News, Trump Administration

Abortion rights update: NC laws challenged; Pence visits Raleigh; stay of Trump gag rule upheld

Yesterday was a busy day in the debate over reproductive rights.

New NC lawsuit

Here in North Carolina, abortion rights advocates and providers brought suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of several components of North Carolina’s restrictive abortion rule structure. This is from a release distributed by the plaintiffs:

Abortion providers in North Carolina and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective today filed litigation challenging several medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that have pushed abortion out of reach in the state and stigmatized essential health care. A copy of the legal challenge can be found at http://bit.ly/PPSAvMoore.

Decades of attacks on reproductive rights and health care access by state legislators have already led to provider shortages and inadequate public health infrastructure in the state, with the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbating these issues. The discriminatory policies violate civil and reproductive rights and disproportionately impact North Carolina’s communities of color, particularly Black communities, as well as rural communities.

The restrictions being challenged include:

  • A licensing scheme that arbitrarily singles out abortion providers with medically unnecessary and onerous requirements
  • A ban on qualified advanced practice clinicians (APCs), such as physician assistants, certified nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners, from providing abortions
  • A ban on the use of telehealth for medication abortion
  • A requirement that providers deliver state-mandated biased counseling with no medical benefit to their patients
  • A mandatory delay for patients seeking an abortion of at least 72 hours after they receive state-mandated information.

Pence visit

The challenge came on the same day that as Vice President Mike Pence visited Raleigh to participate in anti-abortion activities. At one event, Pence reiterated his long-espoused opposition to abortion rights and claimed that abortion opponents were making progress in their goal of ending abortion in the U.S. “Life is winning in America,” Pence told the audience.

In anticipation of Pence’s visit, NARAL Pro-Choice NC executive director Tara Romano issued a statement in which she condemned Pence’s “long-established history of pushing extreme anti-abortion policies” and noted that one of the venues on his agenda was a “fake clinic” that exists “solely to coerce, shame, intimidate, and deceive people out of accessing abortion, even if that is what the person has decided is best for themselves and their families.”

Trump rule struck down

Meanwhile, in Richmond, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a stay on a Trump administration rule that seeks to bar reproductive health clinics from making abortion referrals. This is from a Reuters report:

A divided federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a Maryland federal judge’s injunction barring the Trump administration from enforcing, in that state, a rule withholding federal family planning funding from clinics that provide abortion referrals.

Writing for a 9-6 majority of the en banc 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker found that the 2019 rule “was promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious manner because it failed to recognize and address the ethical concerns of literally every major medical organization in the country,” affirming an injunction won by the city of Baltimore.

Click here to read the opinion. It seems likely the issue will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Report: DeJoy’s son made Duke tennis team soon after school received large gift

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifying at a recent online congressional hearing

In case you missed it, Associated Press published a fascinating story earlier this week that provides a laundry list of some of the ways in which Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his wife, former North Carolina DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, have spread their cash around in recent years. The story (“Postal chief and Trump donor Louis DeJoy has long leveraged connections, dollars”) includes details of the well-heeled pair’s political and charitable giving – giving that seemed regularly to coincide with some sort of benefit finding its way back to the Greensboro-based family.

See, for example, this excerpt dealing with a topic much in the news of late – potentially favorable treatment for well-connected college-aged children:

In one instance, DeJoy’s son, Andrew, secured a slot on Duke University’s tennis team in 2014 while his parents wrote a series of large checks to the school’s athletic department.

The team was ranked 14th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Assn. and drew a host of top national and international prospects. But Andrew DeJoy was not one of them when he joined as a walk-on freshman months after the season started.

“It was a dream of mine since I was very little, but I wasn’t expecting to play,” Andrew DeJoy said in an interview published by the school’s athletic department in 2015. “I just emailed the coach and said I was willing to work hard over the summer if there was spot. Luckily … in the fall, things just worked out.”

In the years before Andrew DeJoy enrolled, the family’s foundation donated several thousand dollars a year to Duke. But in 2014 they escalated their giving with a $737,000 contribution, according to tax records. The money helped finance the Blue Devil Tower, a massive glass-encased addition to the school’s football stadium, which includes the DeJoy Family Club, a “first-class” banquet hall overlooking the field with space for 600 people.

During Andrew DeJoy’s second year on the team, his family gave another $462,000 to Duke. The donations continued during the rest of his tenure at the school, totaling at least $2.2 million.

Duke athletic department spokesman Art Chase declined to comment. A representative of the family’s foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

Of course, even if there was some kind of explicit or “wink and a nod” quid pro quo here as the events strongly hint, it would be far from the first time that a wealthy or well-connected parent took such action and wouldn’t, in and of itself, be that giant of a deal (unless, that is, you were a talented tennis player who got left off the team).

Seen, however, in the context of an extremely controversial and high-powered public official – a man under fire for potentially taking public action with ulterior political motives and who serves under a president who has made nepotism and convoluted, self-serving deals two of his signatures for decades – the story amounts to one more troubling brick in what appears to be a disturbingly crooked wall.

Click here to read the full story.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Resist Trump’s efforts to let payday loan sharks back into NC

In case you missed it, the Greensboro News & Record hit a home run earlier this week with a powerful editorial condemning the Trump administration’s latest effort to aid the predatory payday lending industry.

As the authors put it in “Keep payday loans out of NC”:

No time would be a good time to let unscrupulous payday lenders start preying on North Carolina residents again. But now — as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted jobs and lives — letting payday lenders take advantage of those down on their luck could be devastating.

