A bipartisan group of eight senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that aims to improve how college campuses respond to sexual assault.
Standing alongside sexual assault survivors and advocates, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Warner (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Dean Heller (R-NV) told reporters that the bill is necessary because one in five college women experience sexual assault, and young women are more likely to be sexually assaulted if they are in college than if they are not.
Too many of those sexual assault survivors are re-traumatized, senators and survivors said, because colleges fail to take their claims seriously or do enough to address them.
Andrea Pino, a campus sexual assault survivor and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said that she woke up one morning her sophomore year at the University of North Carolina covered in blood and bruises from a sexual assault. “Far away from home, I was alone in my recovery, told by administrators that I could just not handle college, isolated by the entire community thereafter,” she said.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would designate confidential advisors to counsel sexual assault survivors on their options. This, Pino said, would give future students somebody who will believe them, and would help prevent what happened to her from happening to someone else.
The act would also require colleges and universities to survey students about their experiences with sexual assault, give specialized training to campus personnel, set up a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings, and significantly stiffen penalties for underreporting crimes or failing to comply with federal standards.
“This approach is survivor-centered, it’s comprehensive, and it’s truly a breakthrough,” Blumenthal said.
Nearly every speaker at the Wednesday morning press conference used the word “bipartisan” at least once. The eight original co-sponsors plan to require a “two by two” approach for any of their colleagues who also want to sign on as co-sponsors—a Democrat would have to bring on a Republican, and vice versa.
Republican and Democratic co-sponsors had similar things to say about how appalling the current trend is, and how colleges need to do better. Heller and Warner both invoked their college-aged daughters as reasons they support the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Rubio said the new bill would create a uniform system in which every victim is treated the same and there is “no special preference because somebody can dunk a basketball or throw a ball 80 yards down the field.”
Under the new bill, if a school fails to adequately report campus crime statistics under the Clery Act, it would face a fine of up to $150,000 per violation, a significant increase from the current limit of $35,000. And if a school fails to live up to the requirements set out in the new bill, that school could face fines of up to 1 percent of its operating budget.
To put that in perspective, Gillibrand said, a school like Harvard with a $4.2 billion budget could face fines of up to $42 million for failing to live up to its obligations to sexual assault survivors. That gives the bill “real teeth,” Gillibrand said, and represents “a significant shift in the incentives to do this right.”
McCaskill said that under the status quo, the only leverage the Department of Education has is a threat to cut off all of the school’s federal funding. “That’s a little bit like me telling my kids I’ll never speak to them again,” McCaskill said. “That is not a realistic punishment.”
A survey conducted by McCaskill’s staff found that 20 percent of schools allowed their athletic departments oversight over sexual assault investigations, which senators called an unacceptable conflict of interest. The survey also found that 40 percent of schools had not conducted a single sexual violence investigation in the past five years, and that 20 percent of the nation’s largest private institutions conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents they reported to the Department of Education.
“Climate surveys” mandated by the bill would ask students confidentially about their experiences with sexual assault, and their opinions of how well the school handles incidents. The surveys are necessary, McCaskill said, to gauge the progress schools are making, and because “in this crime, there will never be a day that we don’t have underreporting.” Only about 5 percent of victims ever report the crime to authorities, and climate surveys can help determine whether a low rate of reporting is due to few incidents, or students feeling unsafe coming forward.
McCaskill was unimpressed by complaints from higher education lobbying groups like the American Council on Education, which has pushed back against mandating these surveys due to staffing or cost issues.
“These universities are filled with researchers that do surveys all the time,” McCaskill said. “It seems to be a lame excuse.”
Gillibrand added that most of the work will be done by the Department of Education, which will give schools the survey and take the results. All the schools have to do is make the survey available online and ensure that students take it.
“It’s really not a cost-heavy requirement. It’s pretty simple,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand and McCaskill, who butted heads earlier this year over how to handle military sexual assaults, presented a united front on the campus sexual assault issue and said there was no story in their working together on this bill.
Like this bill, Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) had bipartisan support. But unlike the MJIA, which was opposed by the Pentagon, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act probably won’t face opposition that is quite so daunting or quite so influential in Congress.
Gillibrand said she was “very optimistic” that the bipartisan nature of the bill will help it pass through Congress before the end of the session, and bill sponsors hope to get floor time for the bill in September. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will spearhead similar legislation in the House.
The post Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Campus Sexual Assault appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Alabama’s failure to expand Medicaid has hampered Alabama’s economy, said officials from the health-care and business communities at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s summer 2014 conference.
Danne Howard, senior vice president of government relations and emergency preparedness for the Alabama Hospital Association, said the state’s unwillingness to expand Medicaid is adding to the economic distress of its rural communities and encumbering economic development efforts, the Birmingham News reported.
Howard added that Republican Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision not to expand Medicaid puts more pressure on health-care providers. At least a dozen rural hospitals have closed across the state, according to Howard, and more than a dozen more could shutter over the next two years.
Howard was the keynote speaker of a rural economic development session that kicked off the conference on Sunday. The conference ends Wednesday.
During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Bentley defended his decision to reject expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “How can we believe the federal government will keep its word?” said Bentley. “The anything but Affordable Care Act has done nothing to gain our trust.”
Bentley also criticized the federal funding available for expanding Medicaid. “The money the federal government is spending with wild abandon is not ‘federal’ dollars. Those are your dollars, your hard-earned tax dollars,” said Bentley.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays for 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion in states for the first three years, and then 90 percent after that.
Bentley has come under criticism for his decision to reject Medicaid expansion, even from members of his own administration. David Bronner, the CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama, said of the decision to not accept Medicaid expansion: “politics is taking precedence over the poor.”
The Alabama Hospital Association, the Business Council of Alabama, AARP Alabama, and the Alabama Primary Health Care Association have all voiced their support for expanding Medicaid in the state.
According to the Alabama Hospital Association’s study, expanding Medicaid in the state would create 30,700 new jobs over the next six years. Conducted by the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the study also found that if all eligible individuals enrolled in an expansion the number of new jobs could reach more than 51,000.
