Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Survey: Most Americans trust the U.S. Supreme Court

Courtesy of Annenberg Public Policy Center

A recent survey showed that most Americans see the U.S. Supreme Court as a trusted institution.

The latest survey from the Annenburg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania showed two-thirds (68 percent) of those surveyed — 1,104 U.S. adults — trust the highest court in the land to operate in the best interests of the American people, while 70 percent said the court has “about the right amount of power.”

The survey also identified troubling signs in how the Supreme Court and the justices are perceived by the public, suggesting that the distinction between judges and elected politicians is becoming blurred. More than half of Americans (57 percent) agree with the statement that the court “gets too mixed up in politics.” And just half of the respondents (49 percent) hold the view that Supreme Court justices set aside their personal and political views and make rulings based on the Constitution, the law, and the facts of the case.

“Because the well-being of our system of government depends on the integrity of an independent, impartial, fair judiciary and on the public perception that judges honor these expectations, the persistently high levels of trust in the Supreme Court that we find reflected in Annenberg surveys should be celebrated,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Center. “But the finding that half do not believe that Supreme Court justices set aside their personal beliefs in deciding cases is worrisome.”

The survey was conducted in August for the Policy Center in advance of the Fair & Impartial Judiciary Symposium on Oct. 26 at the University of Pennsylvania. Read the full findings here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been in an especially intense political spotlight ever since Senate Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. President Donald Trump has since nominated conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who were both confirmed.

Environment

Naming names, finally: Shamrock Environmental source of 1,4-Dioxane spike in Pittsboro drinking water

Shamrock Environmental Corporation is the source of a recent 1,4-Dioxane release into the Greensboro wastewater treatment plant, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced today.

DEQ is investigating the discharge, which occurred in August but was not reported by the City of Greensboro until Sept. 27. Although the 1,4-Dioxane, a likely carcinogen, originated with Shamrock, the discharge permit for the pretreatment program is held by the city, DEQ said.

North Carolina Health News reported several weeks ago that there had been a spike in 1,4-Dioxane levels downstream in the Pittsboro drinking water supply — the Haw River. This week, Greensboro officials and DEQ declined to name the company to NC Health News.

City officials are cooperating with the investigation, DEQ said. As a result, DEQ has initiated weekly sampling for 1,4 dioxane at Greensboro’s wastewater treatment plant.

1,4-Dioxane is not regulated by the EPA. It is persistent in the environment and impossible to remove using traditional water treatment methods.

Shamrock is headquartered in Browns Summit; it has several facilities in North Carolina and one in Virginia. The Patton Avenue plant, responsible for the discharge, is a tanker cleaning facility. It also treats and manages wastewater, recycles and disposes of drilling mud, and hauls waste.

DEQ’s online waste management document site does not list any notices of violation; nor does the Division of Water Resources online records repository. However, neither is comprehensive.

1,4 dioxane has historically been used as a solvent stabilizer and is currently used for a wide variety of industrial and manufacturing purposes. The compound can be found in industrial solvents, paint strippers, and varnishes and is often produced as a by-product of chemical processes to manufacture soaps, plastics, and other consumer products.

It’s often a byproduct of plastics manufacturing. Earlier this year, a Policy Watch investigation found that very high levels of 1,4-Dioxane in wastewater sludge from DAK Americas, a plastics plant in Fayetteville along the Cape Fear River. The facility was shipping its sludge to McGill Environmental, which was using it to make compost. Although the finished compost didn’t contain 1,4-Dioxane — it likely had evaporated — it was contaminated with PFAS, also known to be in wastewater sludge.

 

News

Study illuminates reality of sexual assault at UNC-Chapel Hill

The results of this year’s Association of American Universities’ (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct include stats that paint a disturbing picture of those very serious issues at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Almost 6,000 students at UNC’s flagship campus participated in the study, which sought “to gain understanding of the general climate on campuses across the country regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner (relationship) violence and stalking.”

Among the results:

  • 20.7 percent of all respondents reported experiencing sexual touching or penetration involving physical force; inability to consent or stop what was happening because the student was passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol; coercion or without a voluntary agreement.
  • 15.4 percent of all respondents reported experiencing sexual touching alone that included the same factors
  • 11.2 percent of all respondents experiencing sexual penetration alone that included the same factors.

The group most likely to report these experiences were undergraduate women in their fourth year or higher (45 percent). Undergraduate women respondents in general made up 35 percent of those who reported such experiences.

The next highest category was students who identify as transgender men or women, nonbinary, questioning or who did not list a gender identity. More than 26 percent of undergraduate students in that category reported sexual touching or penetration without consent — and more than 29 percent in that category who are fourth year or higher undergraduate students.


Read a breakdown of the full study here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lawmakers trying to remove new partisan gerrymandering case from state court

North Carolina Republican legislative defendants have asked for a federal court to remove a partisan gerrymandering case over the 2016 Congressional map from the state courts.

