OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
The United States Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in two significant appeals concerning claims of racial gerrymandering.
The United States Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in two significant appeals concerning claims of racial gerrymandering.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said, "As the nation prepares for a new round of decennial redistricting, today's cases provide an opportunity for a short-handed Supreme Court to clarify the applicable standard. There is no constitutional basis to deem majority White districts as normative or to presuppose that majority-minority districts deviate from the norm. We urge the Supreme Court to issue a decision consistent with its precedent."
In Golden Bethune-Hill, et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al., a three-judge panel of the United States District Court had held that Virginia's 2011 state legislative redistricting did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because the plan was not in conflict with traditional districting principles, such as geographic compactness of the districts. State legislators had indicated that they wanted to create certain districts with at least 55 percent African American voting age population, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. In Patrick McCrory, et al. v. David Harris, et al., another three-judge panel had held that North Carolina's 2011 congressional redistricting had violated the Equal Protection Clause, when legislators made similar statements as to the desire to create majority-minority districts, but the plan did not subordinate to traditional districting principles.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed briefs as amicus curiae in both cases, aided by pro bono counsel Cozen & O'Connor LLP in the Virginia case, in support of neither party, and by Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, in the North Carolina cases, where it supported the plaintiffs-appellees. In both cases, the Lawyers' Committee argued that the Court should adhere to the principles laid down in prior decisions holding that states should be compelled to justify redistricting plans by the highest standard of "strict scrutiny," only if the plan failed to subordinate to traditional districting principles. The objective standard, the Lawyers' Committee argued, provides a strong basis upon which to assess racial gerrymandering.
The Lawyers' Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar's leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity - work that continues to be vital today.(202) 662-8600
"These dangerous and dirty permitting deals are a matter of life and death for millions of people across our country who are already overburdened by decades of fossil fuel pollution," warned one campaigner.
Climate action advocates responded with outraged alarm Thursday to reporting that U.S. President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans may try to strike a "dirty deal" on permitting reforms as part of an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
The deliberations continue as fears of an economically catastrophic default are growing, with just a week until the U.S. government could run out of money to pay its bills if Congress doesn't increase the debt limit, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
"We should not be throwing people and the planet under a gas-guzzling bus just so that polluters can more easily build destructive projects."
Citing two unnamed sources close to the talks, The Washington Post reported:
The emerging deal would ease the process of building the interstate transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity across the country—a top priority for Democrats and a boon for President Biden's climate agenda, said the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private negotiations.
To sweeten the deal for Republicans, the agreement would make modest changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of its proposed actions. GOP lawmakers have long blamed the bedrock environmental law for the yearslong delays that plague new highways, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects nationwide.
The transmission policy would be based on the forthcoming Building Integrated Grids With Inter-Regional Energy Supply (BIG WIRES) Act from Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), the newspaper noted, adding that the agreement "would include only incremental changes" sought by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans.
House Republicans notably included H.R. 1—their fossil fuel-friendly energy package—in the so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, the "debt ceiling scam" the GOP passed last month and which established the party's priorities for the ongoing negotiations.
In response to the Post's reporting, Friends of the Earth government and political affairs director Ariel Moger said that "once again, lawmakers are expected to make the unconscionable decision to tack unpopular and environmentally harmful policies onto a must-pass bill. This deal will put communities already suffering from environmental racism at further risk by gutting essential laws."
"We should not be throwing people and the planet under a gas-guzzling bus just so that polluters can more easily build destructive projects," Moger argued. "Biden and congressional Democrats should stand up for environmental justice, reject this dirty deal, and pass a clean debt limit increase."
\u201cWe all know that we need to make the transition to clean energy as quickly as possible, but @POTUS is reportedly considering a #DirtyDeal that would lock in more fossil fuels. Keep fossil fuel handouts out of the debt ceiling deal! https://t.co/vCr7JgmqKW\u201d— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club) 1685042165
Oil Change International U.S. program co-manager Allie Rosenbluth stressed that "these dangerous and dirty permitting deals are a matter of life and death for millions of people across our country who are already overburdened by decades of fossil fuel pollution, the impacts of climate change, and compromised public health."
"The increased exposure to oil spills, gas leaks, air pollution, and water contamination would exacerbate existing environmental injustices and the climate crisis," Rosenbluth continued. "We must draw a red line and say no to Republicans taking our economy hostage to line the pockets of the fossil fuel industry."
“President Biden must enforce a clean debt ceiling package that does not allow for any rollbacks to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other bedrock environmental laws," she added. "While his recent climate track record has been nothing short of disastrous, it is not too late for him to turn it around and hold true to his environmental justice campaign promises."
