Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
John Roberts Is No Pro-Choice Hero
The New York Times
The Supreme Court upheld abortion rights on Monday, with Chief Justice John Roberts concurring with the liberals on the court to strike down a Louisiana anti-abortion law.
That sentence might surprise a lot of people, given that the chief justice is a staunch conservative, and that the court now has a solid right-wing majority. President Trump achieved that majority by appointing two justices with the express purpose of pushing a hard-right agenda, as determined by legal groups like the Federalist Society. Obliterating abortion access in America is at the top of that priority list.
What’s more, Chief Justice Roberts dissented in a case just four years ago that struck down what was an effectively identical Texas anti-abortion law. So the central question ahead of Monday’s decision in June Medical Services v. Russo became: Would the chief justice’s disapproval of abortion outweigh his desire for the court to respect its own very recent precedent?
It turns out that it didn’t. In a concurring opinion that provided the fifth vote for a majority, the chief justice wrote that the court’s doctrine requires it to “treat like cases alike.” Because the Louisiana law - which requires doctors who perform abortions to get admitting privileges at a hospital near their clinic, supposedly in the interests of women’s health and safety - was more or less a carbon copy of the Texas law the court previously struck down, and because it burdened women in the same way, it “cannot stand,” he wrote.
That’s good as far as it goes, which is not very far. It would be a mistake to interpret this decision as a sign that the chief justice has had a change of heart about protecting the bodily autonomy of American women. Even in his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that he still believes that the Texas case was “wrongly decided” and that he voted to strike down the Louisiana law solely out of respect for precedent. He appears to have decided that the circumstances of this case were not ideal for crippling reproductive rights - but he left the door open to doing so in the future. Monday’s decision, with the plurality opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, isn’t so much good news for reproductive freedom as it is a temporary reprieve from all the bad.
Abortion access in many parts of the country is abysmal - five states have only one abortion clinic, for instance. If the Louisiana law had been upheld, clinics in that state (which has only three such facilities) and across the country could have closed, forcing many women to travel longer distances at prohibitive expense to receive reproductive health care.
That would violate the constitutional right to have access to an abortion without “undue burden,” the standard the Supreme Court has followed since the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A Federal District Court in Louisiana struck down the state’s law because it posed such an undue burden, just as the Texas law had. But the conservative federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed that decision, ruling that the lower court had gotten the facts wrong - that it was not clear that the new law would actually burden women’s ability to get an abortion.
Monday’s decision reversed the Fifth Circuit ruling, holding that the district court had gotten it right the first time. The Louisiana law, Justice Breyer wrote, was “almost word-for-word identical” to Texas’ unconstitutional law and imposed identical if not greater burdens on women, and therefore was invalid.
Chief Justice Roberts’s decision to concur with the four liberal justices may enrage cultural conservatives who thought that with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, ending the right to an abortion was just a matter of time.
But the chief justice rarely takes the direct route, preferring incremental rulings that slowly chip away at the court’s longstanding precedents. So no one should be fooled this time around: The current court is as hostile to reproductive freedom as it ever was. And Chief Justice Roberts left himself plenty of room to vote differently in any of the many cases now speeding toward the court, involving challenges to other state laws that make it difficult if not impossible for most women to obtain an abortion.
Some of those challenges - like those to laws in Texas and Arkansas that ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation - could give the chief justice an opening to make what he might consider a more reasonable argument for further undermining abortion rights.
No doubt anti-abortion forces behind these cases will continue to push hard; they have a knack for rejiggering their strategy after each big case, and they’ve been especially aggressive in their efforts recently.
Another factor that’s nearly certainly at play here is that the lawyer who argued for Louisiana during oral arguments in March, State Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill, is widely believed to have bungled the job, answering questions so ineptly that she gave the chief justice little to work with, even if he had been inclined to side with the court’s other conservatives.
It’s concerning that this case made it to the high court at all, given its similarity to the Texas case. It’s even more concerning that the rights of millions of women hinged in part on someone having a bad day in court. But such is the state of reproductive rights in 2020: Members of the pro-choice side count their blessings over the narrowest of victories, while anti-choice crusaders continue to think big, strategic and long-term.
Be smart, wear a mask
If you’re trying to decide whether to wear a mask this weekend, remember: There are still coronavirus cases on Long Island, and more could be en route with every visitor from a more-infected state.
Health officials across New York are anxiously anticipating arrivals and tracing known cases. New York City officials are pressing the brakes on indoor dining. Doctors and health experts are advising a simple decision to help stop the spread: put on a mask.
