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Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol had a fine editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shined a light on the utter madness of the narrow U.S. Supreme Court majority that, has, effectively, handed our national presidential elections over to a small group of billionaire plutocrats.

Here’s Nichol, after reminding us of Lincoln’s famous call to “allow the governed an equal voice in the government”:

“Few spectacles could more profoundly debase Lincoln’s sense of the meaning of America than the recent parade of presidential hopefuls seeking audience, in supplication, before a growing list of billionaire funders.

The Koch brothers announced that a billion dollars is up for grabs in 2016 for the candidate who most pleases them. Casino operator Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly coughed up $100 million in 2012, allowed tribute to be paid, and sought, a couple of weeks ago at his Las Vegas hotel. Republican candidates appeared with bells on.

Hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer announced he’ll sponsor Ted Cruz. Rick Santorum, once again, will carry the colors of investment manager Foster Friess. Florida billionaire Norman Braman will provide at least $10 million for Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush’s new Super PAC, Right To Rise, will reportedly secure $100 million of individual and corporate donations before the end of May.

Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton followed up her announcement that curing the evils of money and politics will be a core component of her campaign by traveling to California to seek massive contributions for the Priorities USA Super PAC. She’s confident we’ve forgotten the Lincoln bedroom leases and the overtly purchased attentions (and pardons) of her husband’s administration….

The Washington Post described the unfolding primary as “a brawl of billionaires.” The elites of the super donor class shield and secure their own, seemingly essential, primary. The Center for Responsive Politics reminds that, in 2012, about a hundred people and their spouses contributed 67 percent of all Super PAC funding. The 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent.”

After reminding us that this ridiculous situation has all been made possible by a series of Supreme Court rulings that have equated unfettered spending by billionaires with “free speech,” he concludes this way:

“We are not without weapons. Jurisdiction can be curtailed. New seats can be added to the court. Judges can be impeached for attempting to destroy democracy. Enough is enough. Tom Paine wouldn’t put up with this. Neither would old Abe.”

He’s right. let’s get to work.

Commentary

gavelmed

In January, over half of all those that participated in the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll were unaware of a Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell , that could greatly impact many states’ economic growth and public health. What has made the Affordable Care Act successful is that individuals are able to receive financial help to purchase insurance plans and depending on the outcome of this case, many people may lose this assistance in states that rely on the federal marketplace instead of a state-run marketplace. The decision of the King v. Burwell case could potentially affect 1.6 million North Carolinians’ ability to access affordable health care. Approximately 560,000 North Carolinians have purchased insurance coverage using the federal marketplace and are at risk of losing subsidies that would then make health care too expensive. What is more, the King v. Burwell decision is linked to expanding Medicaid to nearly 500,000 people throughout NC as Governor McCrory has stated that he will wait until the Supreme Court decision before making a formal decision on Medicaid expansion. We also know that a dramatic shift in enrollment will have a major impact on private insurance companies that will likely drive rates up by 43 percent for everyone. Some insurers may pull out of the market altogether.

Leaders in many red and blue states are concerned about the potential impact of losing insurance subsidies, and they are creating response plans. Let’s hope this process is playing out behind-the-scenes in North Carolina as well. The same Kaiser poll reports that 82 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents, and 40 percent of Republicans believe that the U.S. Congress should act to make sure that low-and-moderate income families continue receiving tax credits to purchase affordable insurance even if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies. However, states do not have to rely on the federal government to pass a law to ensure access to affordable health care; some states are already preparing to develop state-run exchanges. Nationally, 51 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Democrats believe that states that rely on the federal marketplace should create their own state-run market places. North Carolina’s Governor and General Assembly should take the initiative and start constructing our own state exchange. If the Supreme Court decides not to uphold the subsidies for low-to-moderate-income individuals who rely on the federal marketplace, it’s not clear that NC has a plan. Across the U.S., 63 percent of people believe that Republicans do not have an alternative to the ACA. Our state can’t wait on Congress to come up with a solution. Waiting to act until a Supreme Court decision in mid-to-late June is risky and could leave many North Carolinians without health care and our insurance market in ruins.

Commentary

As Sharon McCloskey reported in this space yesterday, the the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a modest victory for democracy this week when it said that states can ban direct campaign solicitations by judges. Would that North Carolina would join the list of states to do so.

What was perhaps the most amazing thing about the Court’s ruling, however, was Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress explains:

“Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:

‘States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such ‘responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.’ The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must ‘observe the utmost fairness,’ striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.’

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not ‘follow the preferences’ of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not ‘provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.’ But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should ‘follow the preferences’ of their supporters and give ‘special consideration’ to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.”

Sadly, as Millhiser concludes, the view that it’s okay for donors to buy politicians is at the heart of the Court’s unabashed ruling in the infamous Citizens United decision. What’s bizarre about this week’s ruling is the Court majority’s apparent obliviousness to their own hypocrisy when it comes to donors buying judges.

Commentary

Editorial pages and good government advocates are weighing in this morning in praise of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps back to the state Supreme Court for further review. This morning’s Fayetteville Observer calls the decision a “setback” for gerrymandering and concludes this way:

“We don’t know how this will be settled, but it reminds us that the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission is the real solution that we need.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s News & Observer terms the ruling a “voter victory.” It also notes that:

“Redrawing legislative and congressional districts is a task that ruling parties take on after a census. It’s true, as Republicans have claimed, that Democrats drew districts to their advantage when they were in power, but they did not go to the extremes the GOP did.

Think of how much time and trouble and money the state could save if it established a bipartisan commission to draw districts every 10 years. But don’t expect that to happen while Republicans continue to enjoy being in power after 100 years out of it.”

And for more details on how a nonpartisan solution is within easy reach of the General Assembly, turn over to the right side of the N&O editorial section and read this op-ed by Common Cause board member and retired N.C. State professor Larry King in which he explains how GOP lawmakers like Representatives David Lewis and Bert Jones have done one of the all-time flip flops on the issue. As King explains:

“Republican Party leaders need to let the democratic process play out. This is legislation they have long championed. North Carolina Republicans remember all too well how frustrating it was when their voices weren’t heard because of gerrymandered districts. Redistricting reform ensures this never happens again. It’s time to end gerrymandering once and for all in North Carolina, and it starts with letting H92 be heard in committee.

The residents of North Carolina deserve no less.”

Commentary

Hillary ClintonWith the 2016 presidential election already taking shape, one issue that likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seems certain to emphasize in the months ahead is the future of the federal courts.

GOP candidates will no doubt trot out their tired and absurd old claims about opposing “activist liberal judges,” but the truth of the matter is that if there are any activist judges on the federal bench these days, they are of the Right. One need look no further than the Scalias, Thomases and Alitos of the world and the Citizens United decision they gave us to see what they look like and how far back they plan on taking the nation.

And speaking of Hillary and the courts, here are a couple of other facts that she’d probably do well to emphasize as she looks to mobilize her likely supporters:

In 2017, the combined ages of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Scalia and Kennedy will be 325.

The last time a Democratic president appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was 1946 — the year before she — Clinton — was born.