Courts & the Law, COVID-19, News, public health, race

Congressman, State Senator talk “dire” state of COVID response, looming Supreme Court fight in town hall

“The situation is dire,” Rep. David Price (D – N.C.) told a virtual town hall Wednesday night. “I’m not going to sugar coat it in any way.”

The event, held by progressive group ActionNC, brought together Price, State Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) and progressive advocates to talk with North Carolinians about COVID-19, the future of the Supreme Court and what it means for health care and the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. David Price

“I can’t possibly overstate the magnitude of this loss,” Price said of the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling her “a giant” who left a lasting impact on the law, women’s rights and voting rights.

The push by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to replace Ginsburg less than two months before the November election is a hypocritical “power grab” that threatens the legitimacy of the court, Price said.

It also imperils the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans hope to overturn through legal challenges.

“This November the Supreme Court will hear a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act,” Price said. The outcome of that case could mean a return to patients being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, life-time caps on coverage and the loss of coverage for millions who have come to rely on it.

The rush to replace Ginsburg and constant assaults on the ACA are indicative of “the Republican Senate becoming a graveyard for so much that the country needs,” Price said.

Price and Murdock both said lawmakers — in Washington and in Raleigh — should instead be concentrating on helping Americans during an ongoing pandemic that has already claimed 200,000 lives and devastated the economy.

“North Carolina is facing billions of dollars in revenue shortfalls over the next few years,” Murdock said. “If Congress doesn’t pass a bill with significant aid soon it will force more devastating cuts to food assistance, unemployment benefits, health coverage and other support for struggling families, just when they need help the most.”

State Sen. Natalie Murdock

Price agreed, saying what’s been proposed by Republicans in Congress simply won’t get the job done.

“If they stopped to take one look around, they’d see Americans are clearing food bank shelves, facing threats of eviction and receiving unemployment benefits that don’t come close to paying the bills,” Price said. “They would see small businesses forced to close their doors as demand isn’t keeping pace. Americans can’t afford to wait or suffer any longer. They need a comprehensive relief bill, similar to the Heroes Act. And they need it now.”

Alexandra Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, said direct federal aid to people, state and local government is urgently needed.

“”Bolstering state and local infrastructure with federal funds can ensure that every community has what is needed to support families and sustain a response to COVID-19 and the economic downturn until recovery is secure,” Siota said. “North Carolina can’t afford to meet needs alone. The state has already allocated all of the previously provided federal dollars and still there are too many unmet needs, like rental and food assistance. Inaction by the Senate and White House will only extend the harm for people and prolong the downturn.”

The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center is a project of the non-profit North Carolina Justice Center, of which Policy Watch is also a part.

Black and Latinx people are most impacted by the pandemic and its economic fallout, said Mary Williams-Stover, executive director of NC Council for Women & Youth Involvement.

“The COVID pandemic is impacting everyone, but it’s not impacting us all equally,” Williams-Stover said. “All the data shows women are struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic more than men and Black women, who already faced the greatest employment and health care barriers even before COVID due to pre-existing health disparities, are significantly impacted by the pandemic.”

An April report by the Budget and Tax Center found Black people are about 22 percent of the state’s population but make up 38 percent of cases and 37 percent of COVID-infection related deaths. More than 13 percent of Black women in North Carolina are uninsured, ActionNC pointed out, making them particularly vulnerable.

The numbers for Latinx people were even more grim. They make up about 10 percent of the state’s population but 46 percent of COVID cases.

Both Price and Murdock emphasized the need for the North Carolina General Assembly to expand Medicaid in the state. Their refusal to do so has prevented North Carolinians from accessing care that would otherwise be available to them even as other Republican-led states have opted for expansion, they said.

That’s particularly dangerous during a pandemic that imperils both peoples’ health and their economic stability, Price said.

“I’ve always said – and economists of all stripes will back me up on this – the danger is never doing too much,” Price said. “The danger is doing too little.”

