Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


SOME ADULT BEHAVIOR AT BOARD OF ED MEETINGS WOULDN'T BE TOLERATED IN SCHOOLS: Berating, belittling, cursing and threatening. Seeing and hearing it from audiences has become all-too-common at local government meetings – particularly at local school boards. It is the kind of behavior we’re sure -- if any of those speakers saw it on a visit to a public school among students or teachers – would ignite justifiable shock and concern for decorum and safety. At a recent Wake County Board of Education meeting a woman crossed a security barrier to “serve” legal papers on the board members threatening court action unless they reversed school staff and student protective health mask mandates and stopped testing for COVID-19 infections. “Don’t make me come back here,” she threatened. A short while later, another speaker addressed the board’s attorney as “homeboy.” Wake School Board member Jim Martin termed the speaker’s reference as “hate speech.” There’s certainly no abridgement of free speech on display. Does this behavior get anyone to listen? It's no coincidence that threats and intimidation at local government meetings increased in the year following Trump's attempted coup. It's taken way too long for the wheels of justice to punish those traitors, and we're seeing the effects of that delay on Main Street USA.

WHAT'S THE ENDGAME ON ELECTIONS FOR REPUBLICANS? For a year now, the Republican Party has carried out a strategy in state legislatures across the country designed to further the January 6 insurrection in a less brutal, legalized form, immune from the interruptions of police offices and prosecutors. The sweeping plan is meant to assure that when a Republican presidential candidate loses (again) in 2024, he can claim that he won and have, at his disposal, an infrastructure to secure the reversal. Some measures, proposed or adopted, make it easier for Republican legislatures, astonishingly, to reject a decision by the voters if they disagree with it. Some changes substitute partisan hacks for professional, traditionally independent election officials. Some try to intimidate local officers through the specter of criminal prosecution. All aim to assure that when Donald Trump, or someone like him, fails to obtain a majority vote, he can become president anyway, democracy be damned. The American idea, the theory apparently goes, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. This Trump-abetting anti-democratic agenda has now become the defining, foundational tenet of the Grand Old Party. The be all, end all. It has taken some time, I’ll concede, to let that sink in. I’m among the naïve crowd that never thought this could happen in what we used to call the world’s greatest democracy. Of course no one says that anymore. But now that the pattern is set, the course undeniable, it is important to inquire further. If one of America’s two major parties is now opposed to democracy, what, exactly, are they for? If majority rule is passé, destined for the dustbin of history, what replaces it? If the majority doesn’t win, and, thereby, rule, who does? Majority rule, consent of the most of the governed, is, after all a principle of governing. If it is to be cast aside, then who will become the “deciders”? The minority? Surely not just any minority of voters, because there are a lot of those. Is it just the Republican minority? Any Republican minority? Or just some Republican minorities? Like white Republicans, or Trump Republicans? We've gone down the populist rabbit-hole, and the only way out is to back up until we feel the Sun's rays warming our asses again. We're not going to get there by adopting Trump's tactics of using misinformation and hyperbole to enrage the masses, that would simply drive us deeper underground.

WHY CAN'T WE MAKE WOMEN'S EQUALITY THE LAW OF THE LAND? Those words, which begin, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” are the text of the Equal Rights Amendment. Section 3 of the amendment states that it takes effect two years after its ratification, which happened Jan. 27, 2020, when Virginia became the 38th state to sign on. By its own terms, then, the 28th Amendment went into force Thursday. American women are, at long last, equal to men in the eyes of the law. Hallelujah. Or maybe not. New printings of the Constitution will not include a 28th Amendment. The Supreme Court will not treat it as part of the nation’s fundamental law. There will be no command from on high that women and men must be treated the same. And yet Thursday, President Joe Biden called on Congress “to act immediately to pass a resolution recognizing” that the ERA has been properly ratified and is part of the Constitution. What’s going on? The technical reason for this is that the archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, has declined to certify the ERA, despite a federal law requiring him to do so whenever an amendment has satisfied “the provisions of the Constitution.” His refusal is based on a Jan. 6, 2020 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the executive branch. The memo contended that the ERA is no longer valid because it failed to meet the seven-year deadline that Congress initially set and then, when the ratification effort fell three states short, extended until 1982. (The last three states — Nevada, Illinois and Virginia — all ratified after 2016, spurred by the election of Donald Trump.) The office’s memo also noted that five states that approved the amendment later tried to back out by rescinding their ratifications. As a result of the missed deadline, the memo said, the ERA “has expired and is no longer pending before the states.” If its supporters want it ratified, they need to start over. And of course there's no way in hell 2/3 of our current Congress would vote to pass it again, which says more about their character than they would ever admit.

