The courts get it right on the NC Gerrymander

A few days late on this, but it needs it’s own post.  This is a big deal.

Mark Joseph Stern on “Elena Kagan’s Blueprint to End Partisan Gerrymandering”

The brilliance of Kagan’s dissent lay in its clarity: She laid out the precise harms inflicted by partisan gerrymandering and explained how they can be measured and remedied. Kagan identified two distinct but intertwined constitutional violations: Warped maps “reduce the weight of certain citizens’ votes,” depriving them of the ability to participate equally in elections; they also punish voters for their political expression and association. These dual injuries, Kagan concluded, implicate fundamental principles of both equal protection and freedom of speech.

After castigating her conservative colleagues for minimizing these harms, Kagan illustrated the ease with which courts can address them. In his Rucho opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts insisted that federal courts were unable to determine when a partisan gerrymander goes “too far.” Kagan pointed out that, in fact, plenty of lower courts have already done exactly that. These courts deployed a three-part test. First, they ask whether mapmakers intended to entrench their party’s power by diluting votes for their opponents. Second, they ask whether the scheme succeeded. Third, they ask if mapmakers have any legitimate, nonpartisan explanation for their machinations. If they do not, the gerrymander must be tossed out.

“If you are a lawyer,” Kagan wrote, “you know that this test looks utterly ordinary. It is the sort of thing courts work with every day.” In practice, the most important part of the test—its evaluation of a gerrymander’s severity—often boils down to a cold, hard look at the data. Take, for instance, North Carolina’s congressional map, which contained 10 Republican seats and 3 Democratic ones. Experts ran 24,518 simulations of the map that used traditional, nonpartisan redistricting criteria. More than 99 percent of them produced at least one more Democratic seat. The exercise verified that North Carolina’s map isn’t just an outlier but “an out-out-out-outlier.”

Roberts rejected Kagan’s reasoning, asserting that her test was “indeterminate and arbitrary.” [emphasis mine] But on Tuesday, the Wake County Superior Court rested its decision on precisely the three-part test that Kagan proposed.

On occasion, Roberts can be impressively thoughtful about the proper role of the courts.  Alas, he can also be a horrible political hack.  This was the latter.

And the NYT Editorial:

Three state judges on a North Carolina trial court just did what a majority on the United States Supreme Court said was impossible only a few months ago — apply well-established legal standards to strike down some of the most egregious partisan gerrymanders in the country.

The state court judges’ 357-page ruling applies to the North Carolina state legislature, the General Assembly, which now has two weeks to come up with new, fairer maps for state legislative districts. It also sends a broader message to the justices in Washington, and to state judges everywhere: See? Protecting democracy from self-interested, power-hungry politicians isn’t so hard after all…

The existing maps were so effective that they helped entrench Republican majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. In 2018, Republican candidates for North Carolina’s House of Representatives won less than 50 percent of the two-party statewide vote, but walked away with 65 seats to the Democrats’ 55. Republican candidates for the State Senate also won a minority of the popular vote, and still took 29 of 50 seats.

This kind of abuse of the democratic process is precisely what courts are designed to fix. But when North Carolina voters begged the United States Supreme Court for relief, arguing that they had been written out of the political process by the very people who were supposed to serve them, the five conservative justices turned their backs. The court could do nothing, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a demoralizing opinion in June — not because the Republicans are innocent, but because the judiciary can’t hold them accountable for what are, in essence, political crimes.

On Tuesday afternoon, the North Carolina judges — two Democrats and a Republican — agreed unanimously that they didn’t need the federal Constitution to vindicate Americans’ basic democratic rights. They could rely on their state’s own Constitution, which guarantees, among other things, free elections, equal protection and freedom of speech and assembly — all of which they said the Republicans’ maps violated.

Quick hits (part II)

Look at this, your first double quick hits, on-time, weekend in forever :-).

1) Truly, the everyday corruption of the Trump administration is just astounding.  And the politicization of the Department of Justice is among the worst parts.  NYT:

President Trump’s Justice Department — for it is increasingly clear that the department has been reduced to an arm of the White House — has opened an antitrust investigation of four auto companies that had the temerity to defy the president by voluntarily agreeing to reduce auto emissions below the level required by current federal law.

The investigation is an act of bullying, plain and simple: a nakedly political abuse of authority.

