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Yesterday's ruling in North Carolina against partisan gerrymandering is truly a case of a person's words ringing from the grave. Dr. Thomas Hofeller was the chief mapmaker for the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature. He passed away in late 2018.
Common Cause, with representation from Arnold & Porter, subpoenaed Hofeller's daughter, Stephanie, and received four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives that she had expressed interest in sharing. The files were critical in revealing the schemes that Hofeller was involved in -- from the effort to add a citizenship question to the Census to the North Carolina court's finding that the legislature had engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts.
In fact, yesterday's ruling specifically stated the Hofeller files provided direct evidence of his interest in maximizing Republicans' advantage in the 2017 legislative maps.
We know from our national redistricting advocacy that Hofeller orchestrated gerrymandering in multiple states, and we believe that there is additional evidence that needs to come forward about the partisan motives and vote-stealing conducted in other states.
As we embark on the 2020 round of redistricting, it is time for us to reveal the truth and to establish clear standards for fair maps. We must move away from unconstitutional methods that became so popular and precise in the last decade and instead establish independent, citizen-led redistricting commissions.
This Friday, Sept. 6, Common Cause will file a brief with the Wake County Superior Court asking for the Hofeller files to be released. The court order protecting the use of the files expires on Tuesday, Sept. 10, so we believe a decision on the use of the documents in imminent.
We ask that you editorialize in favor of the release of the Hofeller files.
The following Common Cause experts are prepared to discuss Friday's filing and the impact of the ruling to come:
To schedule an interview or to receive the filings, please contact Bryan Warner in our North Carolina media office at firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 836-0027, or Dave Vance in our national communications office at email@example.com, (202) 736-5712.
Read more about the Hofeller files here.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.(202) 833-1200
"The FCC has a mandate to increase the diversity of local-media ownership and to ensure broadband access is affordable, open and reliable for all," said one advocate. "We need all five FCC commissioners as soon as possible to fully move this work forward."
Eager to end more than two years of deadlock at the Federal Communications Commission, digital rights advocates on Monday expressed relief at U.S. President Joe Biden nomination of former FCC legal adviser Anna Gomez and called on the U.S. Senate to confirm her appointment as quickly as possible.
"Finally!" tweeted media and technology advocacy group Free Press when the nomination was announced. "The agency has been deadlocked since January 2021 and this delay has harmed millions of people."
Gomez currently serves as a senior adviser for international information and communications policy at the State Department and worked for more than a decade at the FCC as a senior legal adviser to then-Chairman William Kennard.
She also worked in leadership roles at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, whose work addresses broadband and internet policy.
The American Prospect's David Dayen noted that he recently wrote about Gomez's career, detailing her work within the telecom industry—which the FCC regulates—as well as her work in government.
\u201cAnna Gomez is announced to fill the vacancy on the FCC. The White House attempts a consensus choice. I wrote about Gomez last week:\nhttps://t.co/cvFcoTeOI0\u201d— David Dayen (@David Dayen) 1684771173
"Gomez has plenty in her background to interest industry," wrote Dayen. "She was the vice president of government affairs (a nice term for lobbyist) at Sprint Nextel. She was an associate early in her career at corporate law firm Arnold & Porter, and more recently she spent several years as a partner at Wiley Rein, the biggest and most influential law firm that represents clients at the FCC."
Communications on unmanned aerial systems, or drones, were a large focus of her work at Wiley Rein, Dayen reported.
Gomez's nomination comes two months after longtime public advocate Gigi Sohnwithdrew her nomination, which had been championed by progressives, after months of attacks by the telecom lobby.
More than 60 digital rights groups wrote to Biden after Sohn's withdrawal, calling for another nominee who would fight forcefully at the commission for net neutrality rules, the rights of low-income and rural communities, and privacy rights.
"We're now approaching two-and-a-half years without a fully functional Federal Communications Commission. Never before has the American public had to wait so long for a commissioner's seat to be filled," Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press, which signed the letter, said on Monday after Gomez's nomination was announced. "In addition to her corporate experience—which has often entailed working for competitive carriers instead of incumbents—Gomez has a long track record of public service, including high-ranking positions at the FCC and Commerce Department. She is eminently qualified for this role at the FCC."
Dayen noted that some of Gomez's positions on communications issues have not been publicized, including her views on congressional rules that punish internet service providers (ISPs) for underinvestment in low-income communities and on net neutrality rules, which prevent ISPs from creating internet "fast lanes" for companies that can pay for them and throttling other content by slowing down speeds.
"We expect Gomez to help restore the proper legal framework for broadband and the net neutrality protections that the FCC repealed during the Trump administration," said Gonzalez. "In poll after poll, people in the United States of all political stripes say they want enforceable rules for an open internet. We're confident that Gomez will give weight to this overwhelming public support and be responsive to public input on the full range of issues before the agency."
