Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Latest GOP redistricting appeal: “A case of deja vu all over again”

In case you missed it late yesterday (or simply find yourself hopelessly confused by the whole mess and have just given up trying to stay on top of it), Republican lawmakers have yet again sought to stop a federal court from ordering the implementation of fairer, less gerrymandered maps for the election of the members of the North Carolina General Assembly. As Gary Roberton of AP reported last night:

“Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to halt a second lower-court redistricting order that went against them recently, this one involving challenges to state House and Senate districts they approved last summer.

Lawyers for the GOP lawmakers filed their formal request for the court to block a three-judge panel’s decision that accepted alterations to two dozen legislative districts made at their request by a court-appointed expert. The judges directed the changes be incorporated into boundaries that didn’t need to be fixed and the amended maps be used in this year’s elections, beginning with candidate filing that starts Feb. 12. Primaries are in May.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to block an order by another three-judge panel that determined the state’s congressional map was coated in over-the-top partisan bias that favored Republican candidates. The justices stopped the judges’ demand that new lines be approved by Wednesday.

‘This is a case of deja vu all over again,’ Washington-based attorney Paul Clement wrote in the brief for the GOP lawmakers in seeking a stay, referring to a quote attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra.”

As a lawyer for the Republicans, Clement isn’t right about much, but he’s right in his Yogi Berra characterization. The new appeal is just the latest in an endless string of them from the GOP lawmakers. Using another sports-based reference a few weeks back, I described the Republican strategy in this area as the political equivalent of Dean Smith’s old “four corners offense.”

As they have in the past, the GOP lawmakers are simply trying to run out the clock so they can have yet another election based on illegal maps in 2018. Their bogus argument — that the new and fairer maps present some kind administrative burden — flies in the face of their own action in recent days to commence the process of completely overhauling state judicial districts in recent weeks.

To use yet another sports analogy, the Republicans are throwing a last minute Hail Mary in their never-ending quest to preserve their illegal maps. Let’s hope the Supreme Court doesn’t abet their scam.

News

Anti-gun violence advocates: Tomorrow is deadline for comments to feds on killing tool used by Vegas mass shooter

The good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence are calling on people to speak up ahead of tomorrow’s deadline for comments at the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau on the dangerous firearm add-on often referred to as “bump fire stocks” or “bump stocks.”

This from their announcement:

“On the night of October 1st, 2017, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel into the 22,000 persons crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. The gunman fired more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition in 11 minutes, using semi-automatic rifles modified with a dangerous firearm accessory designed to dramatically accelerate the rate of gunfire, commonly known as “bump fire stocks.”

These devices are intended to circumvent the restrictions on possession of fully automatic firearms in the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the National Firearms Act of 1934 by allowing an individual to modify a semiautomatic rifle in such a manner that it operates with a similar rate of fire as a fully automatic rifle. While often marketed as a novelty item for recreational shooters, bump stocks and similar devices that accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic firearm are extremely dangerous and pose a substantial risk to public safety.

Please take a minute to send in a comment to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau. They are accepting comments until January 25, 2018.”

The announcement is followed by a sample comment that calls on the devices to be banned and which states, in part:

“In the absence of action by Congress, ATF should issue a new rule clarifying that the definition of ‘machinegun’ in the National Firearms Act of 1934 includes conversion devices like bump fire stocks that convert a semi-automatic rifle into the functional equivalent of a fully automatic rifle. In creating this rule, ATF must take into account the toll of gun violence on communities like Las Vegas, in terms of injuries, loss of life, and the financial loss to businesses in the communities that are affected.”

Pro-gun groups have sent mixed messages on bump stocks — at times saying they should be left unregulated and, at others, saying they should be regulated but not banned.

Click here to access the federal site at which you can learn more and submit comments.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Today’s must read: National courts and law expert on mounting threats to American democracy

Ian Millhiser

While it’s clear that the age of Trump is a profoundly dark period in American history, as a general rule, caring and thinking Americans would do well to steer clear of conspiracy theories and alarmist assessments of where things stand and what lies ahead. After all, the nation has weathered many terrible, even existential, threats during the last 240+ years and will certainly survive the present one.

That said; burying one’s head in the sand is no solution either. The better we appreciate the depths to which the powers-that-be are dragging the nation during the current regressive spasm, the better our chances of fashioning an effective resistance and pulling out of the national nosedive as soon as possible.

With this in mind, today’s “must read” is a brief essay by courts and law expert Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress. As Millhiser explains in “American democracy is failing. The courts are finally starting to notice.” the current mess is deep and dangerous:

“There is something profoundly wrong with the United States of America’s system of government.

For proof, briefly take stock of the last ten years in American democracy, in which a combination of factors — the filibuster, the way we draw legislative districts, Senate malapportionment, and the Electoral College — converged to rob American voters of a meaningful ability to choose their own leaders.”