Many scientific studies suggest the benefits of masks as an important tool in the fight against the coronavirus, which has led to more than half a million deaths worldwide. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis from the scientific journal The Lancet found that “face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection.” Data from an April study by Arizona State University researchers suggested widespread adoption of masks as a lifesaving effort, including in New York. Densely packed cities like Hong Kong have weathered the storm far better than others, and near-universal mask-use appears to have played a role. Even mass transit systems in Paris and Tokyo have reportedly beaten expectations. They are systems where people are wearing masks.
Consensus on masks was slow in arriving but many leaders and groups are now on the same page.
Among those now urging people to wear masks are Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Goldman Sachs, former Vice President Joe Biden, Fox News host Sean Hannity, restroom attendants at Jones Beach, the company you work for, the pizzeria you’re visiting for takeout, and your grandmother who is a little frail but has lots of good years left on this earth.
One missing mask link is President Donald Trump, who should encourage use of facial coverings on the national level. Cuomo’s executive orders requiring masks and allowing businesses to deny services to those who don’t are a good model. Either way, people have to get on board.
Masks help stop the spread of airborne droplets. N95 masks are better but you can also purchase many alternatives including disposable ones. Or make cloth masks yourself. Or wear a handkerchief around your face. Something is better than nothing.
You still need to social distance and wash your hands, but wear the mask, too, when meeting people in the outside world: the coverings reduce the distance that droplets can spread and can save the life of the person you’re talking to or someone else that person interacts with going forward.
People are exhausted of the rules and restrictions. Of course they are. Barbecues will likely happen this weekend and it will feel almost like things are normal, even as the coronavirus rages in other states. If you’re going out, the least you can do is keep some distance and wear a mask while talking and socializing.
Just do it. Don’t be the person responsible for more coronavirus spread.
Onondaga County legislators should keep independent redistricting pledge
At its July 7 meeting, the Onondaga County Legislature is expected to get a do-over on independent redistricting. This time, we urge legislators to keep a promise they made last November.
Fifteen out of 17 current legislators signed a pledge to support “non-partisan and independent redistricting” when the maps are redrawn after the 2020 Census. This was quite a turnabout from just a few months before, when all 12 Republicans then on the Legislature voted against even studying the idea.
We can’t say for sure what changed their minds, but pressure from Democrats who challenged 10 out of the 12 GOP incumbents last election cycle might have had something to do with it. One legislator who voted against the first measure, then reversed himself and signed the pledge, lost his seat in November.
Pressure also came from the city of Syracuse, where voters overwhelmingly ratified a ballot proposition authorizing the Common Council to appoint an independent, citizen-led redistricting commission. Council districts haven’t been changed since 2002.
Onondaga County’s legislative districts, drawn in 2012, are gerrymandered, plain and simple. That is, the districts are arranged to give one party an unfair advantage, even though each district contains roughly equal numbers of voters.
In 2012, the county’s Republican-dominated redistricting panel redrew the maps to put city and suburban voters together and to avoid pitting GOP incumbents against each other. They came up with tortured boundaries that look like a vulture (District 7), a lobster (District 5) and brass knuckles (District 15). In one extreme example, the city’s North Side neighborhood is split among five county legislative districts.
Advocates for independent redistricting argue that the 2012 maps divided communities of interest and diluted representation of city voters, which lean heavily Democratic. Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 30,000 voters countywide, and yet Republicans still hold sway in the Legislature.
With partisan redistricting, whichever party is in power can bake in an advantage that lasts until the next federal census. Legislators shouldn’t be able to create their own districts and choose their voters. That’s why the redistricting process should be led by citizens, not elected officials. Drawing fair maps increases public confidence and public engagement in the political process. It reduces cynicism, the feeling that the fix is in to maintain the status quo.
Legislator Chris Ryan, D-8th District, has put forward legislation modeled on independent redistricting in California and Texas. It would create a commission of citizens and experts designed to reflect the community and free of influence from county legislators. The commission would have 10 members selected randomly from a pool of public applicants, and seven more appointed by the 10. Commission members would be vetted for conflicts of interest, and barred for five years from running for a county office. The commission would hold lots of public hearings and work with county legal and planning staff to make sure election districts comply with the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws.
If the full Legislature approves it, the plan would be put on the November ballot for the judgment of county voters. Let’s let the voters decide if they want independent redistricting.
If Republican legislators don’t like Ryan’s legislation, then let’s see their plan for independent redistricting. After all, nine out of 11 Republicans said they supported it before voters returned them to office.
These sitting legislators signed the pledge: David Knapp (also the Legislature chairman), Tim Burtis, Brian May, John McBride, Deb Cody, Chris Ryan, Kevin Holmquist, Jim Rowley, Bill Kinne, Judy Tassone, Julie Abbott-Kenan, Mary Kuhn, Peggy Chase, Vernon Williams and Linda Ervin.