The 2-2 deadlock at the FCC has made it impossible for the commission to stop ISPs from "digitally redlining" low-income communities with slower service for the same rates as wealthier customers, as Common Cause said last October, and to restore net neutrality rules.
"The FCC has a mandate to increase the diversity of local-media ownership and to ensure broadband access is affordable, open and reliable for all," said Gonzalez. "We need all five FCC commissioners as soon as possible to fully move this work forward."
"Any further delay means big companies will have an easier time engaging in unjust, unreasonable, and discriminatory actions, because they know this vital watchdog agency isn't operating with the majority it needs," she added. "If these leaders want to improve the lives of internet users, cellphone customers, TV watchers, and radio listeners—meaning everyone—they need to speed up confirmation before the clock runs out at the FCC."
"The only way to solve the long-term shortage on the Colorado River is to take a lot less water out of the system," said one agricultural economics professor. "Which necessarily means permanent reductions in crops grown."
California, Arizona, and Nevada on Monday struck a deal with the Biden administration in which the states agreed to take less water from the dangerously overdrawn Colorado River—an agreement cautiously welcomed by conservationists, who warned that the cuts are insufficient to stabilize a system upon which tens of millions of people rely.
Monday's breakthrough agreement follows nearly a year of negotiations and missed deadlines and involves the Biden administration, the three states, Indigenous tribes, water management districts, and agribusinesses. Under the plan, the federal government will distribute around $1.2 billion worth of Inflation Reduction Act funds to cities, tribes, and water districts if they cut back on water use. The three states agreed to use 3 million acre-feet less water between them by the end of 2026. This would amount to 13% of their total Colorado River allocation.
"There are 40 million people, seven states, and 30 tribal nations who rely on the Colorado River Basin for basic services such as drinking water and electricity," U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. "Today's announcement is a testament to the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to working with states, tribes, and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought."
"The agreed-to cuts are significantly less than what federal scientists and officials had said were necessary to stabilize the river system on which tens of millions in the Southwest rely."
Last August, amid extreme drought driven by the climate emergency and warnings of a possible "catastrophic collapse" of the Colorado River, the U.S. Interior Department announced the first-ever tier 2 shortage for the waterway, triggering water-use cuts in Arizona, Nevada, and the country of Mexico for 2023.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton called the agreement "an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home."
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, hailed the "partnership with our fellow Basin states and historic investment in drought funding," while asserting that "we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs up in the near-term."
\u201c\ud83d\udca7\ud83d\udca7\ud83d\udca7.... and that's how you get it done: @GovernorHobbs just announced a bold plan with California & Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water over the next 3 years. \n\nOur Colorado River is precious, and we must all do our part to protect our finite water supplies. \ud83c\udf0a\u201d— Andr\u00e9s Cano (@Andr\u00e9s Cano) 1684768812
"From here, our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change and overallocation to ensure we have a sustainable Colorado River for all who rely upon it," Hobbs added.
Luke Runyon, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, noted on Twitter that "the agreed-to cuts are significantly less than what federal scientists and officials had said were necessary to stabilize the river system on which tens of millions in the Southwest rely."
John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, toldE&E News that "the plan set forth by the Lower Basin states is not a panacea for the river, but rather a consensus solution that will help manage near-term water demands while serving as a bridge to negotiate the post-2026 operating criteria."
"The Colorado River Basin has a warmer and drier future ahead and reducing water use, increasing water efficiency, and maximizing water recycling and reuse is paramount to a sustainable future for the 40 million people that depend upon this critical water supply," he added.
\u201cThis is only 1/3 of the cuts needed, according to the federal gov last summer\n\nThe basin has had a wet winter, but enough to make \nup for 2/3 of the shortfall? I think we need to see some serious updated projections from Interior before getting too excited about this agreement\u201d— Nick Hagerty (@Nick Hagerty) 1684777740
As Common Dreamsreported last month, advocacy groups including Food & Water Watch also criticized proposed deals between the administration and states for failing to address the overexploitation of water resources by corporate agriculture and fossil fuel companies.
While unusually heavy snowfall and subsequent spring meltwater have helped temporarily avert what experts warned last year could be a "doomsday scenario" for the Colorado River Basin in 2023, the vital waterway remains in danger of running too low to provide enough water for all who rely upon it.
The Colorado River historically ran about 1,450 miles from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado into Utah, through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and then along Nevada and California's southeastern borders before flowing into the northernmost tip of the Gulf of California in Mexico.
The river—which is an oasis in the unforgiving desert that surrounds it for much of its course—long sustained Indigenous peoples both before and after the genocidal colonization of the Southwest, and since the U.S. conquered the region from Mexico it has been a lifeline for American settlers and cities as well as Native tribes.
