Judging the judges

Last week a Federal court repeated a January ruling that North Carolina’s congressional district map was unconstitutional and must be replaced prior to the November elections.

It was no surprise.  Although N.C. voters are fairly evenly divided between the two major parties, districts there are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold 10 of the state’s 13 seats in the U.S. House.

It’s still notable. Other court rulings against gerrymandering, including Virginia’s recent one, have opposed unfair representation for racial minorities, not political leanings.

Federal courts have also acted to keep voting fair by striking down voter ID laws that accepted few forms of ID or failed to allow provisional ballots.

Republican attempts to discourage voting and control outcomes have been openly acknowledged since Vice President Cheney traveled to Texas to show Republicans how to redraw their Congressional districts. (Only six states have bipartisan commissions to draw districts as Idaho does.)

The national Republican leadership is now urging people to vote Republican for the courts. If Democrats gain one or two Senate seats in November, they might slow down the creation of partisan Republican courts.

(Actually, there is only a slim chance of that happening.  Republicans are defending in only nine Senate races this year;  Democrats must defend in 26 of the 35 Senate elections.)

The Republican leadership is counting on voters being emotional enough about decisions favoring LGBT and immigrant rights to look forward to Republican-controlled courts. They’re counting on us forgetting decisions that give corporations rights over the environment, voters, workers, and public schools.

There’s more than possible Supreme Court vacancies at stake. The president also appoints candidates to fill vacancies in the 179 appellate court positions and the 678 district court ones.  And a Republican-controlled Senate prevented President Obama from filling many.

In less than two years President Trump has succeeded in getting 26 appellate court appointees approved and 33 district court ones.  Most new justices are relatively young men who could serve for another forty years. If Mitch McConnell remains majority leader of the Senate, the number of Trump-appointed justices could double or triple before the 2020 elections.

What will happen to our rights once partisan Republicans control the courts?

This past Supreme Court session we’ve had a preview of what is to come.  Since Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court has decided 14 cases by 5-4 rulings.  One reversed a lower court decision striking down a Texas Congressional district map that discriminated against voters on the basis of race. Justices didn’t find that the districts did not discriminate, but objected on a procedural basis.

Another decision weakened the finances of unions representing public employees.  Basically, it requires that workers who choose not to pay union dues still receive full benefits paid for by union members, including legal representation in individual disputes.

A third ruling gave corporations the right to demand that each employee complaint be arbitrated individually.  Currently, fifty percent of employees are required, as a condition of employment, to agree that company-chosen arbitrators handle workplace disputes. Now corporations can also bar group complaints, making it practically impossible for complainants to afford legal representation.

And we’ve lived years with elections skewed by the 5-4 Citizens United decision that allows PACs to spend unlimited amounts on elections.  More and more, we’re seeing voters’ “free speech” drowned out by the “paid speech” of the uber-wealthy.

It hurts to imagine the state of our rights as Americans forty years from now.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

 

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