A study by health-care economists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham also found that the expansion would provide the state nearly $1 billion in tax revenue and provide Medicaid coverage for 300,000 more state residents.
A report from Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy challenged those findings. According to that study, the new tax revenue would exceed additional costs only during the first three years of expansion.
Image: Insurance via Shutterstock
The post Alabama Governor’s Rejection of Medicaid Expansion Will Add to Economic Hardships, Opponents Say appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law on Wednesday afternoon a bill designed to increase public safety and access around abortion provider facilities, following the Supreme Court’s buffer zone ruling last month.
The bill, known as An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, was rushed through the legislature after the state’s buffer zone law was struck down in June. It was passed by both chambers of the legislature last week, and then underwent a final vote of approval Tuesday.
According to MassLive, the state house passed the bill with an “emergency preamble,” which means that it will take effect as soon as it is signed.
As RH Reality Check has previously reported, the legislation makes it illegal to impede or restrict access to a clinic, including by blocking vehicles, and sets up civil and criminal sanctions for those who violate the law. It also gives law enforcement the power to disperse groups of two or more who are limiting access to a facility. After a dispersal order is given, the group has to stand at least 25 feet from the clinic’s entrance for eight hours.
In a statement earlier this month, Attorney General Martha Coakley said that “no woman should face intimidation or threats when trying to access reproductive health care services. The Supreme Court should not have the final word. We should have the final word in protecting this access.”
At the bill’s signing Wednesday, Gov. Patrick echoed that sentiment, saying that the legislation “affirms that we in this Commonwealth … will step up to protect a woman’s right to choose.”
The post Breaking: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick Signs Clinic Protection Legislation appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Early discussions of Debra Harrell, the South Carolina mother who was jailed for “abandoning” her 9-year-old daughter, tended to revolve around the idea that she should have found some form of child care while she was at work instead of sending her to a nearby park alone. What those discussions fail to mention is how limited child-care options are for low-income parents, especially those who are single like Harrell, or even for married parents when both adults have full-time jobs.
Child-care options are often expensive and in short supply in the best of circumstances.
While it’s a nice idea that parents will have family members or friends to rely on if they need help with child care, the sad reality is that for those with a local support system, their friends and family members are also likely to be working. What happens to those who don’t have friends and family as an option?
In Debra Harrell’s case, after her original plan of having her daughter sit at McDonald’s with her fell apart, because the laptop her daughter had been using was stolen, she opted to allow her daughter to play in a local park. Were Debra Harrell in the same socioeconomic status as many advocates of the free-range kids movement, it’s possible she would have been able to argue her daughter’s right to unsupervised play time as a developmental necessity. However, she is not a well-educated, married, upper-middle-class white mother. She found herself arrested for child neglect, separated from her child for 17 days, and at risk of further consequences ranging from potential job loss to jail time. Even though the Internet has raised over $40,000 for her to put toward legal fees or her daughter’s education, there is no question this small family was adversely affected by a decision that would have been lauded in other circumstances.
In the past, there were public programs geared toward latchkey kids, and a plethora of low-cost and free summer options at libraries, community centers, and parks. Unfortunately for Debra Harrell, many of those programs have closed, and the programs that have sprung up to replace them are not low-cost, much less free. In fact, child-care costs have skyrocketed over the last several years, while programs offering full-time care have fewer and fewer subsidized spots available. The YMCA child-care program in Harrell’s town—North Augusta, South Carolina—does not have a full-time summer day camp. It does have part-time, drop-off services that are $9 for members and $15 for non-members per day. Utilizing this type of service, Debra Harrell would have been paying $45 to $75 a week to cover 15 hours and still need to find options for the remaining 25 hours of her work schedule.
Other YMCA locations in the area (loosely defined as within 20 miles) do have weekly day camp offerings that start at $80 a week for members and $110 for non–members. One can certainly make the argument that Harrell could have sought out one of those programs, but then comes the question of whether she was making enough to afford $400 a month for child care. A generous estimate of what she was likely to be making would be $330 a week before taxes; that assumes a consistent 40 hours per week, and an hourly pay of $8.25, which is actually a full dollar per hour above South Carolina’s minimum wage.
With full-time child care coming in at a third of her gross pay, before factoring in gas costs and the time it would take to drive the additional miles to take her daughter to another facility before returning to her place of employment, Harrell’s decision to let her go to the park to play makes even more sense. That’s before you factor in the shifting work schedules common to food service positions, and the possibility that there wasn’t enough money in the South Carolina child-care subsidy budget for parents like Harrell to receive assistance—or that Harrell’s annual income was higher than the threshold to qualify for subsidized child care, but still too low for her to be able to pay for child care.
Summerfield Park, where Harrell’s daughter was spending time while Harrell was at work, is a popular location for parents to send their children in the summer. There is a program that provides free breakfast and lunch to kids in the park, a splash pad water feature to make the hottest days bearable, and—according to other park goers—a host of kids and adults to keep an eye out.
If you believe in the old adage about it taking a village to raise a child, it’s clear that Debra Harrell trusted in her village to help her with child care, in part because the state does not provide the kind of social safety nets that make it possible for her to turn to her local agencies for help.
From the outside, it is easy to pass judgment on parents like Debra Harrell, who—when faced with a paucity of options—make decisions that are based on not having any socially acceptable choices available. But as we talk about reproductive health, freedom, and justice, we have to talk about supporting parents. It cannot just be about the right to choose whether or not to be a parent; we also have to advocate for programs that make parenting possible for those who choose to do it, regardless of their income. The right to parent should not be reserved solely for those above certain income levels, or those with more traditional lives or work schedules.
Realistically, the person best suited to determine whether or not Harrell’s 9-year-old daughter was capable of being at the park unsupervised is Debra Harrell. There is no indication that her daughter, an honor student with excellent grades, was harmed at all by being at the park for a few hours alone. What was harmful was the trauma of being away from her mom for 17 days, and now living with the fear that it could happen again.
