SCOTUS Deals a Blow To Anti-Democracy North Carolina Republicans

 

At a juncture in the nation’s history when a corrupt fascist in the White House is beginning his own serious attack on the right to vote and democracy, this time in oppressing the right to vote, there was a surprising but welcomed bit of good news for voters; at least voters in North Carolina. The Republican dominated state and its anti-democracy legislature had led the nation in imposing Jim Crow-type laws specifically targeting African Americans voting rights because they are less-inclined to vote for Republicans.

Civil rights groups have spent no small amount of time and money fighting to stop the blatant vote suppression tactics favored by the Koch brothers’ legislative arm ALEC; particularly in North Carolina. The various democracy-loving groups were likely worried that when the conservative Supreme Court heard this particular case, their battle would be finished and Republicans would have prevailed even after losing at the appellate court level.

There is little doubt voting rights organizations tempered their celebration after the 4th Circuit Court struck down the Republican voter suppression laws as patently unconstitutional. Republicans, especially North Carolina Republicans, have demonstrated that they will not countenance any attempts or court rulings meant to advance the cause of democracy and rule against voter suppression tactics.

In a surprising decision, the Supreme Court left in place a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key parts of North Carolina’s hateful voting laws. The Appellate Court had found the Republican voter suppression laws unconstitutional because, like Jim Crow, it specifically targeted African American voters unfairly and “imposed cures for problems that never existed.” As anyone concerned about the failing state of America’s barely breathing democracy, to state that the High Court’s ruling is a major victory for civil rights groups, people of color and the democratic process in North Carolina is a minor understatement.

The High Court decision let stand the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that North Carolina Republicans had acted “with almost surgical precision” to shut down African American voting rights in the state. In writing for the 4th Circuit striking down the law, Judge Diana Gribbon Mott said that not only did the ALEC-devised law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” it “impose[d] cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.” Of course the North Carolina Republicans’ “true motivation” was restricting voting rights of any North Carolinian who is not a white evangelical.

North Carolina led the nation in anti-democratic voting laws after the conservatives on the Supreme Court abolished a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act In 2013, and eliminated any federal oversight over the former Confederate states with a history of naked discrimination against African American voters. And according to the reaction from North Carolina’s Republican legislature, they are not finished building on their history of vote suppression and pledged to “enact new voting restrictions” despite the Courts’ rulings or any silly Voting Rights Act.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) joined president pro-tempore of the Senate Phil Berger (R) and issued a joint statement saying:

All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote.”

It is noteworthy that there have been absolutely zero cases of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina without the Republicans’ nasty law.  It is also worth remarking that the 4th Circuit decision noted that as far as voter identification is concerned, the N.C. Republican voter identification provision “retained only those types of photo ID held by whites and deliberately excluded, disproportionately, those held by African Americans.

The Appellate Court also said that Republicans “failed to identify even one single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” However, it did find a fair amount of evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail; the preferred method “used disproportionately by white voters” because the voter ID law does not apply to mail-in or absentee voting.

Although anti-democracy Republicans were disappointed at the High Court’s decision, civil and voting rights groups were understandably pleased. For example, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Daniel T. Donovan said, “This is the law of the land in the Fourth Circuit.”

The Director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho said, “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

And North Carolina’s new Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued a statement saying,

Today’s announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”

Although this is good news all around for the democratic process in North Carolina, and a blow to North Carolina Republican attempts to suppress African Americans’ right to vote, it is noteworthy to mention that the fight to participate in democracy is not yet over for North Carolina African Americans. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted, yesterday’s decision not to hear or rule on the case does “not necessarily” set a legal precedent and does not mean the conservative court will not endorse and legalize Jim Crow laws in the future. In fact, history and conventional wisdom informs that the conservative majority will legalize Jim Crow to aid Republican electoral chances.

However, today in North Carolina there is reason to celebrate and in these darkest of days for America’s waning democracy, even a temporary blow to fascist Republicans is one all Americans should savor. Because with Trump setting his sights with an anti-democracy zealot Khris Kobach on making it nearly impossible to cast a ballot for anyone except white Christians, there is every reason to believe that North Carolina’s hateful voter suppression law will be the model for a national law criminalizing people of color even attempting to participate in democracy.

Bernie Sanders Will Ask President Obama to Withdraw His SCOTUS Nominee

 

 

Anyone who has ever been in a position of authority and responsibility, particularly over a large number of people, comprehends that there are very few decisions that will please everyone; it is just human nature. The idea of “pleasing everyone” becomes even more impossible in politics; especially when it is an Executive Branch decision, and particularly when one political party objects to every decision made by the sitting President.

President Obama likely knew that it wouldn’t have mattered who he nominated to replace Antonin Scalia as an associate justice to the nation’s highest court. In fact, he may not have been very surprised at the instantaneous assertion by Republicans in the Senate that they would not give a fair hearing to any nominee to the Supreme Court. By now, anyone with a pulse is aware that Republicans claim it is not within the current President’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and that it is the responsibility of the next president.

