Courts & the Law, News

Special master in racial gerrymandering case releases first round of redrawn legislative districts

A special master appointed almost two weeks ago by a federal court to examine and potentially redraw parts of the state House and Senate maps released his proposed plan to correct unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Stanford Law professor Nathaniel Persily’s maps redraw Senate districts in Cumberland, Hoke and Guilford counties and House districts in Sampson, Wayne, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Wake counties.

The legislature already redrew state House and Senate districts to correct areas found by the court to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The court, however, remained concerned about the constitutionality of several districts and ordered Persily to further examine and possibly redraw them.

His report is due to the court by Dec. 1. He wrote in the order released Monday that he released his plans early to “give the parties time to lodge objections and to make suggestions, as to unpairing incumbents or otherwise, that might be accommodated in the final plan to be delivered to the Court by December 1.”

Persily did not take account incumbency in the “draft plan” he released because the plaintiffs and legislative defendants only just released their incumbent lists last week — there are two lists because of a dispute about whether Larry Bell (D-Duplin, Sampson, Wayne) is an incumbent. He signed a declaration to the court that he is not running for reelection.

Both lists are the same with the exception of Bell’s name, which is included in the plaintiffs’ list but not the legislative defendants’.

The parties in North Carolina v. Covington are asked to “propose alterations” to the draft plan to incorporate incumbency. However, the final plan will only accommodate such changes if they do not degrade the courts’ specific orders to correct constitutional violations, Persily’s order states.

“Underlying the Court’s prohibition on examining election returns or prioritizing incumbency is reliance on a bedrock principle that the Special Master’s Plan shall be constructed in a nonpartisan fashion,” the document states. “This is not to say that the plan will not have partisan, incumbency-related, or other electoral effects — all redistricting plans do. Rather, the principles that guide the production of the plan must be nonpartisan in nature and the changes to the districts must be explainable on that basis. The Special Master’s Draft Plan was drawn without consideration of the location of incumbents’ residences, so that the incorporation of incumbency in the final plan can be achieved on a nonpartisan basis.”

Pictured are the special master’s proposed plans for Senate districts 19 (Cumberland) and 21 (Hoke) compared to GOP enacted redraws.

At first glance, Persily’s maps are obviously different than GOP lawmakers’ initial redraw with more compact districts and less squiggly lines. He explains the changes in each district in the Monday order.

In Senate districts 19 (Cumberland) and 21 (Hoke), Persily moved Hoke County north and took in all of Spring Lake “and just enough of Fayetteville so as to comply with one person one vote.” He wrote that by drawing the districts in that way, it avoided “the jutting arm into Fayetteville.”

In Guilford County, Persily wrote that his lines were more compact.

“The newly drawn district is contained almost completely within the city (CDP) of Greensboro, and is made up of whole precincts,” the order states.

Persily smoothed out the border in House district 21, which contains Sampson County, “thereby avoiding the selective inclusion of heavily African American precincts that characterized the 2011 and 2017 versions of the district. The District continues to retain its configuration in Wayne County, which is principally defined by the boundaries of Goldsboro.”

Pictured is the special master’s plan to redraw House district 57, Guilford County.

He moved House district 57, Guilford County, north and west to create a compact district in north Greensboro, the order states. Previously, the district retained “a backwards ‘L shape’ along the eastern side of Greensboro, according to the Court, it perpetuates the racial predominance of its predecessor district by over-concentrating the African American population in the area.”

Unlike the other House districts, areas in Wake and Mecklenburg counties were redrawn to comply with a state Constitution provision that prevents lawmakers from mid-decade redistricting.

In his order, Persily requests that the parties in Covington submit their proposed objections and revisions by the end of this week with replies due by Nov. 21.

GOP legislative defendants objected to Persily’s appointment. The state of North Carolina was ordered to pick up his tab at $500 per hour, or half his usual rate.

The federal judges presiding over the case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina are U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn. Eagles and Wynn were appointed by former President Barack Obama and Schroeder by George W. Bush.

News

Local attorney gets big social media response with “MeAt14” hashtag

When Raleigh attorney Catherine Lawson first posted a picture of her younger self with a hashtag to remind the world that 14-year-olds can’t consent to sex, she expected some response but nothing like the one that has taken over Twitter.

The Washington Post first reported last week allegations that Roy Moore, an Alabama nominee for a U.S. Senate seat, had sexual relations with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman four decades ago. At the time, Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney.

The newspaper also interviewed three other women who accused Moore of pursuing them when he was in his 30s and they were between the ages of 16 and 18. Moore, now 70, has denied the allegations.

Many Republicans were quick to denounce Moore’s behavior and called for him to step down from the Senate race, but others have defended his alleged behavior.

Lawson, a registered Republican who works for Parker Poe, posted a picture of herself at age 14 on Twitter the day the Washington Post story came out. The caption read, “Can’t consent at 14. Not in Alabama. Not anywhere. #MeAt14”

“More disturbing than the well-sourced report about Moore were the number of people willing to justify his behavior,” Lawson said. “I shared a picture of me at 14 to illustrate there is no acceptable version of this story; teenagers can’t consent to a relationship with a grown man, ever.”

Within a day of putting out her photo, Twitter was flooded with other “#MeAt14” posts and the topic was trending on the social media site. Individuals from all over are still sharing photos of themselves at age 14 and describing what they were like, many noting their innocence and how they were totally ill-prepared for any relationship, much less one with a 32-year-old.