If we’re truly concerned about the welfare of children, shouldn’t we engage less in fear-mongering over whether or not a child’s parent knows where her kid can play, and offer more support for programs that make playing in the park accessible for all kids? Being a good neighbor—being part of that proverbial village—extends beyond not calling the police on a child in the park. It’s also more than keeping an eye out on all the kids at the playground. Being a good member of the village includes advocating for policies that may not have an impact on your life, but do have a positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate than you. It means expanding your definition of reproductive health and justice to the policies that affect kids after they’re born, and to supporting community features that make life as a parent feasible for everyone.
The post It Takes a Village to Raise a Child—Especially for the Working Poor appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In January of 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a sweeping ten-point Women’s Equality Agenda for his state that included broader protections for abortion rights, against housing and pregnancy discrimination, and more. Over a year later, no piece of that agenda has passed through the state legislature; they’re all stalled in a state senate jointly controlled by Republicans and a small breakaway group known as the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC).
Cuomo’s election-season response was to unveil, on July 17, a brand-new Women’s Equality Party, which is planning to endorse the governor and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, and have its own line on the New York State ballot this November. That means the governor could potentially appear on four different ballot lines, provided he makes it through a primary challenge: Democratic, Women’s Equality, Independence, and the Working Families Party, which endorsed the governor after a bitter convention fight and a deal that, among other things, hinged on Cuomo agreeing to campaign for Democratic candidates to retake the state senate in order to pass bills like the Women’s Equality Act.
This unusual move stirred up some controversy, as the governor had previously opposed the existence of fusion-voting parties entirely. Some advocates, as RH Reality Check reported last year, questioned the governor’s commitment to passing his ambitious bill, and when the announcement came that he was creating an entirely new party devoted to “women’s equality,” some women’s rights supporters wondered if this was truly evidence of his dedication to their cause or of his desire to burnish his liberal bona fides while dealing a blow to activists who pushed him to put, as it were, his money where his mouth was.
The press conference announcing the new party featured Hochul (a former Democratic member of Congress from the Buffalo area) signing the first petition to put the Women’s Equality Party on the ballot—candidates who want to be on its ballot line will have to collect 15,000 legitimate signatures by August 19—accompanied by leaders from NOW-NYC and NARAL Pro-Choice New York.
NARAL-NY President Andrea Miller told RH Reality Check, “We were happy to be supportive when we were asked to be a part of the announcement.” The group has been a supporter of the ten-point Women’s Equality Act, as well as its precursor, the Reproductive Health Act, and has been involved over the past two years in pushing the state legislature to pass them.
“We agree with the governor wholeheartedly that not only have these issues been stymied in New York particularly because of the state senate, but that they are powerful and motivating issues for voters and for particularly important types of constituencies across the state,” Miller said. “We see this as one more opportunity for candidates to make clear, particularly in some of these hotly contested marginal districts where in fact the Women’s Equality Act and the right to choose could really be a tipping point issue.”
But not all New York women were impressed with the governor’s move. Capital New York reporter Liz Benjamin quoted one Democratic woman who was unimpressed: “Thank goodness, because us girls just weren’t sure where we should cast our votes.”
And Bertha Lewis, former head of ACORN, member of the Working Families Party, and founder and president of The Black Institute, told RH Reality Check, “I think it’s bogus, I think it’s outrageous, I think it is cynical, I think it is disrespectful to women, I think that it is disingenuous, because he’s not really building a party.”
Wherefore Women’s Equality
The fate of the Women’s Equality Act was in the hands of the New York State senate. The state assembly twice passed the full omnibus ten-part bill, once in the 2013 session and once again in 2014. But Republicans in the senate were given partial control over which bills come up for a vote when a group of five Democrats, led by Jeff Klein of the Bronx, split from their party after it won a majority in the 2012 elections and created a power-sharing deal, in which Klein would ostensibly have power to bring bills up for a vote, with the GOP. Gov. Cuomo gave his blessing to the deal that put two men in charge of the senate, rather than the pro-choice leader of his own party, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first Black woman to lead a New York State legislative caucus. (For an in-depth explanation of this issue, see RH Reality Check’s 2013 article on the Reproductive Health Act.)
Instead of bringing the omnibus Women’s Equality Act to the floor for a vote, Miller explained, in 2013 “the senate instead decided to stick a finger in the eye of all of us and pass each of the planks individually—with the exception of the choice piece, which they did not even bring to the floor.”
Then this year, according to NARAL-NY, the senate passed eight stand-alone bills from the Equality Agenda, excluding the reproductive health measure and a bill that would have strengthened orders of protection for domestic violence victims.
As Liz Benjamin noted, there was much disappointment among New Yorkers that the governor, after making his announcement with much fanfare, didn’t seem to put a lot of political muscle behind pushing the Women’s Equality Act or the Reproductive Health Act, which was the sticking point for anti-choice Republicans, who adamantly refused to vote on the measure. (On the other hand, Miller said, there was concern from more progressive members of the assembly over the human trafficking part of the Women’s Equality Act, which would increase criminal penalties and give more power to law enforcement.)
But election time is drawing closer, and the governor finds himself facing a Democratic primary challenge from his left as well as Republican and Green Party challengers in the general election. There has been renewed pressure on Cuomo to reinforce his social-progressive bona fides. Benjamin reported that the governor flirted with other ideas for a new third party, including education and immigration, before settling on Women’s Equality. Perhaps polling data released by NARAL-NY, which shows that New Yorkers are three times more likely to vote for a politician who supports all ten points of the Women’s Equality Act—it’s even popular among Republicans—influenced the governor’s choice. The Working Families Party also made the Women’s Equality Act a key component of its deal to endorse the governor over law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is now running against Cuomo for the Democratic nomination.
