Editorial Roundup: U.S.
The Los Angeles Times on the Texas abortion law:
A horrendous new Texas law scheduled to go into effect Wednesday would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — typically around six weeks of gestation — and turn individuals into antiabortion vigilantes by empowering them to file civil suits against anyone who provided an abortion or helped procure one.
Lawyers for a group of abortion clinics, doctors and advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to block the law, at least temporarily, pending a legal challenge. The high court should do so.
The law, adopted in May, is a breathtaking subversion of the constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion. It’s not surprising that it was concocted by a state legislature notorious for its efforts to hinder women from accessing abortion.
This time, the state lawmakers have outdone themselves. The law would narrow the window during which a person could terminate a pregnancy. At six weeks, most people don’t even know they are pregnant. And it would so scare doctors and clinics — with the threat of citizen-led lawsuits — that they simply stop providing abortions. And that is one goal of the law — to intimidate women’s health clinics, which also provide contraception and OB-GYN services, into discontinuing abortion services.
Nowhere in the U.S. is abortion banned as early as six weeks. Abortion is legal up to the point of viability outside the body — roughly 24 weeks into a pregnancy. That line has been established by landmark Supreme Court cases, including Roe vs. Wade (1973). There have been other state laws that ban abortions at six or eight weeks — or some other early point in the pregnancy — but they have been struck down by federal courts.
But with Texas Senate Bill 8, lawmakers have tried to get around federal precedent by creating a law that can be enforced only by private individuals going into state courts to sue abortion clinics and others. Texas state and local government agencies would have no part in enforcing this law.
Instead, it’s up to individuals to enforce the law — and if they win in the courts, they would be awarded at least $10,000. They would be allowed to sue anyone even remotely connected to getting someone an abortion — a clinic, a doctor who performed an abortion, a nurse who helped, even the driver who took the pregnant person to the clinic. The pregnant person could not be sued. That exemption sounds sympathetic to the mother-to-be, doesn’t it? But consider this: The law says that the defendants who get sued are not allowed to argue that they were only helping the pregnant person exercise her constitutional rights.
So the one individual — the pregnant person — who would stand the best chance of prevailing in this court of the absurd would not even be allowed to be sued.
In Texas, about 85 to 90% of abortions are performed at or beyond six weeks. If this law goes through, it’s likely that most of those who want to end a pregnancy in Texas won’t realize they are pregnant in time to get a legal abortion.
Some clinics — there are currently 21 in Texas — will simply stop offering abortions altogether. Amy Hagstrom Miller, the chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs four clinics in Texas, says her clinics will comply with the law, if it stands, by offering abortions only up to six weeks.
“Our staff are terrified of being sued,” she said, noting that even if doctors ultimately prevailed, they would have to first defend themselves in costly civil proceedings.
Miller says abortion opponents routinely stand outside the clinics, watching who comes and goes and videotaping staff and patients. “These people on the sidewalks already know the names of our nurses and doctors and staff,” making note of staff name tags and vehicle license plates, she said. “This is not some abstract legal theory to our staff.”
Abortion clinics and advocates have challenged the law by suing Texas court clerks and state judges who would be involved in these civil proceedings. “Our point is that individuals can’t enforce those laws by themselves,” says Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights. Court clerks and judges are involved in bringing the cases into court.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Mississippi that would ban abortions at 15 weeks onward. The nation is already on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether Roe will be left standing. While that larger battle proceeds, the federal courts need to stop this crazy Texas law. before it wreaks havoc on women’s lives.
The Hindu on Pakistan’s hailing of Taliban success in Afghanistan:
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was the first world leader who wholeheartedly welcomed the Taliban’s capture of Kabul on August 15 — before its fall, Pakistan had maintained that it had little leverage on the Taliban to force them to accept a ceasefire and that it backed a political solution in Afghanistan. However, on August 16, he said Afghans have “broken the shackles of slavery”, leaving little doubt on where Pakistan stands on the Taliban’s return. This is hardly surprising. Pakistan not only played a central role in the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s but was also one of the three countries to have had formal diplomatic ties with them. Pakistan continued to support the Taliban even after they were driven out of power by the U.S. in 2001. Its strategic calculus was that a stable Afghanistan backed by the U.S. and India would harm its core interests. It hosted the Taliban leadership in Quetta, Balochistan, and allowed their militants to regroup and resume insurgency in Afghanistan. In that sense, the Taliban’s capture of Kabul can be seen as the success of a long-term strategy Pakistan’s military establishment had adopted. But it is too early to begin celebrations.
