An editorial we published on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 1998 predicted “the debate over abortion will be just as passionate in 2023 as it was in 1973.”
That debate has never abated in the last 49 years, and never will. For all that noise, it still comes down to the simple matter of whether a woman has the right to get an abortion. That is enough to carve the deepest of trenches in this modern civil war.
Connecticut is now a leader of the resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current efforts to overturn the landmark decision. As the Court tries to push the decision into the hands of elected officials, Connecticut is positioning itself as a sanctuary.
The Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, anticipated the Supreme Court’s actions.
The law would shield personnel who perform abortions in Connecticut, and thwart states that try to cross borders to punish medical professionals.
“But know this: if you are providing, assisting in, or seeking an abortion that is legal in Connecticut, we will defend you. If you are seeking to exercise your right to determine your reproductive future, we will defend you,” state Reps. Matt Blumenthal and Jillian Gilchrest, who co-chair the Reproductive Rights Caucus, wrote in a statement.
With actions such as the protections it codified in 1990, Connecticut has reliably braced itself for a fight that would cross generations. Matt Blumenthal, as just one example, is carrying forward the work of his father, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Our state also is unique because the issue does not check party boxes here. Therein lies a reminder that this can be a traumatic issue on both sides of the line.
When the Reproductive Freedom act passed the state Senate, conservative Republicans who opposed it were joined by two prominent Black Democrats, Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport and Patricia Billie Miller of Stamford.
“I can’t support a system that has systemically tried to get rid of a race of people,” Miller said.
The bill was approved on the House side with seven of the 87 “Yes” votes coming from Republicans and 14 “Nos” from Democrats, 10 of whom are people of color.
Only one Connecticut governor in the last 50 years has opposed abortion rights. Republican Gov. Thomas Meskill’s efforts to uphold Connecticut’s anti-abortion statute were repealed, which helped shape the Roe v. Wade decision a few months later.
Republican John Rowland was firmly anti-abortion during his tenure in Congress, shifting his position during his successful run for governor.
It will become a campaign issue again this year. Bob Stefanowski, who is expected to again claim the Republican nomination for governor, was pressed to clarify his position during his unsuccessful run against Lamont four years ago.
“Bob believes that Roe is settled law. He would not seek to limit access to reproductive choice if elected,” his spokesman said at the time. Since the law may not be settled, Stefanowski will be pressed for a new answer in the months to come.
Our editorial of a quarter century ago also theorized that the public dialogue over abortion was evolving. We’re not sure it has. Any discussion begins and ends with the individual, and her right to choose.
Connecticut is on the right side of history in defending her rights.
Hartford Courant. April 30, 2022.
Editorial: A state trooper has been charged in the shooting death of Mubarak Soulemane; now it’s time to let justice take its course
It’s now up to a judge and jury to decide justice.
We already know that a state trooper shot and killed Mubarak Soulemane on Jan. 15, 2020.
Soulemane was 19. He was a Black man.
His death at the hands of police inspired his family and others to hold rallies, press conferences and vigils, and file a lawsuit, over the past two years in their effort to seek justice and keep alive the memory of a beloved son, a beloved brother.
The state launched an investigation into the fatal shooting. The Office of Inspector General took over responsibility for the investigation on Nov. 3, 2021.
And last week, state trooper Brian D. North, who is white, turned himself in on a warrant; he is charged with first-degree manslaughter. He is free on a $50,000 bond.
The arrest followed a very extensive investigation by Inspector General Robert J. Devlin Jr. Devlin concluded in his 133-page report that North’s use of deadly force was unjustified.
Soulemane’s family said following the arrest that they felt the weight they’ve been bearing since Mubarak’s death lightened just a bit. It would be difficult to know the impact a death in this manner would have on a family, but the Soulemanes have shared some of that lasting anguish publicly in their quest to bring change to Connecticut and beyond.
The family has been upfront and honest about Mubarek Soulemane being diagnosed with schizophrenia and that they believe he was in crisis the day he died: He tried to steal an iPhone from an AT&T store, assaulted a Lyft driver, stole a car, then led police on a high-speed chase, armed with a kitchen knife.
He was still clutching that knife after he crashed off Interstate 95′s Exit 43 in West Haven and was surrounded by police. North told investigators that he shot Soulemane after he “became concerned for the safety” of another trooper and a West Haven officer.
“As a result, I discharged my duty firearm to eliminate the threat.” North said according to the Devlin report.
But Devlin also raised questions about “inconsistencies” in what North told investigators, including that North reported being concerned the other trooper and officer would attempt to grab Soulemane and be injured doing so.
