Supreme courtWhen you hear the name Hobby Lobby, fabrics and knitting needles may come to mind, but soon the for-profit, 13,000 employee, big box craft company will likely be known for something of greater import.

That’s because on Tuesday the company will present its challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that as a corporation it has a religious identity and that, by forcing the company to pay for certain forms of contraception under the ACA, the government is unconstitutionally burdening its beliefs.

It’s a dangerous case with bad facts, bad science and bad law —  all of which, according to many legal experts, may lead to several scenarios with bad outcomes. As Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones writes:

Thanks to novel legal arguments and bad science, a ruling in favor of the company threatens any number of significant and revolutionary outcomes, from upending a century’s worth of settled corporate law to opening the floodgates to religious challenges to every possible federal statute to gutting the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

For everything and more you need to know about the case and possible outcomes, read on here.

 

 

 

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals sent the challenge to the state’s recently-adopted lethal injection protocol back to the trial court today for further findings as to whether that protocol must undergo the administrative rule-making and review process before becoming effective.

Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry had adopted a new protocol without such review in October 2013, after the General Assembly empowered him to do so with amendments to the law relating to executions passed last June.

Marcus Robinson and three other death row inmates had originally sued the state in 2007, arguing that the three-drug cocktail then used for executions lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the procedures then in place for administering that injection and completing an execution had not undergone appropriate administrative review.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled in favor of the state on the inmates’ claims in March 2012, but while the case worked its way through appeals, the legislature changed the law on executions, enabling the Secretary alone to determine necessary procedures.

Perry then issued a twenty-page document titled “Execution Procedure Manual for Single Drug Protocol (Pentobarbital)” in October 2013 which in part replaced the three-drug cocktail with a single-drug.

After that change the inmates dropped their claims regarding the drugs used but continued to argue that the protocol followed to complete executions – including issues such as whether a physician should be present to oversee an execution — had to be approved through a rule-making process which included input from members of the public.

At arguments in the Court of Appeals in January, the state argued that it was exempt from rule-making requirements when it came to issues relating solely to inmates in the custody of DPS.

But the inmates contended that the manner of executions was hardly a matter relating only to death row inmates.

“The rules in the Execution Procedure Manual affect not only condemned inmates,” they said in court filings. “They also specifically direct the conduct of a number of other persons connected with executions, including inmates visitors, attorneys, clergy, members of the media, execution witnesses and members of the public.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr amplified that argument on behalf of the inmates. “The execution of a citizen of this state is probably the single-most impactful act that the government can do,” he said. “The public’s ability to understand how the procedure works, to understand who is there, to understand what their role is, is part of being an informed public.”

The judges themselves expressed concern during argument over whether the issue was even properly before them, given that the protocol now being challenged was adopted after the 2012 trial court ruling under appeal.  That concern became the basis for the Court’s decision today.

Writing for the panel, Judge Robert C. Hunter said:

The order from which plaintiffs appealed contains no findings of fact or conclusions of law relating to the sole issue before us. Nor could it. These arguments could not have been considered by the trial court when it entered the 12 March 2012 order because they stem entirely from subsequent changes to section 15-188 and the execution protocol made during pendency of this appeal. Thus, in effect, we have nothing to review. Absent a ruling from the trial court on these matters, we are without authority to consider them in the first instance on appeal.

Read the full decision here.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle dismissed a challenge to the 2013 redistricting of the Wake County School Board as violative of the one-person, one-vote requirements of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.

A diverse group of plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in August contending that the legislature over-populated their newly drawn Wake County School Board districts, thus weakening their vote in contrast to voters in adjacent districts.

In his ruling, Boyle found that the population disparities in the new districts did not reach levels necessary to support a challenge under one-person, one-vote provisions.

