TRIANGLE NEWS BRIEFS FOR 7-5-12
CARY, RALEIGH AMONG FASTEST GROWING US CITIES
According to recently released Us Census figures, Cary and Raleigh were among the fastest growing US cities at the start of the decade. Cary was the ninth fastest growing city as of July 2011, with a 3.2 percent spurt, resulting in 139,000 residents. Raleigh ranked right behind in 10th place, according to the stats, with a 3.1 percent rise during that same period with 416,468 population. The number one city in the US for population growth was New Orleans, with 4.9 percent.
CRYSTAL MANGUM WANTS MURDER CHARGES DISMISSED
Crystal Mangum, the accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case who now faces murder charges in the stabbing death of her boyfriend, is asking Durham Superior Court not only for a reduction in her $200,000 bail, but dismissal of her April 2011 murder and larceny charges. Mangum, 33, has been held in the Durham County jail ever since she allegedly stabbed Reginald Daye, 46, in their home during a domestic dispute. Her latest court-appointed attorney maintains that she stabbed Daye in self-defense.
KINDERGARTEN ENROLLMENT CONFIRMS FUTURE RACIAL IMBALANCE UNDER WAKE CHOICE PLAN
Based on its own figures, kindergarten enrollment this fall under the Wake County Public School System’s current school choice plan would result in a “racial imbalance” in the system, with white children being accepted in suburban schools, and black and Hispanic students relegated to inner city schools. The stats add fuel to the Democratic Wake School Board majority’s argument for developing a new base address assignment plan with elements of stability, proximity, student achievement and diversity in order to prevent a projected growth in high poverty schools systemwide.-30
STATE NEWS BRIEFS FOR 7-5-12
NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY GOES HOME AFTER OVERRIDING PERDUE VETOES
[RALEIGH] The Republican-led NC General Assembly has finished its work for its 2012 short session, gutting the NC Racial Justice Act, passing a $20 billion budget that many says shortchanges public education, passing a fracking bill and ultimately ignoring compensation to victims of the state’s forced sterilization program. When Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed the GOP budget, Racial Justice Act and fracking, but Republican majorities in both the state House and Senate - with help from several conservative Democrats - voted successfully to override Perdue’s vetoes. Lawmakers, however, did not take up voter ID legislation. Both houses adjourned Tuesday until next January.
THREE-DAY HEATWAVE EVEN MADE ROAD BUCKLE
[CARY] With temperatures reaching highs of 105 degrees, heat records were broken last weekend across North Carolina. At one point, a part of I-440 near the Crossroads exit in Cary buckled and broke apart, forcing authorities to re-rout amazed motorists with DOT crews fixed the breach. People were urged to stay indoors, an drink plenty of fluids.
OVER 100 DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOMICIDES IN 2011, NC ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS
[GREENSBORO] There were 106 deaths by domestic violence in 2011, one less than the previous year, the North Carolina State Attorney General’s Office says. According to records, 68 of the victims were female, while 38 were men. At least 13 of the victims had protective orders against their killers. State Atty. General Roy Cooper says the state could better supervise probation for abusers to further lower deaths.
Sen. Hagan with Francis Packingham of Graham (Photo courtesy of Sen. Hagan's office)
Hagan Honors Montford Point Marines
at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony
Special to The Carolinian Newspaper
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] U.S. Senator Kay R. Hagan (NC) today honored the Montford Point Marines, the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, during a ceremony in Washington, DC. Approximately 400 Montford Point Marines, including 32 North Carolinians, traveled to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, for their historic and dedicated service during World War II.
“In the face of intolerance, the Montford Point Marines served our country with honor and distinction,” said Hagan. “They forged a new path within our armed services, and for that, they are not only trailblazers, but true heroes. I am so pleased that today, these brave men – and their families – are finally getting the recognition they deserve.”
Senator Hagan was the lead Senate sponsor of legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. Hagan introduced the Congressional Gold Medal bill on September 8, 2012 with Senators Richard Burr (NC), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Pat Roberts (KS), and Charles Schumer (NY). The House passed the bill on October 25, and on November 9, in advance of Veterans Day and the Marine Corps’ 236th anniversary, the Senate unanimously passed the legislation to grant long overdue recognition to the Montford Point Marines.
