Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Uncategorized

Editorial: Burr, Tillis failed state in partisan support for flawed judicial candidate

The Winston-Salem Journal takes Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to task for their blind and partisan support of Thomas Farr to be a US district judge in North Carolina.

The editorial board explains in its latest editorial:

Thomas Farr (L) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Thomas A. Farr was a woefully bad choice to be a federal district judge in North Carolina.

Thank goodness Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, stood up for principle over blind party loyalty and announced that he would oppose Farr’s nomination. With all 49 Democrats in the Senate and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also unwilling to vote for Farr, Scott’s opposition was all it took to sink the nomination.

Flake is opposing all of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations until the Senate votes on a bill to protect special counsels, but he’s on record as saying he would have opposed Farr anyway. Principle is something that seems to be lacking among many Senate Republicans these days.

Where were North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, when news emerged recently about a 1991 Justice Department memo written under President George H.W. Bush — a memo that raises serious concerns about Farr’s role in racially discriminatory tactics used in Jesse Helms’ campaigns for Senate from North Carolina? They were holding firm in their support of Farr, no matter what.

Civil rights groups and others were already opposing Farr’s nomination before the memo surfaced, because of his work helping to discourage minority voters. Republicans who controlled the N.C. General Assembly hired Farr and his law firm to defend the congressional boundaries they drew in 2011 — boundaries that were eventually struck down by a federal court as racial gerrymandering. Farr also defended the 2013 N.C. voter ID law that was found to target minority voters.

Supporters in the U.S. Senate said Farr should not be judged on the basis of positions he was hired to defend. Then the 1991 memo, suggesting that Farr, as the leading lawyer for Helms’ Senate bid in 1990, had a role in devising the campaign’s controversial “ballot security” voter-suppression efforts, raised serious questions about his fitness for a lifetime appointment.

Yet Farr’s home-state senators, Burr and Tillis, still supported his nomination, making it easier for their fellow Republicans to do the same. Rather than backing a highly questionable nominee, the senators should rise above pure partisanship and work to find a good nominee for the Eastern Judicial District, which includes 44 counties from Raleigh eastward.

That judgeship has the unwelcome distinction of having been empty for nearly 13 years — the longest-lasting judicial vacancy in U.S. history. The empty seat has caused a massive backlog of cases, especially civil cases. Farr first surfaced as a nominee under President George W. Bush in 2006. That nomination went nowhere, for good reason. During his two terms, President Barack Obama tried twice to fill the seat. He nominated two well-qualified African-American women, Jennifer May Parker and, later, Patricia Timmons-Goodson. Burr blocked both. Burr’s actions are especially troubling given that the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge even though more than a quarter of its residents are black.

Then, when Trump took office, Farr’s nomination resurfaced. Who knows? With Republican gains in the Senate, the nomination might resurface next year.

Rather than stubbornly backing a flawed nominee, Burr and Tillis should encourage Trump to nominate a worthy candidate for the seat. They should do the right thing.

Read more

Defending Democracy, News, Uncategorized, Voting

NC NAACP to Gov. Cooper: Veto Voter ID implementation bill

The North Carolina NAACP is urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto Senate Bill 824: “Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.”

Members of the civil rights group call the bill the product of “a rushed process by a lame-duck General Assembly that both has been found to be unconstitutionally-constituted by the federal courts and has been voted out of office by the people of North Carolina.”

In a letter sent to the Gov. Cooper Wednesday, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman writes:

The rushed and unusual process through which this General Assembly passed SB 824 further demonstrates how little respect the General Assembly has for voters of color. In the two short weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, this lame-duck General Assembly shepherded a complex bill with the most serious ramifications through a cursory process with few opportunities for public comment and no public examination of the bill’s impact on voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The public was given little to no notice of changes in committee meeting times, and no notice of whether and when there would be opportunities to speak. This mimics the expedited process deployed to enact the ultimately invalidated HB 589 in 2013.

