Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Sept. 23

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the reaction of Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore to a proposed legal settlement in North Carolina:

In this time of political tension, a little comic relief is welcome.

So thank you, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. Your response to a proposed legal settlement agreed to by the State Board of Elections that will make it easier and safer to vote during a pandemic was hysterical.

The settlement in a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans was announced Tuesday. It involves an extension of the acceptance deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. It also allows voters who fail to have a witness sign their ballot to fix the error by signing an affidavit attesting that the ballot is indeed their own.

These are common sense changes given the Postal Service’s delays in delivering mail, the risk of meeting with a witness during a pandemic and the unfamiliarity with the rules on the part of many people who will be voting absentee for the first time. Other states have extended their deadlines for absentee ballots and dropped their witness requirement for this pandemic election.

All five members of the State Board of Elections – including its two Republicans – agreed to the settlement, which must be approved by Wake Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins.

All that didn’t stop Berger and Moore from responding with outrage. Berger accused Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein of colluding with Democratic lawyers representing the plaintiffs. He said they were trying “to undo” election law changes made after absentee ballots were illegally collected in the Ninth Congressional District.

In a gross overstatement, Berger said, “I cannot overstate how unethical this collusive behavior is.” Not to be outdone, Moore called the proposed settlement “utterly lawless.”

The funniest line was Berger fuming that the one-time tweaks in response to the pandemic would constitute “a full-frontal assault on election integrity laws.” This from a leader who pushed through election laws that aimed to reduce Black voters’ access to the polls with what a federal court called “almost surgical precision.” And a leader who approved redistricting maps so heavily gerrymandered courts rejected them as excessively partisan and unfair to Black voters.

A closer look at the settlement shows the State Board of Elections made a prudent decision to settle the legal challenge to help voters and head off confusion as Election Day nears

The settlement would allow a voter whose absentee ballot was not signed by a witness to certify by affidavit that they filled out the ballot. That corrective action is already allowed under state law for voters who fail to sign their absentee ballot.

The extension of the date when an absentee ballot – postmarked on or before Election Day – must be received reflects the advice of the Postal Service. In a letter to North Carolina Secretary of State, the Postal Service’s general counsel warned that absentee ballots mailed less than a week before the Nov. 3 election faced “a significant risk” of not being delivered by Nov. 6, the deadline for being counted. The settlement would move the deadline to Nov. 12, a nine-day window already provided under state law for absentee ballots mailed by residents living abroad or in the military.

Berger and Moore have downplayed the risks of the coronavirus. They want all schools to provide in-person instruction and bars to reopen. Likewise they have downplayed the need to adjust election rules to meet the unique circumstances of a pandemic.

Many North Carolinians are not so cavalier. They’re planning to avoid the polls and vote by mail. Nearly 1 million voters have already requested an absentee ballot, a 1,400% increase over this point in 2016. The one-time changes will accommodate voters’ worry and enable more people to have their vote counted.

In crying foul, Berger and Moore act as if the settlement sabotages democracy. No, the changes will serve it.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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Sept. 22

The Greensboro News & Record on a lawsuit filed in 1973 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

You didn’t see it in the movie about her, or in most of the innumerable tributes (all well-deserved) this week, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg also fought an injustice in North Carolina.

In 1973, the Supreme Court justice-to-be took on the sordid legacy of eugenics in this state. As director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg and Women’s Rights Project co-founder Brenda Feigen filed a federal lawsuit in North Carolina on behalf of Nial Ruth Cox, a Black woman who had been forcibly sterilized by the state in 1965.

When Cox became pregnant at age 18, county officials gave her mother a choice: to have Cox sterilized, or to lose welfare benefits for her children. Cox and her mother also were told by a doctor that the process was reversible when it wasn’t. Those officials saw the pregnancy as proof of Cox’s “immorality.”

The case brought national attention to the state’s heinous program but a judge sided with the state, which had argued that Cox didn’t sue within three years of the operation (which was impossible, since Cox didn’t realize that the operation had rendered her permanently unable to have children until later).

A panel of judges reversed the decision in 1975, Ria Tabacco Mar, the current director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, wrote last week in a Washington Post op-ed.

But by that point it didn’t matter, the three-judge panel ruled. The sterilization program had been ended and so whether it was unconstitutional became moot.

In the end, the state did compensate forced-sterilization victims. And Ginsburg’s memories of it were vivid and her opinions obviously strong.

When Mar hosted a discussion with Ginsburg about her career in February, she wrote on her op-ed, she didn’t get to a planned question about the North Carolina eugenics case for lack of time.

Ginsburg said to her afterward, “You didn’t ask me about forced sterilization!”

Now Mar writes that she wishes she had.

Sad to say, the issue has resurfaced. Some immigrant women in a privately operated detention center in Georgia allege that they underwent hysterectomies without their consent.

The more things change ...?

Online: https://greensboro.com

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Sept. 21

The Fayetteville Observer on President Donald Trump's recent visit to Fayetteville, North Carolina and the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court:

Partly due to circumstance, Fayetteville wound up being the place where President Donald Trump dropped big news at his rally on Saturday at the Fayetteville Regional Airport.

Trump made it clear to thousands of cheering supporters he intended to nominate a woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. During his speech, he conducted a quick “poll” of the crowd, whose reaction seemed to favor a female nominee.

“It will be a woman,” he said. “A very talented, brilliant woman.”

On Friday, news had broken that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at age 87. She had been a well-respected champion of progressive ideals from her days as a trailblazing lawyer. Her death set up what is expected to be a huge nomination fight over who will replace her, an event that could shake up the presidential race.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and other Democrats have argued that, with less than 50 days before the election, it is too late to fill the seat and whomever is elected president in November should decide. Democrats say the GOP should hold to its own standard it set when it held up President Obama’s nomination for nine months in the election year of 2016.

Trump wound up making the pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch, in 2017. If the president fills the former Ginsburg seat, it will be his third Supreme Court pick.

Both Trump and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have indicated they will move quickly to fill the seat. On Saturday, in Fayetteville, Trump supporters showed where their hearts lay with chants of “Fill that seat! Fill that seat!” The campaign is selling shirts with that slogan.

It is all an early indicator of how much the Supreme Court could matter — especially if Trump replaces Ginsburg with a staunch conservative, giving GOP appointees a 6-3 edge that could affect legal precedents from abortion to the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has said he would announce a nominee later in the week. Among names being floated are Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite of religious conservatives, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Chicago’s 7th Circuit; and Barbara Lagoa, an appeals court judge for Atlanta’s 11th Circuit who is Hispanic and from Florida, and might help with that crucial state.

Trump did not just break news in Fayetteville but also showed, in his own unique way, how important North Carolina is when it comes to his reelection prospects.

At one point in the speech he turned to Michael Whatley, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party: “How are we doing, Michael? How’s it going? Are we up? I mean, if I lose North Carolina, I’m getting out of here.”

Then, looking out over the crowd of between 4,000 and 6,000 in the private airplane hangar, the president concluded this size crowd would not show up for someone who is “coming in second.”

We can find no reasonable scenario where Trump can win the Electoral College without again winning North Carolina’s 15 Electoral Votes. That explains why he has visited the state four times this cycle.

North Carolina also has one of the key Senate races that will decide which party controls the chamber next year. It pits Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who attended Saturday’s rally, against Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham.

Given our state’s battleground status, Fayetteville, North Carolina, was in the end a great place to break big news related to an election-shaking Supreme Court fight.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com