The Congressional Gold Medal was designed and approved by the Montford Point Marine Association, the Marine Corps and the U.S. Mint. Each Montford Point Marine in attendance will receive a bronze replica of the medal Thursday during a parade hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Barracks Washington.
Nearly 20,000 Montford Point Marines trained at segregated Camp Montford Point, near Jacksonville, North Carolina between 1942 and 1949. African Americans were integrated into the armed forces in 1941 as a result of an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The executive order, which established the Fair Employment Practices Commission, stated that "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin." Many Montford Point Marines participated in the Pacific Theatre Campaign of World War II, and many went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam.
HIGH COURT HEALTH CARE DECISION
MAY BE PROBLEM FOR BLACKS, PROF. JOYNER SAYS
By Cash Michaels
What is being hailed as a landmark US Supreme Court decision preserving President Barack Obama’s historic health care reform act, may prove ultimately problematic for blacks in future high court rulings, a prominent law professor says.
Attorney Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in Durham, has joined other legal analysts across the nation in hailing the high court’s 5 - 4 decision June 28th in favor of the Affordable Care Act, and particularly the tiebreaking opinion of conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that the individual mandate, the law’s mechanism that compels noncompliant citizens who can afford health insurance, to purchase it, is a tax, and thus constitutional.
“This view merely endorsed one of three constitutional justifications which the Obama Administration presented to the Supreme Court in its briefs and oral arguments,” Professor Joyner wrote. “This view is supported by the law which says that when a person does not purchase health insurance, the Internal Revenue Service and the individual factors related to this "penalty" legally qualified it as a tax. The opinion said that the use of tax incentives to promote citizens to engage in conduct was not new and cited tax incentives to buy cars, homes or to obtain a college education, etc.”
But in doing so, Prof. Joyner continued, Justice Roberts also agreed with his conservative colleagues, who wrote in their minority dissenting opinions that Congress did not have the constitutional power to enforce compliance with the individual mandate through the Commerce Clause, because that would be forcing American citizens to make purchases (in this health insurance) by federal mandate.
“By a five to four vote, the Court decided against this application of the constitution,” Prof. Joyner said. “In doing so, the Court significantly limited the authority of Congress to rely upon the Commerce Clause to support federal law.”
According to Cornell University Law School, “The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”
As it relates to civil rights, the Cornell University Law School interpretations says, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation and prohibited discrimination against African-Americans, was passed under the Commerce Clause in order to allow the federal government to charge non-state actors with Equal Protection violations, which it had been unable to do up to that point because of the Fourteenth Amendment’s limited application to state actors. The Supreme Court found that Congress had the authority to regulate a business that served mostly interstate travelers in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. 379 U.S. 241 (1964). It also ruled that the federal civil rights legislation could be used to regulate a restaurant, Ollie’s Barbeque, a family-owned restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama because, although most of Ollie’s customers were local, the restaurant served food which had previously crossed state lines.”
So while the Commerce Clause has been used to force states and businesses to stop racial discrimination, it cannot be used to force citizens to purchase goods and services, according to Justice Roberts prevailing opinion last week.
That constitutional limitation of federal power is the problem Joyner sees coming back to bite civil rights cases on the docket for consideration during the next Supreme Court term.
“This limiting of the reach of the Commerce Clause, as described by Roberts and adopted by the conservatives on the Court, can and will probably come up again when the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act is reviewed by the Supreme Court in the next Supreme Court session beginning in October,” Prof. Joyner warns.
“The limiting of the reach of the Commerce Clause can be used to serve as a restraint on Congress' power to enact and continue laws pursuant to the 15th Amendment right to vote and the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The Voting Rights Act, a limited-timed enactment, does not have a tax component to it.”
Meaning that now, it can be legally challenged as an overreach of Congressional power, Joyner maintains.
“So while people can and should celebrate the Court's opinion as it relates to health care, we should be wary of the expected consequences of this decision as it will relate to other constitutional issues which the Court will address in the near future,” Prof. Joyner continues. “Those other cases will probably have a more profound impact on the rights of African-Americans and racial minorities than does the health care legislation.”
