Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

ICYMI: Chief Justice Mark Martin leaving Supreme Court to lead Christian law school

Chief Justice Mark Martin

The news has already made the rounds, but for those who missed it, the North Carolina Supreme Court could soon become a 6-1 Democratic majority.

Chief Justice Mark Martin announced Friday that he would resign at the end of February to become dean of Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va.

“It has been the highest of honors to serve the people of North Carolina as their Chief Justice,” Martin said in a news release from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). “I will forever cherish the memories of serving with so many amazing and capable people. It is now time to direct my focus to helping prepare the next generation of leaders.”

Martin has had the longest tenure on the current high court with more than 20 years on the bench. He has been a judge in North Carolina for 26 years.

His unexpected departure from the bench means Gov. Roy Cooper will get to appoint his replacement, and it doesn’t have to be someone from the same party. Cooper can either appoint someone currently on the court as the next Chief Justice and then fill that vacancy, or he can appoint someone not on the court as the next Chief Justice.

He commended Martin on Twitter for his service to the state and the court after the news was released.

“I appreciate Chief Justice Mark Martin’s service to the state and the judiciary and his efforts to strengthen our court system,” Cooper tweeted. “I wish him well in his new role as a law school dean. Leading the state’s highest court and its court system is a critically important job, and I will carefully consider his replacement in the coming days.”

The make-up of the high court has been controversial since the election Democrat Mike Morgan over Republican incumbent Bob Edmunds and the recent election of Democrat Anita Earls over Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson. The court oversees important decisions in cases involving voting rights, redistricting, school voucher programs, the power struggle between Cooper and GOP lawmakers, and other hot button partisan issues in the state.

Those GOP lawmakers recently put a constitutional amendment before voters that would have reallocated Cooper’s power to appoint judicial vacancies to themselves, but it failed.

The next senior justice on the high court is the only other Republican, Justice Paul Newby. State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted not long after Martin’s news that he could confirm Newby would plan to run for the Chief Justice seat in the 2020 election.

There could now be as many as three Supreme Court seats on the ballot next year if Cooper chooses to elevate a current justice and appoint a replacement, which could give Republicans a chance to weaken the court’s strong Democratic majority.

Martin told the Associated Press he was not leaving the court because of the partisan battles that have been ongoing since Cooper was elected Governor. He said that at age 55, he’s young enough to do something different and wanted to work with law students seeking to make a difference in the world.

He also said in the article that he first became aware of the potential position at Regent, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, late last summer.

At 35, Martin was the youngest Supreme Court justice to join the bench. He was dedicated to improving the administration of justice and was commended by many for initiating initiated a multi-disciplinary citizens’ commission to help with that mission. He was also a main proponent of getting raise the age legislation passed in North Carolina, a law that will treat 16- and 17-year-olds in trouble in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult system.

Martin will start at Regent University on March 1. The school was founded in 1978 and has 11,000 students studying on its 70-acre campus and online around the world. The university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from a “Christian perspective” in more than 130 program areas.

M. G. “Pat” Robertson, CEO and chancellor of Regent University, called Martin a distinguished leader in his announcement that he would be taking on the new role.

“We are delighted to welcome this public servant whose vast experience and Constitutional advocacy will infuse a standard of excellence by every measure into our law program,” he said. “Chief Justice Martin has set records throughout his career and he represents the intellect, skill, integrity and vision that we want our students and graduates to emulate.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

U.S. Supreme Court sets date for NC partisan gerrymandering case

The highest court in the nation will take up partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina at the end of March.

The U.S. Supreme Court released its calendar Friday and will hear oral arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause on March 26. A federal court has already found twice in the gerrymandering case that the state’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan was unconstitutional.

The high court will also take up Benisek v. Lamone the same day, a challenge to a Democratic partisan gerrymander in Maryland.

The court in either case could decide for the first time ever to outlaw partisan gerrymandering or to establish a standard for redistricting with regard to partisan advantage.



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Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

UPDATE: Governor receives 8 nominations to Board of Elections; 3 appear to be ineligible

Gov. Roy Cooper has a week to pick five people from a list of eight provided by the Republican and Democratic parties to serve on the newly created State Board of Elections, but it appears almost half those nominees won’t be eligible to serve.

His office received letters yesterday from the state political parties with their nominations to the State Board. However, it appears that at least three of the Republican party’s nominees would not be permitted to serve under the new law, House Bill 1029, which would leave Cooper with less nominees than positions for which he needs to appoint (five).

The Republican nominees are: Francis Xavier Deluca, retired president of conservative Civitas Institute; Buck Newton III, a former conservative state senator who ran for state Attorney General against current AG Josh Stein; Stacy Eggers IV, who served on the most recent State Board, and who is currently the Watauga County attorney (he was involved in voter suppression resolutions there while moonlighting as a personal legal advisor to his brother, chairman of the Watauga County Board of Elections); and Edwin Wilbur Woodhouse Jr., cousin to Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse.

The Democratic Party pointed out after the nominations were made that Deluca, Newton and Woodhouse had engaged in electioneering within the past 48 months, which is disqualifying under the law.

A news release states that Deluca resigned from Civitas in 2018 and signed an electioneering communication report as late as November 2016 (48 months prior to Jan. 31 — when Cooper can appoint to the new Board — would be Jan. 31, 2015). It also states that Newton is disqualified because he launched the NC Voter ID PAC this year, an independent expenditure committee engaged in electioneering around the constitutional amendments. Woodhouse is also accused by Democrats to have engaged in electioneering in 2015.

