Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 15

The Washington Post on SCOTUS, Congress and bump stock regulation

It has been almost seven years since a gunman began firing from his hotel window in Las Vegas, wreaking fear and havoc on a crowd of country music concertgoers below. Within about 10 minutes, the shooter fired more than 1,000 shots, leaving 58 people dead and more than 500 wounded, mostly from gunshots. In a nation where mass shootings have become unconscionably frequent, that massacre on Oct. 1, 2017, still ranks as the deadliest such slaughter in U.S. history. And it was made possible by the perpetrator’s use of a “bump stock” to accelerate his AR-15’s rate of fire; the device effectively converted that legal semiautomatic weapon into the functional equivalent of an automatic one.

So devastating and outrageous was this rapid-fire killing spree that political leaders across the ideological spectrum called for a ban on bump stocks. Polls in 2018 showed that large majorities of the public favored such a measure. Even then-President Donald Trump, a Republican devoted to a maximalist view of gun rights, agreed. By the end of 2018, the Trump administration had promulgated a regulation reclassifying bump stocks as machine guns, which have been sharply restricted since 1934.

Now comes the Supreme Court to undo that regulation, in a 6-3 ruling. The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined only by his fellow Republican-appointed justices, is a tour de force of statutory hairsplitting, which concludes that the bump stock does not, strictly speaking, make it possible to fire multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. Therefore, Justice Thomas wrote, the device does not fall within the definition of a machine gun Congress established when it imposed tight limits civilian possession of such weapons 90 years ago, and the executive branch lacks the power to ban it by regulation. All that remains of the erstwhile movement against bump stocks are statutes that prohibit them in 15 states and D.C.

The Thomas opinion feels like the ultimate triumph of form over substance, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion co-signed by two fellow appointees of Democratic presidents. The court could just as easily have determined that bump stocks fit the definition of a machine gun because it enables the shooter of a semiautomatic weapon to pull the trigger once and then, as she put it, “fire continuous shots without any human input beyond maintaining forward pressure.” She added, accurately, we fear: “Today’s decision to reject that ordinary understanding will have deadly consequences.”

The only problem is that Justice Thomas was correct to point out that the 2018 regulation, issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, did not represent that agency’s consistent view. In fact, it represented a 180-degree reversal of ATF’s position on bump stocks before the Las Vegas massacre, which had been more or less the same one that Justice Thomas articulated in his opinion. This history shows what can go wrong when such clearly legislative matters are left up to the bureaucracy and the courts. It would be far preferable for Congress to provide fresh guidance, instead of relying on regulators and judges to parse a 90-year-old statutory text.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/06/15/supreme-court-bump-stock-ban-congress/


June 16

The Wall Street Journal on pushing unions on contractors

The contractor that runs call centers for Medicare, as well as the federal ObamaCare marketplace, isn’t even two years into a nine-year deal, so why is the Department of Health and Human Services accepting new proposals this week? The answer seems to be that the Biden Administration wants to push more than 10,000 workers into a union.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said late last year he intended to redo the contract, this time with a “labor harmony requirement.” Notices of intent to compete for the job are due June 21, and the department plans to announce the winner by Jan. 16, 2025, four days before the next presidential inauguration. The current contractor, Maximus, gets good ratings, but Mr. Becerra cited the need to ensure “continuity of operations.” The insinuation is that some kind of labor dispute could leave 1-800-MEDICARE with a busy signal.

This concern is baseless, the company says. “Maximus has only experienced five brief labor-related demonstrations since 2018, and all were sparsely attended,” it told HHS in a letter last month. “Barely 1 percent of the Maximus workforce has participated in any given demonstration,” and “many of the participants were paid by the union.” Meanwhile, “our Customer Satisfaction scores averaged 95.6 percent across those five demonstrations.”

Maximus won the current deal in September 2022, after almost three years of HHS procurement work. The contract is renewable annually for nine years, and it’s worth $6.6 billion. In the last year the company answered about 30 million Medicare and ObamaCare calls. Its employees working on the contract, up to 13,000, are based in right-to-work states: Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.