“That's not to say that health care is unimportant,” the law professor continued, “but it offers some cautionary concerns for the possible impact of other aspects of the Supreme Court's opinion.”
Prof. Joyner is not alone in that opinion.
On MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” program last Sunday, one of her guests, Kenji Yoshino, constitutional law professor at New York University, echoed Prof. Joyner’s concerns.
“I think that there are two concerns here that progressives could have, and two things that conservatives could celebrate on the Obama care decision from a juror’s reaction perspective, Prof. Yoshino said. “One is that, [Chief Justice Roberts] actually did ratchet back both the [congressional] commerce power, and the spending power. And both of those powers have traditionally been used to expand federal government power. So, although he expanded a bit of a taxing power, that`s only one of these three powers. Traditionally, the other two have been the aces that Congress has used. Not the taxing power, but rather the commerce power and the spending power. So, he ratcheted both those back. That`s point number one.”
Prof. Yoshino continued, “Point number two, going into next term and in to the future, and really the rest of the chief justice-ship, [Roberts] is now bullet proof, right? So, I think that progressives can warn this and conservatives can celebrate this. And that we have a lot of big ticket civil rights cases coming out next term, not just the defense of marriage act or the Perry case coming from California. Not just voting rights act, not just the… affirmative action case, the fisher case, we know basically I think Roberts’ views on affirmative action, given the Seattle school district case.”
Justice Roberts opposes affirmative action, and can now join conservatives on the high court in further limiting its scope per Congress’ legislative authority to mandate it.
Andrea Campbell, a political scientist at MIT, said through the MIT News Office, also concurs, saying flatly in a June 28th article that Justice Roberts’ opinion, “…is a very narrow reading of the Commerce Clause, which might spell trouble in the future for the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.”
CASH IN THE APPLE
By Cash Michaels
DECENCY IN THE MIDST OF VULGARITY - Every year I always know when the BET Awards are on because Facebook starts buzzing about all of the embarrassing moments.
You see, I don’t watch the Black Entertainment Awards, because I don’t watch BET. The white-owned black channel lost me a long time ago with its vulgar black rap videos which portrayed black boys as hoods, and black girls as prostitutes in the making.
Add to that BET getting rid of all of its news and public affairs programming, and I was totally through with this flim-flam operation.
The hurt of it all was that so-called “upper” middle-class negroes, namely Bob Johnson, the former owner; and Debra Lee, the current president and CEO, were making money hand over fist from feeding our young people that mess, without apology I might add.
Johnson, before he sold off his ownership to Viacom, Inc. - the white-owned communications company that also owns MTV, VH-1, Paramount Pictures and CBS - always got by with the excuse that all he was doing in playing those disgusting rap videos was satisfying the market for it. And as a businessman, he would not judge the market’s artistic taste.
Man, if this wasn’t family newspaper, I’d tell you exactly what I said when I first heard that barnyard load of cowpile.
So why am I dredging this up?
Because last Sunday, as always, when the BET Awards came on, I wasn’t watching. I didn’t even know they were on. Only when, while on Facebook, when I noticed folks commenting on how great Frankie Beverly and Maze were performing, did I even become interested.
Finally, I gave in to my better instinct, and tuned in around 10:30 p.m.. Unbeknownst to me, viewers had already undergone a multi-assault of cuss words and vulgarities from various performers, “showing their a--,” as they used to say.
What I did see was Samuel L. Jackson, the Hollywood actor who once said he wouldn’t act with rap artists, acting as host of the show. And, I also saw Jay-Z and Kanye West win an award.
Then, during a heartfelt tribute to the late Whitney Houston, I saw Mariah Carey remember her good friend, gospel singer Monica deliver a great song, Brandy try hard to act like a music performer, and Whitney’s brother sing a song I never heard of.
All was pretty ho-hum…until Cissy Houston, Whitney’s famous gospel singing mother, step on stage to sing a special tribute song to her daughter, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
In that instance, with loving pictures of Whitney projected behind her, and tears…REAL tears rolling down the faces of top stars like Beyonce’ and Jamie Foxx in the audience, Cissy Houston was able to literally turn the BET Awards upside down, and make the occasion something we could all be proud of.