Western states began dividing the river's water between them around a century ago, and throughout the 20th century, massive dams and channels diverted water hundreds of miles away to sprawling, thirsty farms on previously desert lands and to rapidly expanding cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
Under the Colorado River Compact, states sidestepped Indigenous tribes and agreed to annual water allocations that they must use in full or face usage-based cuts the following year. This "use it or lose it" system has created what critics call "perverse" incentives for farmers to grow water-intensive crops in the desert.
\u201cWhat's using all that water? Cows. Pretty simple. \n\nAs #western states reach historic water use deal we should be having a conversation if feeding cattle is really how we want to use our limited and shrinking resources. #coloradoriver \n\nhttps://t.co/zUS8AP4uQ6\u201d— Andrew deCoriolis (@Andrew deCoriolis) 1684773208
Today, around three-quarters of the river's flow is siphoned off to irrigate more than five million acres of farmland, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Hydroelectric plants along the Colorado also generate more than 12 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
The river has been running especially low in recent decades as worsening droughts driven by the climate emergency have gripped the Southwest and as the population of the nation's driest region explodes. The Colorado no longer empties into the sea, and models predict that by the year 2100 its flow could be further reduced by more than half.
"The only way to solve the long-term shortage on the Colorado River is to take a lot less water out of the system," environmental and resource economist Nick Hagerty stressed in reaction to Monday's announcement. "Which necessarily means permanent reductions in crops grown. That's where the focus needs to be."
"Garland has no reason to defend the nonsense which is the debt ceiling, besides a vague sense of formality and tradition driven by elite political etiquette," said Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project.
A government watchdog on Monday urged the U.S. Justice Department not to defend the debt ceiling statute against a lawsuit recently filed by a union of federal employees and to support the group's effort to expedite its case as the crucial June 1 deadline nears.
"Attorney General Merrick Garland must refuse to defend the unconstitutional legal incoherence that is the debt ceiling," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said in a statement. "The Justice Department should file papers supporting the National Association of Government Employees' request."
Hauser's demand came days after the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) filed for an emergency injunction in their case, which was initially brought on May 8.
The union's new filing declares the debt limit, first established in 1917, a "violation of the separation of powers and the Presentment Clause as set forth in Articles I and II of the United States Constitution" and seeks to bar Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen from "limiting the borrowing of the United States pursuant to the debt limit statute."
The request for an emergency injunction was submitted as debt ceiling talks between the White House and congressional Republicans faltered, with the House GOP pushing for spending cuts that would devastate key social programs and undermine the government's ability to respond to an economic downturn.
Hauser said Monday that NAGE's argument against the constitutionality of the debt limit is "sound" and noted that Biden himself has effectively endorsed it.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Biden said he believes "we have the authority" under the 14th Amendment to unilaterally avert a default and a possible global recession.
However, Biden went on to express doubt about whether the 14th Amendment could be "invoked in time," pointing to legal challenges that would follow the move.
But as The American Prospect's David Dayen noted Monday, the president wouldn't technically "invoke" the 14th Amendment in court if he opts to use his constitutional authority to prevent a U.S. default.
"If you're the president and you want to keep borrowing money after the debt ceiling is hit because you think you are legally bound to do so by the Constitution," Dayen wrote, "you just keep borrowing money until somebody stops you."
Pointing to the NAGE lawsuit, Dayen added that the "notion of litigation is no longer theoretical."
"The Justice Department's obligation is to the Constitution, which is unequivocal: the president cannot pick and choose what congressionally appropriated obligations to meet, and the debt of the United States shall not be questioned."
Yellen and Biden, the defendants in the NAGE lawsuit, have both been served with a summons and must respond by June 6 at the latest—five days after Yellen says that, in the absence of congressional action, U.S. will run out of money to pay its obligations.
Hauser said Monday that Garland should intervene in the case "as soon as possible," arguing the Biden administration has "no justification" to "dither."
"Garland has no reason to defend the nonsense which is the debt ceiling, besides a vague sense of formality and tradition driven by elite political etiquette," said Hauser. "The cost of prioritizing tradition for tradition's sake would be irreparable harm to the U.S. and global economies, caused by a first-ever U.S. default as soon as June 1—or else complete capitulation to the ultra-MAGA faction of the House Republican caucus that marionettes Kevin McCarthy."
Biden and McCarthy are expected to meet again on Monday evening as the House speaker faces pressure from the far-right House Freedom Caucus to accept nothing less than the extreme legislation Republicans passed last month.
But Hauser said that while Biden "may be willing to keep channels open until the very last minute with nihilistic, bad-faith Republican lawmakers, the Justice Department's obligation is to the Constitution, which is unequivocal: the president cannot pick and choose what congressionally appropriated obligations to meet, and the debt of the United States shall not be questioned."
"Garland may be constitutionally reluctant to seek the spotlight, but this crisis threatens the stability of the nation, and indeed, the global economy," Hauser added. "He should not prioritize his own sense of formality over the language of the Constitution he swore to uphold."