Teachout told RH Reality Check via email, “The governor wanted, fought for, and had a Republican State Senate”—referring to the common criticism of the governor’s refusal to campaign for Democrats in 2012, while throwing his weight behind certain Republicans who had voted for marriage equality. She continued, “He blames the Republicans that he supported for his failure to pass the Women’s Equality Act. Then he uses the money he raises from Republicans and special interests to buy a cynical advertisement”—the Women’s Equality Party—“on the ballot touting his alleged support for women’s equality in a way designed to damage the WFP—a group he hates because they forced him to pretend to be a Democrat. You can’t make this stuff up.”
To understand why Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party might hurt another New York third party, you have to understand yet another complicated New York political issue: fusion voting. Through fusion, politicians are able to run as the candidate of multiple parties, so that Cuomo, a Democrat, will also appear as the Working Families Party’s nominee for governor, and provided he succeeds in getting enough signatures for the Women’s Equality Party, will be on that line as well. Rob Astorino will be the nominee of the Republican and Conservative parties this year and is seeking to create a ballot line in opposition to the Common Core education standards as well.
Once a party gets over 50,000 votes on its line for governor, it wins an official ballot line and does not have to petition to be on future state ballots. If it misses the 50,000 mark in a subsequent election, it has to go through the petitioning process again the next time. The Working Families Party got its ballot line in 1998 with its cross-endorsement of Democrat Peter Vallone, and has held onto its line by endorsing Democratic candidates for governor—including Cuomo, in 2010, who made the party sign on to his economically conservative agenda.
Fusion voting can be used to build an independent third party while avoiding the problem of potentially playing the spoiler and throwing a close election to Republicans, as the Working Families Party has done. In 2010, voters uncomfortable with Andrew Cuomo’s relatively conservative platform could express support for a more economically progressive agenda by voting for the governor on the Working Families Party line. Or, fusion can be used, as Astorino has already done this cycle, to bring attention to a particular issue. Voters who are disappointed in the Common Core but perhaps not otherwise Republicans can send a message by voting for Astorino on his anti-Common Core line. Presumably Cuomo believes that women’s issues are enough of a driver for votes this election year that a Women’s Equality ballot line would bring in votes that might not otherwise go his way.
This year, with polls showing that 24 percent of voters (the same amount of support that the Republican, Astorino, got) would support an unnamed Working Families Party candidate, the governor came to the table and made a deal that included a promise from the governor to actively support Democratic candidates (which he notably did not do in 2012), pressure the breakaway Independent Democratic Caucus to come back into the Democratic party, and push bills that included marijuana decriminalization, a minimum wage increase, and the Women’s Equality Act.
In response to the announcement of the Women’s Equality Party, Bill Lipton of the Working Families Party told RH Reality Check, “The Working Families Party has a long record of standing up for equality for women, from winning paid sick days in New York City to fighting for the ten planks of the Women’s Equality Act. This fall, we’re focused on electing a progressive Democratic and Working Families majority state senate, to unlock the progressive agenda, from Women’s Equality to raising the minimum wage to public financing of elections.”
To Bertha Lewis, the Women’s Equality Party is “absolutely” a move to pull votes away from the Working Families Party. What’s more, she noted, the governor had at one time tried to eliminate fusion voting entirely. “Yet you are bankrolling and spearheading a third party which would be a fusion party? Which is it, Andrew?” Lewis asked.
Cuomo could not be reached for comment by press time, so RH Reality Check was unable to ask whether he plans to build a lasting party infrastructure for the Women’s Equality Party or simply use it to draw attention to this particular piece of legislation in this particular campaign cycle. For Miller, that will depend on what happens this election and in the next legislative cycle, whether or not the full Women’s Equality Agenda or a version of the Reproductive Health Act are passed.
Lewis likened the possibilities for a Women’s Equality Party under Cuomo’s control to the fate of the Moreland Commission, established by the governor in July of 2013 to investigate corruption in New York State politics and then killed in March of 2014 after its investigations, according to a blockbuster story in last week’s New York Times, came too close to Cuomo himself. “Are you going to disband your women’s party if it does make the ballot and becomes an actual party? Are you going to disband it like you disbanded the Moreland Commission, because you created it, you control it and so you can do what you want with it?” Lewis asked.
There are more questions than answers when it comes to the Women’s Equality Party and its future: Who will be on its ballot line, besides Cuomo and Hochul (provided they fend off the primary challenges from Teachout and her running mate Tim Wu)? Will Congressional candidates spend the time and money to collect petition signatures? Will local assembly and senate candidates in tight races want to put in the time and effort? Who will decide whether candidates like state Sen. Diane Savino, who is staunchly pro-choice but who, as part of the Independent Democratic Caucus, helped block the Women’s Equality Act from passage?
Miller said that NARAL-NY, which is not involved with deciding who qualifies as part of a Women’s Equality Party, will be making its own endorsements. “We will certainly be sure to let voters know who NARAL Pro-Choice New York really does think is a champion for women’s equality and who has stood in the way,” she said.
Miller continued, “We have a tremendous opportunity in this election to make a real difference in the composition of the government in New York. We could in fact create a fully pro-choice pro-equality government.”
Perhaps the biggest question is whether Andrew Cuomo is the best person to be the face of such a government.
The post How New York’s Governor Is Playing Politics With Women’s Equality appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Ned Ryun and Becca Parker Ryun are a telegenic couple, who star in a heart-wrenching 65-second advertisement that targets North Carolina’s incumbent senator, Democrat Kay Hagan.
The Ryuns tell the story of their daughter, Charlotte, who was born severely premature—at 24 weeks gestation—but survived and thrived.
“I didn’t think, at 24 weeks, you could have a viable baby,” Becca tells the interviewer. “It’s a human being. It wants to live. It has a soul. It has a will. It has a desire to live,” says her husband, Ned.
The emotive video then shows images of the couple’s smiling daughter, as Ned says, “For those that are advocating late-term abortions, look at my daughter.”
The ad finishes with the message that Kay Hagan is “too extreme for North Carolina,” due to her support for later abortions.
It’s a slick production, and a moving story, paid for by the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-choice group, which announced last month that it was going on another advertising buying spree of up to $100,000, buying ads targeting Hagan, who is facing a tough battle to retain her seat in this year’s midterm elections.
