Courts & the Law, News

Trump ends longest-running federal judicial vacancy with confirmation of UNC professor

Richard E. Myers II

After 14 years, the Eastern District of North Carolina finally has a new federal judge.

Richard E. Myers II is a UNC Chapel Hill Law professor and was confirmed Thursday by the Senate 68 to 21. He was nominated by President Donald Trump, who bested two prior presidents in ending the longest running vacancy in the federal judiciary.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama unsuccessfully tried to fill the position.

Trump’s initial nominee, Thomas Farr — who has been connected to white supremacy and voter suppression tactics — also was not confirmed. A Raleigh based attorney, Farr frequently represents the state’s Republican party in voting rights cases. He has been lead counsel for the GOP in redistricting cases and in the voter identification law challenge.

Most recently, he served as one of many attorneys representing the legislature in partisan gerrymandering litigation.

Farr was nominated to fill the same vacant seat in 2006 by Bush but never got a vote from the Senate.

Obama had nominated both Jennifer May-Parker, the Chief of the Appellate Division at the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina, and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court justice and vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Both are accomplished Black women whose nominations were blocked by the Senate, particularly North Carolina Congressman Richard Burr.

From Bloomberg Law on Myers’ confirmation:

Myers, who is black, is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and is a former federal prosecutor. He, like many of Trump’s nominees, is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, and is the faculty adviser for UNC’s chapter of the organization.

The vacancy Myers filled was one of about 50 considered a judicial emergency in the U.S. Emergencies are determined by an algorithm that weighs how long the seat has been open and each judges’ workload.

Myers’ confirmation comes as the Republican-led Senate is in an all-out push to confirm more judges by year’s end. The Senate confirmed eight district judges this week, bringing the total of Trump appointments to district and circuit courts to 170. That includes Supreme Court appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Trump previously said he aims to have 183 federal judges appointed by the end of the year.

In addition to Myers, the Senate is also confirmed a judge to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s home state of South Carolina.

From the News & Observer:

Myers said at his confirmation hearing that only “an amazing opportunity for new service” prompted him to leave the school.

“He has an outsized positive effect on our law school in so many different ways,” Martin H. Brinkley, dean of the law school, said earlier this year.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina covers 44 counties from Raleigh to the coast. Court is held in six cities: Elizabeth City, Fayetteville, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh, and Wilmington. Myers said he would make his chambers in Wilmington.

No African American has served on the bench in the district. Burr said Myers would integrate the court. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said during his introduction that Myers would be “the first African American on his court.”

Asked if he considered himself African American, Myers said, “I consider myself human. I consider myself human. Jamaican American. For some folks, it’s a really important thing for them. For me, I would really like to be considered on my own merits every step of the way.”

Higher Ed, News

Students rally at UNC-Chapel Hill in wake of “Silent Sam” settlement

Students at UNC-Chapel Hill plan to protest today at the former site of the Silent Sam Confederate monument — a response to last week’s announcement that the UNC System will give the toppled statue to the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, along with $2.5 million.

The protest, organized by the UNC Black Congress and UNC Black Student Movement, will begin at 1 p.m. at McCorkle Place, where the statue stood for more than 100 years before it was torn down by protesters last August.

Students, lawyers and community members are vowing the fight the settlement.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Undergraduate Executive Branch issued a statement last week condemning the agreement. Ashton Martin, undergraduate student body president, expanded on that in an interview with Policy Watch this week.

“What I’ve heard across campus this week is that students feel giving money of any amount really to an organization like this really just legitimizes their position,” Martin said. “It shows the university is backing down and saying we see this organization as something we’re afraid of. I don’t like that.

Martin said she and other students were also frustrated that they were told the university was in a holding pattern on the statue’s future but that student and community input would be important to deciding its future.

In fact, as revealed in an email from Sons of Confederate Veterans leader Kevin Stone to his group members, UNC Board of Governors members and state legislators had been working and negotiating with the group for months on what became the final agreement.

“As someone who’s been very involved with this issue to hear about this resolution the day before Thanksgiving, with no prior knowledge… it’s been frustrating,” Martin said. “And it’s becoming more frustrating as more information becomes available,”

Last week Interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a brief message to students saying that the UNC System had announced the settlement, offering his “deepest appreciation” to the UNC Board of Governors for resolving the matter.

Martin said she and other student leaders have talked with Guskiewicz this week.

“He gathered a lot of people who had a lot of strong opinions about it and let us say our piece about it,” Martin said. “But I think the entire campus doesn’t really know what to believe and who knew what when on this. And the timing is terrible. It’s the last week of class. There are exams coming up. It’s really not conducive to getting anything done.”

The UNC System has yet to answer questions from Policy Watch regarding the details and timeline of the settlement, including basic explanations of how the $2.5 million trust will be structured.

In the letter to his fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans, Stone suggested the group would use the money to preserve the statue — but also part of it for a group headquarters. That would seem at odds with specific language in the settlement documents outlining that the money was to be used for the benefit of the statue.

“There are a lot of things about his letter that don’t seem to match up with how it was explained to us,” Martin said. “It’s hard to know what to believe at this point.”

Commentary, Legislature, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration cracks down on food stamps; new rule expected to deny assistance to 700,000 people

Beware the moments when no one is focusing on Trump administration policy, because it is usually these times when the cruelty-mongers in D.C. unfurl their most aggressively hostile regulations.

