Commentary

If you didn’t get your paper this morning because of the snow, be sure to click here to check out Asheville judge Perry Dror’s op-ed on the state Senate’s latest marriage discrimination proposal in Raleigh’s News & Observer.  As Dror explains:

I understand that some magistrates have felt deep concern about whether they should marry same-sex couples based on their sincere religious convictions. Some have even gone so far as to resign.

But any magistrate who resigns over “religious objections” to performing same-sex marriages is confusing a magistrate’s responsibility to conduct civil marriage ceremonies with a member of the clergy’s ability to sanctify a marriage.

Magistrates don’t sanctify marriages, and never have. We perform civil ceremonies, and we shouldn’t have the ability to deny that service to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, race or religion.

The U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion and ensures that no clergy member would ever be forced to sanctify a marriage with which they disagree. Under the law, no church can be compelled to perform a marriage that falls outside their faith tradition.

But government is different. Public officials should treat everyone equally under the law. Our oath demands it.

News

Scroll down for an update of what happened Thursday. Spoiler alert: not much. Vote expected Friday.

Despite the snow storm that socked the state overnight, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is still scheduled to hold their meetings today and tomorrow in Charlotte.

One of the items slated for discussion at a sub-committee this morning is a recommendation to close three centers in the university system, including the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

A vote by the full UNC Board of Governors  will be on Friday, at the meeting being held at UNC-Charlotte’s campus.

The center is headed by Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who has been open in his public criticism of how Republican policies have affected the poorest in the state. Many, including Nichol, have suggested the slated closure of the privately-funded center after years of complaints by conservative groups about Nichol.

Many have spoken out against the proposed closure, including the American Association of University Professors and a majority of law school faculty.

I will be at the meeting – and tweeting what happens. Follow me @SarahOvaska. Check back on the blog later today for an update on what happened.

Read More

News

Loretta LynchThe U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this morning on the nomination of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to serve as the nation’s next Attorney General.

If approved by the Committee, her nomination will move to the full Senate for a final vote, and if confirmed there Lynch will become the first African-American woman to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office there.

Colleagues and adversaries alike have called her a tough, fair, and independent lawyer and a leader of one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the nation.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called her “a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor.

Former NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised Lynch as a person who “upholds the highest ethical standard” and “would serve our country well” as the attorney general.

And former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn’t think of “a more qualified nominee” and was “happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation.”

Lynch also garnered the respect of several senators serving on the 20-member Committee, before whom she appeared for questioning in late January.

Eleven of those senators are Republican — including newly-minted North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – and nine are Democrats.

With a supporting vote, Tillis could help make Lynch the first North Carolinian to lead the Justice Department.

But he has not publicly announced his support, and his office did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Others on both sides of the aisle have expressed their support, though.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Lynch’s performance at her confirmation hearing one of the best she’d witnessed.

“I see the combination of steel and velvet,” Feinstein said.

And Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said he was impressed by Lynch and plans to support her.

Despite that support, an effort is apparently underway among Republicans in the Senate to derail her nomination, according to this report in the News & Observer.

Fifty-one Republican senators have signed a letter urging Judiciary Committee members to oppose her nomination, saying they suspected that Lynch would likely continue the policies of Eric Holder, whom she’d succeed as Attorney General.

Holder made few friends among Republicans in the Senate, and during her confirmation hearing, Lynch found herself being pushed to distance herself from that.

“If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself,” she said in response to questioning.

“I would be Loretta Lynch.”

 

Commentary

Raleigh’s News & Observer has a fine editorial this morning in which it fricassees the state Senate over the absurd bill it approved today to establish a “separate but equal” marriage system for the state. As the editorial noted:

“Sworn public officials have to do their duty, and this not-so-clever bit of legislating is certain to be found unconstitutional. Magistrates and registers of deeds don’t get to cop out of their jobs based on their personal beliefs.

This is amateur hour at the General Assembly, and a petty action that could get expensive. The legislature already has spent nearly $100,000 to have outside lawyers appeal the federal rulings on same-sex marriage. State Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wisely decided not to press on with appeals once the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue.

If the high court rules that laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional, it follows that a silly maneuver like this one regarding magistrates will fall quickly in the courts as well.”

Another issue the authors might have noted and that Senator Angela Bryant and others rightfully emphasized in today’s debate is the question of “what constitutes a ‘sincere religious belief’?” Will it now be okay for magistrates who have “sincere religious” objections to interracial marriage to opt out of their jobs?

And, for that matter, what about other providers of public services? What if a schoolteacher’s sincere religious belief forbids the teaching of boys and girls together in the same classroom? What if an E.M.T. converts to a religion that forbids blood transfusions? Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers are targeting cash-strapped homeowners as they continue to pursue tax changes that would shift even more of the tax load to low- and middle-income taxpayers, while preserving tax benefits that have largely flowed to the wealthy and profitable corporations.

Legislation approved by the state Senate (Senate Bill 20) would require homeowners to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders. Meanwhile, financial institutions that provide such consumer relief are allowed to deduct the expense as a tax write-off.

The proposal would undermine a key element of North Carolina’s recovery from the nationwide housing crisis that fueled the Great Recession. In the wake of the crisis, a number of financial institutions  agreed to  settlements that provide consumers relief for unaffordable mortgages. This often meant reducing the amount of principal debt they owed on their mortgages to make them more affordable and lessen the likelihood of foreclosure. Furthermore, the 49-state National Mortgage Settlement encourages mortgage servicers to provide such relief to distressed borrowers affected by the housing crisis.

The goal of these settlements is to ensure that homeowners who were preyed upon by unethical lenders do not fall into the financial tailspin that foreclosure often creates. The tax change proposed by the Senate would require cash-strapped homeowners who have already suffered from the disastrous housing crisis and economic downturn to report this debt forgiveness as income, even though no actual cash is provided to the homeowners.

This could deter families from accepting bank offers to modify their mortgage loans because they cannot afford to pay taxes on the amount of relief they get. Distressed homeowners seeking to stabilize their finances and rebuild in the wake of the housing crisis would face a major setback. Read More