“In the present case, that standard of reasonableness was not met,” Devlin said.
The report also critiques North for not trying to de-escalate the situation before using deadly force.
“Only 36 seconds elapsed between North taking a position next to the driver window and his firing his gun through that window,” Devlin wrote in the report. “Would a reasonable officer have made further attempts to talk to Soulemane either himself or possibly waiting until an officer with crisis intervention training could respond?”
It should be noted that the Connecticut State Police Union, while offering the Soulemane family condolences for the loss of Mubarek. disagreed with Devlin’s decision.
The union statement said that, ”We are disappointed that the Inspector General has made the decision to prosecute a Trooper, who was forced to make a split-second decision during these dangerous and rapidly evolving circumstances.”
Devlin’s report conveys the most information the public has received about this case to date. In it we learn for the first time some of what North told investigators and that Devlin found the alleged inconsistencies in his statements.
Devlin also completed the affidavit used to arrest North. He notes in the document that he was previously an appellate court judge for a year and was a Superior Court judge for 26 years.
Devlin is not the judge on the criminal case against North.
That case must play out at Superior Court in Milford, where cases that originate in West Haven go. North is scheduled to be arraigned there Tuesday. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Part of what is likely to be considered is that under state statutes, a police officer is only justified in using deadly physical force on another person when the officer believes such force is needed to protect themselves or another person from deadly force.
It is up to the Superior Court to ensure there is justice in this case for Mubarek Soulemane and his family. The court must also make sure North gets justice, too.
Bangor Daily News. May 2, 2022.
Editorial: Maine paid an extra $200,000 to release prisoner benefits it never should have seized
Usually, it is a good idea for someone to listen to their lawyer. Maine just learned that the hard way, to the tune of $200,000.
Back in 2020, Gov. Janet Mills ordered that unemployment benefits be halted from going to Maine state prisoners who lost their private sector work release jobs due to the pandemic. Mills called these payments “appalling” and “bad public policy.” Inmates then sued Mills, Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty and Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman in federal court.
We were never convinced that work release inmates receiving these pandemic benefits was bad policy. Bad politics? Maybe. There isn’t exactly a strong voting constituency centered around protecting prisoner rights. But there has always been a good policy argument for providing these benefits during the pandemic disruption.
“The purpose of the work release program and unemployment benefits is to ensure incarcerated people have access to financial security and employment when they return to their communities,” Carol Garvan, the legal director at the ACLU of Maine, said in a recent press release. “Our communities are safer when formerly incarcerated people have a foundation for a successful return home.”
In March 2021, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker granted a motion from the state to dismiss the lawsuit. That ruling was appealed, with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing oral arguments in January of this year.
That recent ACLU press release followed a settlement between the state and the group of 53 prisoners who had been on work release. Without admitting error, the state has agreed to return collective benefits of more than $160,000 that it had seized. In addition, the state will pay $200,000 in legal fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
So essentially, the state waited roughly two years and is paying an extra $200,000 of the public’s money to do what it should have done all along.
This was avoidable. Maine Assistant Attorney General Nancy Macirowski advised at the start of all this that the benefits were legal, but the Mills administration went forward with this misguided approach anyway. And the public is now left paying for that mistake.
“Everyone — including an incarcerated worker — is entitled to equal protection and fair treatment under the law,” David Webbert, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in that same ACLU press release. “The settlement helps ensure that the state treats every Mainer with respect and dignity and that we don’t have any second-class people with second-class rights.”
None of this is to excuse the work release prisoners for the crimes they committed. For example, lead plaintiff Marc Sparks was sentenced in September 2015 to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended after pleading no contest to charges that he was driving under the influence of methadone when he crashed his car into another vehicle. The other driver died six days later. We’re not pretending that didn’t happen.
But the same rule of law that saw Sparks and others imprisoned for their crimes also protects their rights. It is good to see those rights finally recognized through this settlement.
Unfortunately, there was an extra expense of $200,000 that could have been avoided if the Mills administration had just listened to the legal advice it received early on.
Brattleboro Reformer. May 4, 2022.
Editorial: Find the center lane
Governors typically stay on topic at media briefings, adhering to pre-planned talking points and always trying to bring reporters’ questions back to the message-of-the-day. Going off-script can be risky; a “wrong” answer threatens to derail the administration’s carefully planned public message.
So it was unusual this week when Gov. Phil Scott was asked about his allegiance to the Republican Party in light of his frequent policy disagreements with the state and national organizations. He went off script, and we wanted to cheer.
