Commentary

Experts skewer Tillis, NRA excuses for blocking Merrick Garland

Tillis

Sen. Thom Tillis

With Governor McCrory’s discrimination bill (and his laugh-out-loud excuses) dominating the news in North Carolina, it’s easy to lose sight that there’s another major debate going on right now (this one at the national level) in which conservatives are having a lot of trouble explaining themselves. I refer, of course, to the ongoing blockade of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Fortunately, a couple of new and powerful articles are there to remind us of just how absurd the blockade has become.

#1 is Gene Nichol’s excellent piece in Sunday’s McClatchy papers (“Through the looking glass with Thom Tillis”) in which Nichol provides a scathing, point-by-point take-down of North Carolina’s junior senator and his recent speech on the matter. Here’s the conclusion:

“I must admit I don’t know whether the senator read this speech before he delivered it. I guess we can hope he didn’t. I’d be slow to conclude he’s not a smart fellow. Bless his heart. But I’m inclined to think that, like Gov. Pat McCrory, he has become so accustomed to mushing through the talking points – no matter how distant they are from reality – that his words don’t register, even on the home front. One need neither understand nor believe what one utters. After all, it’s only politics.

I wouldn’t quickly compare Thom Tillis to the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary. But the cynical repetition of demonstrably, and even hideously false, pufferies – which has now become habitual for Tillis – is no marked improvement over Trumpism. Deploying venom and dispensing bile are not the only ways to demean American political discourse – or to embarrass the people of North Carolina.”

#2 is a new report by Ian Millhiser at Think Progress — “The NRA’s case against Merrick Garland just got super awkward.” In it, Millhiser points out that even failed George W. Bush Court of Appeals nominee and darling of the far right, Miguel Estrada rejects the NRA’s attacks on Garland:

“‘The NRA claims that Garland’s decision to [review a decision striking down the District of Columbia’s tough gun control law] helps mark the Supreme Court nominee as someone who ‘does not support the Second Amendment.’ That’s pure applesauce, according to Estrada:

Estrada explains that ‘the rules say that the full court may wish to rehear the case itself when the case raises a question, and I quote, of “exceptional importance.”‘

The gun rights case certainly was of exceptional importance, he said, since no court of appeals had ever before ruled that there was an individual right to own a gun. Ultimately, Estrada notes, the Supreme Court, too, thought the case was of exceptional importance, since it agreed to review the lower court decision and, in a landmark opinion, sustained it.

In a previous interview with CBS’ Face The Nation, Estrada also described Garland as “astronomically qualified” and said that he ‘should be confirmed.’”

In other words, try as they might to manufacture excuses to oppose Garland, it is increasingly clear that the real and only reason for the conservatives’ blockade is that they can do it. What’s more, as with the discrimination law, it feels more and more as if the far right is really just delaying the inevitable.

Commentary, News

Common Cause to Senator Tillis on Supreme Court nomination: “Do your job!”

The following statement was issued by Dennis Burns, chairman of Common Cause North Carolina this morning outside the Raleigh office of Senator Thom Tillis:

“Today we delivered a petition to Sen. Thom Tillis signed by over 17,000 North Carolinians calling on the U.S. Senate to perform its constitutional duty and work with President Obama on filling the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. There are ongoing court cases around such vital issues as voting rights and gerrymandering in North Carolina that could reach the Supreme Court. A continued vacancy would leave the high court shorthanded and could prevent these cases from receiving the proper review and resolution that our state deserves. We respectfully call on Senators Tillis and Burr, along with their colleagues, to put aside partisan politics and allow the Supreme Court nominating process to move forward in a fair and timely manner.”

Commentary

Op-ed: Judicial obstruction not limited to Scalia’s seat

There’s a great op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning about the absurd ongoing blockade of almost all judicial nominations submitted by President Obama — a blockade that has resulted in a federal court seat in North Carolina being vacant for 10 years. Here are Mark Dorosin and Brent Ducharme laying out the problem:

“In the wake of the recent death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, politicians and the public have been debating the timing of a Supreme Court nomination and the potential effects of leaving the seat empty for over a year.