The Susan B. Anthony List is known for misleading ads. In fact, earlier this year, it went to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend its right to lie in political advertisements.
So it may come as a small surprise that the ad tells only part of the story of the Ryuns, presented as an all-American couple, who could well be from North Carolina.
In reality, Ned Ryun has a long history as a Republican operative with close links to the Tea Party and the Koch brothers—context that may well change how viewers see the conclusions he and Becca drew from what was undoubtedly a deeply emotional, personal experience. Neither Ned Ryun nor the Susan B. Anthony List returned RH Reality Check’s requests for comment.
Ned and Becca Ryun don’t live in North Carolina. The couple lives in Purcellville, Virginia, with their four children.
Ned’s father is Jim Ryun, the former Republican U.S. Representative from Kansas who served ten years in Congress. Jim Ryun is best known for his achievements as an Olympic athlete (he was a Silver Medalist in the 1,500-meter race in the 1968 Mexico City games), and for his consistently conservative views. For instance, Jim Ryun voted against No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration’s marquee education law that was intended to boost poor-performing schools. People of all political persuasions objected to the law, but not for Ryun’s reasons: He voted “no” on the basis that states should have more control over education policy and rejected the need for additional funds. This, despite the fact that Kansas has some of the nation’s lowest performing public schools, and the greatest race-based inequality in educational opportunity. He also voted to ban adoptions by same-sex couples, to ban family planning as part of US foreign aid, and against an array of reproductive rights measures. His voting record earned him a zero rating from NARAL.
Jim Ryun now runs Christian running camps, where attendees “learn how to apply racing, training strategies, and as well as hear from top Christian athletes who will share how their faith has helped them reach their fullest potential.”
It’s not just Papa Ryun who is immersed in conservative politics.
Along with their dad, the Ryun brothers have turned Tea Party politics into a family business.
Drew and Jim Ryun are leaders of the ultra-conservative Madison Project, a group whose views of an array of things, including Europe, read more like the satirical news site The Onion.
Referring to many European countries’ policies on abortion, the Madison Project’s website says:
In Europe, the duly elected representatives in parliament decided the issue. Being that Europe is a morally decedent leftist utopia, they elected politicians who reflect their values.
Ned heads up American Majority Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity whose goal is to “create a national political training institute dedicated to recruiting, identifying, training and mentoring potential political leaders.”
While it claims to be non-partisan, American Majority Inc. says it is committed to promoting “individual freedom through limited government and the free market.” In reality, that has mostly meant the Tea Party. Ned even wrote a monthly column in The Spectator called “With the Tea Partiers.”
Like the brothers, American Majority Inc. has a twin—a 501(c)(4) called American Majority Action, which is led by Drew.
Together, the American Majority organizations have donated to numerous Tea Party groups across the country, according to the entities’ tax filings. In 2010 the American Majority apparatus gave $520,000 to radical groups, including $22,500 to the St. Louis Tea Party in Missouri; $5,000 to the Jefferson County Tea Party in Missouri; and $275,000 to Grassroots Outreach, a Tempe, Arizona-based firm that has been linked to voter fraud.
They have also made multiple donations to so-called 9/12 Project associations. The 9/12 Project is linked to Glenn Beck, and its goals include “tak[ing] over the Republican Party.”
The American Majority nonprofits are licensed to do business in at least 34 states, and have drawn controversy for tactics such as paying field staffers in Ohio up to $10 an hour to get out the vote during Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. Traditionally, field canvassers have been volunteers.
Just as interesting as who gets money from American Majority is who has donated to the Ryuns’ political operations.
An analysis by RH Reality Check, based on numbers collected by the Center for Media and Democracy, shows that American Majority received $3.9 million from DonorsTrust and its affiliated entity, the Donors Capital Fund, between 2010 and 2012. That puts American Majority among the top 15 recipients of DonorsTrust funds.
DonorsTrust is one of the largest pass-through entities for conservative giving. Essentially a legal form of money laundering, DonorsTrust facilitates contributions from anonymous donors to be channeled toward conservative groups they specify. The Center for Media and Democracy names DonorsTrust as a key component of the Koch brothers’ political web.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Donors entities distributed $252 million to a wide range of groups, including the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Mercatus Center (a bastion of libertarianism, partly founded by the Koch brothers, according to Daniel Schulman’s recently published history of the Koch family, Sons of Wichita), and the right-wing Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
And the Ryuns’ connections to the “Kochtopus” don’t end there.
According to The American Spectator, the idea for the American Majority groups “was conceived” by the Sam Adams Alliance, an organization that was active from 2007 through 2011, whose mission was to encourage “citizen engagement in politics, with specialties in studying and training citizen activists and bloggers.”
The alliance was headed by long-time ultra-conservative and libertarian Eric O’Keefe, who has been close to the Koch brothers for decades. According to his online biography, O’Keefe worked on the Libertarian Party presidential campaign in 1980, in which David Koch was drafted by his older brother, Charles, into running as the vice presidential candidate.
O’Keefe became close with another member of the Kochs’ inner circle, Ed Crane, who ran at the top of the Libertarian Party ticket and then spent the next few decades leading the Cato Institute, the extreme “free market” think tank that was almost entirely funded by the Kochs. O’Keefe joined Cato’s board in 1988. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, O’Keefe also worked for a group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was the predecessor to the Koch’s new funding vehicle, Americans for Prosperity.
Thanks to O’Keefe’s ideas about training citizen activists, the Ryuns are now emerging as potential rivals to Karl Rove, and his enormous political machine, as masters of the “shadow” conservative movement, where power is held not by elected representatives, or even by the Republican National Committee, but by a cadre of highly paid consultants and deep-pocketed donors.
In addition to American Majority, the brothers have established at least two other entities that feed into the extreme right’s political infrastructure.
In 2012, American Majority reported using nearly $900,000 from its nonprofits to support a new outfit, called Media Trackers, a site that says it is “dedicated to media accountability, government transparency, and quality fact-based journalism.”