Boyle also found that at its core the challenge to the new districts amounted to a claim of political gerrymandering which the courts will not consider:

All of the factors which plaintiffs say point to taint of arbitrariness or discrimination lead back to politics. Plaintiffs allege a favoritism of rural areas of the county over urban areas and they allege the targeting of democratic incumbents by the placement of three democratic incumbents into two republican leaning districts with republican incumbents. However, plaintiffs admit that the end result is political advantage. Plaintiffs do not argue that the population deviations are a result of discrimination on the basis of race or some other suspect classification. They claim only an impermissible political bias.

Read the full decision here.

(Jeffrey A. Camarati/WRAL Contributor) Photographer: Jeff Camara

 

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations started early here in Raleigh with the annual parade on Saturday, but the revelry continues today with plenty of parades, pints and parties, and  green everywhere —  in our bagels, in our beer and in our water.

Largely the creation of Irish-Americans, the day has moved beyond a simple celebration of an Irish saint and become more of a way to raise a glass in honor of those with roots in Irish soil. Sláinte (the Irish word, pronounced SLAN-cha, for “health”)!

Of course the real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish by birth.  Rather, according to this report, he was born in Britain around A.D. 390 “to an aristocratic Christian family that owned a townhouse, a country villa, and plenty of slaves.” At 16, he was  kidnapped and sent to Ireland as a slave.  He then escaped to home seven years later only to return to Ireland where he began converting folks to Christianity. Legend has it that Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Christian holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It’s not all booze and blarney, though, and plenty of folks take the opportunity to show solidarity with ethnic and other groups and to remind people of lessons learned from the immigrant experience.

The mayors of  New York and Boston, for example, are boycotting their cities’ parades because of bans on gay marchers.

In Washington, D. C. ,  delegates from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform — wearing t-shits with the words “No Irish Need Apply?  Why?” – met with key House members, including all GOP members of the Judiciary and GOP Leadership, to “remind them of what’s at stake for the Irish-American community.” In several North Carolina GOP districts, Irish-Americans represent a sizeable chunk of the population, including 13.3% in Rep. George Holding’s district and 11.2% in Rep. Howard Coble’s district.

And in the New York Times this weekend, writer Timothy Egan derided U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and fellow colleagues of Irish descent on the Hill for invoking their heritage when convenient, but overlooking the atrocities that sent their ancestors across the ocean:

Ryan boasts of the Gaelic half of his ancestry, on his father’s side. “I come from Irish peasants who came over during the potato famine,” he said last year during a forum on immigration.

BUT with a head still stuffed with college-boy mush from Ayn Rand, he apparently never did any reading about the times that prompted his ancestors to sail away from the suffering sod. Centuries of British rule that attempted to strip the Irish of their language, their religion and their land had produced a wretched peasant class, subsisting on potatoes. When blight wiped out the potatoes, at least a million Irish died — one in eight people.

[Yet] in 2012, Ryan said that the network of programs for the American poor made people not want to work.

On Wednesday, he went further, using the language of racial coding. This, after he told a story of a boy who didn’t want his free school lunch because it left him with “a full stomach and an empty soul.” The story was garbage — almost completely untrue.

Apparently Ryan and his friends are unable to walk the talk of those who came before them.

And with that, we segue out of Lunch Links with a far better walk, with Irishmen and bagpipes. . .

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Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled today that Duke Energy must take immediate action to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination that are currently violating water quality standards at all 14 of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, the ruling comes in the wake of recent claims by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that it lacks the legal authority to require cleanup of the ash ponds which hold millions of gallons of toxic coal ash.  DENR’s comments were made in response to the February 2014 coal ash spill that dumped up to 35,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.

“The ruling leaves no doubt, Duke Energy is past due on its obligation to eliminate the sources of groundwater contamination, its unlined coal ash pits, and the State has both the authority and a duty to require action now,” said D.J. Gerken, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation groups in the case.  “This ruling enforces a common-sense requirement in existing law - before you can clean up contaminated groundwater, you first must stop the source of the contamination- in this case, Duke’s unlined coal ash pits.”

Read the court’s full order here.