Sadly, there has been no similar public discussion of the 76 vacant judgeships on the 94 federal district courts and 13 federal appellate courts that hear the thousands of cases each year that never reach the Supreme Court. Far too often, the process of filling judicial vacancies is also marked by the same political motivations currently on display.

In recent years, the federal judiciary has faced growing caseloads that significantly outpace the relatively static number of federal judges. Between March 2013 and March 2014, more than 300,000 civil cases were filed in federal district courts. Nearly 87,000 criminal cases were also filed. Because of the heavy workload, delays in filling seats on the federal bench have severe effects on the administration of justice in the United States.

In the Eastern District of North Carolina, capacity challenges are compounded by the longest standing vacancy in the federal judiciary. In 2005, Judge Malcolm Howard, one of four then-active federal judges sitting in the Eastern District, vacated his seat and assumed part-time senior status with the court. More than a decade later, Howard’s former seat remains unfilled, and there are no nominees. This is the longest current vacancy in the federal judiciary by more than four years and the second-longest vacancy on the federal courts in at least the last three and a half decades.”

And here’s the excellent conclusion: Read more

Commentary

Scalia’s death: Another step in the demise of the death penalty?

Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portrait

The late Antonin Scalia

With executions long on hold here in North Carolina, it’s easy to forget that we still have a long way to go in joining the most of the rest of the civilized world in abandoning the death penalty. What’s more, as this recent post by Kristin Collins on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty reminds us, men still reside on death row in our state who were sentenced under the most absurd and outrageous of circumstances. Here’s Collins:

“Almost a year ago, Kenneth Neal was quietly removed from death row after 19 years awaiting his execution.

According to the judge’s order entered that day in March 2015, Neal was resentenced to life in prison without parole because he is intellectually disabled. In the years since Neal’s 1996 conviction, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people with significant intellectual disabilities.

Kenneth Neal

Kenneth Neal

What went unmentioned is that Neal likely never would have been sentenced to death in the first place had he not been assigned a notorious convicted felon as a defense attorney.

On trial for his life, the courts assigned Neal an attorney who had, just a few years before when he was a district attorney, been caught up in a highly publicized child pornography sting. The attorney had been caught with sex tapes of children as young as 7 and 8, performing incestuous sex acts between siblings and parents — and the jury was well aware of the lawyer’s crimes. Read Neal’s full story here.”

Of course, such facts would have been unlikely to trouble the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who infamously declared that the Constitution did not bar the execution of even an innocent person who had received a “fair” trial.

In the weeks and months to come, it’s clear that the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by Scalia’s passing will force the Court closer to the center of the American political debate than, perhaps, ever before. And whatever the outcome of that contest, it’s hard to imagine that the next Justice appointed will be as avid and enthusiastic of a death penalty defender as Scalia.

Let’s fervently hope that’s the case, anyway.

Commentary

Responses to marriage ruling run the gamut

While equality advocates are universally celebrating today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, critics have issued mixed responses.

Not surprisingly, Equality NC hailed the decision:

“Chris Sgro, Equality NC’s executive director, called this ‘a historic day’ for the United States and the state of North Carolina.’Today’s ruling granting loving, same-sex couples the freedom to marry across our United States is a historic moment for our country, and for tens of thousands of same-sex families who call our state home,’ said Sgro. ‘With it, gays and lesbians in every corner of the United States will finally be able to marry the person they love. Today, love won and we celebrate all who have worked tirelessly over many decades to change hearts and minds and make this ruling a possibility.’

Sgro added, ‘Even as we celebrate, we know our progress does not and will not end at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples can legally marry in North Carolina—and the very same day, be denied public services, fired from their job or denied housing simply because of who they are. With these harsh realities in mind, Equality NC remains committed to fighting for full equality for LGBT North Carolinians wherever they work or live.’”

And this is from the ACLU:

“‘The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,’ said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. ‘Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.’

The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that ‘marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,’ the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

‘Today’s decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time,’ said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. ‘Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws. The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country.'”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger offered somewhat muted criticism:

“The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court. while this decision is disappointing, we respect the ruling and will continue to work to ensure North Carolina complies with the law of the land.”

Meanwhile conservative social warriors were scathing in their reaction.  Read more