US Supreme Court denies DACA review; Dreamers can continue renewals for now

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The federal government asked the highest court in mid-January to weigh in on its decision before a review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a judge in California ordered DACA be maintained nationwide except in few cases.

“The Supreme Court has made the right decision by allowing this to play out in the lower courts,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. “However, the question at hand is about the particular process the Trump administration used to end DACA, not whether he may end the program or not.”

Noorani, like many North Carolinians paying attention to DACA litigation urged lawmakers to pass a permanent solution.

“The fate of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers is still in question,” she said. “Therefore, the urgency of a permanent legislative solution remains.”

The National Immigration Law Center tweeted after the Supreme Court decision that immigrant youth who previously was enrolled in DACA can continue, for now, to apply for renewals.

“There is immense urgency for Congress to do the right thing to #ProtectDreamers,” reads another tweet. “Nothing about today’s SCOTUS announcement diminished that. Dreamers are America’s children but scores of them are losing their #DACA protections every single day.”

The North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is keeping up with DACA news. Updates and more DACA information can be found on the Project’s website. The Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.

Demographic shifts, historical revisionism fueling Christian nationalist push among conservatives

This week, Policy Watch published a report on the Christian nationalism animating The American Renewal Project, a conservative evangelical group working closely with the N.C. Republican party to promote GOP candidates and recruit pastors to run for office.

The group, which rejects the concept of a separation between church and state, seeks to make its conservative interpretation of Christianity central to government policy and to mandate religious instruction and Christian prayer in public schools. Among the Renewal Project’s most passionate supporters: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. Robinson – the top elected Republican in the state, now teasing a run for governor – has headlined Renewal Project events at churches across the state all year, including one this week with U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd.

The Republican party has long courted evangelical Christians, said Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of History and Political Science at Catawba College in Salisbury. But research continues to show Americans becoming less religious – with declines concentrated among the protestants who make up the American evangelical movement. Anxiety over that shift has tightened the bonds between evangelicals and the Republican party, Bitzer said, leading to a GOP embrace of a brand of Christian nationalism that was once well outside the mainstream.

“Just as Black African American voters are reliable Democratic voters, evangelicals are now reliable Republican voters,” Bitzer said. “They tend to influence the candidates and they become the candidates seeking office under the Republican nomination.”

As the society continues to change and diversify, Bitzer said, many evangelicals have become worried about losing governing power in what they see as a zero sum political game. The recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was the result of a 50 year campaign to return decisions about abortion to the states, he said, where religious conservatives have more influence. But increasingly, generations coming of political age have no religious affiliation.

Last year, the Pew Research Center found about 30 percent of American surveyed were religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. When Pew began asking its current questions about religious identity in 2007, it found American Christians outnumbered religious “nones” five-to-one. Today, that’s down to a little more than two-to-one in a steady downward trend.

Self-identified evangelicals or “born again” Christians make up 60 percent of U.S. protestants. But the overall protestant population – evangelical and not – has dropped 10 percent in the last ten years, from about half  of Americans to 40 percent. The remaining evangelicals tend to be whiter and much older than the general population, Bitzer said, while rising generations are both more racially and ethnically diverse and less in line with socially conservative evangelical Christian values.

“Society is changing, there’s transformation under way,” Bitzer said. “And there are concerns by evangelicals about losing their governing power.”

To hold on to that power, Bitzer said, they need to instill some of their religious beliefs into government policy. Read more

The GOP and the religious right; Blood tests for PFAS; Raleigh’s mass shooting; an NC case heads to the Supreme Court: The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaking at a recent North Carolina Renewal Project event – Photo: Joe Killian

1. PW special report: Religious conservatives showcase close bond with NC Republican leaders

Recent church-based events test IRS rules, court allegations of Christian nationalism 

Gary Miller has a little story he likes to tell about religion and politics.

While serving as pastor at a church years ago, he was frustrated by how long it took to get a building permit. So he ran for city council — and lost by one vote.

“I came back to my people Sunday morning,” Miller told a crowd earlier this month at Cross Assembly church in Raleigh. “And I said, ‘I’d like for everyone who voted for me to please stand’. And those that remained seated, I handed out voter registration cards.”

“I’m not pastor of that church anymore,” he said. “I wouldn’t suggest that you do that.”

The crowd of about 100 at Cross Assembly erupted in laughter. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Lt. Governor rips Potato Heads, “egghead” Christian leaders, transgender people in church speeches

2. PFAS found in blood samples of more than 1,000 people in Cape Fear River Basin

For more than a year, Laura Petersen has waited for the message to arrive.

“I’m so nervous to open that letter,” she said at a meeting this week co-hosted by scientists from the GenX Exposure Study and members of the Haw River Assembly.

Petersen and her family have lived in Pittsboro for 12 years. Every day for those 12 years they drank water from their tap, unaware it contained high levels of toxic PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated compounds.