After the tribute was over, you had to wipe your eyes, and ask yourself, “Why can’t the BET Awards be a classy affairs EVERY year? Why must many, (not most, and not all, but far too many) black artists be so stupid, careless and profane?
Why must they embarrass us, and themselves, with such ignorant behavior?
Thank GOD someone like Cissy Houston was there this year. She wasn’t trying to sell anything or show off.
She was simply a grieving mother, paying tribute to her late daughter, five months after her death.
One would hope that the nobility of Cissy Houston would teach these no-talent idiots who can’t sing, and don’t have one-tenth the talent of a Whitney Houston, that they have taken black music to the toilet.
And thanks to them, and their vulgar behavior before the world, it won’t be coming back anytime soon.
That’s a shame, especially for a music that has always led the world.
A real shame.
ANDY - The last time I saw actor and North Carolina favorite son Andy Griffith on TV doing a commercial, I could tell by his poor looks and slurred speech that he didn’t have long. Gone was the trademark gleam in his eyes, though the Southern charm that always made Andy a national favorite was still there.
So when I heard that Andy Griffith died Tuesday morning, I was truly saddened. The Mount Airy native and star of the legendary “Andy Griffith Show” was 86.
What fans Andy didn’t have because of his famous CBS sitcom, he certainly had for his 1980’s lawyer mystery show, “Matlock,” where in Perry Mason-like fashion, Griffith always uncovered the bad guys.
Andy Griffith was an icon. He is at rest now. Thanks, Andy.
HEALTHCARE FOLLIES - Perhaps one of the most important US Supreme Court stories in years occurred last week when the High Court, by a 5-4 ruling, declared President Obama’s Affordable Care Act constitutional.
Big story indeed, and Washington reporters, because of restrictions buy the Supreme Court, were forced to cover it the old fashioned way.
They had to glean their facts from a printed court ruling.
And while most of the media got it right - namely that the controversial individual mandate penalty could be enforced by Congress as a tax, and not per the Commerce Clause, two prominent news outfits - CNN and Fox News - got their reporting wrong.
The two cable news networks falsely reported that the individual mandate had been struck down.
In the case of CNN, which prides itself as being a worldwide leader in news coverage, it was a stunning blow to later have to come back and correct itself. Apparently a news producer who did not read the full ruling, interpreted it wrong, passed on the faux
Information to Congressional correspondent Kate Baldwin, she reported it…and the rest is history.
It was an honest, though careless mistake, and CNN will have to dig itself out of this blow to its credibility (they can start by getting rid of Piers Morgan).
Now I’m certain that it was also an honest mistake for Fox News, except that in Fox’s case, because it was so, so sure that the conservative majority, led by Chief justice john Roberts, would strike down the individual mandate, if not the whole healthcare law entirely, the mistake was more sinister.
There’s nothing Fox News would have loved more than to dance on the political grave of Pres. Obama, and there’s no questions that had the High Court struck down the individual mandate, Fox folks would have cheered to the rafters.
The fact that they misreported it as well, simply means they saw what they wanted to see, ran with it briefly, then got caught with their pants down when the truth came out.
Proof, you ask? Simple. CNN apologized for it’s unfortunate mistake. They owned up to it.
Fox News, on the otherhand, has simply said it was covering news “as it happened.” So in its mind, it never made a mistake. Only went with the information as it became available.
If that was true, how come every other news organization got it right except CNN?
Folks, I learned a long time ago not to trust Fox News for the time of day. They love to lie against the president, and spew as many lies as the worlds can stand.
There can be no doubt that Fox News cannot, and should not, EVER, be trusted.
UNIQUE PLAY - On Saturday, August 4th at Poplar Springs Christian Church, AARP and Gdavis Productions will present the play, “Mama’s Girls,” a new production that awakens audiences to the needs of caregivers. It is produced by playwright Garrett Davis. Debra Tyler-Horton, the Associate State Director of Multicultural Outreach for AARP North Carolina says this is a must see for all of those who are looking after a loved one.
I know what it’s like having looked after my late mother for many years. We’ll be talking more about this unique production in the coming weeks.
Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ''Make It Happen'' on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at www.myWAUG.com. And read more about my thoughts and opinions exclusively at my new blog, ‘The Cash Roc” (http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2011/01/cash-roc-begins.html). I promise it will be interesting.
