Commentary

Is an eight-justice Supreme Court the new normal?

That’s one of the provocative questions that constitutional scholar Michael Gerhardt will tackle at the next NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on Tuesday May 10 in Raleigh. RSVP today as it’s sure to be a full house. Here are the details:

A conversation with nationally acclaimed scholar, author and commentator Michael Gerhardt: The Merrick Garland nomination and its implications for the U.S. Supreme Court

Register below

It’s been well over a month now since President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. To date, however, Senate Republicans (including Richard Burr and Thom Tillis) have remained adamant that Garland’s nomination will not even receive a hearing – much less an “up or down” confirmation vote.

To veteran constitutional law expert, Professor Michael Gerhardt, this is an important and disturbing turn in the history of the Court and the politics surrounding it. As Gerhardt has explained in a variety of national publications, Garland is one of the most distinguished and well-prepared nominees in Supreme Court history. If senators follow through with their plans to ignore the nomination, it will have important implications for the future of the Court.

Join us as Gerhardt examines the Garland nomination, what we can expect from a divided Court comprised of just eight justices and what the Senate blockade might mean for future presidents and nominees.

About the speaker: Michael Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the UNC School of Law. He specializes in constitutional conflicts and has been active as a special counsel, scholar, adviser, expert witness, and public commentator on all the major conflicts between presidents and Congress over the past quarter century.

Professor Gerhardt has written dozens of law review articles and five books, including “The Power of Precedent” (paperback, Oxford University Press, 2011). The Financial Times selected his most recent book, “The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy” (Oxford University Press, 2013), as one of its Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013.

Professor Gerhardt’s extensive public service has included advising congressional leaders and White House officials on numerous constitutional issues, including judicial nominations, recess appointments, impeachment, health care reform, the filibuster, and the debt ceiling crises. In 1992-93, he served as one of eight members of the Justice Department transition team for President Clinton and wrote the judicial selection policy for the incoming administration.

Professor Gerhardt is the only legal scholar to participate in Supreme Court confirmation hearings for five of the nine justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court. He served as Special Counsel assisting the Clinton White House on Justice Stephen Breyer’s confirmation hearings. In 2005, he advised several senators on President Bush’s nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States, and he testified as an expert witness in the confirmation hearings for Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. In 2009-2010, Professor Gerhardt served as Special Counsel to Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the Senate Judiciary Committee for the nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Don’t miss this very special event!

Register here

When: Tuesday May 10, at 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 limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

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

Commentary

New York Times features voting rights op-ed by Rev. Barber

Rev. barber 2Be sure to check out the opinion section of the New York Times this morning, which features an op-ed by Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP entitled “The Retreat From Voting Rights.”

Here are some highlights:

“ON Monday, Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., upheld legislation passed in 2013 that imposed far-reaching restrictions on voting across this state, including strict voter-identification requirements. Judge Schroeder justified his decision by claiming that robust turnout in 2014 proved that the law did not suppress the black vote. But in reality, his ruling defended the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century….

In his ruling, Judge Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, said that there is “little official discrimination to consider” today. His nearly 500-page ruling is in keeping with the 19th-century opponents of “Negro rule” who argued that voter intimidation was not “official discrimination” because it was carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. In later years, poll taxes and literacy tests were also deemed not “official discrimination.”

North Carolina actually began rolling back voting protections in 2010, when the new Republican majority adopted a redistricting plan that packed black voters into a few districts and carefully limited the power of interracial coalitions. Racial gerrymandering elected a veto-proof Republican supermajority. When its champion, Thom Tillis, then ran for United States Senate in 2014, he won by more than 45,000 votes.

Since the Shelby decision, many states have been emboldened to implement laws like North Carolina’s. Republican-controlled election boards have greatly reduced the number of polling places. Wisconsin recently passed a bill creating major hurdles to voter registration campaigns. Alabama closed driver’s license offices in several counties with high percentages of black voters. But after an outcry, it sent part-time license examiners to those counties.

Allowing this kind of retrenchment on voting rights sets a dangerous precedent, especially in the South. In the 11 former Confederate states, there are 160 electoral votes, 22 United States Senate seats and 131 House seats. We cannot allow this level of political power to be determined by discriminatory voting laws.”

After noting the actions of civil rights activists a half century ago to overcome obstructionism and physical violence, Barber concludes this way:

“Half a century later, we again struggle for unfettered access to the ballot, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the protections stripped away by Shelby, has stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Strom Thurmond was able to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act for only 24 hours. But today’s extremists have buried voting rights here for nearly three years. It is time for the silence to end.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Initial review of Governor’s modest public safety budget

Safe communities and efficient courts contribute to a quality of life in local communities that is attractive for raising a family and operating a business. Revisions to the Governor’s modest budget for Justice and Public Safety largely consist of funding for pay increases for state employees, in which the majority of these dollars represent one-time bonus payments, with modest investments in other areas of the budget.

Here are key items in the Justice & Public Safety budget.

Judicial Branch

  • Funding provided for discretionary one-time bonuses, maximum $3,000, to selected state employees ($9.9 million).
  • Funding provided for permanent experience-based pay raises for clerks and magistrates, and market-based salary adjustment for assistant district attorneys ($7.4 million).
  • Transfers dollars from Department of Health and Human Services for specialty courts that serve special populations such as individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues ($2.5 million).

Read more

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Initial review of Governor’s higher ed budgets that fail to ensure affordable higher education

Here are key highlights from Gov. McCrory’s proposed higher education budgets.

Community College System

Consists of 58 community colleges across the state serving all of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

The community college budget follows a larger trend of failing to boost public investment in the state’s education pipeline, with the exception of some additional funding for one-time bonuses, equipment upgrades, and a locally-driven initiative to promote post-secondary success. After years of steady increases in tuition, the proposed budget does not reverse this trend, failing to make post-secondary training and education at community colleges more affordable.

  • Funding provided for discretionary one-time bonuses, maximum $3,000, to selected state employees at NC community colleges ($29.4 million).
  • Savings recognized due to decline in enrollment ($26.2 million).
  • Funding provided for locally-determined support services to help ensure students earn a credential or degree ($16.6 million).
  • One-time funding provided to upgrade and maintain instructional equipment at NC community colleges ($7.5 million).

UNC System

Consists of 16 four-year public universities across the state serving more than 220,000 students, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics. Read more

2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Initial review of Governor McCrory’s modest budget for Natural and Economic Resources

Governor McCrory’s proposed budget for Natural and Economic Resources (NER) devotes additional funds for some critical needs. If the legislature acts on his recommendations, it would mean more support for apprenticeship programs, main street revitalization in rural North Carolina, removing underground gas storage tanks, and handful of other laudable goals.

That said, Governor McCrory’s budget is trapped into modest aspirations. Having gone along with several rounds of expensive tax cuts, and being preoccupied this year with increasing teacher pay, there’s not much left over for anything else. Some good ideas are included in the Governor’s NER budget, but it isn’t a visionary plan for North Carolina’s economic, cultural, and natural future.

Selected line items from Governor McCrory’s proposed NER are listed below:

Read more