The Biden administration has recently come under fire for backing ConocoPhillips' Willow oil project and a liquified natural gas (LNG) proposal, both in Alaska, as well as the incomplete Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in Virginia and West Virginia.
\u201cWe need to do everything we can RIGHT NOW to stop a debt ceiling deal from including dirty permitting reforms that fast track fossil fuels. \n\n@StopBigOil just released this ad targeting key decision makers. Please share and tag your member of Congress!\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1685037069
The MVP is a longtime priority of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a "coal baron" and recipient of fossil fuel industry campaign cash who only supported the Inflation Reduction Act last year in exchange for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreeing to push through permitting reforms friendly to the coal, gas, and oil companies.
Although opposition from frontline communities and progressives in Congress blocked versions of Manchin's "dirty deal" three times last year, he has since renewed his effort, introducing the Building American Energy Security Act—which calls for completing the MVP—earlier this month. A Biden aide said the White House backs the bill.
House Natural Resources Committee Democrats and the League of Conservation Voters highlighted Thursday that 83 lawmakers have signed a letter urging Biden, Schumer, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) "to oppose ongoing attempts to attach H.R. 1 or any other extreme proposals that gut our bedrock environmental and public laws to must-pass legislation."
\u201c#ThrowbackThursday to yesterday when 83 Democrats sent a letter to @POTUS, @SenSchumer & @RepJeffries opposing the #DirtyDeal.\n\nAs @RepRaulGrijalva said, "Our environment and health are not the GOP\u2019s bargaining chips."\u201d— Natural Resources Democrats (@Natural Resources Democrats) 1685032817
The panel's ranking member, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), led the letter and congressional opposition to last year's dirty deals.
"The growing list of my Democratic colleagues and I couldn't be more clear: Our environment and health are not the GOP's bargaining chips," Grijalva said in a statement Wednesday. "Gutting our bedrock environmental laws isn't permitting reform—it's a polluter payout. Speaker McCarthy and his extremist faction need to end this reckless scheme to force their MAGA-manufactured, polluters-over-people agenda on the American people now."
Though Jeffries is on the receiving end of the letter, he made clear Thursday that his caucus won't automatically support a Biden-backed deal, telling reporters that "it's a miscalculation to assume that simply any agreement that House Republicans are able to reach will, by definition, trigger a sufficient number of Democratic votes—if that agreement undermines our values."
\u201c\ud83d\udca1Research should inform permitting reform!\ud83d\udca1Find out what the *data* says about NEPA reviews and causes for delay: https://t.co/3yP63ck9qY\u201d— Kristina Karlsson (@Kristina Karlsson) 1685024109
Meanwhile, the Roosevelt Institute this week published an issue brief by Jamie Pleune, associate professor of law at the University of Utah, debunking the claim that reviews required by NEPA are hampering the transition to renewable energy.
"After examining 41,000 NEPA decisions conducted by the Forest Service over 16 years, we found limited correlation between the intensity of the NEPA process in question and the existence of delays," said Pleune. "Furthermore, some projects that were eligible for expedited analyses encountered delays, while some intensely studied projects were completed quickly. This indicated that the true causes of delay were external to the regulatory requirements of NEPA."
"Reducing analytical rigor or weakening environmental standards, which are some of the permitting reforms on the table in debt ceiling talks, won't address the true blockages to the buildout of renewables," she added. "In my brief, I provide progressive permitting reform, with demonstrated effectiveness, that will strengthen and improve NEPA processes while preserving community engagement and environmental protections."
"Attacks on reproductive freedom look like doctors being attacked and harassed for doing their job and providing essential abortion care," said one advocacy group.
Reproductive rights advocates on Thursday came to the defense of Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis who provided a 10-year-old girl with abortion care last year, as Bernard faced a disciplinary hearing before Indiana's state medical licensing board.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, launched an investigation into the doctor last July after she provided a legal abortion to the patient, who had been denied care in her home state of Ohio. Bernard learned of the rape victim from an Ohio doctor shortly after the state enacted a six-week abortion ban following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade last June.
She provided the child with an abortion and was soon targeted by Rokita, whose office told the medical licensing board that Bernard violated Indiana law by speaking to The Indianapolis Star about the patient's case and by not reporting her abuse to law enforcement and child protective authorities in Indiana.