The geopolitical implications of the Taliban’s victory are still unclear. But, irrespective of what kind of a government they will establish, the resurgence of a Sunni radical jihadist group could embolden similar outfits elsewhere. Pakistan has a problem with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the ideological twin of the Taliban, that has carried out deadly attacks inside Pakistan. Also, the August 26 Kabul blasts are a warning of what is awaiting Afghanistan. The country is still chaotic and lawless where groups such as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K), the IS affiliate that has claimed responsibility for the blasts, would seek to flourish. Without order, the country could fall into a multi-directional, civil war between the Taliban, the IS-K, and the remnants of the old regime. The question is whether Pakistan, overwhelmed by the Taliban’s success, sees the possible dangers the triumph of hardline Islamism now poses. Religious extremism and militancy can help one country tactically but will be counterproductive in the long term. When the U.S. backed the Mujahideen in the 1980s, it might never have imagined that the Taliban would rise from the Mujahideen and host the al Qaeda that would carry out the deadliest attack on America since the Second World War. Similarly, a chaotic Afghanistan ruled by extremist Islamists is as much a geopolitical victory as a security and strategic challenge to Pakistan. During the insurgency, Pakistan refused to use its leverage over the Taliban for peace. It should do so at least now because a stable Afghanistan which treats its people with dignity and does not provide safe havens to transnational terrorist organisations is in the best interests of all regional powers, including Pakistan.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on averting evictions as federal relief funds run out:
While many cities, counties, and states around the country are struggling to get federal rental assistance dollars to the tenants and landlords who need it, Philadelphia is having the opposite problem — money is starting to run out.
Evictions can have devastating consequences — both for individual households and entire neighborhoods; they also disproportionately affect Black women with children. The pandemic is hardly over, but it’s not too soon to start planning for how Philadelphia can keep its historically low levels of evictions once the crisis abates.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program has been established by Congress in two waves: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided $25 billion and the American Rescue Plan provided up to $21.6 billion to assist those unable to pay rent or utilities. Philadelphia received $47.2 million in the first wave and $23.4 million in the second. In addition, Philadelphia received $40.1 million from Pennsylvania’s portion of a rental assistance fund in the coronavirus relief act.
On Wednesday, both the U.S. Department of Treasury and the White House issued new guidance to make it easier for cities, states, and territories that received rental assistance dollars to get money to landlords and tenants who are in need.
Getting money out the door is not a problem for Philadelphia. The PHLRentAssist program, which has been providing rental assistance since May 2020, opened its Phase 4 applications using Emergency Rental Assistance program funds on April 1. Since then, according to the program’s data dashboard, the city has disbursed more than $85 million through Aug. 20 — helping more than 11,000 households.
That figure, though, reflects only a portion of the need. PHLRentAssist receives 3,000 applications and assists about 900 households a week. At this rate, the $42.5 million that remains will run out in less than two months.
What’s made Philadelphia’s rental assistance efforts so distinctive is the way that they’ve been coupled with the Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program. Enacted by City Council in June 2020, the diversion program created an avenue for landlords and tenants to resolve disputes outside of court. In April, the Philadelphia Municipal Court revolutionized evictions in Philadelphia by requiring that landlords apply for rental assistance and go through the diversion program before filing an eviction. In a June letter to courts nationwide, the U.S. Department of Justice praised Philadelphia’s diversion program as a model.
“As long as there is funding available and a way to make landlords whole, there is a way to prevent evictions,” Gregory Heller, who oversees PHLRentAssist at the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, told this board — “but that all goes out the window if funding isn’t available.”
There is a short-term band-aid: reallocation.