The governor’s breaks with the conservatives in the GOP have been significant, from his public signing of several gun control bills in 2018 (to a mixed chorus of cheers and boos from people on both sides of that controversial issue) to his statement last month urging Vermonters to ensure the transgender community “feels safe in our state.”
“To Vermonters in the LGBTQA+ community, I want you to know we stand with you and support you but know we have more work to do.” This statement came as conservatives continue their assault on our LGBTQA neighbors and their supporters.
When asked about these policy breaks with his party, the governor didn’t duck the question, describing himself as a moderate centrist, and adding, “I’ve reached across the aisle expecting people to reach back to me, as well, to work together. It’s more difficult, whether you’re a moderate centrist Democrat or a moderate centrist Republican. It’s equally as hard. It’s easy to go to the extremes — the extreme left or the extreme right. Everybody knows where you’re going to be and what your vote is going to be.
“Admittedly the moderate centrists are becoming further and further and fewer and fewer, regardless of the party. When you look at the Northeast in particular … I think we’re more moderate, more centrist, than others. I think most Americans are more centered.”
He said the party system — with primary elections that drive candidates to appeal to the base of their parties, “forces the candidates to go to the extremes — either the extreme left or the extreme right.”
“This doesn’t leave us much of a lane in the center,” Scott said. “It’s imperative that we continue to find that lane.”
To be clear, the governor has a political team around him at all times; he’s not above or immune to party politics. And we’re sure his polling shows that centrist message to be popular in left-leaning Vermont (he served in the state Senate from 2001-2010; as lieutenant governor from 2011-2017; and been reelected governor since his first term in 2017). No one makes it to the governorship without keeping a finger in the political wind.
Still, in this time of extreme political division across the nation, with screaming — not discussion — from advocates on both sides of every issue, and the dragging down of well-meaning informed people into the muck, we can only appreciate Scott’s direct call for cooperation and seeking answers in the middle.
He’s right. Most Americans are more centered.
We don’t agree on everything. But most of us don’t villainize our neighbors who are different than we are. We hold out hope our judicial system is fair and balanced, and will impartially be there when we need it. We ache for the people of Ukraine and other nations awash in violence, and wish we could do more to help; then feel slightly sickened when we change the channel and see unhinged political grandstanding here at home.
We are not immune here in Vermont. When an anti-abortion student group protesting against Planned Parenthood in Brattleboro on Tuesday were praying and signing hymns, some passers-by cursed at them. And Planned Parenthood staff continually face threats and verbal abuse for doing their necessary work.
The extremes put us all at risk, put our nation at risk, put our democracy at risk. The extremes drive us to feel frightened and uncertain, to move to and cluster in like-minded neighborhoods and states, to stop listening and civilly, considering differing viewpoints.
Gov. Scott spoke for many when he went off-script this week to voice concern about the growing extremism of both political parties and to call for seeking the middle.
“It’s imperative that we continue to find that lane.”
Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. May 4, 2022.
Editorial: The third rail
The question becomes: What does the leaked decision indicating the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade mean for Vermont?
We can see, plain as day, it is going to have a pronounced impact on the nation. But will Vermont’s Proposition 5 provide the needed protections for a woman’s right to choose?
The Supreme Court’s decision, if it plays out as the leak shows, would allow states to ban abortion and bring us back 50 years, denying women the basic constitutional rights regarding their own bodies that Roe v. Wade enshrined. (The draft has been confirmed as authentic by Chief Justice John Roberts, but it’s important to note that it is not yet final. It could change before being handed down by the nine-member court.)
This is a third-rail issue, and always has been. And 2022 is going to prove to be the year that every person running for state and federal office (and probably local office, too, unfortunately) is going to be pressed on their position on abortion.
Backers of Prop 5, Vermont’s proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing reproductive liberty for all Vermonters, say the Supreme Court’s overture makes it more important to support the proposition, making Vermont the first state in the country to include reproductive freedom in its state Constitution.
But what really is at stake in the other states?
Here are some facts as provided by The Associated Press this week:
— While states have been anticipating such a decision for years, the draft opinion in a case from Mississippi is the clearest indication yet that abortion access in the U.S. will depend on where you live. Meanwhile, polling shows a majority of the public favors abortion being legal in most or all cases.
— A total of 22 states already have laws on the books that would ban abortion completely or very early in a pregnancy, even before many women know they are pregnant, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that is pro-abortion rights but generally has the most up-to-date legislative data.
— The laws fall into three basic categories: Unenforced abortion bans passed before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973; bans that have been passed but blocked in court under Roe; and so-called trigger bans that are designed to take effect if Roe is overturned.
