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North Carolina editorial roundup

September 19, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Sept. 17

News & Record of Greensboro on an order from federal judges in the continuing congressional redistricting case:

There was the thought of leaping onto a desk and screaming “you tell ’em” when a three-judge federal panel delivered a stern comeuppance for lawyers representing the General Assembly in the ongoing congressional redistricting case.

In their order last week to stay action of their ruling last month to overturn the state’s congressional map, Judge James Wynn Jr. of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judges Earl Britt and William Osteen Jr. took appropriate umbrage with those lawyers’ suggestion that the courts were trying to “sway” the election to favor Democrats.

Their words: “The only party to these proceedings that has sought ‘to sway election results ... for one set of candidates’ is the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican majority.”

Let’s set the history of this long and winding process. In 2010, Republicans took control of the General Assembly. In 2011, their first redistricting maps positioned 10 of the state’s 13 districts to have uncompetitive GOP majorities.

In 2015, a suit proved those maps were drawn illegally along racial lines, a ruling supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the districts were redrawn in time for the 2016 election. That’s when Ted Budd (R-Advance) won from among 21 candidates in the vacant 13th District. The GOP still led, 10-3.

Meanwhile, a second suit filed in 2016 proved those new districts had been gerrymandered along partisan lines — you remember the quotes to that effect from the maps’ architects — and were unconstitutional. After a volley with the Supreme Court about the standing of the plaintiffs, the panel in August ordered the districts to be redrawn. Out of fairness the panel delayed enacting that order until after November.

That’s what led to the ruling on Sept. 12, when the panel suggested a passage in a brief filed to appeal this latest ruling to the Supreme Court was out of order. As Taft Wireback reported, Raleigh lawyers Phillip Strach and Michael McKnight wrote on Aug. 31 very familiar words: “unelected federal judges usurping the role of the state’s elected representatives by taking the unprecedented step of enjoining a congressional plan two months before a general election under a legal theory that has never been accepted by the Supreme Court.”

If you listen closely, you might hear the crack of a firmly struck gavel. All three judges took affront to those words, and their response is absolutely dead on: “On the contrary, the guiding principle of this court’s opinion and judgment is that the Constitution bars the government — whether the legislature, the executive or the judiciary, and whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats — from ‘swaying’ an election in favor of one set of candidates. That the judges on this court and the remainder of the federal judiciary are ‘unelected’ in no way undermines the authority of the federal judiciary to act in its constitutionally-defined sphere.”

We could not agree more. Lawmakers and judges should have no say-so in how elections are decided. Voters should. In North Carolina, this has become a joke. It’s far beyond time that there is a national referendum for non-partisan districts that are drawn equally for everyone who casts a vote. America’s democracy is set apart from the rest of the world by the integrity of our elections. Let’s reinforce that founding principle once and for all.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com

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Sept. 17

The Fayetteville Observer on rebuilding after Hurricane Florence:

We have seen the worst of nature and the best of mankind. We have seen actions that make “rising to the occasion” a breathtaking understatement. And we have seen the terrible power of an intense storm unleashed across our own region and more than half of our state. There may not be enough awe in the universe to react appropriately.

We saw volunteers arrive from across the country, like the Nebraska urban search and rescue team that helped evacuate some threatened nursing homes, or the California swift-water rescue team that helped save lives in Sampson County. The Coast Guard, far from its usual saltwater workplace, was piloting small boats through the flooding in Robeson County, ferrying stranded residents to safety. Utility crews from across the country are turning our lights back on. National Guard troops are assisting in rescues. Red Cross and other responders from across the country are cooking up food and otherwise taking care of people at dozens of shelters across this region.

City and county employees are getting little sleep as they respond to the storm’s emergencies, run shelters, coordinate relief efforts and make sure the public is fully informed about the storm problems out there. They are joined by state officials and Fort Bragg soldiers. Police and firefighters are working long shifts in the most miserable possible weather. Grocery store employees are working feverishly to keep food on the shelves. And as we always see in storms large and small, neighbors are helping neighbors in as many ways as we can imagine.