In reality, Media Trackers has made claims about voter harassment in Wisconsin that PolitiFact later found were “mostly false,” and the group was active in attempting to undermine the Wisconsin effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
Media Trackers is “a project” of another nonprofit entity with the Orwellian name Greenhouse Solutions. Tax filings show that Ned’s brother, Drew, and their father, Jim, are on the board. (It’s noteworthy that of the three bills noted by American Majority Action in its 2011 tax filings as particular lobbying targets, one was the NATGAS Act, a bipartisan measure intended to support natural gas. The name “Greenhouse Solutions” appears to literally be the opposite of what the Ryuns work toward.)
However, perhaps the Ryuns’ most promising new entity is a voter database company known as Gravity. (It goes by iterations of that name—sometimes called Political Gravity, and sometimes, Voter Gravity.)
Political parties increasingly rely on sophisticated voter databases to win elections, and they’re willing to pay high premiums for the best data, and those who know how to wield it.
In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential race, the relative inferiority of his team’s database—known as Orca—became a key sore point for Republicans. Since then, competing teams in the shadow conservative world have been racing to build new systems to match up with the Democratic Party’s data tools—and with each other. Politico last year reported that the Koch brothers have established a political data company called i360, while Karl Rove’s group, Liberty Works, is also putting together a platform—each attempting to build the dominant conservative data tool.
And then there are the Ryun twins, whose Gravity platform was expected to pass 1 million voter contacts by late 2012, propelling them into the financial center of right-wing politics.
The company’s website boasts that “while Romney’s ‘Orca’ was going belly-up on Election Day, another group of conservatives were enjoying the fruits of labor that began long before voters headed to the polls.” Increasingly, they are being taken seriously as highly connected conservative heavyweights.
While none of this detracts from Ned and Becca Ryun’s experience with the premature birth of their daughter, it does change the way viewers might see the conclusions that the couples drew from that experience.
The Ryuns are far from being “everyday” North Carolinians. They are ensconced in the ultra-conservative movement, and their income derives from convincing the public of their very particular worldview.
It would be fair to say that, if North Carolina voters knew the reality of who the Ryuns are, they’d be less inclined to see Kay Hagan as an “extremist,” and more likely to look closely at what the Ryuns believe.
Moreover, Ned Ryun’s failure to disclose his conflicts of interest raises questions about how much trust can be placed in the views he expresses.
Not only did he and the Susan B. Anthony List neglect to mention Ned’s extensive Koch brothers connections, but neither group mentioned that they had worked together in the past, when they both helped to launch Ohio Life and Liberty in October 2012. Nor did Ned disclose that the Susan B. Anthony List had contributed $28,000 to his father’s political campaign. (Koch Industries contributed more than $86,000.)
But Ned Ryun’s failure to disclose even extends to his interest in Voter Gravity.
On the company’s Facebook page, a reviewer purrs about the quality of Gravity’s service: “It was a bit of a no brainer for me to use Voter Contact: They saved me lots of money and got me a better product.”
The reviewer gave Voter Gravity a five-star rating.
Political Gravity’s account then replies, “Thank you Mr. Ryun.”
That’s right. That reviewer was Ned Ryun, who replies—possibly to himself—“You bet. This is good stuff.”
If the Ryuns’ entity, Media Trackers, is intended to police truth in the media, perhaps they should take a look at themselves. Surely they’d see no conflict of interest with that, either.
Sofia Resnick contributed research to this report.
The post In North Carolina Elections, Misleading Susan B. Anthony List Ads Star Koch Brothers Operative appeared first on RH Reality Check.
07.30.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) New federal legislation was introduced today in the U.S. Senate that would guarantee all women who rely on the military for their health care—including active and non-active duty servicemembers and dependents—comprehensive coverage for contraceptives and family-planning counseling.
The “Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014” would bring the military’s health program, also known as TRICARE, in line with contraceptive coverage required in most health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. Under the proposed legislation, the nearly five million women eligible for TRICARE would have the same birth control coverage as federal employees.
The bill, which was introduced today by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and more than a dozen other Senators, would also ensure that women who depend on TRICARE for health coverage receive comprehensive family-planning counseling and improve access to emergency contraception for servicewomen who have been sexually assaulted.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Every woman, including the women who have bravely committed their lives to serving in the military, deserve equal and affordable access to health care coverage for themselves and their families.
“With the vast majority of servicewomen being of reproductive age, the benefits of expanding coverage of contraception and family planning services for those who rely on the military for their health care couldn’t be clearer.”
Women represent 16 percent of all active duty and reserve members of the military, with 97 percent of reproductive age. Currently, active-duty military have no cost-sharing for any prescriptions, while non-active-duty military dependents must pay cost-sharing for birth control acquired outside a military treatment facility.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that a Mississippi law that requires doctors performing abortions in the state to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional.
Signed into law in April 2012, HB 1390 is similar to measures passed in Texas, Wisconsin, and Alabama. Shortly before the law was set to take effect, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Dr. Willie Parker, challenged the law, arguing it unduly burdened abortion rights. A federal district court partially blocked the law in July 2012 and then later fully blocked it in April 2013.
Tuesday’s decision from the Fifth Circuit affirmed that decision blocking the law, but clarified that the scope of the ruling applies only to the plaintiffs challenging the Mississippi law at this time.
The Mississippi admitting privileges requirement is similar to a Texas law that a different panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit had previously upheld. But the difference in outcome between these two cases, according to a panel of judges Tuesday, hinged on whether or not Mississippi would lose its only clinic. The judges cited a 1938 Supreme Court decision, Gaines v. Canada, which held states cannot discriminate in the distribution of state services by relying on the availability of similar services in nearby states. “Gaines simply and plainly holds that a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights, a principle that obviously has trenchant relevance here,” the court wrote.