“I hoped people would share their pictures, but many went on to show powerful vulnerability,” Lawson said of the large response. “I’ve been incredibly moved by stories of innocence and of exploitation that remind us every child deserves a community that protects them.”

She added that she hopes “to affirm that there are lines we won’t cross in the name of party labels.”

As for her message for the young men and women who are reading or posting about “#MeAt14,” Lawson said simply that they are worthy of love and protection.

“And if your age was taken advantage of by someone who should have protected you, it wasn’t your fault,” she said.

Here are some of the responses:

Courts & the Law, News

Courts Commission leadership changes hands; role of the body in judicial reform efforts unknown

Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake)

Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake), a Raleigh attorney, has taken the helm of the North Carolina Courts Commission.

The three-term lawmaker was first appointed to the committee in 2013 and has served as a member since then. He was appointed chair of the Commission on Oct. 18 by Gov. Roy Cooper and replaces Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes).

Hall said in a Wednesday phone interview that he was “extremely excited” about the appointment, noting that most of the bills he championed over the last year came out of the Courts Commission with bipartisan support.

He also credited Stevens for “doing a very good job” with the body and said he wanted to keep things running smoothly with bipartisan participation.

The 29-member Commission is tasked with evaluating changes to the state’s court system and making recommendations to the General Assembly.

Hall said he is working on trying to schedule the first meeting under his leadership for Dec. 8.

When asked if the thought the Commission would play a big role moving forward as lawmakers target the independence of the judiciary, Hall said the body is still discussing it. He said said the members he has heard from are split about whether or not they want to address lawmakers’ efforts to change the courts.

“If we think we can successfully bring something out of there, we will,” he said.

One of the big topics of of judicial “reform” among lawmakers has been merit selection. Hall said he has not seen any merit selection plans, and that the Commission has never fully studied it because polls show that people want to elect their judges.

“It will be brought back up,” he said, adding though that he did not know if it would be studied.

Members of the committee include lawmakers, judges, attorneys and academics. They are: Gale Adams, Pam Barlow, Tamara Barringer, Locke Bell, Justin Brackett, Athena Brooks, Tiffany Cone, Joseph Crosswhite, Warren Daniel, Eugene Flood Jr., Stephen Fowler, Lorrin Freeman, J. Patrick Haywood, Barbara Jackson, Darren Jackson, Joe John, Timothy Lea, Robert Kemp III, Michael Lee, Wesley Meredith, Regina Parker, Charles Post Jr., Tonya Bunn Powell, Lauren Raynor, Tanner Robinson, David Rogers, Donna Stroud, Marion Warren and Thomas West.

News

Senate committee to meet first about judicial redistricting, not merit selection, two-year judicial terms

The agenda for the Senate Select Committee on Judicial Reform and Redistricting leaves out two key points Republicans have either recently discussed or threatened: merit selection and a proposed constitutional amendment to shorten all judges and justices terms to two years.

The committee will meet for the first time today at 1 p.m. in room 643 of the Legislative Office Building. Senate President Pro Tem named mostly GOP members to the committee last month.

At the time, Berger released a statement that the committee would consider all options on how the state selects judges, “including the House’s judicial redistricting bill, merit selection models, retention elections, and, if we maintain a system of elections, their frequency and partisan structure.”

Today’s agenda, released only in the last day, leaves out all of those “options” except Rep. Justin Burr’s (R-Stanley, Montgomery) plan to redistrict all judicial and prosecutorial districts.

The Senate committee is expected to hear from Burr and discuss his plan, House Bill 717, which has already passed in the other chamber. They will also hear from Gerry Cohen, former special counsel to the legislature, and Michael Crowell, a former UNC School of Government professor, on judicial redistricting.

Representatives from District Court and Superior Court Judges’ Conferences and the Administrative Office of the Courts will also speak about judicial redistricting at the meeting.

The committee will conclude the meeting by considering other topics for future meetings. Today’s meeting is open to the public. Documents legislators will have are online here.

The updated judicial redistricting maps are below.

Courts & the Law, News

UPDATED: NC Court of Appeals OKs Senate confirmation hearings for Cooper nominees

Note: This story has been updated to reflect Cooper’s and GOP legislative leaders’ responses.

The North Carolina Senate has the power to hold confirmation hearings to approve Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet nominees, according to the state Court of Appeals.

A three-judge appellate panel on Tuesday published a favorable opinion to lawmakers in Cooper v. Berger, a separation of powers lawsuit over the Senate’s right to have a say in Cooper’s picks to head state departments. It affirms a lower court’s opinion in the case.

GOP lawmakers passed an “advice and consent” statute in an emergency session last December after Cooper, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.

The lawsuit over the statute is part of an ongoing battle for power between Cooper and Republican lawmakers, who hold a super-majority in the legislature. The Senate did not ultimately reject any of Cooper’s nominees.

“While a provision of the Constitution mandates separation of powers between the branches … another provision also reserves to the Senate ‘the advice and consent’ of the Governor’s appointments of constitutional officers,” the opinion states. “If separation of powers does not prohibit or constrain the Senate from confirming officers created by the Constitution, separation of powers does not otherwise prohibit ‘advice and consent’ being applied to gubernatorial appointees over agencies the General Assembly created, and which agencies can be amended or repealed by statute. ‘[A] constitution cannot violate itself.'”

The appellate judges on the panel are Rick Elmore, