News

Supreme courtIn an opinion with implications for those states where judges are elected, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a plurality opinion that states can ban direct solicitations.

In the case out of Florida, Williams-Yulee v. Florida State Bar, lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee landed in hot water with the state bar after, in connection with her candidacy for a county judgeship, she sent out a mass mailing with her signature asking for contributions.

Williams-Yulee challenged a state law banning direct requests for money by judges, saying it violated her First Amendment freedom of speech, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the prohibition was “one of a constellation of provisions designed to ensure that judges engaged in campaign activities are able to maintain their status as fair and impartial arbiters of the law.”

Of the 39 states that have some form of elections for judges, 30 prohibit judges from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

That’s not the case in North Carolina — one of the nine states which allow judicial candidates to directly ask for campaign contributions from attorneys and law firms as well as other members of the public.

That’s been the law here since 2003, when according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, the justices of the Supreme Court radically revised the rules of judicial conduct, without any input from the public:

North Carolina not only turned the political activity regulations on their heads—changing the basic canon from “A judge should refrain from political activity inappropriate to his judicial office” to the current “A judge may engage in political activity consistent with his status as a public official”—but also eliminated the Pledge or Promise Clause and the ban on candidates’ personally soliciting campaign contributions.

(The Pledge or Promise Clause prohibits judicial candidates from making “pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performances of the duties of the office.”)

The current judicial code of conduct allows judges to speak at political party events, personally solicit contributions, identify themselves as affiliated with a particular party and otherwise engage in activities “consistent with the judge’s status as a public official.”

Read more about the implications of the Williams-Yulee decision for North Carolina here.

Commentary

The Moral Mondays-Forward Together movement returns to Raleigh today to to blow a little fresh air onto the increasingly wacky goings on in the Legislative Building. In case you missed it, this is “Crossover Week”at the General Assembly and, unfortunately, the deadline has helped give rise to a spasm of new, far right proposals on everything from the death penalty to the spread of guns to, we’re not making this up, teaching K-12 students the wonders of “a strong national defense” and the gold standard.

Click here for the details on this afternoon’s protest. And here’s Rev. William Barber, leader of the state NAACP on what this afternoon’s protests are all about:

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News

Start your morning with this excellent essay by Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick about instances where the wheels fell off the gay marriage opposition bus yesterday, including most notably the failure of attorneys for that side to reach the critical swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, where he lives — in the world of dignity.

As Lithwick points out, Kennedy has been all about dignity — she calls him the “dignity-whisperer” — in court decisions he’s authored touching upon the institution of marriage.

So when counsel for Michigan defending that state’s ban paints marriage into some sort of biological-bonding corner, he gets Kennedy’s goat:

[T]here is a rather extraordinary moment Tuesday morning . . . when Kennedy finds himself in an argument with John Bursch, Michigan’s special assistant attorney general, about whether marriage is a dignity-conferring enterprise, or not. Bursch, defending his state’s ban on same-sex marriage, is explaining that the purpose of marriage is not to confer dignity but to keep parents bonded to their biological children.

Justice Kennedy—who opened argument Tuesday morning with the observation that this whole case is about an institution whose definition has gone unchanged for millennia—looks rather shocked. The author of the majority decision outlawing sodomy bans in Lawrence v. Texas (“Adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons”) and the decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor (“It seems fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage”) did not want to hear this. Indeed, it seems like Kennedy wanted it to be perfectly clear that he is the guy who gets to say that if marriage is nothing else, it is a dignity-stamper.

The tussle between Kennedy and Bursch doesn’t end there, with the attorney circling back to the dignity point later in the argument:

Bursch circles back to say, again, “marriage was never intended to be dignity bestowing.” At which point Kennedy almost bursts a pipe: “I don’t understand that [marriage] is not dignity bestowing. I thought that was the whole purpose of marriage. It bestows dignity on both man and woman in a traditional marriage. … It’s dignity bestowing, and these parties say they want to have that same ennoblement.”

Bursch replies that the “state is trying to figure out how do we link together these kids with their biological moms and dads when possible, the glue are benefits and burdens, but not necessarily dignity.” Anthony “Dignity” Kennedy can’t even believe it: “Well, I think many states would be surprised, with reference to traditional marriages, they are not enhancing the dignity of both the parties.” It seems to me that nobody puts Dignity Kennedy in the corner. Not even Michigan.

Read more on the argument yesterday here, and what the case might mean for North Carolina here.

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News

A controversial Senate bill that would have sharply increased the workload of UNC professors was reworked before being unexpectedly shipped off to a study commission on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 593 originally would have required all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. Teaching less than eight courses a year would see that professor’s salary reduced.

On Tuesday, Senator Tom McInnis presented a substitute proposal to his bill leaving STEM professors at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University (the state’s leading research universities) at their current workloads. Other schools in the UNC system would see their teaching loads go from five courses a year to six.

The Richmond County freshman senator said his proposal could save North Carolina between $60 and $80 million.

McInnis also told members of the Senate Education Committee that students should be treated as “the most important customer” in the UNC system and not saddled with courses taught by “student teachers.”

Senator Jerry Tillman, the committee chair, announced SB 593 would be turned over to a Legislative Research Commission for further study. And with the crossover deadline set for Thursday, McInnis’ bill will likely not re-emerge this session.

To hear Sen. McInnis speak about the need to increase the quality of instruction at North Carolina’s universities, click below:

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Commentary

The wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are out with a new and powerful report today on the increasingly-evident benefits of Medicaid expansion. Here’s the lead:

“In the short time since states have been able to expand Medicaid to low-income adults under health reform, a clear divide has emerged between states that have expanded Medicaid and those that have not. Since the major coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect in 2014, insurance coverage rates have improved across the country, but the gains are far greater in the states that have expanded Medicaid. As a result, hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of uncompensated care they are providing is declining steeply. Moreover, contrary to critics’ claims that Medicaid expansion is financially unsustainable for states, there is increasing evidence that expansion has saved states money, and these savings are expected to grow over time.

The Medicaid expansion has had an especially dramatic impact in Arkansas and Kentucky, which both had high uninsurance rates and limited Medicaid eligibility for non-elderly adults before health reform. Both states’ uninsurance rates have fallen by half in just over a year, and the expansion is expected to save each state more than $100 million by the time their current state fiscal years end on June 30.

Meanwhile, the states that have not expanded Medicaid are falling further behind. In the non-expansion states, large numbers of low-income people remain uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage. These individuals are caught in a ‘coverage gap’ because their incomes are too high for Medicaid but too low for subsidies to purchase coverage in the marketplace. Hospitals in these states continue to provide large amounts of uncompensated care, and the states are missing the opportunity to leverage billions of dollars in new federal funding through the Medicaid expansion.”

Click here to see the numbers and read more details about how North Carolina continues to fall farther behind as the result of its stubborn and self-destructive refusal to expand the program.