketplace in their state) during open enrollment to consider whether to keep the same plan or switch to one that may better meet their needs.

Whatever may happen to health reform will take time.  Leaders of the effort to repeal the law have already said there should be a transition period to avoid disruption; an earlier repeal bill that President Obama vetoed would have kept subsidies for marketplace plans in place for two years.  Many Republicans say they want to pass alternative health care proposals, and that could take them some time to figure out.

For consumers, coverage is available, but the open enrollment clock is ticking.  People shouldn’t miss out on important benefits because they are confused or afraid.”


Editorial blasts Trump’s troubling pick for top aide

President-elect Donald Trump has made some mildly conciliatory gestures in recent days, but as the Charlotte Observer points out in its lead editorial this morning, his choice for “chief strategist” is extremely worrisome. After noting that Trump’s chief of staff appears to be a responsible adult, the editorial notes that his choice for “chief strategist” does not:

“The one he got wrong? Choosing Stephen Bannon, head of the far-right, ethno-nationalist Breitbart News website, to be his chief strategist. Bannon, who helped lead Trump’s campaign, presided over Breitbart’s inflammatory coverage, which critics have called anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, misogynist and anti-black. One Breitbart headline called a GOP commentator a ‘renegade Jew,’ while another story advised women who suffered online harassment to ‘just log off’ so men can enjoy the internet. White nationalists of the so-called alt-right love it.

Trump needs to steer away from his darker, more divisive impulses….

Minorities and women are rightfully afraid of Trump’s rise, given his talk of Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists and stop-and-frisk police tactics in the inner cities. His choice of Bannon suggests that Trump doesn’t fully appreciate (or doesn’t care about ) those fears. Those anxieties represent far more than just ‘bizarre hysteria,’ as a Breitbart article put it Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a spike of more than 200 complaints of hate crimes and harassment since the election – worse than what happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Social media is swirling with videos such as the one of white middle school kids taunting Latino classmates with chants of ‘build the wall!’ Racist graffiti has appeared on cars belonging to minorities and churches that serve them.”

The editorial, which then goes on to welcome Trump’s apparently sincere comments over the weekend denouncing racists and haters, ends like this:

“He should also reconsider Bannon’s appointment. Surely the man who boasted that he could ‘stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody’ without losing voters can discard a toxic aide without fear of recrimination.

Trump says he wants to unite the nation. His decision on Bannon tells us that’s just another empty sales pitch.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Small town NC newspaper explains why Trumpism won’t help rural America

There was a fine editorial yesterday from the Elizabeth City Daily Advance about the tragic decision of so many rural Americans to vote against their own interest by electing Donald Trump. In “Rural America loves Trump; too bad he doesn’t love it,” the editorial reviews the fears that voters in rural areas understandably harbor and then explores how and why so many fell for the “hokum” Trump was selling. Here’s the fine conclusion:

“The real tragedy of rural Americans voting in such overwhelming numbers to put Donald Trump in the White House is that there will be no programmatic or legislative payoff for their votes. Despite aggressively stumping in their communities and promising things he can’t deliver, the fate of small-town Americans is not among Trump’s top priorities. The same is true for Republicans who will hold the majorities in both the House and Senate.

As evidence of this, Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to make their first priority not a major infrastructure spending bill that could put many rural Americans to work. Instead, they’ve set their sights on repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, a measure that’s been good for rural Americans because it’s allowed many of them, thanks to taxpayer-backed subsidies, to finally be able to purchase affordable health care insurance.

Trump and congressional Republicans also have no interest in passing an increase in the minimum wage or making college costs more affordable — two things that also could greatly improve rural Americans’ lives. Expect them to instead focus on bigger tax cuts for the wealthy and on rolling back banking and other regulations adopted after the financial collapse that will make corporate America’s life easier.

We’d like to think that it wouldn’t take long for rural America to realize it’s been hoodwinked and demand that their champion turn his focus to them. But then, Trump has already taken the measure of those who support him the most fervently. He famously once said during the campaign that he “could shoot somebody and would not lose voters.” Right now, we’re not so sure the same won’t happen when Trump gets in the White House and begins pursuing his real passion: furthering the  interests of Donald Trump.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Editorial: McCrory has never been up to the job

One of the best North Carolina editorials from the past weekend comes from the Greensboro News & Record. Its central message: Pat McCrory was never up to being Governor.

“In his first term as North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory wore the office like a hand-me-down suit. The coat was too roomy and the trousers too long. Worst of all, his sleeves seemed to exceed his reach.”

After discussing the fact that the election has yet to be fully resolved, but noting that McCrory will no doubt get a fair shake from election boards he appointed, the editorial puts it this way:

“From the beginning, McCrory, who was highly successful as mayor of Charlotte, has never seemed comfortable in the Governor’s Mansion. He struggled to get along with leaders in his own party. And he made some spectacularly bad choices.

Foremost, McCrory chose to make a notorious anti-LGBT rights bill, the centerpiece of his governorship. Called HB 2, the law cost the state jobs, concerts and sporting events, including the NBA All-Star Game and ACC Championship football game in Charlotte and NCAA tournament games that would have been held in Greensboro. An ABC News exit poll on Election Day found that 61 percent of North Carolinians opposed HB 2.

Tone-deaf as ever, when the 2018 World Equestrian Games chose Tryon, N.C., days before the election, McCrory went to Charlotte to crow about it.

There have been other missteps, including McCrory’s bullheaded defense of a draconian voter ID law expressly designed to suppress black voter turnout. McCrory also had exceptionally thin skin for an elected official. He nearly bolted from a News & Record interview because he didn’t like being asked about HB 2 and voter ID , among other legitimate issues.

As for the final outcome, Cooper seems likely to hold his lead — which never would have materialized, had McCrory not lost his home county by more than 135,000 votes.

But if McCrory somehow closes the deficit and manages to hang on by a thread, we suggest that he get a new tailor.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.