We’ve fought this battle before. Legislators banned the practice here back in 2001. But lenders, who are crafty and resourceful, have kept finding ways to creep back in. They would find loopholes. Out-of-state lenders lured borrowers with online loans. Lenders offered loans secured by the borrower’s car title. They set up shop on Native American reservations. They partnered with out-of-state banks to get around North Carolina law.

One way or another, they’d pop up again, like villains in some arcade game.

After documenting the long and tortured history of this so-called industry, the way it manipulates borrowers and tries to make triple-digit interest rate loans seem legitimate, and the efforts of the Obama administration to rein these predators in, the editorial concludes like this:

The Trump administration lost little time in reversing [Obama-era efforts]. It killed rules that were supposed to make payday lenders verify that borrowers could reasonably pay back loans. It blocked efforts to limit lenders’ attempts to pull money out of borrowers’ bank accounts. It refused to limit the number of times a loan could be rolled over.

Now a new federal rule proposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the Treasury Department would allow predatory lenders to partner with out-of-state banks to get around the state’s interest-rate cap. The federal rule could outweigh the state law, undoing North Carolina’s progress in banning predatory payday loans.

Officials here say they oppose this latest rule change that could open the door for payday lenders to return. They should spare no effort in fighting it.

North Carolina wisely has worked hard to block payday lenders. We’ve made a lot of progress and helped a lot of people. A reversal now would be a costly mistake.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, Trump Administration

The census deadline ends Sept. 30. Act now to ensure an accurate count for NC

Last month, the Trump administration abruptly announced that it would halt the 2020 census count on Sept. 30, four weeks earlier than the original Census Bureau deadline. 

The census, which happens only once every 10 years, is a constitutionally required process designed to count every person living in the United States. It is one of the most important undertakings the federal government engages in because it determines the distribution of political power and resources nationwide that affect Americans for an entire decade. 

After failing in its attempt to add a question designed to intimidate communities of color, the Trump administration seeks to undermine the census in two ways: by unconstitutionally limiting who is counted by excluding undocumented immigrants and by throwing up its hands and giving up on an accurate count one month early. 

In response to the illegal effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count, Common Cause is challenging the president in federal court. As for threatening the accuracy of the count, we need your help because North Carolina has a troublingly low response rate and is at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

Yesterday National Public Radio reported that the U.S. House Oversight Committee had obtained internal census documents warning that “serious errors discovered in the data may not be fixed — due to lack of time to research and understand the root cause or to re-run and re-review one or multiple state files.”

Unless we act quickly, our community is in danger of losing significant resources because of a census undercount. With less than a month to go before the Census Bureau’s new deadline for ending the count, only 60& of households in North Carolina have self-responded to the census form. This is the Census Bureau’s most accurate response method. Some counties have response rates as low as 32% to 35%. This is potentially devastating. 

According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, North Carolina received almost $24 billion in federal funding derived from census data in fiscal year 2016 alone. This included funding for highway planning and construction, special education, school lunches, the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, and other crucial areas.

Population totals are also used for redistricting, drawing voting districts at all levels of government. This includes Congress, the state legislature, county governments, city councils and school boards. Accurate census data ensure that districts of the same type have equal population, which the U.S. Constitution requires to guarantee equal representation. If census data are wrong, undercounted communities will have less representation in the halls of power than nearby communities of equal population.

Fortunately, there is something you can do. The first essential step you can take is to respond to the census if you haven’t already done so. Go to 2020census.gov to find out how you can complete the census form in just a few minutes online, by phone or by mail. 

Spread the word and tell your friends and family to do the same. This ensures that you are counted, that North Carolina has the resources we need, and that census staff does not have to knock on your door to ask for your response.

The second thing you can do is to contact your member of Congress and ask them to support an extension of census operations. This is the first time a decennial census has been conducted in the middle of a global pandemic. The response rates nationally and in North Carolina show that we need more time to do this right. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 7974, would give the Census Bureau an additional month to continue census operations and move back deadlines for sending data to the states. Go to House.gov and use the “find your representative” function to urge your member of Congress to support H.R. 7974.

This is the last chance we have to make sure our communities count in our democracy and get their fair share of resources. Remember, together, fearless we count. Will you do your part today?

Trump Administration

Trump suggests voters cast their ballots twice; experts warn that’s illegal

President Donald Trump suggested during his visit to Wilmington Wednesday that people should vote twice this election – once by mail and again in person. His remarks came in response to a question about absentee voting:

State Rep. Deb Butler, who represents Wilmington, tweeted in response:

Greg Flynn, Wake County’s Elections Board Chair, offered this warning:

UC Irvine Election Law Expert Rick Hasen agreed with Flynn, noting under North Carolina law, what Trump has suggested is illegal. At Election Law Blog, Hasen explains:

Was Trump by his comments “induc[ing]” “with intent to commit fraud” a person to “vote” “more than one time” “in the same …. election”? I think a case could be made that he did. He was encouraging people to vote both by mail and in person. The questionable part is about his intent. It sounds like he was suggesting an attempt at double voting as a means of testing the integrity of the system, or assuring that his voters can cast at least one ballot for him. Is that a fraudulent intent? I could see how a jury could find it to be so especially given Trump’s other statements suggesting he believes that such double voting would not be caught by election officials.

Another possible defense is that Trump was “joking” or not being serious about his comments, and this was typical Trumpian hyperbole. Perhaps so, but I think many people may hear his comments and think he is serious. At the very least, this is now going to create a headache for election administrators in North Carolina (and potentially elsewhere) to admonish voters not to try to do this and muck up the system.

Federal law also makes it a crime for a person to vote more than once in a federal election.

I don’t expect Trump to be prosecuted for this statement but it is a terrible thing to encourage voter fraud—especially by someone who consistently makes claims that it is rampant in the U.S. (it’s not).