The department is supposed to prevent companies from acting in their own interest at the expense of the public. The four automakers, by contrast, are acting in the public interest.

That the government of the United States would fight to loosen emissions standards in the face of the growing threat posed by climate change also boggles the mind. Not content to fiddle while the planet burns, Mr. Trump is fanning the flames…

If the Justice Department wants to get serious about antitrust enforcement, there are plenty of places to get started. This investigation is an embarrassment. It might as well wheel out the statue of Lady Justice and replace it with a bronze marionette.

2) Oh, and why we’re at it, how about making immigrant kids go hungry.  Seriously, of course.  My friend and colleague, Sarah Bowen, in the NYT:

Between 2012 and 2017, as part of a study of how low-income mothers feed their children, we talked with women who had moved from Mexico and Central America to the United States. They came here because they wanted to be able to offer their children more than they’d had growing up, including a full belly at the end of every day. Over the course of our research — amid increasing ICE raids, tightened work restrictions and growing anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by President Trump’s rhetoric — we found that many families became afraid to apply for food assistance programs. The Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule will intensify this kind of fear for immigrant families, including those who are in this country legally. One result will be more hungry families and children.

By allowing the government to deny permanent legal status (also known as green cards) to people who have received public benefits like housing assistance, SNAP or Medicaid, the new rule — which will go into effect Oct. 15 if it survives legal challenges, including suits by CaliforniaNew York and Washington — will force families to choose between putting food on the table and the promise of future citizenship.

3) Wired feature on the wagon wheel effect of water going up and other fascinating illusions is pretty cool.

4) Thanks to JPP for sending me this, “It doesn’t matter if it’s sugary or diet: New study links all soda to an early death.”   From my response to his email,
“Thanks, of course. I find this one particularly interesting in that they have 400K+ people and still can’t truly make useful conclusions about diet soda. Just too many unmeasured factors, even with their controls. And, while we all understand the potential deleterious mechanisms for excess sugar, I would argue that it is incumbent upon them to add a scientifically plausible mechanism of action for aspartame leading to diseases of the circulatory system.”  Some studies make me honestly assess my commitment to diet soda.  This was not one of them.

5) Is there anything dumber than Republicans’ asinine, bad-faith “republic, not a democracy” nonsense (well, sure, of course there is, but this is really annoying)?  Jamelle Bouie:

But the crux of Crenshaw’s argument is his second point. “We live in a republic.” He doesn’t say “not a democracy,” but it’s implied by the next clause, where he rejects majority rule — “51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.”

You can fill in the blanks of the argument from there. The Founding Fathers built a government to stymie the “tyranny of the majority.” They contrasted their “republic” with “democracy,” which they condemned as dangerous and unstable. As John Adams wrote in an 1814 letter to the Virginia politician John Taylor: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.”

But there’s a problem. For the founders, “democracy” did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece, in particular, was a cautionary tale. When James Madison critiqued “democracy” in Federalist No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort: “a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.” This he contrasted with a “republic” or “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” Likewise, in a 1788 speech to the New York ratification convention, Alexander Hamilton disavowed “the ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated.” They “never possessed one good feature of government,” he said. “Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”…

It’s worth asking where this quip — “we’re a republic, not a democracy” — even came from. Nicole Hemmer, a historian of American politics and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” traces it to the 1930s and 40s. “When Franklin Roosevelt made defending democracy a core component of his argument for preparing for, and then intervening in, the war in Europe, opponents of U.S. intervention began to push back by arguing that the U.S. was not, in fact, a democracy,” she wrote in an email…

These origins are important. If there’s substance behind “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government. There’s really no difference, in the present, between a “republic” and a “democracy”: Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.

The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few. [emphasis mine]

6a) Really interesting NYT feature on how Phoenix is adapting to climate change by moving more and more activities to the night-time.  Also, speaking as a resident of an almost temperate rainforest climate, people really should not move to the desert by the millions.

6b) And very, very cool interactive Washington Post feature on how climate change is already affecting all sorts of places across America.

7) Paul Waldman, “if we told the truth about guns”

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.

And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.

8a) This was a really good piece from Perry Bacon Jr last month, “GOP Politicians Are Much More Resistant To Gun Control Than GOP Voters Are.”