JOE BIDEN HAS BEEN FIGHTING SUPREME COURT OVERREACH FOR DECADES: On July 26, 2000, a prominent U.S. senator took the floor to condemn what he called the “imperial judiciary.” He argued that the “judicial activism” that liberals were regularly accused of was standard operating procedure for the right: “It is now conservative judges who are supplanting the judgment of the people’s representatives and substituting their own for that of the Congress and the president.” More than two decades ago, this senator even seemed to anticipate the Supreme Court’s overreach this month in misreading — or not reading — the Occupational Safety and Health Act to overturn the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for private employers. “This Supreme Court,” he said in 2000, “is seizing the power to make important social decisions that, under our constitutional system of government, are properly made by elected representatives who answer to the people, unlike the court.” “What is at issue here,” the senator declared, “is the question of power, who wants it, who has it, and who controls it.” The voice in question is that of Joe Biden. The prescience of the future president in anticipating the dangers an arrogant right-wing Supreme Court majority would pose to democracy explains why the coming debate over a successor to Justice Stephen G. Breyer is so important. A new justice will not dent the court’s majority of Republican-appointed justices. But the coming weeks will provide an exceptional opportunity to underscore the imperative of fighting back against ideologues in robes. They are ready to do further damage to voting rights and to eviscerate the government’s ability to protect Americans through economic, labor, environmental and health regulations. Their eagerness to rip up precedents — the next sally, it would appear, will be on affirmative action — speaks to a flight from one of conservatism’s most valuable virtues: prudence. In the meantime, the Republicans’ stale rhetoric can only bring home the point Biden made years ago. Typical was Thursday’s statement from Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. He warned Biden against “catering to the far-left by selecting a nominee who will legislate from the bench and push their preferred liberal policy objectives.” Sorry, Senator. The folks “legislating from the bench” in the name of their preferred policy objectives are members of the current conservative majority. As I said, if they are complaining about something, it's a good bet they are actually guilty of it.

THE SHADOW PANDEMIC: ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE IS GROWING: Another global health crisis is unfolding in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Antimicrobial resistance, the tendency of bacteria and other pathogens to evolve so they fight or evade lifesaving drugs, is a long-term threat to modern medicine. A new study, drawing from a vast array of data, estimates that 1.27 million deaths were caused worldwide by bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019, exceeding the combined toll of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Only ischemic heart disease and stroke that year accounted for more deaths. This is a long-festering problem that resembles climate change — a slow but escalating tide of danger, requiring action on many fronts. The new study suggests some of the poorest corners of the earth are suffering the highest burdens of antimicrobial resistance. In 2014, a major report on antimicrobial resistance by British economist Jim O’Neill estimated that it was responsible for at least 700,000 deaths worldwide each year. The new study, based on data from 204 countries and territories, took into account 471 million individual records or samples, and examined 23 bacterial pathogens and 88 drug-pathogen combinations. It used statistical modeling to estimate direct deaths at nearly twice the earlier figure, a more comprehensive picture of the global burden of antibiotic resistance than was available until now. What’s at stake is the effectiveness of antibiotics, essential for surgery, chemotherapy, organ transplants and other medical procedures. Antibiotics were “wonder drugs” when discovered in the past century, starting with penicillin, but it has been known for decades that bacteria evolve to resist the drugs — and that overuse and abuse of antibiotics in human health and agriculture have contributed to the problem. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019 urged Americans to “Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era — it’s already here.” The study found that deaths because of antimicrobial resistance in the United States had dropped 18 percent since a 2013 report, largely due to improved procedures in hospitals, while pointing to continuing challenges outside health care. Yes, doctors should definitely stop prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed, but patients need to stop asking for (demanding) them also. We have been conditioned to expect a prescription of some sort, and get angry if we don't have one or two in our hands after paying for a doctor visit. Here's a clue: when you kill off all your stomach biota, synthesizing proteins and nitrates and such is more difficult, which makes fighting disease more difficult.


NADIYA YERICH: ABORTIONS WILL CONTINUE, MAKE SURE THEY ARE DONE SAFELY: Who truly believes restrictive abortion laws will stop abortions from happening? What is more than likely is that women will seek out abortions in unsafe ways. I hope the day never comes when I, as a doctor, must provide care to a woman who purposefully fell down the stairs or asked their friend to hit their belly with a frying pan to end an unintended pregnancy. Women have sought abortions for millennia for many reasons — rape and incest, yes, but also lack of financial resources, including the need to focus on other children, bad timing, and health-related reasons. They will keep doing so whether abortion is legal or not. Abortion is, in fact, a part of women’s healthcare. Let’s help women be able to at least obtain one safely and legally — in a doctor’s office. I agree with this 100%, but unfortunately, most of the rabid anti-abortion crowd would gladly see women suffer and die if they're not willing to be dutiful handmaidens.

