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


Judges who care

Since last October North Carolina’s Republican leadership has been threatening the state’s Superior Court.  Legislators have the power to limit the court’s jurisdiction, cut judicial funding, gerrymander judicial districts, and impeach judges.

Last week the chair of the N.C. Republicans repeated the threats as judges consider a case concerning “deceptive wording” of two ballot measures that would shift the power to make many political appointments from the governor to the legislature.

I’m adding this to my list of reasons I’m glad to live in Idaho.

And it’s made me aware of how important our courts are right now in upholding human rights and safety.

Two cases dealing with visitors and refugees have caused public uproar.

The Trump Administration’s January 2017 travel rescinded 60,000 approved visas and left airlines all over the world turning away college students, conference speakers, and parents of children needing surgery.

Fifty court cases were filed within three days and, as courts found one provision after another illegal, the order was rescinded.

Recently, a thoroughly-revised travel ban did pass a court challenge.

Equally disturbing was the Trump Administration’s insistence this year that refugees from Central America had entered the U.S. illegally (they hadn’t) and, as criminals, could not be entrusted with the care of their own children.

Court ruled that the separations would end and that children and parents would be reunited. Many were, but the administration claims it can’t locate the parents of the 500 children still in custody–it failed to note children’s names or ages on the parents’ records.  The administration actually asked that a court order the American Civil Liberties Union to pay for finding parents already deported.

The court said no.

Court rulings on the environment are lesser known, but equally, if not more, important.

In a July 6 on-line update of an earlier article, the New York Times listed 46 environmental rules that the Trump Administration has eliminated and another 30 that it is working to end.

Congress had a voice in ending only four rules, including one we desperately needed to keep that forbade dumping coal mining debris into local streams.  The others are the result of orders by the president and twelve different agencies.

With changes coming from so many different directions, states and citizen organizations have been hard pressed to raise the money and prepare the legal arguments to press court cases.

Yet, they’ve succeeded in a number of cases before a court.

A Federal court ordered the EPA to enforce the ban on the chlorpyrifos based on an earlier EPA study showing the pesticide was not only dangerous for farm workers, but also for consumers of treated food products.

When the EPA announced it would delay enforcing regulation of methane discharges until the agency completed a two-year study, the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals ruled it must continue to enforce existing rules while studies are underway.

When the EPA decided to postpone revising the 2001 lead regulations for another six years, the appeals court demanded that the rules be revised within 90 days to protect children’s health.

 And a federal district court ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to remove the coal ash from a 476-acre pond adjacent to the Cumberland River.

And some rules, including one brought by families of persons who died from using paint removers containing methylene chloride, have been reinstated before a court ruled.

Not all the 76 environmental regulations the administration is set on ending will cost lives or destroy habitat. Enough do, however, that we need judges who care.

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