Cash in the Apple - honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Carolinian in your life. Bye, bye.
Supreme Court Hands Obama a Huge Healthcare Victory
By George E. Curry
NNPA News Service
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. providing a surprise supporting vote, the United States Supreme Court gave President Barack Obama a major victory Thursday by upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act.
In the most watched Supreme Court case since Bush v. Gore in 2000, the justices upheld the landmark healthcare law that requires all Americans except those objecting on religious grounds or facing financial hardship to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty. The vote was 5-4, with Roberts joining the court’s four liberals – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan. Anthony M. Kennedy, usually the court’s lone swing vote, sided with fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
The ruling grew out of three cases challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act that were appealed to the Supreme Court – a suit by the National Federation of Independent Business against Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and two cases involving HHS and the state of Florida.
The legislation was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Most of its provisions will be phased in over the next two years. Among other things, the law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition, allows children to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26, expands access to insurance to 30 million Americans, eliminates annual and lifetime coverage caps, creates insurance exchanges at the state level for individuals and small businesses, expands eligibility for Medicaid and requires insurance companies to cover certain preventive services without co-pays or deductibles.
In a televised speech from the White House, Obama said, “The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law. And we’ll work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won’t do, what the country can’t afford to do, is refight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were. With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward.”
Even though the ruling represents a clear victory for President Obama as he faces re-election in less than five months, Republicans immediately vowed to repeal the measure in Congress. However, that appears unlikely for now. Although Republicans hold a majority in the House, Democrats hold an edge in the Senate.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “Today’s decision makes one thing clear: Congress must act to repeal this misguided law. Obamacare has not only limited choices and increased health care costs for American families, it has made it harder for American businesses to hire.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid disagreed. He said on the Senate floor, “No longer will Americans be a heart attack or a car crash away from bankruptcy. No longer will Americans live in fear of losing their health insurance because they lose their job.” He added, “Our Supreme Court has spoken. The matter is settled. It’s time for Republicans to stop fighting yesterday’s battle.”
That’s exactly what’s expected to happen in the Republican-dominated House.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [R-Va.] described the ruling as a “crushing blow” and declared, “During the week of July 9th, the House will once again repeal ObamaCare, clearing the way for patient-centered reforms that lower costs and increase choice.”
The official name of the legislation is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But Republican critics have derisively referred to it as ObamaCare, a term major news organizations have quickly adopted.
President Obama has flipped the pejorative term on its head, saying, “I have no problem with people saying Obama cares. I do care.”
Democrats and Republicans, all claiming to care about average Americans, are on opposite sides of the issue. The bill passed the Senate on December 24, 2009 by a vote of 60-39, with all Democrats and two Independents voting for it and all but one Republican voting against it. It passed the House on March 21, 2010 by a vote of 219-212, with 34 Democrats and all 178 Republicans voting against it.
According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, the number of uninsured African Americans under the age of 65 will drop from 7.4 million to 3.4 million as a result of the healthcare law, a decrease of 54.6 percent. But some problem areas remain.
In a detailed examination of the law, Health Affairs magazine concluded: “Of the estimated 26.4 million individuals projected to be uninsured after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, those eligible for Medicaid and CHIP [the Children’s Health Insurance Program] but who remain unenrolled, constitute the single largest group, at 35.7 percent. This eligible-but-unenrolled group includes 58.8 percent of the blacks who we estimate will remain uninsured under the Affordable Care Act, which is a higher proportion than found in the other racial and ethnic groups examined.”
For the law to have an even greater impact, effective outreach programs must be used to reach those less likely to enroll in Medicaid, a state and federal partnership that provides medical coverage for needy families, pregnant women, children, the blind and the elderly, and CHIP, also a federal matching fund for states to provide health coverage to nearly 8 million children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private coverage.
The Health Affairs report stated, “Our analysis shows that the Affordable Care Act has the potential to reduce racial and ethnic coverage differentials substantially.” It explained, “The black-white differential in uninsurance rates is predicted to shrink by 57.3 percent, from 7.7 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling was not a total victory for the Obama administration. Under the healthcare law, Medicaid was expected to extend coverage to about 17 million Americans by covering everyone below 133 percent of the federal poverty line, approximately $14,500 for individuals. The administration had said that states that refused to go along with the change would lose their federal match.
