Commentary

The Kavanaugh nomination should have never even gotten to this point

At this writing, the nation is transfixed by the spectacle of a group of conservative old men and their last-minute hired help acting like prosecutors toward a brave woman who has literally put her life on the line in order to try and see that justice is done in the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

It should never have had to come to this. The simple fact is that Kavanaugh should never have gotten this close to the Court because, as Ian Millhiser of Think Progress put it so succinctly this morning, Brett Kavanaugh is “an existential threat” to the institution:

Here is what the future will almost certainly look like if Judge Brett Kavanaugh becomes Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Some time very soon, possibly in the next several months, six men and three women will meet in a room within the Supreme Court building, and five of the men will vote to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion. While there is some uncertainty about whether the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade outright, or hand down a more dishonest decision that allows states to ban abortion in underhanded ways, there is no reasonable uncertainty about how Kavanaugh will vote on abortion.

The five votes to end the right to an abortion will include Justice Clarence Thomas, who almost certainly sexually harassed Anita Hill, and Brett Kavanaugh, who now faces multiple allegations of sexual assault and similar behavior.

Mull this potential future over as you also ponder Alexander Hamilton’s words from The Federalist #78. “The judiciary,” Hamilton wrote, “has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever.” Courts “may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.”

The Supreme Court does not enforce its own opinions. The entire judiciary largely depends on voluntary compliance from losing litigants. It is an institution built entirely on trust. Even when we disagree with their decisions, Americans generally obey the courts.

Which is why civil rights lawyer Sasha Samberg-Champion is asking exactly the right question about Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

“A reminder that, as compelling as much of the evidence is, the Senate’s constitutional role is not to adjudicate whether Judge Kavanaugh committed any particular offense. Nor is it well suited to do that, as should be obvious by now….The real question should be whether confirming this nominee under these circumstances permits the Court to play the institutional role that it is assigned — to adjudicate major controversies and have its decisions respected, even if grudgingly.”

The Supreme Court will not just weigh the future of reproductive freedom, an issue that obviously has a huge disproportionate impact on women. In recent years it sabotaged the rights of women who are sexually harassed by their bosses, and tried to strip many women of their ability to sue for equal pay for equal work. This coming Tuesday, it will hear a major case involving sex offenders.

Ask yourself if you trust Brett Kavanaugh to be an impartial judge in any of these cases, given the credible allegations he now faces.

If the American people lose faith in the judiciary, Congress and the president have an array of tools they can use to bring the courts to heel. They can pack the Court — adding additional justices to its ranks in order to neutralize Kavanaugh’s vote. They can potentially strip the courts of jurisdiction over certain cases. They can wipe out the Supreme Court’s budget, strip its judges of their staff and their law clerks, and reassign the Supreme Court building to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. Read more

Commentary

Editorial: GOP budget cuts left NC less-well prepared for Florence

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out an op-ed that appeared on WRAL.com (“Staff, budget cuts left N.C. less ready when Florence hit”) by Robin Smith, who once served as Assistant Secretary for Environment at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (now the Department of Environmental Quality). Smith argues convincingly that GOP budget cuts to field offices hindered the state’s preparation for, and response to, Hurricane Florence.

After listing some of the myriad duties that DEQ staffers need to perform to prepare for and respond to a hurricane, Smith says this:

“The Department of Environmental Quality – particularly staff in the department’s regional offices – provides the state’s first line of response to environmental impacts. The seven regional offices house staff from multiple state environmental programs including those managing waste disposal, regulating animal operations and enforcing water quality laws.

A 2011 budget provision specifically targeted the regional offices for staff cuts and later budget reductions that disproportionately affected water quality programs.

By the end of 2016, budget cuts had reduced the state’s water quality program staff by 18 percent compared to 2010 levels. Those reductions were felt most acutely in the regional offices where there was a 41 percent reduction in water quality staff.

Those programs have not recovered. Instead, new state funding in recent years has been earmarked for projects with legislative support. Some of those legislative priorities are important, but legislatively mandated projects often did not include funding for additional staff. Without staff, new projects put an additional burden on already depleted staff resources.

As a result, Florence made landfall in a state unprepared to respond to the environmental impacts of a major flood event.”

When lawmakers return to town for a special session next week to deal with storm recovery issues, restoring DEQ staffing and funding ought to be on the “to do” list.

Commentary

Friday likely to be the acid test for Sen. Thom Tillis

Sen. Thom Tillis

Friday may well mark the single most important day in the political career of North Carolina’s junior senator Thom Tillis. That’s the day that U.S. Senate Republicans have indicated they intend to have the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement of the planned vote comes, remarkably, despite the fact that the committee is also scheduled to hear that very same day from one of two women who have come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of what amount to sexual assaults when he was a young man.

By every indication, it appears that Senate Republicans will, without even seriously considering the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, dismiss her claims, ignore widespread calls for a full investigation and move rapidly forward to place Kavanaugh on the Court. If this, in fact, the case, it is hard to overstate what a treacherous, immoral and Machiavellian move it will constitute.