On Sept. 30, the U.S. Treasury will start a reallocation process for some of the Emergency Rental Assistance dollars from places that aren’t spending it. There is no timeline for the process. When reallocation does happen, it will be up to the Philadelphia-area representatives in Congress to ensure that the city gets more money to meet what is still an intense need.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department told this board: “Treasury is closely monitoring all programs, including those who are not making sufficient progress in delivering assistance and those who have been so successful that they have already distributed a considerable portion of their funds.”
To sustain the city’s historically low eviction rate, and ensure the routine resolution of landlord-tenant disputes outside of court, Philadelphia’s representatives in Washington, Harrisburg, and City Hall should all be making the case that rental assistance is worth funding even when the pandemic passes. Advocating for a continuous revenue stream could be transformative for the city. In addition, officials need to continue their work to make housing more affordable and ensure renter protections. Continuing to fund right-to-counsel, enforcing the newly passed tenant screening ordinance, and pushing toward inclusionary zoning to ensure more affordable development will all reduce the number of evictions — and the amount of need.
Not that long ago, Philadelphia had the fourth-highest number of evictions of any city in the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, fewer evictions were filed in Philly than in at least 18 other cities. It is possible to make this the new normal.
The Wall Street Journal on the Justice Department’s retreat from USDA race-based farm policies:
The Biden Administration has been losing in court on its racially biased policies, and last week something remarkable happened. It gave up. Without explanation, the Justice Department declined to appeal a federal court injunction against a discriminatory loan-forgiveness program for farmers.
Democrats in their March spending bill established a $3.8 billion program to forgive loans for “socially disadvantaged” farmers. The Department of Agriculture interpreted this to include individuals “who are one or more of the following: Black/African American, American Indian, Alaskan native, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Pacific Islander.” White farmers need not apply.
More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the USDA’s racial preferences, and three so far have resulted in preliminary injunctions by district courts in Florida, Wisconsin and Texas. Justice failed to appeal the Florida injunction before its 60-day deadline last week and hasn’t contested the others.
Why? Perhaps it thinks it will lose on appeal and doesn’t want to risk taking these cases all the way to the Supreme Court. The farmers program is a blatant violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007), the Court held “(W)hen the government distributes burdens or benefits on the basis of individual racial classifications, that action is reviewed under strict scrutiny.”
The USDA program also runs afoul of the Court’s Richmond v. Croson (1989) precedent, which let governments adopt racial set-asides aimed at remedying specific episodes of past discrimination that the government had a hand in. But Justice doesn’t identify a specific incident of discrimination against minority farmers perpetuated by USDA.
Some governments have taken Croson as a license to use racial preferences on the sly. By declining to appeal the Florida injunction, Justice may be hoping to deny the High Court and its new majority an opportunity to issue a more forceful ruling against racial preferences.
Such strategic maneuvering isn’t unprecedented. Tom Perez as head of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during Barack Obama’s first term pressured the city of St. Paul to withdraw a case at the High Court that concerned the legality of statistical disparate-impact analysis in housing. He feared an adverse ruling would undermine the government’s ability to bring cases against bank lending decisions.
Justice may defend other racial-preference policies, but the right response is for the Administration to stop discriminating by race.
The Baltimore Sun on prioritizing a new voting rights act:
Last week, House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi approved the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which was intended to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its former civil rights glory. The vote fell along partisan lines with all 212 House Republicans voting against it. That was sadly predictable. For years now, states with majority Republican legislatures have been whittling away at this most basic and important of rights for the most obvious of reasons: Reducing turnout at the polls of low-income, often minority, voters benefits their candidates.
And the U.S. Supreme Court has, through a pair of adverse rulings, given them that opportunity. Most notably under the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, certain states no longer require federal preclearance to make changes to their voting laws. And so, the nation has slipped toward a return to the Jim Crow era, not with any measure so overt as a literacy test or a poll tax, but through incremental changes — a reduction in polling hours here, a hurdle to absentee ballots or a burdensome ID requirement there — to discourage turnout.