Case in point: President Trump on Wednesday unrolled a widely-expected crackdown on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program —colloquially known as “food stamps.” The new rules are expected to deny assistance to an estimated 700,000 low-income Americans.

Here is the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ (CBPP) explanation of the rule:

Those affected — SNAP participants ages 18 through 49 who aren’t raising minor children in their homes — are among the poorest of the poor, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Their average income is just 18 percent of the poverty line. Their average monthly SNAP benefits are about $165 per month.

A longstanding, harsh provision of SNAP limits these 18- through 49-year-olds to just three months of benefits, while not employed for at least 20 hours a week, out of every three years. Because of its severe nature, this provision of law also allows states to seek, and USDA to grant, waivers of this three-month cut-off for areas where insufficient jobs are available for these individuals, such as when unemployment is elevated.

From the provision’s enactment in 1996 until now, both Democratic and Republican presidents alike have operated under a common set of criteria in granting waivers from the three-month cut-off. And Democratic and Republican governors alike have sought and secured these waivers. Thirty-six states currently have waivers for parts of their state where unemployment is highest.

Now, the Trump Administration is abandoning this longstanding, bipartisan practice, however, and replacing it with a much more restrictive rule that will increase hunger and destitution. The new rule sharply restricts states’ ability to protect unemployed adults from the harsh time limit. It does so by substantially narrowing the criteria that states have most commonly used to qualify for waivers, thereby greatly shrinking the number of areas that can qualify for relief. As a result, the Trump Administration itself estimates that the rule will cut off basic food aid to nearly 700,000 unemployed or underemployed individuals.

In keeping with their brand, The National Review called the rule “commonsensical” Wednesday, which has the flamboyant quality of being an ugly word and an ugly statement at the same time. It makes sense only if withdrawing aid to the very poor and masking your choice as “the shrewd thing to do” constitutes a party platform.

It makes sense only if you believe that it is an aid to the United States to have more extremely poor people — people disproportionately impacted when the next recession hits.

More from CBPP:

Most of these individuals are ineligible for any other form of government financial assistance because they aren’t elderly, severely disabled, or raising minor children. For many of them, SNAP is the only assistance they can receive to help make ends meet.

What’s more, the final rule is more severe than the proposed rule, which itself was very harsh. States currently can request waivers when they experience rapidly rising unemployment, as typically occurs at the onset of economic downturns based on the Department of Labor’s determination that the state qualifies for extra federal unemployment benefits. But under the final rule, states must rely on historical data that would not reflect the onset of economic downturns until many months later. Moreover, far fewer areas will qualify for waivers during a widespread, national recession. A state with spiking unemployment reaching levels as high as 9 percent would not qualify for a waiver if national unemployment were also high, such as at 8 percent. This will limit a core strength of SNAP — its responsiveness to changes in economic conditions so that individuals who lose their source of income can quickly qualify for temporary food assistance. Instead of mitigating a recession’s harm, the new rule will exacerbate it.

Democrats in North Carolina’s state legislature filed a bill this year that, among its provisions, aimed at repealing the state’s prohibition on the SNAP time-limit waiver, but it did not resonate with the Republican-controlled chambers. The bill was referred to a House rules committee but did not move.

News, Trump Administration

Abuse of power, bribery, obstruction: Democrats’ impeachment plan takes shape

UNC Professor of Law Michael Gerhardt testifying on Capitol Hill today – Image: C-SPAN

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are laying the framework for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

As the House Judiciary Committee held its first official impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Democrats signaled that they intend to accuse Trump of abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

The lawyer for Judiciary Committee Democrats, Norm Eisen, pressed witnesses to testify specifically about each of those topics, which he labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The hearing comes after the House Intelligence Committee approved a report Tuesday night that details allegations that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival.

Legal scholars told House lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that they believe the president is guilty of impeachable offenses.

“On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman told the panel.

Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said the record shows that “the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit his political campaign, obstructing Congress, and obstructing justice.”

If Congress fails to impeach Trump, Gerhardt added, “then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil.”

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the “very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified” the founders of the U.S. government. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” she told lawmakers.

Another law professor, Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, warned against impeaching Trump. Turley, the lone witness invited by Republicans, said he’s concerned about “lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.”

This impeachment, Turley said, “not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.”

GOP disrupts, points to ‘tears in Brooklyn’ 

Committee Republicans, meanwhile, disrupted the hearing and frustrated Democrats by using procedural tactics.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner interjected at the start of the hearing to request a day of GOP-led hearings before the committee votes on articles of impeachment. The request was set aside by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, sought to force the testimony of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) before the committee, but Democrats voted to quash his attempt.

Another Republican lawmaker, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, attempted to postpone the hearing until Dec. 11, which Democrats also voted down.

Collins labeled the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings a “sham.”

Democrats “just don’t like” Trump, Collins said, accusing his colleagues of attempting to oust the president ever since Democrats seized control of the House early this year.

“This is not an impeachment, this is just a simple railroad job, and today’s is a waste of time,” Collins said. “It didn’t start with [former special counsel Robert] Mueller. It didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? [It] started with tears in Brooklyn in 2016, when an election was lost,” he said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

University of North Carolina law professor takes center stage at impeachment hearing (video)

UNC constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt has written six books on impeachment and was front and center at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Two of Gerhardt’s most profound assertions:

If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election.

And…

If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil. No one, not even the president, is beyond the reach of our Constitution and our laws.

Read “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: The Constitutional Foundations for President Impeachment” or click below to watch Gerhardt’s full statement to lawmakers.