Commentary, News

A bit of hopeful news to start the final month of the year from-the ACLU of North Carolina:

Lake Lure School Board Votes to Reinstate LGBTQ+ and Other Student Clubs

LAKE LURE, N.C. – The Board of Directors of Lake Lure Classical Academy voted in a special session last night to lift its ban on student-led clubs. A new policy will require K-8 students, but not high school students, to obtain parental consent to join clubs.

The board had suspended all student-led noncurricular clubs after some community members challenged an LGBTQ+ club that was recently formed to promote tolerance and equality for all students. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) had urged the school to rescind the ban and provide equal treatment to all student-run clubs, including the LGBTQ+ club.

“We commend the board for allowing all student-run clubs to have equal access to school resources,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF. “Federal law requires all students clubs – whether it’s a chess club, Bible study group, or Gay-Straight Alliance – to be treated equally. It’s also important that the new policy allows high school students to exercise their First Amendment right to decide what clubs to join. Students should be free to join LGBTQ+ and Gay-Straight Alliance clubs that seek to create a safe space and promote equality for all students on campus. ”

In a Nov. 18 letter, the ACLU-NCLF explained that the federal Equal Access Act forbids schools from permitting some student groups while barring others. LLCA has a history of allowing noncurricular students organizations, including a campus Christian organization that has met on campus for five years.

The ACLU-NCLF’s letter is available at

Commentary, News

As reported in this space two weeks ago, administrators at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee are considering a proposal by the controversial fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers, that would give $2 million to the university to establish the WCU “Center for Study of Free Enterprise.” The proposal would make Western one of the largest university gift recipients in the country out of the scores of campuses currently receiving Koch money.

Monday, in an email to faculty, the chancellor at Western, David O. Belcher, announced that he is endorsing the proposal. Here is the text of the email:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you my decision to endorse the recommendation of the Provost and Provost Council to establish the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE). Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees will consider this recommendation at their meeting scheduled later this week.

I have appreciated the healthy, robust conversation that this proposal has generated and which informed my own contemplation. It is my firm belief that the university, of all places, is and must be the locus of civil discourse and debate on the worthy issues and ideas of our time. I am grateful that, as demonstrated in this case, Western Carolina University is such an institution.

I trust you had a good Thanksgiving holiday and wish you well in these last weeks of the fall semester.

David Belcher

As we also also reported previously, the proposal (which is being spearheaded by an arch-conservative economics professor) is opposed by Western’s Faculty Senate, which drew particular attention in an October statement to the fact that the Koch proposal is contingent upon the university matching the gift to the tune of $1.4 million. Unfortunately, the faculty opposition, which also highlighted the fact that other campus programs with outside funding could benefit from $1.4 million in matching university support, appears to have fallen of deaf ears.

As Chancellor Belcher noted in his email, Western’s Board of Trustees (which includes, among others, conservative firebrand and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer), will consider the proposal later this week.


A three-judge panel presiding over the redistricting lawsuit in Greensboro has ruled that the case will move forward to trial in April while the 2016 elections cycle continues on schedule, with candidate filing opening on December 1 and primaries to take place in March.

The parties in Covington v. North Carolina — a lawsuit filed in May that challenges many of the same districts at issue in the state case pending once again in state Supreme Court (Dickson v. Rucho) —  appeared before  Fourth Circuit Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. and federal district court judges Thomas Schroeder and Catherine Eagles last Monday on requests for relief.

The parties contesting the voting maps had asked the court to stay all election proceedings in 25 challenged districts until a final decision on the merits of the case.

The state, on the other hand, had asked the court to put off all proceedings in the case while the state Supreme Court continued its review in the Dickson case.

The judges denied both requests.

As to the state’s request, the judges noted that generally federal courts have a duty to decide cases over which they have jurisdiction without regard to pending parallel state proceedings, and ruled that no facts had been established that warranted deviating from that rule.

And as to the redistricting challengers, the judges noted that although the plaintiffs may very well prevail on their claims at trial, courts do not take disrupting elections lightly. Here, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of a few dozen districts, while the 2016 election cycle includes contests for 170 Senate and House seats.  And as plaintiffs conceded, “for all practical purposes, enjoining filing for the challenged districts would have the collateral effect of delaying the election cycle for all Senate and House seats and likely result in primaries in July 2016 at the earliest.”

Read the court’s full order here.


Raleigh lawyer Sabra Faires and two voters filed a lawsuit today in Wake County Superior Court challenging a recently enacted law changing how state residents reelect state Supreme Court justices.

Instead of choosing between the incumbent and a challenger, voters now only have the right to approve or reject the sitting justice. Should the vote go against the incumbent, the governor would choose an interim justice who would sit for two years and then run for election.

The law was effective immediately in June and benefits conservative Justice Robert Edmunds, whose term is up in 2016.

According to the complaint filed today, Faires wants to challenge Edmunds in 2016 but cannot do so because of the retention law.

Faires and the two voters joining her in the complaint say that the retention law violates the state constitutional provision requiring that justices be elected and illegally changes the qualifications for the high court.

“North Carolina’s constitution says Supreme Court justices are to be elected, just as it says the governor is to be elected, legislators are to be elected, and sheriffs and many other officials are to be elected,” Faires said in a statement.

“If election of a Supreme Court justice means nothing more that a retention referendum, with no choice between candidates, then the General Assembly would be free to say that’s enough for all those other offices as well.”

Any change to the method of electing justices can only occur by way of a constitutional amendment, according to Michael Crowell, who represents Faires and the other plaintiffs.

“For the last 50 years every one of the 33 bills introduced in the legislature to change the method of selecting judges has been a constitutional amendment,” he said in a statement.

“For those who have worked for years to reform judicial selection, to come up with a better way to choose our judges, the 2015 law is a real setback. It taints the whole effort by trying to bypass the need for a statewide vote on amending the constitution.”

Because the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a state law, it will be heard by a three-judge panel selected by Chief Justice Mark Martin.


There’s some more shakeup in the state legislature, with today’s announcement by powerful state Sen. Tom Apodaca that he won’t run again.

N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca

N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, told the Charlotte Observer that he was ready to leave the politics, given the changes the state has seen since Republicans took over both houses of the state legislature in 2010.

“We’ve come to a point where we’ve accomplished almost everything we set out to,” Apodaca told the Charlotte Observer Monday. “Politics has never been the driving force in my life.”

As the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, he had the ability to decide which pieces of legislation made it to the floor for a vote, and which would languish.

N.C. Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger, in a statement released Monday, said Apodaca had been a key figure in bringing the agendas of the Republican senate caucus to fruition.

“Tom is not only one of my closest friends in the legislature, he’s one of my closest friends – period,” Berger said. “Tom was a steadying influence when we made big decisions, and someone the caucus could always count on to solve big problems.”

Apodaca’s announcement comes after state Sen. Bob Rucho, another prominent Republican in a leadership position, announced in early November he was stepping away from the legislature.

With Apodaca’s announcement today, a total of 13 lawmakers have said they won’t seek re-election in 2016 though many will stay on for the 2016 short session which begins in the spring.

Meanwhile, in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, there have been several end-of-year departures announcements as well.

Chief Information Officer Chris Estes announced last week he was leaving his state government post overseeing the state’s technology systems to return to the private sector. Dale Folwell, a former lawmaker, is stepping down from leading the state’s unemployment insurance system and is considering a run for the state treasurer office.