Our preference has always been for Congress to approve the For The People Act, sponsored by Maryland’s own Rep. John Sarbanes, which not only protects voting rights but includes serious election law reforms that would, for example, make political candidates less dependent on special interest money to fuel their campaigns. But Senate Republicans weren’t having any of that and neither was Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. That leaves the more basic proposal, H.R. 4, which is also certain to be strongly opposed by the GOP. Opponents will use the most powerful tool in their arsenal, the Senate filibuster. Thus, the only way that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act can make it out of that chamber is for united Democrats, with President Joe Biden’s strong support, to either suspend or amend the filibuster rule so that something close to the bare minimum majority 50 votes will be sufficient for the bill’s passage.
Senator Manchin has said in the past that he doesn’t think voting rights reforms should be approved on a partisan basis. In an ideal world, we would agree. There was a time when the Voting Rights Act was renewed (pre-Shelby County) with bipartisan majorities. But exactly what does he — or any other weak-kneed Democrat — think is happening in all those state houses where Republicans are happily bending voting rules in their favor? Oh, they are smart enough not to explain their efforts as a power grab, but any reasonable analysis would find their motives obvious. Excuses, like how they seek to prevent voter fraud, don’t stand up to scrutiny. The last presidential election proved that repeatedly as challenges by Donald Trump and his supporters were laughed out of courtrooms, with some of the perpetrators now facing federal sanctions over a bogus election fraud lawsuit in Michigan.
More Americans should be outraged about this. Polls show, unsurprisingly, a partisan divide, with Democrats worried about this loss of rights and Republicans far more concerned about people voting who are not eligible. Such is the power of misinformation and party identification that can produce a fiasco like the Jan. 6 insurrection built on the Big Lie. Still, missing from the Democratic side is the passion and moral imperative that the late John Lewis, the 17-term Georgia congressman and civil rights leader of Edmund Pettus Bridge fame, would have brought to the forefront. This is not the moment to respect Senate courtesies. This is the moment to expect a nation, where so many claim that the era of racial discrimination is over, to stop tolerating such blatantly discriminatory behavior. This isn’t about boosting the chances for Democratic candidates, this is about something far more important — preserving the basic rights of all Americans to cast a ballot.
And so we call on President Biden and his fellow elected Democrats to do more than merely give lip service to voting rights. This is where they ought to take a stand. Infrastructure is great, and we support additional spending. But this is about the heart and soul of this nation. At least one Senate Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, supports the measure and has even put her name on it. Others of her party hide behind the false claim that the legislation is a “federal grab” of election law, which is exactly the sort of phony criticism one might have expected from civil rights opponents of the 1960s. Shame on them. But shame also on Democrats who know better. As Mr. Lewis said, this is the time to make “good trouble” like protesters at Saturday’s 58th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The struggle for social justice goes on.
The Houston Chronicle on the human cost of political theatrics at the U.S.-Mexico border:
In Brooks County, deputies have found so many dead migrants in the brush, the state government brought in a portable morgue to handle the overflow. In Val Verde County, exhausted law enforcement officers are relying on game wardens from Florida to help pull bodies of migrants from the Rio Grande.
These disturbing accounts didn’t come from immigrant rights activists but from border sheriffs themselves during a state House appropriations committee hearing Tuesday on a nearly $2 billion border security bill.
The bill, drafted at Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, doesn’t seek to address the humanitarian crisis at the border in any effective way. Like Abbott’s other politically motivated efforts to throw state money at a federal problem, the bill doubles down on deterrence by funding mostly chain-link fences that won’t stop people desperate enough to trek to our southern border and ask for asylum.
What’s a chain-link fence to a person who just crossed a parched desert to escape the threat of violence at home?
Joe Frank Martinez, the Val Verde County sheriff, told a story at the hearing of a Haitian woman pregnant with twins drowning while attempting to cross the Rio Grande. He said a Venezuelan woman and her 5-year-old son who crossed the border in Val Verde County told him they had been traveling for four years and preferred to drown trying to cross the river than to “stay home and die.”
“These people are desperate, and until our federal government has an easier process to gain asylum or citizenship, this is political football,” Martinez said. “Nobody’s ever going to score a touchdown, nobody’s ever going to get ahead.”
