NC SUPREME COURT SHOULD END RACIAL BIAS IN JURY SELECTION: North Carolina is one of very few states where appeals courts have never acknowledged discrimination against a juror of color and have allowed prosecutors to offer reasons for striking black jurors that are vague, suspect, and difficult to verify: the juror didn’t make eye contact, had an unusual hairstyle, or said “yeah” instead of “yes.” This week, North Carolina has a chance to confront a problem that has haunted the state for too long. The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear arguments on August 26 and 27 about the North Carolina Racial Justice Act (RJA). This groundbreaking law allowed people on death row to present evidence that racial bias played a role in their death sentences. After the law’s passage in 2009, a study of capital trials found that prosecutors removed qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate of white jurors. Thus, nearly half of North Carolina’s death row prisoners were tried by all-white juries or juries with only one person of color. If you doubt that the racial makeup of juries matters, remember that all-white juries have sent dozens of innocent black men to death row, including some of my clients.
THE TROUBLING NOTION THAT EDUCATION IS THE ENEMY: Monday, the Pew Research Center published a new study, “The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education,” which found that the share of Americans who say colleges and universities have a negative impact on the country has jumped by 12 percentage points since 2012. But here’s the kicker: “The increase in negative views,” said Pew, “has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican.” GOP antipathy toward higher education is driven in part, the study says, by a belief that colleges have gone overboard in protecting students from views they deem offensive. On the other hand, most Republicans also think professors should stop bringing their social and political views into the classroom. We will pass lightly over the contradiction of saying students should not be sheltered from differing opinions while at the same time, wanting to shelter students from differing opinions.
DON'T BE FOOLED BY THIS NC TAX "REFUND": Everyone loves tax refunds — especially politicians approaching an election year — but don’t be fooled by the sudden generosity of the skinflint senator whose governing credo is: “North Carolina does not have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.” North Carolina does have a spending problem. It’s not spending enough and the unmet needs are piling up. Teachers need substantial raises across the board, as do school bus drivers, custodians and teacher assistants. The shortage of textbooks and school supplies remains acute. Many local water systems need major improvements to provide safe water. The state’s judicial system from courtrooms to prisons is underfunded to the point where justice too often cannot be served. The University of North Carolina needs more state support to be affordable to most North Carolina residents. The state is leaving hundreds of thousands of people uninsured because Republican lawmakers won’t accept the cost of expanding Medicaid.
NEW "RELIGIOUS FREEDOM" RULE LOOKS LIKE A LICENSE TO DISCRIMINATE: First, it would define a “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society” eligible for the exemption in a sweeping way that extends beyond philanthropic institutions such as soup kitchens or refugee resettlement agencies. Also eligible for the exemption would be some “closely held” profit-making companies whose owners claim a religious mission. The order cites the 2014 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby, a business owned by a Christian family, needn’t abide by the contraception mandate imposed under the Affordable Care Act. But it doesn’t follow from that ruling that such companies are entitled to a federal contract if they engage in discrimination. Second, the rule says that an employer can reject not only applicants who aren’t members of the same denomination, but also those who fail to demonstrate “acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.” That seems to suggest that employers with religious objections to same-sex marriage or wives working outside the home could refuse to hire a gay applicant or a married mother – and yet still would be eligible for a taxpayer-funded contract. The Labor Department suggests that its proposed religious exemption, like the current one, couldn’t be used as a smokescreen to conceal discrimination rooted in other sorts of bias. But why make such subterfuge easier by loosening definitions? And what about contractors who sincerely believe that engaging in discrimination is God’s will? They’re free to believe that, but they mustn’t be allowed to act on that belief.
