News

This Week: Talking “conversion therapy” with the author of “Boy Erased”

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s continuing coverage of the push to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth in North Carolina, you may want to mark your calendars for an event in Durham this week.

LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC is putting on a conversation with Garrard Conley, author of the best-selling “Boy Erased: A Memoir” and Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy for the Trevor Project.

Conley’s 2016 memoir of surviving conversion therapy was adapted for the big screen last year. The film, directed by Joel Edgerton, stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. It was nominated for two Golden Globe awards.

Conversion therapy has been outlawed in 16 states and Washington, D.C. A recent poll shows overwhelming bipartisan support for outlawing it in North Carolina.

News

New poll illuminates fears of North Carolinians from shootings to unemployment

Worth your time today: an interesting new poll from Elon University, conducted in partnership with The Raleigh News & Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun.

The poll asked 1,489 North Carolina adults about 37 various risks from climate change and crime to unemployment and drug addiction, gauging how unsafe each made them feel.

Topping the risks that made respondents feel “very unsafe” were shootings in public places.  Younger respondents were significantly more likely to feel “very unsafe” when asked about shootings in public places, reflecting concern over mass shootings at schools and a generational gap in preference for stronger gun laws.

Half of respondents under 30 said they feel “very unsafe” when it comes to public shootings. That’s 13 percentage points higher than the average and 21 percentage points higher than residents 65 years old or older.

Women and black respondents were also more likely to say public shootings made them feel unsafe when compared to white men.

Forty-five percent of women said public shootings made them feel “very unsafe” compared to 29 percent of men.

Fifty-two percent of black respondents said they feel “very unsafe” compared to 31 percent of white respondents.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, income level was also a major factor in how people responded. Respondents from households making less than $50,000 a year  were more likely to feel unsafe than those from households over $50,000.

Among the risks making lower income respondents feel most unsafe: unemployment, drug addiction and contaminated food and water.

Those concerns were significantly less prevalent in higher income households.

Twenty percent of respondents from households making less than $50,000 reported feeling “very unsafe” about unemployment.  Only 12 percent of respondents from households making more than $50,000 said it made them feel very unsafe.

A full 41 percent of respondents said they felt either “very unsafe” or “somewhat unsafe” about the cost of living.

Check out the full poll and information about methodology here.

 

 

Environment

Duke Energy to DEQ: See you in court

Duke Energy announced yesterday that it would appeal to the Administrative Office of the Courts the state’s order to excavate all of the coal ash from the utility’s nine remaining unlined pits, also known as basins.

In a prepared statement, Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the order, which was issued on April 1, “would impose a financial burden on our customers and the economy of the Carolinas through the most expensive and disruptive closure option possible, despite that these basins are rated ‘low risk’ by NCDEQ.”

Duke has stated full excavation would add $4 billion to $5 billion to the existing $5.6 billion in costs to clean up all of its ash in the Carolinas — a number that, given the history of other utilities’ estimates for full excavation, could be inflated.

The nine basins are spread over six plants:

Belews Creek (Stokes County ) 1
Marshall (Catawba County) 1
Mayo (Person County) 1
Allen (Gaston County) 2
Roxboro  (Person County) 2
Cliffside/Rogers (Cleveland/Rutherford counties) 2

 

In 2016, under the a different administration of Gov. Pat McCrory and DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart, the state reclassified several of Duke Energy’s basins from high risk to intermediate risk, based on several factors, including groundwater flow. Low risk basins were not required to be cleaned up until 2029. Environmental groups immediate criticized the reclassification, charging politics, not science guided the reclassifications.

For the “low risk” basins, Duke had proposed to either cap the material in the unlined pits — or to develop a “hybrid” of excavation and cap-in-place. At public meetings across the state, residents demanded that DEQ force the utility to fully excavate all of the material and place it in a lined landfill.

In its order, DEQ said its science determined excavation was the clean up method that would be the most protective of health and the environment.

“The process by which NCDEQ arrived at its decision lacked full consideration of the science and engineering, and we will provide those details when we file an appeal before the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in the near future” Sheehan said.

“DEQ stands by its assessment and conclusions that all coal ash in North Carolina must be excavated,” said Megan Thorpe, DEQ’s director of Public Affairs, in response.

Duke Energy’s claims that full excavation would impose “financial burdens” on its customers and the economy. It’s likely that the state Utilities Commission would pass along some of the costs to ratepayers, but the commission told Duke in the last rate case that it would evaluate those on a “case-by-case” basis. Duke gave no rationale for its claim that full excavation would harm  the economies of North and South Carolina. There is no evidence that full excavation has had similar effects in other states where that method has been used.

Frank Holleman is a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The SELC successfully sued the utility to force it to fully excavate its ash at the other eight plants in North Carolina. “Duke Energy’s refusal to accept responsibility for cleaning up its dangerous coal ash pits is a slap in the face to the communities in North Carolina living with the pollution from Duke’s leaking, unlined pits,” Holleman said in a prepared statement. “Duke Energy’s decision to fight these cleanups ignores the science confirming that its sites have been polluting our water for decades and will continue to do so for centuries. And it places the public and our rivers and lakes at continued risk of another coal ash catastrophe from the next hurricane or structural failure.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Retired Justice Kennedy ’embodies’ rule of law, receives award at Duke

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy received the inaugural Bolch Prize on Thursday at Duke University. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was honored Thursday evening with the inaugural Bolch Prize for the rule of law by the Bolch Judicial Institute of Duke Law School.