A court document filed Monday alleges there is a “colorable conflict” between lawmakers’ federal duties under the equal rights act and the alleged state law duties. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Congressional voters who live in districts alleged to have been gerrymandered filed a lawsuit a few weeks ago calling for a three-judge panel to enjoin the 2016 map because of the unconstitutional practice of drawing districts for extreme partisan gain. The suit makes claims under state law following a separate, successful partisan gerrymandering lawsuit over legislative districts.

One of the conflicts lawmakers allege arises out of the state lawsuit is because plaintiffs’ challenged a Congressional district that satisfies the state’s obligations under the Voting Rights Act and they demand the racial composition of the district be dramatically altered, according to the document filed Monday.

Another conflict arises between the plaintiffs’ asserted state-law theories and the legislative defendants’ obligations under federal law because the relief sought would require intentionally dismantling a “crossover” district, which, the document states, would violate an equal-protection prohibition.

The document also states that the plaintiffs’ requested relief in their lawsuit would require “affirmative cooperation” from some agent of the state, something lawmakers can refuse.

In another document, attorney Phil Strach for the legislative defendants argues that the Common Cause v. Lewis case — the state partisan gerrymandering case over legislative districts — is not related to the case in question, Harper v. Lewis, because they involve challenges to different redistricting plans.

He cites a case over President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns and New York tax returns where a court held the two were not related.

“This is substantially similar to the difference between legislative and congressional redistricting plans,” states the court document. “In refusing to grant the related-case designation, the Court noted that the party requesting the related-case designation ‘bears the burden of showing that the cases are related.’ And that the burden ‘is heavy as random assignment of cases is essential to the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary.’

“Plaintiffs’ cannot meet that burden here, and the Court should follow the Court’s reasoning in Trump v. Comm. On Ways & Means and likewise refuse to designate these cases as related.”

Chief Judge Terrence W. Boyle, a Ronald Reagan appointee, has been assigned to preside over the case. If he decides to remove the case from Wake County Superior Court, it would likely mark the end of congressional partisan gerrymandering litigation because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that it is a nonjusticiable issue.

The three-judge panel presiding over the state lawsuit is set to hear arguments over a preliminary injunction next week.

The plaintiffs have not yet responded to the legislative defendant’s request to remove the case from state court. They made the same request in Common Cause v. Lewis, and it was denied by the federal court. Read the new court documents below.



Notice of Removal Harver v Lewis (Text)



Harper v Lewis Response (Text)

Commentary, Education, News

Must-read: What we can learn from a canceled Wake County class on diversity

Chances are, most everyone knows someone who teaches in a classroom.

It’s an enormous job, putting it mildly. But it’s also a much more complicated job than it was decades ago.

Questions about pay aside, and they are major questions, the modern classroom isn’t the same place it was when the lion’s share of North Carolina’s lawmakers enrolled in K-12. It is more diverse; it is more globally connected; and it is under enormous pressure from a school choice movement that’s squeezed traditional public schools for resources and pupils.

But a report Monday from Carolina Public Press highlights another challenge for educators: teaching about diversity. As the report notes, Wake County officials nixed a class recently when parents raised privacy concerns about the forward-thinking course.

Surely a valuable subject, North Carolina educators need to find a way to make such a course work. The report explains those looming difficulties in detail.

Here’s an excerpt, although check out Carolina Public Press for the full piece:

When a Wake County teacher had her students use a “diversity inventory,” concerns about privacy led the principal to cancel the classroom lesson in late August.

But the question that education leaders in that school district and others across North Carolina are still dealing with is how to teach about identity in the classroom without violating student privacy.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the checklist used in that lesson didn’t quite fit the lesson plan the Heritage High School class was supposed to be using, Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Lutin said. The lesson was intended to teach about identity, not diversity.

The lesson also required students to ask their family, neighbors, peers and others to contribute information. With fields such as “sexuality,” “ability” and “socio-economic status” on the list, some parents felt uncomfortable and contacted the school.

Principal Scott Lyons reviewed the material and canceled the lesson.

Identity and diversity

Identity and diversity are distinctly separate, according to Dana Griffin, associate professor and faculty chair at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education.

Griffin, a former school counselor as well as a marriage and family counselor, now instructs school counselors at the undergraduate and graduate levels on how to teach about identity.

Griffin does think that teaching about diversity is important.

“I can’t speak for the school or the person who was doing the activity in class,” Griffin told Carolina Public Press.

“When I talk about diversity or cultural identity, I say that I use ‘diversity’ broadly, like as the adjective: ‘We are a diverse population.’ What makes us diverse are our cultural identities. What are our identities? And then, here’s the list: The identity is age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack of, disability, military, education, right? Work, family, even our family makeup. What I try to do is normalize it, that no matter what or how we identify, or what our experiences are, it doesn’t mean that we are better than or less than.”

It’s important for students to understand that individuals will have various life experiences according to their identities, Griffin said.

Many people tend to think of race or gender as an identity, but Griffin pointed out that identities have many factors. Two people of the same race and religion but in separate social classes would likely have different experiences that would shape their unique identities.