The only answers — from comprehensive immigration reform, to more judges and resources for backlogged immigration courts to diplomatic efforts on the ground in troubled home countries — are all the federal government’s responsibility, not the state’s. The Biden administration needs to do more to help local governments deal with the influx of migrants, but Abbott’s expensive plans to use state money are as wasteful as they are powerless to change anything.
Even after the state Legislature previously authorized more than $1 billion in border security funding for the next two years; even after Abbott deployed 1,000 state troopers to arrest migrants on trespassing charges, even after the state converted a prison to an immigrant detention center, migrants continue to risk their lives making this harrowing journey.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has recorded 1.3 million encounters with migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border this year, with the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Del Rio sectors accounting for nearly half of that total. While migration to the U.S. typically wanes in the hot summer months, more than 200,000 migrants attempted to cross the southern border in July.
For decades, we have been told by both Democratic and Republican proponents of prevention through deterrence policies — that the key to preventing migrants from coming is bolstering border security. If we make the border terrifying enough, they argue, by turning it into a militarized zone with giant walls, border patrol agents armed to the teeth, and the looming threat of detainment in abhorrent conditions, migrants would think twice about coming here. Study after study has shown that natural disasters, economics and political turmoil drive numbers, as greater spending on deterrence yields diminishing results.
Abbott, like many Republican leaders with grand ambitions, is branding himself as a true believer in deterrence, or at least in its political upside. He consistently slams the Biden administration for its “open border” policies, failing to acknowledge that Biden left in place President Donald Trump’s “Chapter 42” policy that allows for many migrants to be immediately expelled and that under Biden, detainees have more than doubled since the end of February, as the Associated Press reported earlier this month.
By directing the National Guard in June to assist law enforcement in arresting migrants at the border for criminal trespassing, Abbott has clogged jail cells with migrants and put a strain on local officials.
Martinez, the Val Verde County sheriff, testified that his 171-cell jail is at full capacity and his county has spent an additional $83,000 just to prosecute migrants arrested over the past 5 weeks. Yet, according to testimony, nearly all of the 489 people arrested and prosecuted since late July in Val Verde and Kinney counties faced misdemeanor trespassing charges. Only one person had been charged with human smuggling.
Abbott’s earlier executive order banning charities from transporting migrants created a catastrophe for cities such as McAllen, which were forced to shelter swells of migrants who were suddenly stranded. The order was eventually blocked by a federal judge.
The House committee eventually approved the border bill, which will now be sent to the full House. In addition to the $750 million for fencing on state land, it would spend $300 million to send more than 4,000 National Guard soldiers to assist local law enforcement and state troopers with “detaining and arresting criminal trespassers,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood). Another $270 million would convert three state detention centers in the border region to be able to house those charged with trespassing and repay the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the $250 million “down payment” Abbott borrowed to build a border wall in June. For the dozens of border counties and local governments whose resources are depleted, the bill proposes $100 million in law enforcement assistance grants.
Abbott’s spending priorities send a clear message: He thinks he understands what’s driving the border crisis better than local officials picking up migrant corpses in their own backyard.
Cash-strapped border cities from Brownsville to El Paso will now have to compete for law enforcement resources. And pleas from Rio Grande Valley officials who need more COVID-19 test kits and shelter space to house asylum-seekers are being ignored.
By throwing up more border fencing, Abbott is exposing his lack of understanding of migration patterns. Historically, increased enforcement on one area of the border has produced a “funnel effect,” redirecting illegal entry attempts to increasingly remote areas in which migrant mortality has seen an exponential rise. Places that once saw few migrant encounters, such as rural West Texas, are now also begging for additional resources to detain migrants who have damaged private property.
Abbott’s policies and profligate spending won’t remove the incentive for gangs and drug cartels to profit off of trafficking migrants across the border. And they certainly won’t prevent desperate migrants fleeing poor countries, violence and environmental disasters to attempt a dangerous crossing.
Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be saddled with a $2 billion bill that is designed to benefit the governor’s re-election prospects more than any communities along the border.
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