Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: What happens if NC Republicans defy the courts on schools funding?

Superior Court Judge David Lee has set a mid-October deadline for state lawmakers to comply with rulings in the decades-long Leandro school funding case. Those rulings require the legislature to fund public schools at a level that will provide every student the opportunity to receive a “sound, basic education,” as required by the North Carolina Constitution.

In June Lee approved a ”comprehensive remedial plan” to reach appropriate funding levels by 2028. The plan was agreed to by the Leandro plaintiffs – five rural school districts – plus the State Board of Education and the governor. But Republican legislative leaders are balking, saying that the legislature controls the purse and that courts cannot dictate spending levels.

Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, put it bluntly: “If Judge Lee wants to help decide how to spend state dollars – a role that has been the exclusive domain of the legislative branch since the state’s founding – then Judge Lee should run for a seat in the House or Senate. That’s where the Constitution directs state budgeting decisions to be made, not by some county trial judge.”

What should be a matter of simple decency and wise investment – adequate support for the education of children, especially those in low-income areas – is poised to become a constitutional collision between two branches of state government. If the legislature won’t comply, the issue will likely end up before the state Supreme Court. The court, now with a 4-3 Democratic majority, likely will affirm Lee’s order.

Then what? Then apparently nothing, according to legal scholars. The court could hold the legislature in contempt attempt to levy fines, but it can’t ultimately compel the legislature to spend more than it wants, they told the Editorial Board.

Darrell A. H. Miller, a Duke law professor who teaches constitutional law, state and local government law and legal history, noted that courts can interpret the law, but are virtually powerless to impose it on another branch of government.

“Alexander Hamilton said the judicial branch doesn’t have the purse. It doesn’t have armies. It just has judgment,” Miller said. “What we hope is that people say, ‘The Constitution says this and I’m obligated to comply.’ ”

When a legislature refuses to accept the court’s authority, it’s an impasse, Miller said. He noted that Ohio had a similar drawn-out confrontation between the courts and the legislature over school funding and the Ohio Supreme Court eventually gave up on the issue. The legislature, he said, “just waited them out.”

Ted Shaw, a UNC-Chapel law professor who teaches constitutional law, said the court is on solid ground in ordering an increase in school funding once the need has been established. While government branches are co-equal he said, “There is more authority on the part of the court in saying what a remedy should be in a finding of liability.”

But if the legislature rejects not only the remedy, but the judicial authority to impose it, he said, “You end up with a showdown and there’s not a clear answer about how that is going to be resolved.”

What’s particularly notable about this situation is the level of legislative defiance. There’s no need to confront the court like this. The remedial plan is well within the legislature’s capacity to comply.

The plan calls for the legislature to approve at least $5.6 billion in new education funding by 2028. The state has more than $6.5 billion in surplus funds in this year alone.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed two-year budget seeks to meet the plan’s initial cost, but budgets proposed by the House and Senate are well short. Legislative leaders are determined to hold that line, even as they propose more tax cuts.

A Republican-led legislature that has been quick to trim the powers of the governor and change the election of judges, now insists on the independence of the legislative branch. It’s another instance of Republican legislators who, rather than serving the law, expect the law to serve them, even at the expense of schoolchildren.

If Republican lawmakers defy Judge Lee, that should bring a verdict they can’t ignore from the court of public opinion.

___

Greensboro News & Record. Sept. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Voter ID remains a losing proposition

Once again, a North Carolina court has decided that a voter ID law proposed by the Republican-led legislature was written with ill intent — racial bias, in particular — and struck it down as unconstitutional. The decision, declared by two of three trial judges, isn’t surprising, not only because of precedent, but because it’s so obvious.

The law “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters,” Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier wrote in their decision.

“Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence,” they added — a point to which we’ll return momentarily.

The decision will be appealed, but it’s only one of several voter ID cases moving through the courts. No such law is likely to be instituted before the 2022 election, which is good for people who prefer their elections to be free and fair.

Republicans have said voter ID laws are needed to build public confidence in elections — the public confidence they’ve been actively undermining for a good decade or more — and to prevent voter fraud — the widespread voter fraud they consistently fail to prove exists.

The idea of an ID requirement to vote, in and of itself, may not be objectionable — especially if it actually does help restore voter confidence. (Telling the truth, that Democrats sometimes win, also would help.) But there were multiple problems with this law.

For one, many terms in the law were left undefined, like what types of IDs would be accepted and who would make those decisions. Those factors could be manipulated by whatever party is in the majority for its own gain.