Peterson, her husband and their daughter are among 206 Pittsboro residents who consented to have their blood tested for PFAS. Another 800 residents in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin also provided researchers with blood samples.

All the study participants should receive their results within the next week. [Read more…]

Raleigh Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin addresses a mass shooting that killed five people.

3. One question no one needs to ask about the Raleigh mass shooting

Public officials faced numerous questions last week in the immediate aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Raleigh: Who was the perpetrator? Why did he do it? Exactly where and when did the killings take place?

As we learned soon thereafter, police quickly pieced together the answers to some of those questions. They now believe that a “camo”-clad 15-year-old high school sophomore allegedly killed his 16-year-old brother and murdered four other people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in and around the suburban Hedingham neighborhood. The shootings appear to have commenced at around 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon and the suspect was “contained” three hours later.

We’re still waiting for an explanation of motive – though it’s hard to fathom that some sort of profound mental delusion or disturbance wasn’t a major contributor.

One question that seemed not worth bothering to ask, however, was this: How did it happen? [Read more…]

Photo: Getty Images

4. U.S. Supreme Court case from North Carolina could unleash profound changes to elections nationwide

High court will hear oral arguments in Moore v. Harper on Dec. 7

A U.S. Supreme Court case originating in North Carolina could bring far-reaching changes to elections and the balance of political power in nearly every state.

North Carolina Republicans want the nation’s highest court to rule that state courts cannot throw out congressional districts that legislatures draw, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause makes legislatures the sole state authority over federal elections.

The Constitution grants “the state ‘Legislature’ primacy in setting rules for federal elections, subject to check only by Congress,” lawyers for state Republicans wrote in brief filed with the high court.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Moore v. Harper on Dec. 7, but a ruling may not be forthcoming until the spring of 2023. [Read more…]

5. Policy Watch interviews NC Supreme Court candidates: Part Two

Two Supreme Court seats are on the ballot this Election Day, offering Republicans the opportunity to flip the state’s highest court. Policy Watch has reached out to each of the four candidates and is publishing their responses from interviews conducted in October.

[Editor’s note: You can read Part One featuring Sam J. Ervin, IV and Trey Allen here.]

Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Richard Dietz are squaring off in a race to replace Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson, who is retiring. Both Inman and Dietz are judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Inman started her judicial career in Superior Court before moving on to the Court of Appeals. Here is a link to her website.

Dietz clerked for two federal judges, Judge Emory Widener on the U.S. Court of Appeals and Judge Samuel Wilson on the U.S. District Court in Virginia. He joined the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2014. Here is a link to his website. [Read more…]

Photo: Getty Images/Laura Rosina

6. The reinstatement of NC’s post-20 week abortion ban is harmful to both patients and medical providers

The overwhelming majority of abortions in this country (more than 90%) occur before the pregnancy has reached 12 weeks, and generally less than 1% occur after 20 weeks. As is the case with all healthcare, however, there are instances in which difficult or unpredictable circumstances can intervene and make accessing an abortion beyond 20 weeks a necessary option for patients to have.

Pregnant people need abortion care later in pregnancy most often related to two factors.

First, is when new medical information becomes available about the pregnancy. This can include fetal anomalies that are not compatible with life, or severe health conditions that develop in the pregnant person. [Read more…]

**BONUS READ: Analysis: Theory vs. reality. The Dobbs ruling and women’s health

7. More than half of survey respondents believe growth, proficiency should carry equal weight on A-F school grading system

Fifty-five percent of the more than 26,000 survey participants responding to questions about North Carolina’s controversial A-F school performance grading system believe a student’s academic growth and performance on standardized tests should carry equal weight when assigning school grades.

Currently, academic growth from one year to the next accounts for 20% of a school’s grade. Performance on state tests (proficiency) accounts for 80%.

The online survey was conducted over the last two weeks by EdNC, an education-focused news website. (See the survey results here.) [Read more…]

Photo: Getty Images

8. Prolonged challenges by losing candidates could overshadow November election results

Joey Gilbert, a Reno-based attorney, lost the GOP primary for Nevada governor by roughly 26,000 votes in June, a margin of around 11 points. But he wasn’t ready to admit defeat.

Empowered by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election, Gilbert refused to concede. He offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could provide evidence of fraud, lodged a legal challenge and filed for a recount.

Gilbert’s efforts were unsuccessful. He couldn’t come up with any legitimate evidence of fraud, instead bringing before the court an amateur mathematician and a “geometric, mathematical analysis” which he claimed proved that the results as announced were a “mathematical impossibility.” Gilbert alleged that voting machines must have switched votes.

“I don’t understand it, but I think that was the point,” said Nevada election lawyer Bradley Schrager, who is known for representing Democrats. “It was literal mathematical gibberish.” [Read more…]

9. Weekly Radio Interviews and daily Radio Commentaries:

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.



10. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Lt. Governor rips Potato Heads, “egghead” Christian leaders, transgender people in church speeches

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaking at a recent American Renewal Project event – Photo: Joe Killian

This week Policy Watch published a special report on the increasingly close relationship between the American Renewal Project, conservative evangelical churches and the North Carolina Republican party.

To report the story, Policy Watch attended North Carolina Renewal Project events this month and last. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson spoke at these events, as he does at nearly all advertised Renewal Project events in the state. Known widely for his fiery, controversial statements — especially during speeches before church groups — Robinson has been heavily criticized for homophobic, transphobic, and factually incorrect statements since he entered politics in 2020.

As the top elected Republican in the state, his more controversial statements have sometimes gone beyond the usual rhetoric of his party and its leaders on a variety of issues. But it has earned him a reputation among some conservative Christians as a champion of their values in a culture they say should be ordered and governed based on their interpretation of the Bible.

In his recent appearances at churches in Raleigh and Statesville, Robinson lived up to that reputation, giving speeches that railed against LGBTQ people, state and federal government, weakness he perceives in modern Christian churches, pastors and Christians who disagree with his conservative evangelical brand of faith.

Potatoes, gender and outrage

Robinson got laughs and cheers early in his remarks at Calvary Chapel Lake Norman church in Statesville on Sept. 26 with an anecdote about Hasbro’s “Potato Head” line of toys:

“Somewhere in a board room a bunch of grown ups with a college degrees at some sat around…God, in a board room for crying out loud..they sat around and argued about the gender of a plastic potato!” Robinson said. “There was a raging argument in a toy company about the gender of a plastic potato!”

Robinson appears to have been referring to the 2021 rebranding of the “Mr. Potato Head” line of toys, which became the “Potato Head” line. There does not appear to be any evidence that a raging argument took place at the toy company, though a number of conservative commentators were outraged by the change.

Some outlets misreported that the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” designations of the long-lived and popular Potato Head characters were being removed. In fact, those titles remained — as did the traditional gender characteristics of the non-human potato characters. It was the toy’s overall branding and logo that changed. The company had to correct the record in a Tweet the same day the brand name-change was announced. Read more

People of color shouldn’t have to obliterate their presence to receive fair home values

A house for sale in Richmond, VA (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

Another case of likely racial discrimination in housing appraisals has cropped up, this time in Baltimore.

The New York Times recently reported a Black husband and wife first received an appraisal of $472,000. After they “whitewashed” their home – removing family photos and having a White colleague stand in for them as the “owner” – a second appraisal came in at $750,000. That’s nearly $300,000 more.

The process is infuriating for Black and brown families. It’s also exhausting.

Why does such bias persist? Why can’t people get what’s due?

The account of Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott is one of dozens that have gained media attention in recent years. Similar allegations have occurred in California’s Bay Area, central Indiana and Cincinnati.

“It’s very humiliating to strip yourself of your own home,” Connolly told The Times.

Appraisals often are subjective. Still, these stories suggest something more than chance is afoot.

Federal statistics show nearly 98% of property appraisers are White. The percentage, and the comments from Black homeowners, raise questions about bias. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 says it’s illegal to discriminate in appraising residences.

Homeownership is a key way to pass down wealth to future generations. When the housing industry shortchanges property value, it harms families depending on an unbiased review.

A 2018 Brookings Institution study noted that “owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average.” It studied 113 metro areas with at least one majority-Black neighborhood. In Virginia, the areas were Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Lynchburg, Richmond and Roanoke.

Not that African Americans have been able to rely on equity when it comes to housing policies.

The nation’s history is littered with racism in the market. This includes redlining, restrictive covenants and a GI Bill that in practice denied mortgages and home loans to Black veterans. Urban Renewal projects, including highways, often destroyed Black communities.

Vestiges of those decades-old policies remain today.

Isabel McLain, a research and policy analyst for Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, said Monday she didn’t have exact statistics on how often under-appraisals occurred in the state.

However, “we understand that racially biased appraisals are a systemic problem in Virginia, based on national studies that have included or reported on Virginia communities,” she noted by email.

McLain cited, for example, a Freddie Mac report released in 2021 that underscored biased devaluations. Researchers found a large portion of appraisers valued homes in majority-Black and majority-Latino neighborhoods below the contract price at rates much higher than they did for homes in majority-White neighborhoods.

“These disparities were not driven by a few appraisers but reflect widespread trends across the profession, including appraisers in Virginia,” she noted.

Blacks, Latinos – heck, everybody – just want to be treated fairly when it comes to housing. Numerous anecdotes and data indicate race in housing remains a fault line, one that hinders wealth and progress for people of color.

Veteran journalist Roger Chesley is a commentator for the Virginia Mercury, which first published this essay.