8b) Relatedly, Dylan Matthews from last year on how gun ownership because a political identity is really good:’

In 1972, about 66 percent of gun owners voted for Richard Nixon, compared to 55 percent of non-gun owners, for a gap of 11 percentage points.

In 2012, 56 percent of gun owners voted for Mitt Romney, compared to 26 percent of non-gun owners. The gap was 30 percent, almost triple what it was in 1972. Joslyn and Haider-Markel updated their study in 2017, and found that the gap in 2016 wasn’t quite as large as in 2012 — 62 percent of gun owners and 38 percent of non-owners voted for Trump  but it did remain significant and far larger than in the 1970s and ’80s.

The gun gap could just be an artifact of other demographics. For instance, we know that for a whole host of historical reasons, black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and whites mostly vote for Republicans; whites are also likelier to own guns, so the gap might reflect racial differences. Same goes for partisan gender gaps (women are more likely to be Democrats and less likely to own guns), rural/urban gaps, and so forth.

But Joslyn and company find that even after you control for gender, race, education, age, rural/urban status, and even party affiliation, gun ownership still correlates strongly with presidential vote choice. Indeed, they find that in their regressions, it “exerts a greater influence on likelihood of voting Republican than gender, education, or rural residence, and rivals age.”

These regressions can’t prove causality — that is, they can’t prove that gun ownership causes people to vote Republican. But they do show that the phenomenon we’re seeing isn’t just an effect of which racial groups or genders are likely to own guns.

8c) And while wer’re at it, Nate Cohn from 2017 with lots of cool graphics on how “Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun.”

9) My wife particularly loved this story about the problems faced by those left behind in gentrification.  I really don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think preventing the revitalization of urban cores by wealthier residents (and an important reversal of decades of white flight) is a bad thing.

10) Speaking of my post on ebooks, good stuff from Wired on “The Radical Transformation of the Textbook.”

11) Good stuff from Lili Loofbourow on “sharpiegate.”

More interesting in Trump’s ongoing lie is what his absolute fixation on maintaining it says about the state of his White House and its relationship to the information environment. So clumsy and obvious was the Sharpie-drawn extension that it seemed like a test—how much can I get away with? Authoritarians frequently gauge their subordinates’ loyalties by ordering them to agree to things that are plainly untrue. This is the very first thing Trump did to then–press secretary Sean Spicer, who was forced to publicly defend the president’s claim about crowd sizes at his inauguration despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Spicer obliged, teaching Trump that he could use weak people to help him bend reality as president.

Here’s a theory about why Trump couldn’t let it go this week: One of his staunchest allies didn’t seem to have his back. It may have rattled him. Fox News, which he has recently started attacking for being insufficiently slavish—has let him down…

And if #Sharpiegate can be said to serve any non-embarrassing function, it’s as a test of another kind, to see which institutions and people have rotted under the president’s hysterical commands and which ones haven’t. On Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown issued a statement taking responsibility for the president’s out-of-date information. On Thursday, a source from the White House informed CNN that Trump had personally directed Brown to make this statement. The president was forcing a high-ranking military official to cover for him. On Friday evening, the NOAA released a peculiar, unsigned statement throwing the Alabama NWS under the bus for contradicting the president-who-shall-not-be-contradicted. (The NWS Employees Organization wasn’t having it, and neither were many former NOAA officials, who professed themselves stunned.)

What’s noteworthy about all this is not that Trump is forcing the government to write him notes of excuse; that’s old news by now. It’s that his critics have not merely shrugged and gone away, and that even the façade of his defense has shown cracks. It was a White House aide who revealed the John Roberts visit to the Oval Office, and, according to the Washington Post, it was a White House official who broke with the administration line to admit that the president of the United States had marked up an official NOAA map in order to avoid even a whiff of admitting fault.

“No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the source said. Trump can sell whatever he wants; he’s seeing what happens when people don’t buy it.

12) This is excellent and true, “The Guy Who Open-Carried an Assault Rifle Into Walmart After El Paso Is America’s Best Gun Control Activist”

On Aug. 3, a 21-year-old Texas man shot 46 people in an El Paso Walmart with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 22 of them. On Aug. 8, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor and carrying a semi-automatic rifle entered a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, in what police say he intended as a “social experiment” to see if the store would honor the state’s open-carry law in the wake of the El Paso killings.