Now, it has been reported in the mainstream media everywhere that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I, D, VT) said that if he wins the Democratic nomination for president and the general election in November, he will ask President Obama to withdraw his Supreme Court justice nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. Apparently, Senator Sanders believes, like every Republican, that the decision to nominate the “right” kind of Supreme Court justice is better left to the next president; but only if it is Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that, “I think I’m 100 percent prepared to support Judge Garland. I think he’s clearly very knowledgeable and can serve ably on the Supreme Court. But, there are more progressive judges out there.” Sanders insists that any Supreme Court nominee would have to meet his litmus test that entails “being loud and clear that he or she will overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.” So there it is again; expecting a prospective SCOTUS justice to publicly make a political pledge to overturn a prior Court decision that is not before the court as if there is not a regular established process for the nation’s High Court to hear a case.

Likely surprised at the presidential candidate’s naïveté, and audacity, Sanders was asked specifically if he would directly ask President Obama to withdraw Judge Garland’s name, forsake his Constitutional authority and duty as President, to allow Bernie Sanders to nominate a judge because they pledged in advance to overturn a previous SCOTUS ruling; the Vermont senator said, “Yes I would.” Without conflating Senator Sanders’ remarks about him being better qualified to choose the “right” kind of nominee to Republican obstruction for obstruction’s sake, there are a couple of issues worth addressing.

First and foremost; the decision to nominate a prospective Justice is the purview of the current President; whoever wins the November election should not factor in to any Presidential consideration. Second, whoever the current or next president nominates will have to go through the intense and often combative Senate confirmation process. There may well be “more progressive” judges available for the nomination, but it is general knowledge that judges on the federal benches do not wear their politics on the sleeves. It is true all judges have political leanings, but part and parcel of being any kind of judge, much less a Supreme Court justice, is not being blatantly partisan; the deceased Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas notwithstanding.

Putting aside the appearance of audacity and hubris of even expecting a sitting President to withdraw his Supreme Court nominee because he is not progressive enough for the as-yet-unelected or inaugurated next president, there is still a problem with expecting the High Court to overturn a previous decision on partisan political principle. It is an issue that came up a couple of months ago when Senator Sanders said in a Tweet that, “Any Supreme Court nominee of mine will make overturning Citizens United one of their first decisions.”

At first blush that statement reeks of ignorance of the federal judiciary, but it cannot be put down to some campaign underling tweeting out nonsense without Senator Sanders’ knowledge and approval. Last November Senator Sanders said the same thing; “No nominee of mine to the United States Supreme Court will get that job unless he or she is loud and clear that one of their first orders of business will be to overturn Citizens United.”

Senator Sanders is an establishment politician with a quarter century worth of experience in Congress and is very well aware of how the High Court works. Unlike the federal legislature that has the freedom to take up, or blow off, any issue at will, court cases must go through “numerous and lengthy procedural hoops before they can be heard or decided by any court.” This is particularly true of the nation’s highest Court by design of the U.S. Constitution. As noted several times by judicial experts and savvy eighth grade civics students alike; “it would be impossible for any Sanders’ nominee to the High Court to guarantee that any case would be one of their first orders of business and decisions;” especially as an “Associate Justice” on the nine-justice Supreme Court.

The U.S. Constitution contains two significant limits on the justices’ ability to set their own schedule in Article III. Article III limits the federal judiciary’s authority to “cases” or “controversies” that have long been understood to require that two parties that have a genuine conflict with each other before a federal court can intervene and settle the issue.

Even a super-duper newly-appointed progressive justice needs to follow Constitutional procedures and wait for the case they were “loud and clear about overturning” to go through the federal appellate court system. Any semi-knowledgeable civics student knows that “the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court only has appellate jurisdiction over the overwhelming majority of cases.” What that means is that the High Court justices, or one super progressive High Court Justice, cannot decide to consider a matter until after it has been decided and appealed by several lower courts.

What continues to be an unanswered question is exactly how Senator Sanders would convince hardline Republican senators to support and confirm a “more progressive judge” any more than they would support the “socialistic policies” Senator Sanders espouses. It is yet unclear how a different “Democratic” president will fare any better with Republicans in Congress than President Obama, but parroting “political revolution” is not going to be any more convincing or productive.

There are millions of Americans who want the disastrous Citizens United ruling overturned, just like there are a substantial number of evangelical fanatics who want Roe v. Wade overturned; but neither is going to happen because a prospective Supreme Court Justice pledges “loud and clear” that “one of their first orders of business is overturning” _________ (fill-in-the blank). What is also not going to happen is President Barack Obama withdrawing his nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the High Court based on who wins the general election in November, or because Republicans want to make the choice.

No doubt there are more progressive and liberal judges ‘out there’ that the President could have nominated, but he chose a highly-qualified jurist that has a reasonable chance of being confirmed. What bothers many Democrats is that although Senator Sanders said he is certain he will support Merrick Garland’s nomination, “it is still surprising that a politician running for the Democratic presidential nomination has openly criticized the current Democratic president’s nominee.” What is really surprising is why any pundit is surprised that a politician running for the Democratic presidential nomination is still openly criticizing the current Democratic President at all.