Of course, merely to vote on the nomination is not to approve it. Confirmation will require “yes” votes from all 11 Republicans on the committee — a group that includes Mr. Tillis. If any Republican votes “no,” the nomination will fail in committee.

It’s fair to say then that one of the most important congressional votes in modern American history rests on Tills’s shoulders. The senator can do the right thing, stand up for basic human decency and vote “no” on Kavanaugh, or he can refuse to rock the boat, go along with the flow like so many drunken prep school party boys apparently did at Yale and Georgetown Prep back in the 1980’s and vote “yes.”

The implications for Tillis’s political career are, of course, significant. If he summons his inner manhood and defies Republican leaders, he’ll undoubtedly face a far right primary opponent in 2020 (though that eventuality may already be likely). If, on the other hand, he meekly shuffles along with the GOP pack, he will hand any Democratic challenger a huge and powerful issue with which to attack and defeat him.

But, of course, the truly important thing here is not Tillis’s career. Rather, it is our country’s future and whether it can find a way out of the dark tunnel of corruption, racism, misogyny and lawlessness that are the hallmarks of the Trump presidency.

Throughout his career, Thom Tillis has attempted to portray himself as an arch-conservative, but not an unreasonable ideologue. And on occasion — with respect to immigrants, some aspects of Trump corruption and, recently, climate change — Tillis has, at least partially, lived up to this claim and shown himself to be willing to do and say the right thing, even if it means defying the far Right.

This Friday, however, will provide an acid test that will quickly overshadow his stances on any of those other issues. If he says “no” to rushing Kavanaugh through, he will reveal himself to be a man of some measure of principle and validate his past claims to being an independent thinker and leader. It will be an act by which he will be long remembered.

If, however, he meekly assents to the GOP power play, all those claims of independence will be revealed to be a fraud. He will, instead, be remembered as a loyal party hack and a politician who cared more about his own career than truth and justice.

Commentary

Report: State, individuals will have to pony up big bucks if voter ID amendment passes

A new report from the good people at the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center reveals another reason to be very concerned about the proposed constitutional amendment on the fall ballot that would require a photo ID to vote: cost.

The report (“The Cost of Creating Barriers to Vote: A preliminary analysis of the Constitutional amendment requiring photo identification at the polls”) finds that the new requirement would likely cost state and local government a minimum of around $12 million. That’s enough money to fund any number of important public programs, including modernizing state voting systems to make them less susceptible to hackers.

The report also finds high costs for the more than 218,000 individuals in North Carolina who are currently estimated to not have acceptable identification — between $18.9 million and $25.2 million. These costs will be disproportionately borne by people of color, older people and people of low income. The costs will be especially burdensome for individuals in rural communities who already face significant economic barriers.

And that’s probably not all of it. As the report puts it:

“To be clear, the costs could be far greater than this preliminary estimate suggests given the lack of clear language in the ballot and the resulting need for additional action by the legislature to define implementation of the change, should voters approve it in November. The uncertainties include whether the state will provide an identification card with no fee, the types of acceptable identification that will be allowed, the ability for North Carolina voters to receive an identification by providing necessary supporting documents without paying a fee, and the degree to which North Carolina will commit to educating voters, providing staffing to address wait times, and printing and processing provisional ballots for voters without identification.

Moreover, this report does not attempt to quantify the broader costs to society and the economy of erecting barriers to voting. Historically, across the country, certain politicians have attempted to use restrictive voting laws to rig the system for the wealthy few while cutting funds for our public education, health care, and disaster response. Barriers to full participation in the democratic process could deter the ability of communities’ to quickly and effectively identify and address their own needs and have been demonstrated to reduce economic mobility. It could erode trust and further divide people in ways that worsen our state’s ability to reach its full civic and economic potential.”

The report’s bottom line finding: Rather than erecting new unnecessary barriers, North Carolina could and should pursue smart public investments to protect the vote and ensure fuller participation in the democratic process for all North Carolinians.

Let’s hope voters reject the costly and unnecessary amendment.

Commentary

New editorial blasts constitutional amendments

The Greensboro News & Record has another strong editorial this morning condemning the six constitutional amendments that Republican legislators have placed on the state’s fall ballot. After summarizing the amendments, some of the details that will undoubtedly escap most voters, and a recent poll that found voters distressingly, if predictably, uninformed about them, the editorial concludes this way:

“One other thing you might want to know: How will the General Assembly implement any laws you approve? There is no answer for that.

Let’s be clear about one overriding issue: Taking up these items as constitutional amendments is bad governing. They don’t meet the arduous standards for being part of the document that shapes our government. A constitution doesn’t include laws but structures and principles.

These are ideas that should be debated as legislation, not foisted on you as doctrine you may not embrace and maybe haven’t even read. But if you have, if you are in the know, you should vote no.”