But the biggest problem, as the court says, is that this law aimed to suppress the votes of Black citizens, who vote more heavily for Democrats — and not for the first time. It’s an echo of the Republicans’ 2013 election law, which a federal appeals court slapped down for being riddled with “racially discriminatory intent” to target Black residents with “almost surgical precision.”

Kenneth Raymond, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, sees things differently.

“I’m not going to tiptoe around this,” Raymond told the Winston-Salem Journal’s John Hinton. “The Democrats hate the voter ID law because they want to be able to easily cheat during elections.

“Why do they even bother to hide behind accusations of racism. Everybody knows they cheat.”

Ah, yes, the mysterious but ubiquitous “everybody” and the effective but untraceable “cheating.” Is this the “everybody” that says vaccines aren’t effective, despite the absence of the vaccinated from overflowing hospitals? Is it the “everybody” that says John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, or that former President Trump will be reinstated to office next week?

Despite all the fanciful claims, Republicans consistently have failed to prove widespread voter fraud in court. The charge exists only through a series of self-serving anecdotal tall tales.

On top of that, Republican officials who run elections in disputed states such as Georgia and Arizona continually assure us that no widespread voter fraud occurs.

Raymond’s rhetoric is not only unrealistic, it’s highly irresponsible. With increasingly violent rhetoric and actions rising in right-wing circles because of such claims — Jan. 6 comes to mind — responsible leaders need to calm the waters, not churn them more with baseless, sour-grapes conspiracy theories.

Raymond might want to consider that Republican assertions that elections are rigged are probably keeping a number of their own supporters from casting votes.

Republicans don’t have to go down this route. There are GOP leaders who insist on integrity and adherence to reality, even if it means short-term election loss. They believe that the GOP should get ahead by promoting their conservative message and expanding their voter base.

Those are the leaders who deserve followers — and the leaders North Carolina needs to take us into the future.

___

Winston-Salem Journal. Sept. 18, 2021.

Editorial: The welcome return of Bookmarks

We’re delighted that Bookmarks’ Festival of Books and Authors is returning to downtown Winston-Salem this week — so delighted and eager that we’ll offer our praise well before its opening day, Thursday. After its cancellation last year because of COVID, it’s doubly welcome this year.

For a 16th year, Bookmarks, our city’s literary arts nonprofit, will be bringing together a wide collection of authors, readers and books to celebrate the written word and the knowledge and wisdom it provides to society — and the pleasure that reading can bring to each individual who partakes.

This is Bookmarks’ mission: to encourage the love of reading.

It’s a mission that benefits all. Those who begin reading for pleasure at a young age are not just exposed to fascinating, imaginative stories; they learn empathy and understanding. Reading exposes us to different viewpoints and shapes how we relate to others, says Megan Schmidt, digital editor for Discover Magazine.

It could certainly help boost those important fourth grade reading scores, too.

The benefits continue throughout life. Reading teaches us to think in the abstract, to absorb and synthesize information, and allows us to experience otherworldly adventures and thousands of lives. It can stimulate and relax. A lifelong reader is a lifelong student.

The festival will take place largely in venues near the Bookmarks bookstore downtown, including the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts and the Calvary Moravian Church. Some author events will be ticketed; some will be held remotely. Writers’ panels, book sales, games, displays, food, drink — there will be some kind of activity for everyone. For more details, read Fran Daniel’s report in today’s Arts section.

With COVID still raging, safety is a big concern, and it’s one that festival organizers have taken seriously. Masks will be required at all indoor venues. Hand sanitizing stations will be all over the place. Social distancing will be encouraged.

Most facilities will require attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR lab test result from 48 hours before the festival, along with a matching ID.

We’ve got a feeling that this crowd will be fully cooperative. Readers are, simply put, smarter.

All staff, volunteers and authors appearing at the festival have been fully vaccinated.

See? It’s not that hard.

The festival is only one of the ways in which Bookmarks manifests its mission. Other programs include Book with Purpose — a summer-long reading and discussion series examining racism that culminates in a presentation on Saturday; Book Build, which has donated more than 25,000 books to local schools; and Bookmarks in Schools, which connects authors with students in the Winston-Salem area.

Some of the authors attending this week’s festival will visit with students in Triad schools as well.

And in the midst of its ambitious schedule of programs and activities, Bookmarks runs an appealing, well-lit, well-stocked bookstore with a knowledgeable and attentive staff in the heart of downtown.

In the past, Bookmarks has been the largest annual book festival in North and South Carolina. We expect it to retain the title.

This is one of the premier annual events that puts us on the map as the City of Arts and Innovation. We’ve missed you, Bookmarks; thanks for coming back.

END