Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The Times and Democrat. July 12, 2022.

Editorial: Bipartisanship works for heirs’ property owners

A provision of the 2018 Farm Bill was important in providing “fair access” to U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., worked with Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., to help “heirs’ property” owners – thousands of minority and other landowners whose family land has been passed through the generations often without a formal title – utilize USDA services to which they did not have access without proper documentation certifying their possession of the land.

Thousands of African-American and other landowners have died without leaving a will, creating heirs’ property. Their descendants, each with a fraction of the undivided interest in the land, all lack a clear title to use or improve the land.

“Heirs’ property overwhelmingly impacts African-American land ownership, of which 60% is projected to be heirs’ property. Because a significant portion of U.S. minority-owned rural land was passed down through generations as heirs’ property, often without a legal title, these farmers and ranchers have been unable to obtain farm numbers and subsequent access to a multitude of USDA programs,” the senators wrote to USDA in 2018.

In 2022, Scott is continuing his commitment to seeing that these property owners can get access to federal assistance, this time focusing on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The South Carolina Republican and Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff have successfully pushed to reform FEMA policies that discriminated against Black homeowners. As a result, tens of thousands of people can get the help they need after natural disasters.

Scott and Ossoff last fall successfully lobbied FEMA to alter its disaster-relief policies that discriminated against heirs’ property owners by requiring disaster victims to present clear title to property after The Washington Post reported that “more than a third of Black-owned land in the South is passed down informally, rather than through deeds and wills.”

In a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing recently, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell testified that after FEMA’s policy change last year, 42,000 homeowners and 53,000 renters nationwide — who would have previously been denied — received disaster assistance, totaling $350 million.

Scott is to be commended for his continuing commitment to heirs’ property owners -- and for working with Democrat Ossoff in pushing the changes at FEMA.

As the South Carolina senator said: “For years I have worked to protect heirs’ property owners across South Carolina and the country. The disaster relief going to these families, many of which are Black Southerners, wouldn’t have happened if not for the FEMA policy change resulting from our commonsense, bipartisan effort.”

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The Post and Courier. July 12, 2022.

Editorial: Just testify, Sen. Graham

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s claim that he called Georgia Secretary of State Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the days following the 2020 presidential election because he was curious about how the state verified absentee voters never made sense.

It made less sense last week when his attorneys tried to dress it up with the suggestion that he was doing his duty as chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to “discuss with state officials the processes and procedures around administering elections.” After all, the U.S. Constitution leaves it up to the states to decide whether they even hold a presidential election — and Mr. Graham’s home state was the last one in the country to allow voters to participate in a decision that had been made by our all-powerful Legislature for nearly a century.

Still, even if you reject Mr. Graham’s efforts to downplay the disturbing phone calls and accept Mr. Raffensperger’s interpretation of the calls, it never looked to us like Mr. Graham had done anything illegal. Bad judgment to call the person overseeing the highly contested count in an election that your best pal is claiming was rigged, yes. Something we never would have imagined Mr. Graham doing, yes. But illegal pressuring from someone who has no power over the Georgia secretary of state? No.

So it was no surprise when Mr. Graham’s attorneys said they had been assured that he was not a target of a grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally interfered with Georgia’s 2020 election results.

The surprise — the latest in a growing list of disappointing surprises — was Mr. Graham’s refusal to do his duty as a citizen of the United States and comply with a subpoena to testify.

The surprise was the absurd claim made through his attorneys that compelling him to testify as a witness in an criminal investigation would somehow “erode the constitutional balance of power and the ability of a Member of Congress to do their job.”

The surprise was the insulting suggestion that Mr. Graham shouldn’t appear as a witness to testify in a lawfully convened grand jury investigation because he doesn’t believe the motives of the investigation meet his standard of apolitical purity.

As a witness, you don’t get to decide whether a prosecutor is “politically motivated.” That’s something the jurors or the courts will ultimately determine. As a witness, your job is to provide your honest testimony. Just like you would if you witnessed a murder or a robbery or a simple traffic accident. Or if the prosecutor simply wanted to know more about a conversation you had with a victim.

The assurances Mr. Graham received that he is not a target should have removed any hesitation he had about testifying. Because, let’s face it, there are only three reasons to try to avoid testifying: You’re worried you’ll incriminate yourself; you’re worried you’ll incriminate someone else you don’t want to incriminate; or you’re worried the investigation will turn up something you don’t like and so you want to undermine its credibility.

In the first case, the Constitution says you don’t have to testify. The two others, however, are not legally or morally justifiable reasons to try to weasel out of a subpoena. It’s possible that Mr. Graham’s high-powered lawyers will convince a judge that he shouldn’t be compelled to share what he knows in a criminal investigation that might not go anywhere. But that won’t make it right. We expect and deserve better from our senator.

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