Roberts said the requirement that states expand Medicaid or lose federal funding was a violation of states’ rights. He wrote, “Congress has no authority to order the States to regulate according to its instructions.” He added, “The states are given no choice in this case: They must either accept a basic change in the nature of Medicaid or risk losing all Medicaid funding.”
Thursday’s ruling now allows states to opt out of expansion without losing their federal funds. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and states. According to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Medicaid will spend more than $400 billion this year to provide health care to more than 60 million Americans.
In their dissent, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito argued, “The Act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying nonconsenting States all Medicaid funding.”
The court’s majority upheld what was described as the heart of the healthcare law.
Roberts, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush and opposed by then-Senator Barack Obama, agreed with conservatives that the individual mandate – the requirements that most individuals purchase insurance – was unconstitutional under the commerce clause of the Constitution.
Under that theory, Congress can force people to purchase insurance because the failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Roberts rejected that argument. However, he helped form a majority on the court by agreeing that a financial penalty for refusing to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act amounts to a tax and therefore is constitutional under Congress’ power to tax.
In his televised statement, Obama said it should be clear by now that he did not propose health reform to be popular.
He said, “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.”
House Vote Against Holder ‘Highly Politicized’
By George E. Curry
NNPA News Service
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The House of Representatives vote to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. in contempt of Congress was “one of the most highly politicized and reckless congressional investigations in decades,” according to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings [D-Md.].
“This is a sad day for our democracy,” said Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Republican-dominated panel that recommended the action against Holder. “Today’s contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder is the culmination of one of the most highly politicized and reckless congressional investigations in decades.”
The vote, which came just hours after the Supreme Court upheld the landmark Affordable Care Act, marked the first time a sitting cabinet member has been held in contempt of Congress.
Holder, the nation’s first Black attorney general, described the vote as a culmination of misguided and politically-motivated investigation. He said, “Today’s vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is – at base – both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”
With the outcome of the House vote never in doubt, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) boycotted the vote and was joined by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.]. More than 100 Democrats decided not to take part of the vote.
Emanuel Cleaver, II [D-Mo.], chairman of the CBC, said in a written statement: “Today, we see the great length to which some of my colleagues will go in an attempt to discredit the Attorney General – a member of President Obama’s Administration – as we near the 2012 election. For over 15 months, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice have cooperated with the Committee’s inquiry. The Obama Administration is rightfully asserting executive privilege over the narrow subject of documents that remain at issue – the same process President Bush used six times during his presidency.”
In 2008, a Democratic-controlled House held White House Counsel Harriet Myers and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in criminal contempt for failing to turn over documents about the abrupt dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys. The House was investigating whether the prosecutors were dismissed to impede investigations of GOP lawmakers or because they declined to go after Democratic opponents of the administration. Neither Myers nor Bolten was prosecuted by the Bush Justice Department.
Seventeen Democrats – all endorsed by the National Rifle Association – voted with Republicans to pass a criminal contempt resolution against Holder by a vote of 255-67. Democrats supporting the measure were: Representatives Jason Altmire (Pa.), John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kathy Hochul (N.Y.), Ron Kind (Wis.) Larry Kissell (N.C.) Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), William Owens (N.Y.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Tim Walz (Minn.).
Most of the Democrats voting against Holder represent conservative districts but five – Boswell, Donnelly, Kind, Owens and Walz – are from districts carried by Obama in 2008. Another Democrat, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, voted present.
Two Republicans – Scott Rigell of Virginia and Steven LaTourette of Ohio – voted against the contempt charge.
Less than an hour later, the House passed a second resolution authorizing Darrell Issa [R-Calif], chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to file a civil contempt action against Attorney General Holder. On that vote, 21 Democrats joined Republicans. In addition to the 17 who voted with Republicans earlier, they were: Ron Barber of Arizona, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Michael Michard of Maine and Brad Miller of North Carolina.