We are watching to see if they keep their word.
A speech we all needed to hear
Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Saranac Lake High School Valedictorian Francine Newman was brave to use her graduation speech to tell the school community about anti-Asian bullying she endured throughout her school career here. She did it well, too - not angry, not with any expectation of payback, but not fearful, either. People needed to hear it, and she told it straight.
Newman is not normally the defiant type; she typically seems positive and upbeat. But she had bottled up this pain for a long time, and it wasn’t fair, and it needed to come out. Maybe she was too young and afraid to talk about if before, but we are glad she did before she left for college.
Some have told us maybe a valedictory speech wasn’t the most appropriate forum for this kind of criticism, because it was more about her than the class - but we think it worked out just fine. If you’re going to use the valedictory stage to deliver that kind of speech, you had better do it really well. Newman nailed it.
After all, it was about the class, and the school, and the community - about bad things they did, yes, but delivered with the trust that once everyone knows what happened and the hurt it inflicted, they will reform and do better in the future.
It was reassuring to see that local school leaders took it in that spirit, and also that they allowed her to give the speech at all. Since it had to be video-recorded weeks before, they had every opportunity to censor it - some schools have been known to do that with graduation speeches - but they didn’t. Instead, they learned from it.
A few years ago, we would have said that even though the local population is 95% white, racism is not much of a problem here. We had heard about a handful of incidents, but in general, we probably would have defended our hometowns against accusations of racism. We still see local people as being kind and accepting to everyone, but now we see some other things, too.
On the same weekend Newman’s speech was delivered, someone was spray-painting disgusting racist graffiti under the railroad bridge on Forest Hill Avenue near Pine Street in Saranac Lake. It has been dealt with, by a good neighbor and village police, but taken in concert with other things, we can’t really afford to think of this as an isolated incident. Not after what people of color at Black Lives Matter protests in each of the Tri-Lakes villages told us, about abuse they’ve received. Not after what Newman taught us.
What we have is a gnarled old racist root that is underground but still very much alive, and poking up shoots here and there.
The only way to get rid of it is to dig it up. It will be hard, dirty work, and we have to be careful not to kill the roots of the people growing around it. But now that we know it’s there, can we, in good conscience, leave it there for later generations to deal with? It is unlikely they will ever get as opportune a moment in time like our nation is going through now.
“We can’t shy away from this,” high school Principal Josh Dann told us. “We have to go at it. And we can always get better.”
Let’s learn from what Newman told us.
“I am thankful for the person I was forced to become, she said. “and I am thankful that one day I will have the opportunity to teach my own kids about their culture and about acceptance.”
The goal is not vengeance, not an eye for an eye. Rather it is knowledge, understanding, contrition, maybe restitution, and forgiveness - the stages by which we reconcile and heal our community.
Let us let this speech truly be the commencement of a new era in the Adirondacks.
A Classic Case Of Do As I Say And Not As I Do From The Governor
How short is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s memory?
Does he remember his blithering bluster only three short months ago when Rhode Island threatened to force any visitors from New York state to be quarantined regardless of whether or not they had symptoms? Does he remember threatening lawsuits at Rhode Island’s plan to issue fines and penalties for New Yorkers who violated the rule? Does he have any recollection of the Rhode Island state troopers flagging cars with New York license plates at the Rhode Island-New York border? Or what about Florida’s similar order on those traveling to the Sunshine State from New York back in March? It was lunacy.
Of course, Cuomo threatened lawsuits against Rhode Island and the federal government. Such travel bans and quarantines “would be a federal declaration of war on states,” Cuomo said in March. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island contended the order violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search.
Fast forward to last week, and there is Cuomo declaring that residents of his own state face a fine of up to $10,000 if they don’t self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from a COVID-19 hot spot like Florida.
How is it wrong for other states to quarantine New Yorkers in March, when New York was the epicenter of COVID-19, but perfectly fine to do so now to residents of his own state in June? Weren’t other states just trying to protect their residents in the same manner in which Cuomo is acting now? If Cuomo was right in March, then he’s wrong now.
What a classic case of do as I say, not as I do. The fact is Cuomo is not governing by science - he’s governing by sound bite and fiat because Democrats in New York’s legislature are as feckless and illogical as the governor on whose lap they sit.
In March, Cuomo threatened to sue Rhode Island and the federal government. We hope a New York resident who gets slapped with a $10,000 fine for taking a vacation they were allowed has the gumption to do what the state Legislature does not - stand up and sue the governor.
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