House Bill 1029 outlines who is ineligible to serve on the new State Board of Elections.

That would mean Cooper could only appoint Eggers from the Republican nominees.

The Democratic nominees are: Stella Anderson, who served on the most recent State Board and who works as a professor at Appalachian State University; Robert Cordle, a retired attorney who replaced the vice chair of the most recent State Board; Greg Flynn, who currently serves on the Wake County Board of Elections; and Valerie Johnson, who also served on the most recent State Board and who is currently an attorney and member of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ).

Anderson (an employee of the state) and Johnson (who is on the executive committee of NCAJ, an organization that has electioneered in the past 48 months) would be ineligible under the new law, but since they both served on the most recent State Board, they are “grandfathered” in to be appointed to the new Board.

The part of the law creating the new State Board doesn’t take effect until Jan. 31, but the grandfathering provision took effect when other parts of HB 1029 did on Dec. 27. The previous State Board was not dissolved until noon Dec. 28.

The grandfather provision reads: “The requirements of G.S. 163-19(f)(5) shall not apply to any member of the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement serving on the effective date of this act who is appointed to the State Board of Elections in 2019.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a response from the Democratic Party after publication.



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Trump releases new federal judicial nominees; Farr not among them

Thomas Farr

Thomas Farr was not included among a list of nominees President Donald Trump sent Wednesday to the Senate.

Farr previously was nominated and re-nominated by Trump to fill the longest running judicial vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. He never got a vote last year after Republicans broke ranks amid concerns about his ties to voter suppression.

There was some question about whether Trump would nominate Farr again, and North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis recently told McClatchy he was still looking into whether he would have to push to make that happen.

It is unclear if Farr is still being considered for the lifetime appointment, as no one else was named in a news release of nominees to fill the Eastern District vacancy. Democrats and civil rights leaders have been adamantly opposing Farr’s nomination, particularly to the Eastern District of North Carolina, which houses almost half of the state’s Black population, but has never had a Black federal judge there in the District Court’s 145-year history.

Trump did re-nominate a number of people for other judgeships, including former federal prosecutor and current Charlotte-area attorney Kenneth Bell to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina and North Carolinian Allison Jones Rushing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

He also re-nominated dozens of judges that have been opposed by progressive court advocates across the nation and organizations fighting for abortion and LGBTQ rights.

In response to Trump’s announcement, People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker issued the following statement:

“Donald Trump has spent the last two years nominating some of the most extreme, unqualified judicial nominees in recent memory. At the end of last year, in the face of strong opposition by Democrats, the Senate sent back dozens of those nominees to the White House. The intervening weeks haven’t made those nominees any better. The list includes nominees like Chad Readler, who signed onto a brief attempting to strip millions of Americans of the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions — a brief so extreme that three other Department of Justice officials resigned rather than put their name to it. It includes nominees like Eric Murphy, who fought to make it easier to strip voters, especially African American voters, of their right to cast a ballot. It includes Wendy Vitter, who pushed dishonest junk science to scare women about abortion, and Neomi Rao, who cast rape as ‘a choice’ made by women who drink too much.

“These nominees are blatantly unqualified for lifetime seats on the federal bench. The fact that Republicans have fallen in lockstep behind so many unfit judicial nominations is an appalling testament to their willingness to put partisanship over principle and the wellbeing of their constituents. Democrats need to stand up against this kind of extremism with everything they’ve got and make clear that they won’t be a party to Trump’s effort to pack the courts with extreme, unqualified nominees.”

Planned Parenthood Action Fund also released a statement after the news expressing their disappointment in the new, not-so-new nominees.

“The courts’ power to dictate people’s access to health care cannot be overstated. Long after Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence are out of office, the judges they put on the bench will continue restricting people’s access to abortion, birth control, and basic care for generations,” said Dana Singiser, Senior Vice President, Policy, Campaigns, and Advocacy of PPAF. “The American people want and deserve judges who will safeguard their rights, rather than try to impose their personal beliefs on all people. We call on all senators to reject these and any nominees who will not protect individual liberties and freedoms.”

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Federal courts will close Feb. 1 if government shutdown continues

Federal courts will shut down next week if the partial government shutdown continues.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOC) estimated yesterday that the judiciary can sustain funded operations through Jan. 31. It also will continue to explore ways to conserve funds so it can continue paid operations through Feb. 1, according to a news release, but no further extensions will be possible.

The AOC had previously estimated exhausting available funds sometime between Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. The partial government shutdown is now in its 33rd day, the longest in U.S. history.

The full AOC release sheds some light on what happens next if the shutdown continues:

The extensions have been achieved through a multi-pronged strategy of deferring non-critical operating costs and utilizing court filing fees and other available balances. Most of the measures are temporary stopgaps, and the Judiciary will face many deferred payment obligations after the partial government shutdown ends.

In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.

Should funding run out before Congress enacts a new continuing resolution or full-year funding, the Judiciary would operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which permits mission critical work. This includes activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services. Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its mission critical work.

In response to requests by the Department of Justice, some federal courts have issued orders suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party, and others have declined to do so. Such orders are published on court internet sites. Courts will continue to conduct criminal trials.

The Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system remains in operation for electronic filing of documents, as does PACER, which enables the public to read court documents.

Courts have been encouraged to work with their district’s U.S. Attorney, U.S. Marshal, and Federal Protective Service staff to discuss service levels required to maintain court operations. The General Services Administration has begun to reduce operations and courts are working with their local building managers to mitigate the impact on services.