TRUMP'S TRADE WAR SHOWS THE REALITY OF "AMERICA FIRST" IN ACTION: Is John Deere “tired of winning,” as Trump promised that all Americans soon would be? Not exactly. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. farmers are buying fewer farm machines — Deere & Co.’s profits from this business are down 24 percent from a year ago — partly because farmers’ incomes have suffered as a result of the tit-for-tat trade spat that Trump started with China, which has included China canceling the purchase of almost 500,000 metric tons of soybeans. Home Depot, the world’s largest home-improvement retailer (more than 2,200 stores in North America), partly blames the trade war for its lowered growth expectations. The tariffs, which the Financial Times accurately refers to as “import taxes,” will, according to a JPMorgan estimate, cost the average U.S. household “around $1,000 a year.” If so, this Trump tax increase — it is his alone — is more important to the average American than his (actually Congress’s) tax cut. The Financial Times recalls that “hundreds of U.S. companies and trade associations said in a joint communique in June that the proposed duties would cause the loss of 2 million jobs and reduce U.S. economic output by 1 percent.” The losses and reduction are related to the fact that, as Allan Golombek of the White House Writers Group notes, “Over 60 percent of U.S. imports are used by businesses in their products and production processes.” Hence Trump’s tariffs make U.S. goods more expensive, thereby dampening U.S. consumer activity.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
JAMESE COOK-MINOR: PASS THE WAGE BILL: On July 18, I sat in the gallery of the U.S. House along with other members of NC Raise Up, Fight for $15 as Congress passed the Raise the Wage Act. Some of us cried when the bill passed. We were finally being heard by lawmakers. Now, I worry that this critically needed bill to raise the federal minimum wage might die in the Senate because leaders like Thom Tillis and Richard Burr aren’t taking action. As a McDonald’s crew member making $8.05 an hour, I don’t make enough to keep up with the rising cost of living in Durham. I want to be independent and move out on my own, but I don’t earn enough. When I look for other job opportunities, I primarily see minimum wage jobs. I’m not the only person who will benefit from this bill. Most Durham residents will agree when I say that it’s hard to afford an apartment in our city when you earn poverty wages. It’s time for Burr and Tillis to listen to us and follow the House in raising the minimum wage to $15. They worked to give corporate CEOs a raise through tax breaks, why won’t they give American workers a raise?
JOE LYONS: BURR & TILLIS, YOU OWN TRUMP: This letter concerns the behavior of congressional Republicans in general and of Tom Tillis and Richard Burr in particular. By remaining silent in the face of Trump’s despicable behavior and moral laxity, you enable him to continue his disregard for our constitutional democracy. It is not enough to say you disapprove of his intemperate language and unfair accusations, but agree with him on trade, taxes and immigration control. You helped elect this man, so now you cannot pick and choose. You own him, lock, stock and barrel. You own his bigotry, racism, self-promotion, and his geo-political ignorance. You also own his lies, intolerance and lack of empathy. Your silence speaks volumes, gentlemen. It reveals your intense desire for re-election over your integrity as legislators; it means you are no longer functioning as members of a legitimate political party, but as Trump’s shoe-shine boys. Shame on you; shame on all of you!
STEPHEN J.LAWLER: SAVING THE STATE HEALTH PLAN: Thanks to the tenacious efforts of our state’s hospitals, health systems and other partners, teachers and their families will be able to keep their in-network access to local health care providers and hospitals for the upcoming year. For months, more than 700,000 teachers, state employees and retirees were caught in the middle of an ongoing debate over how to best stabilize the State Health Plan. The North Carolina Healthcare Association and our member hospitals and health systems repeatedly offered to work with the state treasurer to come up with a common-sense solution. The offer still stands. If this close-call catastrophe has taught us anything, it should be that government can’t fix complex health care problems on its own. Our state’s health care providers need to be involved upfrontand be able to offer solutions based on their unique perspectives. A “my way or the highway” approach, which puts politics ahead of people, does not lead to better outcomes or a better plan, and it certainly does not lead to a healthier North Carolina. The NCHA and our member health systems and hospitals is forging ahead with stakeholder discussions about how to create a better future for the State Health Plan — one that will keep the most pressing health care needs and interests of patients and communities first, at the head of the class, where they should be.