It is all an extraordinary testimonial to the goodness that we humans can summon under stress.

Even before the floodwaters recede, the pulse-taking has begun. Relief workers are streaming into the area. And so are our political leaders, including members of Congress, the governor and state and local policymakers. The president may visit. What they are seeing, from here to the coast, is an enormous repair project that will take years to complete — even as recovery from Hurricane Matthew, which hit nearly two years ago, has yet to be completed. We fear many of those repairs may be undone by Florence. The bottom line, once it’s established, is likely to total billions of dollars that will come from private insurance and the treasuries of local, state and federal government.

We hope the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready for the new challenge. The disaster assistance branch of federal government has been stretched beyond thin by a horrific series of hurricanes in the eastern half of the country and years of wildfires in the western half. Likewise the state disaster relief operation has been hard pressed to keep up with the needs arising from 2016′s Hurricane Matthew, and now its staff must add the burden of Florence, which appears to be at least as devastating.

As all these agencies and policymakers converge on this region, their first mission will be damage assessment. But we hope they keep alert as well to the clear policy issues that will need to be addressed in Florence’s wake. From the White House to City Hall, there needs to be serious reflection on the state of our readiness for this new direction in tropical weather. Florence is the second “flood of the millennium” in two years, and the third in less than two decades (Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was the first). It’s time to take science seriously and stop blowing it off as irrelevant. We are entering a new normal in which tropical storms have greater intensity and cause greater flooding than we have seen in our lifetimes. And those storms are coming on top of already-rising seas that now bring routine flooding to many coastal areas.

We have some big policy questions to answer and some big damage-prevention projects to begin.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com

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Sept. 18

The Charlotte Observer on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault:

Senate Republicans found themselves politically cornered Monday as they considered what to do about the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. That nomination is suddenly in jeopardy thanks to a credible accusation from a California woman, Christine Blasey Ford, that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school in the 1980s.

But a surprise source is helping turn the Senate toward doing the right thing: Donald Trump.

Answering questions from reporters Monday afternoon, the president said that he wanted Kavanaugh to go through “a complete process” before getting nominated. “He is somebody very special; at the same time, we want to go through a process, we want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right,” Trump said. “If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay — it shouldn’t certainly be very much.”

That presumably meant a hearing for the nominee and his accuser, something many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had resisted until then. But late Monday, the White House announced that Kavanaugh is indeed ready for a hearing to answer Ford’s allegations. Soon after, senators confirmed that hearing would be next Monday, which would delay a planned Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh.

That deadline was artificial but one that suddenly had taken on outsized importance to Republicans, who believe that any delay equals a loss of momentum for Kavanaugh. But that momentum is gone now, and there’s more peril politically for Republicans in rushing a vote than letting the FBI investigate and Ford testify.

The latter is important. Ford’s attorney said Monday that her client is willing to testify. Ford deserves an opportunity to tell her story, and Kavanaugh deserves an opportunity to respond and clear his name. But also, Americans deserve the opportunity to see both the allegation and the denial investigated by the FBI and examined in a public hearing. If that doesn’t happen, Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court will long be haunted by questions surrounding the new justice, especially when cases involving social issues come before the court.

We’re not encouraged that instead of pushing for a hearing, some senators instead focused Sunday and Monday on why Democrat Dianne Feinstein hadn’t previously asked Kavanaugh about Ford despite having a letter from her detailing her allegations. “I’m shocked that the matter didn’t come up in the nearly 32 hours of testimony that Judge Kavanaugh was before us,” North Carolina’s Thom Tillis told CBS.

Feinstein’s answer: Ford didn’t want to move forward with the allegation then, for fear that she would be vilified.

That might still happen. Monday’s hearing carries echoes of the 1991 testimony offered by Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment before he eventually was confirmed by the Senate. Now, more than a quarter-century later and against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, we hope a new accuser and nominee get a fair and full hearing.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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