The leadership of the General Assembly contends it was forced to act quickly to pass photo voter ID legislation because of the voter ID constitutional amendment that was passed this past November. But the constitutionality of that amendment itself is an open question that remains pending before the North Carolina courts. Even if implementing legislation were required, a duly-elected General Assembly – one not elected under the cloud of unconstitutionally racially – gerrymandered maps and not sitting in a lame-duck session –will be seated in just a few weeks. And there is no timeline in the text of the Constitutional Amendment that required the hurried actions taken by this legislature resulting in this suspect bill.

Finally, no new justifications have been provided by this General Assembly to rationalize the imposition of the law’s infringement upon the right to vote. A photo ID requirement does nothing to address the state’s most pressing security issues.  It has nothing to do with improving the reliability of voting equipment, safeguards for voter data, protections against foreign interference, or safeguards against the types of irregularities currently under investigation in Bladen and Robeson County. Research consistently shows that fraudulent irregularities in voting are rare, and the types of irregularities that this photo identification could aid in preventing are even rarer—in this state and nationwide.  There is simply no reason, other than the General Assembly leadership’s own improper motivations, that this hastily-ratified bill should go any farther than it already has.

Read the NC NAACP’s full letter here.

Uncategorized

More than 50 major corporations stand up for transgender protections

Fifty-six major corporations signed onto a letter to President Donald Trump today, urging the administration to abandon plans to erase existing federal transgender protections.

The businesses include tech giants like Apple, Intel, IBM and Facebook as well as finance sector leaders like Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase & C0. and S&P Global. North Carolina’s own Replacements Ltd. was also a signatory.

The move comes in response to last month’s New York Times report on a plan to radically change how the government recognizes transgender people and the discrimination protections extended to them.

In North Carolina, transgender state employees and dependents are struggling with the loss of coverage through the State Health Plan.

The full text of the letter:

We, the undersigned businesses, stand with the millions of people in America who identify as transgender, gender non-binary, or intersex, and call for all such people to be treated with the respect and dignity everyone deserves.

We oppose any administrative and legislative efforts to erase transgender protections through reinterpretation of existing laws and regulations. We also fundamentally oppose any policy or regulation that violates the privacy rights of those that identify as transgender, gender non-binary, or intersex.

In the last two decades, dozens of federal courts have affirmed the rights and identities of transgender people. Cognizant of growing medical and scientific consensus, courts have recognized that policies that force people into a binary gender definition determined by birth anatomy fail to reflect the complex realities of gender identity and human biology.

Recognizing that diversity and inclusion are good for business, and that discrimination imposes enormous productivity costs (and exerts undue burdens), hundreds of companies, including the
undersigned, have continued to expand inclusion for transgender people across corporate America. Currently more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 have clear gender identity protections; two-thirds have transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage; hundreds have LGBTQ+ and Allies business resource groups and internal training efforts.

Transgender people are our beloved family members and friends, and our valued team members. What harms transgender people harms our companies.

We call for respect and transparency in policy-making, and for equality under the law for transgender people.

Accenture
Adobe Systems Inc.
Airbnb
Altria Group
Amalgamated Bank
Amazon
American Airlines
Apple
Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP)
Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade
BNY Mellon
Cargill
Cisco Systems Inc.
Citi
Clifford Chance
Corning Incorporated
Corteva Agriscience™, the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont
Deutsche Bank
E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
Facebook
Fastly, Inc.
Google
Hogan Lovells International LLP
HSBC
IBM Corporation
Intel Corporation
Intuit Inc.
Iron Mountain
JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Levi Strauss & Co.
LinkedIn
Lush Handmade Cosmetics
Lyft
Marriott International
MassMutual
MGM Resorts International
Microsoft Corp.
Nike Inc.
PepsiCo
Replacements, Ltd.
Ropes & Gray
Royal Bank of Canada
S&P Global
Salesforce
Sheppard Mullin
Sodexo Inc.
Splunk
State Street Corporation
The Coca-Cola Company
The Dow Chemical Company
TiVo Corporation
Trillium Asset Management
Twitter Inc.
Uber
Warby Parker

Uncategorized

Don’t miss our October Crucial Conversation: NC’s deadliest policy failure (and how Virginia solved the problem)