“You have embodied the ideals of fairness, human rights and the rule of law,” said Duke University President Vincent Price.

Judge Allyson K. Duncan, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, praised the retired Justice’s international work and his sharing of best practices, critical work to preserving the rule of law, she said.

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Allyson Duncan honored retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on Thursday for his dedication to the rule of law. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

His former colleague, current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito highlighted his service and dedication to many, many cases — in his 30 years on the high court, he authored 266 opinions of the court and 544 in all; he sat on more than 2,400 cases, he said.

Alito also said Kennedy was about the lesson of civility and was always dedicated to the perseverance of human humility and humanity. He also called attention to Kennedy’s dedication to always hearing both sides of every argument.

“It’s vitally important in our legal system that both sides be heard,” he said. “I don’t know anybody whose work embodies ore open mindedness.”

Kennedy has served in numerous positions during his career, including a member of the California Army National Guard in 1961, the board of the Federal Judicial Center from 1987 to 1988, and two committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States: the Advisory Panel on Financial Disclosure Reports and Judicial Activities, subsequently renamed the Advisory Committee on Codes of Conduct, from 1979 to 1987, and the Committee on Pacific Territories from 1979 to 1990, which he chaired from 1982 to 1990.

He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975. President Ronald Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988. Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court last summer.

Justice Samuel Alito, pictured on the right, attended a ceremony Thursday honoring his former colleague, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Kennedy is widely recognized for his devotion to the Constitution and his efforts to share the ideals of liberty and democracy with students and audiences around the world. He has spoken frequently of his commitment to the rule of law and the need for a judge to always be neutral and fair, according to his Bolch biography.

“Through public appearances and teaching engagements, Justice Kennedy has worked to build public understanding of and appreciation for the role of an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy,” it states. “He has lectured at law schools and universities in many countries, speaking about the rule of law and the connections between economic and social progress and a system of laws that protect freedom and prevent corruption. And he has helped to develop educational tools about the rule of law and the role of the judiciary for students in the United States and abroad.”

At the ceremony Thursday honoring Kennedy, he spoke about how essential it is for the rule of law to be properly defined to defend freedom and human dignity.

“The law comes from the people to the government, and that law must human dignity and human freedom, and the law must be accessible,” he said.

The rule of law, Kennedy said, has been under attack and to fight it, the first thing people must develop again is a civil dialogue. Much like the glass award he received, the law can show new beauty and new dimensions when the light shines through, but it can also be broken.

“Once the rule of law is broken, it requires great effort to fix it, and you’re not as sure it will be as beautiful the next time,” Kennedy said.

Retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, pictured right, speaks Thursday to Carl Bolch Jr. and Susan Bass Bolch, who sponsored the inaugural Bolch Prize, of which he received. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

He added that he was inspired and honored, and would cherish the award to rededicate time to teaching and writing and continuing to advance the law, “that in the end must bind us.”

The Bolch Judicial Institute is dedicated to bettering the human condition through studying and promoting the rule of law, according to its website. Established at Duke Law School in 2018 with a $10 million gift from Carl Bolch Jr. and Susan Bass Bolch, the Institute develops research, scholarship, and educational programs in three focus areas: the rule of law; courts and judging; and law and technology.

News

Tillis backs Trump on “space force”

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis lauded President Trump’s plan to establish a space force as a new branch of the military at a Senate hearing Thursday, despite skepticism from his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

The North Carolina Republican told top Trump administration military officials that he welcomed the idea, while other lawmakers warned that the new force would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

“I think president was right to make this a target that we need to achieve,” said Tillis, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So to me, it’s not a matter of whether we should do it, it’s how we should do it and when we should do it.”

Military officials appeared on Capitol Hill to make a pitch for Trump’s plan. They told lawmakers that while the United States currently has a competitive advantage in space, nations including China and Russia are looking to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities. And

Sen. Thom Tillis (Photo: https://www.tillis.senate.gov)

they urged lawmakers to support a new program within the Air Force that focuses exclusively on deterring threats in space.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said his impression was that the military was “doing a good job” already.

“We’‘re dominant in space right now,” he said. “I understand the threat and I understand our adversaries are moving forward, but I don’t understand how adding a box to an organizational chart is going to give us some kind of qualitative military edge.”

Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, replied, “I think we have been doing a good job. But we’ve been doing a good job in an environment where space has not been contested. What is changing is we have adversaries that are building significant capabilities that can challenge us in space.”

Patrick Shanahan, Trump’s acting secretary of defense, warned senators in his written testimony that adversaries “now perceive space as a viable target to nullify our asymmetric advantages in other domains and gain a strategic foothold for future competition.”

The military officials suggested that it was only a matter of time before the United States would need such a centralized force.

“We’re going to have a space force someday,” Hyten said. “I think what the committee has to decide is when is that going to happen … You want to get ahead of the problem, not trail it, not come in response to a catastrophe.”

King stressed that he wasn’t sure adding a new box in the Defense Department’s organizational structure would have the intended effect.

“To create a new bureaucracy that’s going to cost us half-a-billion dollars a year, I’ve got to be convinced that there’s some incremental value there.”

The Defense Department estimated that once fully established, the new force would cost about $500 million annually.

Tillis suggested Read more