The experiment got results. After shoppers panicked and a store employee pulled a fire alarm to trigger an evacuation, the man—his name is Dmitriy Andreychenko—was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat; prosecutors argue that he recklessly disregarded the possibility that his actions would cause dangerous chaos. If you’ve been following the rise of politically motivated “tactical” open-carry culture in the last six or so years, what happened next was surprising: Walmart—and a number of its competitors, like Kroger, Wegmans, CVS, and Walgreens—have announced that they are “requesting” or “asking” customers not to display firearms in their stores even in states where the practice is legal.

As private entities, the stores have the right to set rules for their property. Walmart says it will take a “a very non-confrontational approach” to enforcing its request, but gun proliferation is a cultural issue as well as a legal one, which is why certain gun enthusiasts have been so eager to make a public show of openly carrying—and why the company’s move, however non-confrontational, carries weight. Gun activists’ goal has been to make ordinary citizens accept the presence of people who could kill at any moment—to deliver the message that visibly armed citizens ought to be part of everyday life, to express the power of the gun-rights movement, and to convey the idea that arming oneself, rather than collectively disarming society, is the proper response to feeling unsafe.

Open carry has been hard to stop at the legal level in states where Republicans control legislatures, which, of late, is most of them. The Supreme Court has not recognized a constitutional right to carry guns in public, yet, but it hasn’t struck down any open-carry laws either. Advocates of gun control (or gun safety, if you prefer) have been attempting for years to do an end-run by persuading chain stores and restaurants—which can be more responsive to national, general-public opinion than legislators in gerrymandered states—to ban open carry, with some success.

None of their efforts, though, have been as instantly effective as Andreychenko’s stunt in making the point that wearing military protective gear and carrying a semi-automatic weapon should perhaps not be considered an acceptable way to behave, during peacetime, around people who are shopping for paper towels. [emphasis mine]

13) Been a huge fan of Lizzo’s music since I discovered her via Fresh Air earlier this year.  So good!  And, thus, very intrigued to learn that it wasn’t even her terrific songs on her new album that finally brought her to the success she deserves.  De gustibus non est disputandam!  I even discovered when following the youtube links, that she’s playing in Raleigh this Friday.  Alas, I don’t have to worry about being the weird middle-aged white dude at her concert, because it’s sold out.  Obviously booked this small venue before she really took off.

14) New Yorker with some of the truly amazing detail NC GOP gerrymanderer-in-chief Thomas Hofeller had on his computer.

15) How two-factor authentication with your phone may no longer keep you safe.  Turns out that the massively weak link is the cell phone companies.  And, apparently, they don’t care.  Seems to me maybe the government needs to make them (I can dream).

16) Have I mentioned how much I love Netflix’s Dark?  A nice appreciation in Wired.

17) Wow, here was quite the hot take in the NYT, “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience:
Spaying and neutering puppies shouldn’t be standard policy — and it isn’t automatically the “responsible” choice either.”  Steve’s take.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to treat them well, but… they kind of are here for our convenience.

18) Michele Goldberg made the case for Cory Booker back in early August.  I’m still hopeful he’ll catch on as a real contender.

19) Some health news I really like, “Flavonoids in Plants May Help Protect Against Major Killers: Those who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods had a lower risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.”

Consuming flavonoids, a large class of nutrients found in plant foods, may reduce the risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.

Researchers used data on 56,048 Danes, following their diet and health prospectively for 23 years. During that time, 14,083 of them died. The study is in Nature Communications.

After controlling for smoking, hypertension, cholesterol and many other health and dietary factors, they found that compared with people in the lowest one-fifth for flavonoid intake, those in the highest one-fifth had a 17 percent reduced risk for all-cause mortality, a 15 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular disease death, and a 20 percent reduced risk for cancer mortality. The association peaked at about 500 milligrams of flavonoids a day, and was stronger for smokers, heavy drinkers and the obese.

Good sources of flavonoids include tea, chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, berries, apples and broccoli. One cup of tea, one apple, one orange, and three-and-a-half ounces each of blueberries and broccoli would supply more than 500 milligrams of total flavonoids.

Yeah, not so much the brocoli, but love me berries and citrus.

20) This was a disturbing and sadly unsurprising Op-Ed, “A Child Bumps Her Head. What Happens Next Depends on Race: My black and Latino clients are accused of abuse when their kids have accidents.”

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