The HHS request for proposal says a “labor harmony agreement,” at minimum, prohibits work stoppages. In exchange, though, unions could seek such concessions as access to workers or the ability to unionize via “card check” instead of a secret ballot. Under HHS’s terms, negotiations would be required when a union “demonstrates intent to represent service employees performing work under this contract.” Then an executed labor harmony agreement is due in 120 days.

Consider the leverage this gives labor organizers. Any union that “demonstrates intent” to organize Medicare call centers, even if most employees disagree, can use the threat of breach of contract to demand negotiations. What if the union makes unreasonable demands?

Maximus has argued to HHS that this is a wrong turn. Adding unions could frustrate performance by making call centers less flexible and adaptive. The broad language in the HHS document leaves many questions unanswered, so it isn’t clear how this is supposed to work in practice. Maximus’s letter last month also says the mandate for a labor harmony agreement is “contrary to law.”

The point of contracting is to serve taxpayers, yet HHS is subordinating this goal to a union agenda. “I’ve been around this business for almost half a century now, and I’ve never seen this kind of action with this kind of intent,” David Berteau, CEO of the Professional Services Council trade group, said recently. “It’s done without cause. There’s no reason for it other than to insert a labor harmony agreement into the existing work.”

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pushing-unions-on-a-federal-contractor-medicare-call-center-834cfade?mod=editorials_article_pos6


June 13

The Los Angeles Times on SCOTUS keeping medication abortion safe, for now

The Supreme Court did the right thing Thursday by unanimously ruling against a challenge to the safety of mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in medication abortions.

Of course, this wasn’t the court protecting access to abortion, which it gutted by overturning Roe vs. Wade two years ago and taking away the constitutional right to abortion. Nor did it rule on the safety of mifepristone, which has been available for more than 20 years.

It was the court tossing a ridiculous case on the grounds that the plaintiffs, antiabortion doctors, had no standing, or personal stake, to challenge the medication’s safety. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine et al sued the Food and Drug Administration contending that the authorization of mifepristone should be revoked because it hadn’t been studied sufficiently, though it has been safely in use for more than two decades.

Still, anyone who cares about the right to control their body and their destiny should feel relief and satisfaction. Had the justices ruled for the antiabortion groups it would have restricted access to the most common and a very safe form of abortion across the country. Even residents of progressive states such as California would have had less access to medication abortion. So this is a win.

But any sense of relief must be tempered by this reality check: Antiabortion forces are relentlessly scheming to ban abortion altogether. Precisely because medication abortion is so commonly used, it is a target for abortion opponents and will continue to be.

It’s exasperating that the case got as far as it did, making its way up the judicial ladder from the courtroom of the antiabortion Amarillo-based U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk to the 5th Circuit, which affirmed part of his decision, and eventually to the Supreme Court. This case was so obviously flawed. It wrongly second-guessed the FDA, and the plaintiffs had no business filing it.

In the opinion, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh eviscerated the group’s claim that it could sue the FDA because at some point they might suffer personal or economic injury from medication abortion. Kavanaugh wrote that the group had not identified any doctor who had been forced to perform an abortion against their conscience. Nor did they prove that they would suffer economic injuries because they might have to divert time from other patients to treat those with complications from mifepristone.

The only thing the plaintiffs proved in this case is that they have moral and ideological objections to abortion. Kavanaugh offered this suggestion: “Citizens and doctors who object to what the law allows others to do may always take their concerns to the Executive and Legislative Branches.”

That note is a sober reminder that the fight for abortion access is not over. There’s no question that Thursday’s ruling was a victory for reproductive rights. But this is a long battle. Abortion medication will end up in court again. Other plaintiffs will argue they have standing to fight to curtail abortion procedures.

The only way to stop this continual assault on our rights is through the ballot box. Every voter should remember that abortion access needs to be protected in state constitutions and in federal law so the decision doesn’t fall to nine justices who don’t represent the 336 million Americans whose lives will be affected by their decisions. In November, and in every election after, voters must send a message to elected officials and political candidates that they must protect abortion rights if they want to be in office.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-06-13/editorial-supreme-court-keeps-medication-abortion-safe-for-now