The majority of justices who upheld the decision to block the admitting privileges requirement conceded that when looking at the constitutionality of the Mississippi law, if it factored in the availability of clinics in neighboring states, their conclusion that the law is unconstitutional would likely change. But, according to the court, for purposes of analyzing the impact of the targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) requirement ,the correct course for the court is to only consider the impact of the law within that state’s borders. “We thus accept that, if these out-of-state clinics are properly considered in the undue burden analysis, the Act may well be upheld,” the majority wrote.
The court continued:
Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion. H.B. 1390 effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders. Gaines locks the gate for Mississippi to escape to another state’s protective umbrella and thus requires us to conduct the undue burden inquiry by looking only at the ability of Mississippi women to exercise their right within Mississippi’s borders.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, applauded the decision in a statement, but noted that access to reproductive health care remains under threat in Mississippi. “Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state,” Northrup said. “But there is still only one clinic in the entire state, and it is still threatened by a law advanced by politicians over the opposition of respected medical organizations, with the sole intent of closing that clinic permanently.”
Ceclie Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, “This ruling is not only a victory for women in Mississippi but for women across the region, as similar laws threaten to decimate access to safe, legal abortion in the south. For example, if this law went into effect in Mississippi, a woman in Jackson could be forced to make a 350-mile round trip to the next-closest provider in Baton Rouge — where similar restrictions are scheduled to go into effect this fall.”
The burden of traveling hundreds of miles to a neighboring state did not bother all of the Fifth Circuit judges who considered the Mississippi law. Judge Emilio Garza dissented from the majority decision blocking the law, remarking that “the majority holds that the mere act of crossing a state border imposes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to choose to obtain abortion services.”
Garza’s dissent goes on to criticize the majority opinion for not considering the availability of clinics in neighboring states and for concluding that the Mississippi law, should it be enforced against the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, thus closing the clinic, would only have an “incidental effect” of making abortion less accessible. But more troubling is Garza’s response to reproductive health-care advocates who claim that laws severely restricting abortion access in states like Mississippi and Texas have the effect of creating a patchwork of constitutional rights, with women in some states effectively having more access to safe abortion care than others. According to Garza, a state should be able to close, under the Constitution, all of the abortion clinics within its borders because a woman’s right to travel sufficiently protects her ability to access an abortion. “[T]he sole act of crossing a state border cannot, standing alone, constitute an unconstitutional undue burden on the abortion right because the Constitution envisions free mobility of persons without regard to state borders,” Garza wrote.
If all undue burden analyses must stop at state borders, the existence of an undue burden will depend, in part, on a plaintiff’s location relative to those boundaries. For instance, women in northern Mississippi who live a mere fifteen miles from the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, could never enjoin the closure of the clinic in that city, lest Mississippi be “excused from [its] performance.” But women just across the border in Tennessee could do so, if they demonstrate that the closure would impose an undue burden. This result is logically and practically untenable—all the more so in regions where populations are denser and urban areas often straddle state borders. The majority’s state-by-state undue burden analysis cannot be squared with the duty of all states to refrain from unduly burdening the right of “any person” to choose an abortion.
By Garza’s reasoning, the availability of any clinic anywhere in the country could preclude a court from finding an undue burden on abortion rights since residents in states with few or no clinics seemingly have the ability to travel for abortions when needed. But it is deeply cynical and intellectually dishonest to suggest, as Garza does, that women in Mississippi, right now, do not face an undue burden when accessing abortion care, compared to women in places like California, because abortion rights are federal rights.
Tuesday’s ruling is ultimately good news because it keeps open, for now, the state’s only abortion clinic. But there is not much to applaud in the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning, and there is plenty to be concerned about for future cases. To begin with, the court makes clear that the decision is limited to only the doctors challenging the Mississippi law at this time—meaning that should a new provider try to expand access in Mississippi, this fight could be re-ignited. Given that no hospital in the state would even process applications for admitting privileges, that future fight is a likely scenario.
Secondly, the decision affirms from Planned Parenthood v. Abbot (which upheld Texas’ admitting privileges requirement) that state restrictions on abortion access need only meet a “rational basis” standard, the lowest level of constitutional scrutiny applied to state restrictions of constitutional rights.
Lastly, even though the decision suggests that states cannot constitutionally target their only abortion clinic for closure, that conclusion is one the court quickly qualifies and retreats from in its opinion, leaving open the question of whether this conclusion will actually be a limiting principle on state power or not. Put another way: Even when the Fifth Circuit has the opportunity to affirm the fundamental constitutional personhood of women, it just can’t bring itself to do so.
The post Federal Appeals Court Rules Mississippi Can’t Close Its Only Clinic appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Nearly two weeks after a rally attended by at least a thousand people protesting water shutoffs in Detroit, which led to a 15-day suspension of new service cancellations, emergency manager Kevyn Orr issued an order giving Mayor Mike Duggan control over the city’s water department, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Duggan promised to have a “new plan shortly” to address the highly criticized effort to collect delinquent water bill payments. However, activists who have been protesting the shutoffs remain unconvinced that the change in leadership will have any tangible results.
“This order ensures a common focus on customer service and sound management practices that reflects the city’s commitment to refocusing its efforts to help DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewage Department] customers get and remain current on their water bills,” Orr said in a statement, according to the Detroit Free Press.
In March, the DWSD launched an effort to collect about $119 million in delinquent payments from more than 150,000 customers and reduce the department’s $5.7 billion debt load. Since then, 17,000 residents have had their water shut off, including 7,556 residents in April and May and another 7,210 residents in June alone.
“I’ve heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices,” Duggan said during the announcement. “We’ve got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements.”
Council member Mary Sheffield previously told RH Reality Check that her office has received several calls from people who have been paying their bills but are still getting shutoff notices. “People are also complaining about vacant homes with running water that can help drive up cost, that the department is now seeking residents to pay for,” said Sheffield.
Human rights organizations also have raised concerns that the shutoffs are punishing low-income residents specifically. A report from Demos characterized the program as “mass enforcement to discipline the people” and as a “misuse of the right to deny service.” Moreover, the United Nations released a statement saying that “disconnecting water from people who cannot pay their bills is an affront to their human rights.”