Five Democrats voted present: Gary Ackerman of New York, Jim Costa of California, Mary Kaptur of Ohio, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and former Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns of New York, the only African-American Democrat in the House who did not take a pro-Holder stand.
Towns, who announced in April that he will retire after 15 terms, supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary. Obama went on to carry 91 percent of the New York’s 10th district to defeat John McCain in the general election.
As expected, the Justice Department has already announced that it will not prosecute the criminal charge against Holder because Fast and Furious was not illegal and Holder did not commit a crime. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] notifying him of the decision.
Cole quoted a May 1984 memo from Theodore B. Olson, notifying U.S. attorneys in the Reagan administration that they were not required to refer congressional contempt charges to a grand jury or prosecute a member of the executive branch “who carries out the President’s instruction to invoke the President’s claim of executive privilege before a committee.”
Congress’ remaining option, civil contempt, could take years and would require federal district and appeals judges – if not the Supreme Court – to serve as a referee between the legislative and executive branches of government. In all likelihood, a compromise will be reached between the two branches before the dispute reaches that point.
The National Rifle Association lobbied strongly for the action against Holder, letting lawmakers know they would be graded on whether they supported the move to hold the attorney general in contempt.
A New York Times editorial observed, “The House’s 255-67 vote on Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress said more about how far lawmakers will go to pander to the gun lobby in an election year than about any improper conduct by Mr. Holder.”
Congress’s contempt power is the means it uses to force compliance with its investigative powers granted under the constitution. But defining powers that belong to Congress and those ascribed to the executive branch, two co-equal branches of government, can be a delicate balancing act.
Tension between the two branches date back to 1796, when George Washington refused to give the House documents disclosing how the Jay Treaty with Great Britain was negotiated. The most famous case involving executive privilege was the Watergate scandal in 1974 when President Nixon tried to avoid turning over secretly-recorded Oval Office audiotapes.
In this case, the Obama administration s says it has cooperated with Congress by providing more than 7,600 documents that pertain to Fast and Furious, a controversial sting operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The operation, which originated in 2006 under the Bush administration, was designed to stem the flow of firearms to Mexican drug cartels.
But the House is pressing Holder for an additional 1,300 documents that the Justice Department characterized as privileged internal communications and deliberations that do not fall within Congress’ purview.
In January, Rep. Cummings issued a 95-page report stating that Operation Fast and Furious was the fourth in a series of gunwalking projects directed by ATF’s Phoenix office over a 5-year period. The report noted that the congressional committee headed by Issa found no evidence that Holder was aware of the controversial practice of gunrunning – letting guns walk – without law enforcement intervention.
The plan was to allow hundreds of guns to be purchased by straw purchasers acting on behalf of Mexican cartel arms traffickers and monitor the weapons as they were passed on to key cartel figures. But of more than 2,000 firearms that entered Mexico that way, only 700 were recovered, none from the hands of cartel bosses. More troubling, some of the weapons were recovered from the scenes of violent crimes on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border, including the 2010 death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, 11 miles from the border.
In his statement, Attorney General Holder said, “When concerns about Operation Fast and Furious first came to light, I took action – and ordered an independent investigation into what happened. We learned that the flawed tactics used in this operation began in the previous administration – but I made sure that it ended under this one.”
When he assumed chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee, Issa made it clear that he planned to use his new-found power to attack the Obama administration. The confrontational congressman from Southern California told Politico in December 2010: “I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.”
At that rate, Issa would chair 280 hearings a year. By comparison, Henry Waxman [D-Calif.] held 203 hearings over two years during the Bush presidency.
Issa has called President Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” an outlandish charge even by Republican standards.
Congressman Cummings said House Republicans did not make a sincere effort to reach an agreement with Holder, noting that the House took up the resolution to hold the attorney general in contempt just one week after receiving the committee’s report, allowing only a small window in which to negotiate. By contrast, when Democrats were in control of the House, there was a 6-month gap between its committee report and action on the floor.
Cummings said with a 9-4 majority, Issa’s committee has been highly-partisan, not allowing Democrats on the committee to call a single witness. He said the panel’s report contained more than “100 errors, omissions, and mischaracterizations” along with “significant legal deficiencies and factual errors that may call into question the validity of the contempt resolution itself.”