A video of the hearing is available below:
\u201cThe Indiana Licensing Board meeting regarding Dr. Caitlin Bernard looks like it will start soon. Here's the livestream link for those interested in watching: https://t.co/xUPDdeNnH8\u201d— Kaitlin Lange (@Kaitlin Lange) 1685019334
Bernard's lawyer has said the doctor did follow reporting requirements by informing a social worker about the 10-year-old patient, and has noted that the rape was already being investigated in the girl's home state. Bernard also maintains that she did not release any identifying information about the child to the press.
"Physicians can talk to the media," Bernard's attorney, Alice Morical, told NBC News.
During the hearing, Bernard was asked by the state whether she is an advocate for reproductive rights and whether she has a tattoo of a coat hanger—a symbol of unsafe, illegal abortions. Cory Voight, director of complex litigation for Rokita's office, also accused her of "pushing a narrative" when she spoke to the Star about the effect Ohio's abortion ban had on her patient.
Bernard responded that the hearing was a "political stunt" by the attorney general.
\u201cVoight rephrases the question, then she responds: If attorney general Todd Rokita had not chosen to make this his political stunt, we wouldn\u2019t be here today.\u201d— Johnny Magdaleno (@Johnny Magdaleno) 1685042114
A number of doctors attended the hearing in support of Bernard.
The board is expected to vote on whether Bernard should face penalties, which could include a letter of reprimand or the suspension or revoking of her medical license.
Victoria Barrett, a writer based in Indiana, called the hearing "state-sponsored harassment."
\u201cThe state-sponsored harassment of Dr. Caitlin Bernard today is a fucking shame and an embarrassment and this misappropriation of my tax dollars is one reason I'm thinking of leaving the state.\u201d— Victoria Barrett (@Victoria Barrett) 1685037329
"Attacks on reproductive freedom look like doctors being attacked and harassed for doing their job and providing essential abortion care," said the advocacy group Vote Pro-Choice. "We stand with Dr. Caitlin Bernard and all the providers fighting for abortion care."
"If S. 474 is not blocked, South Carolinians will be robbed of the freedom to control their own lives, bodies, and futures," said Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood.
To stop Republican lawmakers in South Carolina from dealing a "catastrophic blow to abortion access across the South," reproductive healthcare providers on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the state to block the six-week abortion ban that went into effect immediately after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it.
The ban (S. 474) was passed Tuesday after five women in the state Senate—the only women in the body, including three Republicans, one Democrat, and one Independent—attempted to filibuster the legislation. They were unable to persuade two other Republicans to vote against the bill, which bans abortion before many people know they are pregnant.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSA) joined two healthcare providers and one clinic in the lawsuit; the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) are representing the plaintiffs.
The groups noted that S. 474 is "nearly identical" to another six-week ban that was struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court earlier this year. The new ban contains limited exceptions for the life and health of the pregnant person and certain fetal abnormalities, and a provision under which survivors of rape and incest can ostensibly access care until 12 weeks of pregnancy, but only if their provider reports the assault and the patient's name to law enforcement.
The state Supreme Court ruled in January that an earlier six-week ban violated the right to privacy guaranteed by South Carolina's constitution.
\u201cMonths after the state Supreme Court declared a 6-week ban an unconstitutional violation of South Carolinians' rights, lawmakers thought they could enact another, more extreme ban.\n\nThey\u2019re wrong \u2014 and along with @PPSATSC and @ReproRights, we\u2019re taking them to court.\u201d— Planned Parenthood (@Planned Parenthood) 1684882327
"The South Carolina Supreme Court was clear—banning abortion after approximately six weeks was unconstitutional six months ago, and it’s still unconstitutional now," said Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of CRR. "South Carolinians' rights are once again being violated, but we will continue to fight back."
South Carolina's neighboring states, Georgia and North Carolina, have passed bans on abortion care at six weeks and 12 weeks, respectively, with North Carolina's law set to take effect on July 1.
Other states across the South have enacted total bans on abortion, including some that contain no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban earlier this year, but the law is under review by the state Supreme Court.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of PPFA, said that unless the South Carolina Supreme Court acts again, "people across the region who rely on this state for care will suffer."
"Today, we are asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to do its job and protect people's ability to seek basic healthcare, without political interference, by quickly blocking this cruel law," said Johnson. "If S. 474 is not blocked, South Carolinians will be robbed of the freedom to control their own lives, bodies, and futures."
The groups and providers are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the law from taking effect as well as a judgment declaring the law unconstitutional.
"State lawmakers have once again trampled on our right to make private healthcare decisions, ignoring warnings from healthcare providers and precedent set by the state's highest court just a few months ago," said Jenny Black, president and CEO of PPSA. "We will always fight for our patients' ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and access the healthcare they need. We urge the court to take swift action to block this dangerous ban on abortion."