— At least two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, have only state laws banning abortion that were passed before Roe and could take effect if the decision is overturned. The Michigan governor is suing to reverse that state’s ban.
— Several states have overlapping laws.
— Sixteen states have placed protections for abortion access in state law, though they do take slightly different forms.
The AP notes that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the country will be divided into states that allow the procedure and those that ban or greatly restrict it.
Supporters of anti-abortion laws want to reduce the number of women who seek the procedure and discourage them from going to other states. At least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home state between 2012 and 2017, according to a 2019 Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is particularly true in pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, where the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state has increased because of a lack of nearby clinics or a desire to travel to a state with less restrictive abortion laws.
About 630,000 abortions were reported to the CDC in 2019, the latest data available, although information from some states is missing.
More than half of U.S. abortions are now done with pills rather than surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The trend has spiked during the pandemic with the help of telemedicine. In 2020, pills accounted for 54% of all U.S. abortions, up from roughly 44% in 2019.
It comes down to this: Americans have nuanced attitudes on the topic. In an AP-NORC poll conducted last June, 61% said abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester of a pregnancy. However, 65% said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester and 80% said that about the third trimester. Many Americans said the procedure should be allowable under at least some circumstances even during the second or third trimesters.
The third rail is charged. Beware.
Rutland Herald. April 30, 2022.
Vermont’s own Sen. Bernie Sanders has been sounding the alarm over the cost of a college education for some time.
He recently joined fellow members of Congress urging the administration to act to extend the pause on federally held student loan payments until at least the end of the year, and to cancel student debt.
President Joe Biden said this week that he’s “taking a hard look” at canceling additional federal student loan debt and will reach a decision within a month.
“I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
The comments came days after Biden had a private meeting with Democratic lawmakers who pressed him on the issue. One of the lawmakers, Rep. Tony Cardenas, a California Democrat, told reporters afterwards that Biden disclosed he was exploring the possibility.
However, Biden signaled that he wouldn’t go as far as some want, saying $50,000 in debt forgiveness was not under consideration. He did not give a number for what he was considering.
“I’m in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there will be additional debt forgiveness,” the president said. During his campaign, Biden said he wanted to “immediately cancel” at least $10,000 in student debt per person. So far he’s repeatedly extended a pause on requiring borrowers to repay their loans, a moratorium that was put in place under then-president Donald Trump near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden has extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments four times, most recently until Aug. 31. Payments have now been on hold for more than two years, over two presidential administrations.
“Canceling student debt is one of the most powerful ways to address racial and economic equity issues,” Sanders, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and other lawmakers wrote to Biden. “Student debt cancellation must be one of the key actions in your comprehensive approach to advance equity as our nation works to rebuild a stronger and more equitable economy.”
According to a news release from Sanders’ office, he has long fought for the cancellation of all student debt and to make higher education an option for everyone, regardless of economic background.
In 2019, Sanders introduced the College for All Act. If passed, the legislation would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students, and allow students from families earning less than $125,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free. It would also guarantee students from families earning less than $125,000 a year can attend tuition-free and debt-free public and private, nonprofit Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.
Students finishing college say they feel they are graduating with a degree and a mortgage around their necks, making it impossible to easily get ahead. Student debt can be crippling.
Nationwide, there has been a letter-writing campaign aimed at wiping out student loans. The New York Times reports that #PensForBiden is the latest attempt to sway the president on a high-stakes dilemma as the midterm elections approach and much of his domestic agenda remains stalled: What to do about the $1.6 trillion that more than 45 million people owe the government?
According to the Times, “calls to cancel student debt have hung over Mr. Biden since before his presidency began, driven by borrowers and the progressive wing of his Democratic Party. He backed the idea on the campaign trail in 2020. The Times notes that Senate Democrats lack the votes to help make good on that promise, leaving executive action as the only possible pathway. But close allies say some influential members of the president’s team have been reluctant for him to do it — some because they disagree with the idea of forgiveness and some because they don’t believe he has the authority.
Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would require the government to write off $321 billion in loans, according to an analysis released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Times wrote.
The paper reports a recent Morning Consult poll found that more than 60% of registered voters were in favor of some level of student debt cancellation. Some view debt cancellation as relief for critical constituencies; others oppose it as bad policy or because they fear the economic effects of putting more money in consumers’ pockets when inflation is soaring, the Times reports.
We would submit that a college education should be available and affordable to every student who wants one. Forgiving debt is only half of the problem. The real issue requires a systemic reset that all but a few higher education institutions are willing to face.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.