Kenneth Gilliam

Make plans to join us Thursday, October 4th for a very special Crucial Conversation

North Carolina’s deadliest policy failure (and how Virginia solved the problem)

Featuring Kenneth Gilliam of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis

As a commentary on WRAL.com reported earlier this year, an average of 38 North Carolinians die each month in our state for lack of access to adequate health care. That adds up to more than 2,000 lost lives since 2014 when Medicaid expansion became fully available under the Affordable Care Act. As the commentary also pointed out, it’s unclear how many cases of breast cancer were undetected because 52,000 annual mammograms were missed or how many North Carolinians with diabetes have suffered because 36,000 people in that group had to go without their medication.

At the heart of this deadly policy failure, of course, is the stubborn refusal of North Carolina legislative leaders to expand Medicaid – something that’s happened (or is proposed as a ballot initiative this fall) in 36 other states, plus the District of Columbia.

Happily, one of the most recent additions to the Medicaid expansion list is our neighbor to the north, Virginia, which took action earlier this year. Join us as we hear from one of the policy experts who helped make that expansion a reality, Kenneth Gilliam of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

A policy expert in the fields of education and health care, Kenneth also coordinates Health Care for All Virginians, a statewide coalition of organizations and individuals working to help create and advocate for accessible and affordable quality healthcare for all Virginians.

When: Thursday October 4 at 12:00 noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (at the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limitedpreregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

***NOTE: Attendees will also receive a brief update on the ongoing effort to combat proposed constitutional amendments on North Carolina’s fall ballot***.

Uncategorized

The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. North Carolina lawmakers remind us yet again why they’ve earned our distrust

In the first two paragraphs of state Rep. David Lewis’ ludicrous and lamentable plea for a special session this week, ostensibly to rescue the GOP-approved constitutional amendments from liberal “gamesmanship and politics,” the Harnett County Republican mentions the word “maneuverings” twice.
If you’re having difficulty processing Lewis’ use of the word, you’re not alone. After all, Lewis is the overseer of a decade of nakedly partisan gerrymandering, a divisive figure and Karl Rove-style political strategist who’s adept at manipulating process and voters to Republican advantage.[Read more…]

2. PW exclusive: Beach nourishment bingo?
NC lawmakers bypass DEQ, allot $5 million coastal research grant to politically connected Winston-Salem nonprofit

A North Carolina nonprofit with deep political connections received $5 million in the state budget for a beach nourishment study and design project, even though it has never done that type of work and is headquartered more than 250 miles from the coast.
Lawmakers appropriated the funding to the Resource Institute, based in Winston-Salem, through a one-time “grant-in-aid” – pass-through money – from the state Division of Water Resources. The amount is the largest grant-in-aid from the Department of Environmental Quality since at least 2005, according to state budget documents.

Yet, DEQ said it did not request the earmark; in fact, lawmakers appropriated just $1.8 million to DEQ to conduct its own work related to GenX and emerging contaminants.[Read more…]
Bonus reads:

Go Backstage: How I got the Resource Institute story, plus a guide to documents for budding sleuths, citizen journalists
Concerned about methyl bromide, DEQ puts log fumigation permits on hold

3. Expect anything different?
The lawless leaders of the General Assembly prepare to do once again the thing they do best
It’s always tempting to open each and every commentary about the North Carolina General Assembly in 2018 with that most ubiquitous of modern pop culture phrases: “You can’t make this s[tuff] up.” After all, when it comes to brazen, autocratic assaults on traditional American notions of democratic government, no one does it better than Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and his always ready and willing sidekick, House Speaker Tim Moore.

Even Vladimir Putin’s bumbling buddy in the White House – hemmed in as he is by a handful of federal and state judges, a semi-watchful news media, the prospect of criminal prosecution for any number of offenses, and an occasionally disagreeable Congress (except when it comes to packing the federal courts) – has yet to pull off the kind of raw, “because-I-said-so” power moves that are as common in Raleigh these days as a #MeToo complaint addressed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. [Read more…] Read more