LAURIE MCDOWELL: THE HYPOCRISY OF NC REPUBLICANS' GAS TAX CONCERNS: Regarding Republicans questioning Gov. Roy Cooper over the loss of gas tax revenue as people switch to electric cars (Jan 25)... Republicans legislators are the ones who gleefully eliminated the corporate income tax, and with their last budget permanently reduced revenue the state needs for every area of the budget. These are the same Republicans who refuse to expand Medicaid and who ignore the judicial branch by refusing to fund public schools. In other countries, there are beautiful and safe bridges. There are transportation systems that don’t require everyone to drive a car. There are parks and museums and social safety nets for citizens and non-citizens. What a country we would have, if our government used tax revenue for the benefit of all. If the NC GOP is complaining about something, it's a good bet they are (more) guilty of it than the target of their criticism.

DOROTHY HUNT: ANTI-ABORTION ACTIVISTS HAVE QUESTIONS TO ANSWER: Monica Hesse, in her Jan. 22 Style column, “How would abortion foes aid parents?,” posed some of the most important questions that I and so many women would ask if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the conservatives on the Supreme Court. What would any of those young women, many of them just teenagers, do after reproductive rights were denied? As with so many of those who are antiabortion, they really haven’t thought through all that a baby and their parents will need after birth. I want all those at the antiabortion rally to give real-world answers to Ms. Hesse’s questions, and not just “prayer” and “well, we can adopt them.” They have no answers, at least none that are genuinely helpful. Because other people's children only matter right up to the second they draw their first breath. After that, YOYO.



What we are losing with Breyer's retirement...

A lot of (well-respected) friends have applauded Stephen Breyer for his decision, and considering the recent deterioration of the character of the U.S. Supreme Court, I can understand why. But we can't let pragmatic political concerns overshadow Breyer's contributions, especially in the area of defending a woman's body autonomy and right to choose. But I'll let Justice Breyer himself make that point:

Turning to the merits, we apply the constitutional standards set forth in our earlier abortion-related cases, and in particular in Casey and Whole Woman’s Health. At the risk of repetition, we remind the reader of the standards we described above. In Whole Woman’s Health, we quoted Casey in explaining that “ ‘a statute which, while furthering [a] valid state interest has the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice cannot be considered a permissible means of serving its legitimate ends.’ ” 579 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (quoting Casey, 505 U. S., at 877 (plurality opinion)). We added that “ ‘[u]nnecessary health regulations’ ” impose an unconstitutional “ ‘undue burden’ ” if they have “‘the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.’ ” 579 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 19) (quoting Casey, 505 U. S., at 878; emphasis added).

Justice Breyer is acutely aware of the disingenuous tactics being deployed by the anti-abortion movement, and he is not afraid to call them out. He is also not afraid to expose the real-world consequences of said tactics:

Even if they obtain an appointment at a clinic, women who might previously have gone to a clinic in Baton Rouge or Shreveport would face increased driving distances. New Orleans is nearly a five hour drive from Shreveport; it is over an hour from Baton Rouge; and Baton Rouge is more than four hours from Shreveport. The impact of those increases would be magnified by Louisiana’s requirement
that every woman undergo an ultrasound and receive mandatory counseling at least 24 hours before an abortion. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §40:1061.10(D) . A Shreveport resident seeking an abortion who might previously have obtained care at one of that city’s lo cal clinics would either have to spend nearly 20 hours driving back and forth to Doe 5’s clinic twice, or else find overnight lodging in New Orleans.
As the District Court stated, both experts and laypersons testified that the burdens of this increased travel would fall disproportionately on poor women, who are least able to absorb them. App. 106–107, 178, 502–508, 543; see also id., at 311–312.

He was also not afraid to argue the merits of partial-birth abortions, not giving an inch in defense of women's health:

Consequently, the governing standard requires an exception "where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment for the preservation of the life or health of the mother," Casey, supra, at 879, for this Court has made clear that a State may promote but not endanger a woman's health when it regulates the methods of abortion. Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 476 U. S. 747, 768-769 (1986); Colautti v. Franklin, 439 U. S. 379, 400 (1979); Danforth, 428 U. S., at 76-79; Doe v. Bolton, 410 U. S. 179, 197 (1973).

JUSTICE THOMAS says that the cases just cited limit this principle to situations where the pregnancy itself creates a threat to health. See post, at 1010. He is wrong. The cited cases, reaffirmed in Casey, recognize that a State cannot subject women's health to significant risks both in that context, and also where state regulations force women to use riskier methods of abortion. Our cases have repeatedly invalidated statutes that in the process of regulating the methods of abortion, imposed significant health risks. They make clear that a risk to a women's health is the same whether it happens to arise from regulating a particular method of abortion, or from barring abortion entirely. Our holding does not go beyond those cases, as ratified in Casey.

In sum, using this law some present prosecutors and future Attorneys General may choose to pursue physicians who use D&E procedures, the most commonly used method for performing previability second trimester abortions. All those who perform abortion procedures using that method must fear prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment. The result is an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision. We must consequently find the statute unconstitutional.

That last part is critical, because it directly connects the legal peril of doctors to a woman's Constitutional right to choose. They are not separate, they are integrally linked, which is why abortion opponents have pushed for such laws.

Breyer knows this, and whomever is chosen as his successor must be able to grasp and argue the same way.