The department’s aggressive collection efforts have led advocates and local organizations to form the People’s Water Board Coalition, which is advocating for access to and the protection and conservation of water for Detroit residents. The coalition comprises a number of community groups, including social justice, environmental, labor, and conservation organizations.
Shea Howell of the Boggs Center and Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (which is a member of the People’s Water Board Coalition), told RH Reality Check in a statement that the shift in leadership of the water department back to an elected official is a welcome change. “It is obvious that the emergency manager is unable to respond in a humane, fair, swift, and effective way in the face of a mounting human crisis and international embarrassment,” said Howell.
During a recent protest, residents called for a moratorium on all water service shutoffs. However, after a moratorium was put in place activists remained skeptical. “As excited as I am about the 15-day moratorium, I am under no illusion that the struggle has been won,” Tawana Petty previously told RH Reality Check.
“The change was probably more abrupt than it needed to be,” Duggan told WXYZ-TV Detroit. “We’re going to do our best to distinguish between those who genuinely are delinquent and can pay and we are going to treat them appropriately.”
Duggan said that his office is building a plan with the DWSD that will assist residents in need of financial help, and will shorten wait times for those seeking to make payment arrangements for delinquent bills. More advanced warning on water shutoffs, more outreach to the community, and a gathering of more resources for low-income residents also will be a part of the plan.
“I’m really focused right now on improving support to those who want to make payment arrangements or those who are in need, and so I expect in the next week we will come out with a plan jointly with the water department and we will address it more effectively than it has been so far,” said Duggan.
Howell says it remains to be seen if the mayor will be able to address the situation any better than the emergency manager. “Thus far his responses have been disappointing and do not show any understanding of the dimensions of the human suffering that is going on nor of the systemic collapse of the efforts to see water as a revenue source, not a human right,” said Howell.
“His most egregious comments continue to make it sound as though this crisis is the result of a few people who are choosing not to pay their bills,” Howell continued. “He is attempting to turn one Detroiter against another at the very moment when public leaders should be encouraging turning to each other for support and sustenance and safety.”
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On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to stay a trial on regulations that severely limit medication abortions in the state.
The regulations, which were issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services at the end of January, under the authority of a law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012, restrict the use of medication abortions by requiring providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol. Shortly after the regulations were issued, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued to block them, arguing that they threatened to end entirely the availability of medication abortion in the state. A lower court initially refused to block the regulations. In June, a unanimous panel of judges for the Ninth Circuit ruled the justifications for the limitations were “non-existent,” ordered the law blocked, and returned the case to the lower court for a trial on the constitutionality of the restrictions.
The latest order from the Ninth Circuit puts that trial—and the law—on hold for 90 days while attorneys for the state ask the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s order.
According to attorneys for Arizona, the split in the federal circuit is over the extent to which states may regulate medication abortions. “As indicated in the opinion the circuits have not merely split on the facial validity of medication abortion regulations,” attorneys for the state wrote. “They have split on the more fundamental question of how a reviewing court determines whether any rational abortion regulation creates, on its face, a substantial obstacle under Casey.”
The Ninth Circuit decision differs from federal appeal court rulings on similar laws in both the fifth and sixth circuits; it represents a split attorneys for Arizona characterized as “significant” and reason enough for the Supreme Court to take up their request. “Because of this, there is a reasonable probability that four members of the Supreme Court would consider the underlying issue sufficiently meritorious for the grant of certiorari and there is a significant possibility that the Supreme Court will reverse the decision,” continued the state.
Monday’s order from the Ninth Circuit stated that, assuming attorneys for Arizona file their request for review with the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit’s stay would remain in effect pending any final disposition of the case by the high court. So far the Supreme Court has declined to get involved in state battles over medication abortion restrictions, most recently rejecting a challenge to an Oklahoma law that effectively banned medication abortions entirely.
The post Ninth Circuit Puts Trial Over Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions on Hold appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Pamela Harris to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, jumpstarting the stalled fight over President Obama’s judicial nominees.
The Senate confirmed Harris by a 50-43 vote, taking up her nomination before that of Jill Pryor, a nominee to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and deviating from the typical practice of voting for judges in order.
Pryor has been waiting since mid-June for a confirmation vote from the Senate. Pryor’s nomination was part of a package deal with Republicans that included the nomination of Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs to the federal district court. Boggs’ nomination has come under fire from advocacy organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and civil rights leaders who question his past support of a host of anti-choice and anti-equality measures. Concern over the Boggs nomination has reached Senate Democrats, who have one by one announced opposition to Boggs, leaving the nomination in limbo.
The legal community broadly supported Harris’ nomination, and she received a unanimous “Well Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. A former appellate litigator from the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and a senior advisor to Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, Harris has described her view of the Constitution as a “profoundly progressive document,” a statement Republicans like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) used as a basis of their opposition to Harris.
In a veiled reference to Pryor and Boggs’ nominations, Grassley accused Democrats of skipping past other circuit court nominees to move quickly on Harris’ nomination in an effort to “stack” the court while it considers legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. “The other side wants to stack the Fourth Circuit just like they did the D.C. Circuit,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “Because the Fourth Circuit hears a disproportionate number [of] significant cases involving federal law and regulations, just like the D.C. Circuit. So my colleagues should understand that a vote for this nominee is also a solid vote for Obamacare as the cases make their way through that court.”
It was the battle over President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and repeated Republican obstructionist tactics that prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to invoke the so-called nuclear option and change Senate rules to prevent the filibuster of most presidential appointments.
Harris’ appointment to the Fourth Circuit is an important one and in many ways represents a snapshot of the evolving federal judiciary under the Obama administration. The Fourth Circuit was once considered one of the more conservative federal appeals courts in the country, but thanks to a slew of appointments by President Obama it has become more centrist, with a majority of the 15-member court appointed under a Democratic president. As a private practice attorney, Harris reflects that centrist approach.
Harris’ appointment makes her only the sixth woman ever to sit on the Fourth Circuit, and brings the percentage of active female appellate judges overall to nearly 35 percent.
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