Courts & the Law, News

Burr joins Tillis in move to appoint replacement to Ginsburg seat “as early as possible”

Senator Richard Burr

U.S. Senator Richard Burr is joining Senator Thom Tillis in backing President Trump’s rush to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg, who served on the nation’s highest court for more than 27 years, died Friday at 87 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Burr who recognized Ginsburg as “a trailblazer and a tireless advocate for equality”released a statement Tuesday making it clear that he would not support any delay in selecting her replacement:

“The President has every right under the Constitution to nominate the individual of his choosing to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy. The Senate’s role is to provide its advice and consent. In this instance, unlike 2016, Americans voted to ensure the Senate and Presidency are both held by the same party. I believe the Senate should consider President Trump’s nominee as early as possible and I intend to carefully review their qualifications once that individual is named.”

For the record, Burr was opposed to holding confirmation hearings four years for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Here’s what Burr posted to his Facebook page in March 2016, ten months before the election.

Ginsburg’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court today and on Thursday so the public can pay respects to the cultural icon.

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.

Courts & the Law, News

GOP senators line up in support of Supreme Court vote

The U.S. Supreme Court. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Multiple Republican senators indicated Monday and Tuesday that they won’t stand in the way of a furious effort by the Senate GOP leadership to confirm a nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy before Inauguration Day.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley ended the suspense with a statement Monday night saying there’s no “ambiguity” about what direction for the high court Americans wanted when they voted for President Donald Trump four years ago.

And Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who’s in a tough reelection battle, said a short time later that he also would let the confirmation process move forward, saying in a statement posted to Twitter that he would vote to confirm a “qualified nominee” who is tapped by Trump.

Had Grassley or Gardner joined two other GOP senators in opposing a vote on a nominee, it would have left Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell with an even slimmer margin to win confirmation for the replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have already said the winner of the presidential election should choose the next justice.

The effort to advance received an additional boost today when Utah’s Mitt Romney indicated that he too would support a vote.

McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged Friday to hold a confirmation vote on the Senate floor, but it remains unclear whether he has enough support to do so this year. He also did not specify whether the vote would come before or after the November election.

Grassley said in July that if a Supreme Court justice died this year, he as Judiciary Committee chairman would not hold a hearing on a new nominee because he did not do so in a similar situation in 2016. He is no longer chairman but was four years ago when President Barack Obama unsuccessfully sought the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Over the years, and as recently as July, I’ve consistently said that taking up and evaluating a nominee in 2020 would be a decision for the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Majority Leader,” Grassley said in his Monday statement.

“Both have confirmed their intentions to move forward, so that’s what will happen. Once the hearings are underway, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have. The Constitution gives the Senate that authority, and the American people’s voices in the most recent election couldn’t be clearer. While there was ambiguity about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020.”

Gardner said that when a president makes a nomination, it’s up to the Senate to decide how to proceed with its duty of advice and consent. “I have and will continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench, and uphold the law. Should a qualified nominee who meets this criteria be put forward, I will vote to confirm,” he said.

Among other Republican senators, those backing McConnell included Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Arizona’s Martha McSally, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin,  and David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia.

On Monday, Trump announced he was considering five women to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Ginsburg, an icon of the left who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Trump said he would “probably” announce his pick on Saturday and said he hopes the vote will take place before the election. Ginsburg, however, according to her granddaughter, said before her death that it was her “most fervent wish” to not be replaced before Inauguration Day.

Nominees to the high court need a simple majority to win confirmation.

Republicans control 53 seats in the Senate. Opposition from Collins and Murkowski leaves Trump and McConnell with a maximum possibility of 51 GOP votes if the nominee were to come to the Senate floor before Election Day. If they lost another, that would mean Vice President Mike Pence most likely would cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the nominee.

Trump and McConnell could lose yet another vote in support of confirmation this year if Arizona’s McSally loses her special election contest against former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat. If Kelly wins, he could take office as early as Nov. 30, giving Democrats a key vote against Trump’s nominee and possibly enough votes to block confirmation. Read more

Courts & the Law, News, Trump Administration

Trump says he’ll announce Supreme Court pick by Friday or Saturday