Millhiser then goes on to flesh out this list by reminding us of the details — including the Republican minority’s use of the filibuster to undermine the Obama presidency, the extreme gerrymandering that helped transform Congress and numerous state legislatures (including North Carolina’s) in 2010, and the outrageous blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. As he sums it up:

“The government of the United States no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And by the time voters head to the polls in November to elect a new Congress, America will have existed in this state of profound undemocracy for nearly a decade.”

And while Millhiser sees rays of hope in the growing trend (in the courts and elsewhere) to combat gerrymandering and the move to abolish or render obsolete the Electoral College, he worries that the problems posed by geographic clustering (in which progressives tend to gather in a handful of states and large urban areas) combined with the undemocratic Senate (in which Wyoming gets the same number of votes as California) may be too large to overcome without some important constitutional amendments. Here’s is sobering conclusion: Read more

Commentary

Editorials blast legislature’s sweetheart deal for Duplin County golf community

Rep. Jimmy Dixon

When a conservative majorities seized control of the legislature back in 2011, they came to power under a welcome pledge of promoting transparency and open process. Today, sadly, these pledges ring hollow. If anything, sweetheart deals and special gifts for favored fat cats are just as common as ever.

See for example the recent story by investigative reporter Dan Kane in Raleigh’s News & Observer about how a powerful state lawmaker (Rep. Jimmy Dixon) slipped a special $830,000 appropriation into the state budget last year. The money was to address water and sewer concerns at an exclusive golf community in Duplin County started by the powerful hog farming magnate, Wendell Murphy. This despite the fact that a separate state fund already exists to prioritize and allocate funds to such projects and that the nearest impacted town – Wallace – hadn’t even requested the money. Dixon had also received more than $42,000 in political contributions down through the years from Murphy, his family and employees.

Happily, important voices are now speaking out against the giveaway. Yesterday’s lead editorial in the News & Observer put it this way:

“This kind of special interest legislation may be a tradition in North Carolina – Republicans learned it well from Democrats, true enough – but it’s not healthy and not appropriate. If ever there were a bill aimed at helping out a specific business, it’s this one, and what makes it all the more objectionable is that hog farming made Wendell Murphy a very wealthy man, one who could easily afford to finance a sewer upgrade….

Wendell Murphy has been most generous to his alma mater, N.C. State, and he’s no doubt been generous to worthy causes in his home county. But even though Dixon and others connected to Murphy say the former state senator had nothing to do with getting this appropriation done, Murphy should have stepped in front of this.

Alas, this is old-fashioned, back-scratching politics, practiced at taxpayer expense. And it’s hardly a glorious tradition, now is it?”

And this morning, a critical editorial in the Fayetteville Observer notes that the giveaway comes at the same time that lawmakers have been denying funding to clean up pollution problems impacting large swaths of the state:

“We have no fundamental problem with earmarks. Local lawmakers should be able to recommend and push for funds for the local projects that they know will benefit their own communities. Road construction, school buildings, park acquisitions, museums and other public facilities, even municipal sewer installations — there are long lists of projects that are an appropriate use of taxpayer funding, things that improve the quality of life in our communities. But we’re not at all sure that such prompt, generous funding is appropriate in service to wealthy developers, especially when it doesn’t quite pass the sniff test, given the political donations involved. And it’s especially unfortunate when the General Assembly loads more than $70 million in earmarks into the budget but is refusing to help state agencies combat a bona fide public health and safety emergency in and around the Cape Fear River — or anywhere else in the state, for that matter.

That sends a pretty ugly message.”

Let’s hope the chorus continues to grow.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

There were lots of good ones, but the vote here is for the Saturday entry from the Wilmington Star-News“N.C. Senate drags feet on class-size fix.” As the editorial points out:

“To recap: A few years ago, the General Assembly ordered that class sizes in grades K through 3 be reduced. Not a bad idea.

But the Honorables provided no funding. That means school districts have to scrimp, save and work it out for themselves, with local money.

In New Hanover County, the school system is going to have to hire up to 48 new elementary teachers — and come up with classrooms for them.

Brunswick is adding 32 teachers, setting up trailers and turning computer labs into classrooms. Much of this will be accomplished either by increasing county taxes or by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Peter, in this case, would be students in grades four and up. Their class sizes are likely to swell, and word has it that many schools will be losing music, art, physical education and technology teachers.

The legislature needs to fix the mess they made, and since the class-size rules take effect in August, it would be nice if they could muster a bit of urgency.”

After noting that the Senate is in no hurry to address the issue, the editorial concludes:

“Of course, this is the same crowd of Republicans who assembled in a matter of days after the Charlotte’s city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance. In a special one-day session, the General Assembly passed the infamous — and completely unenforceable — HB-2, the ‘potty police’ law.

That, apparently, rose to the level of an urgent problem. The welfare of our schoolchildren and stability of our school systems? Not so much….

We wonder how they feel about the Senate’s delay in addressing a problem it helped create? A mess, by the way, that could have — and should have — been cleaned up months ago.

We urge parents and voters to ask them.”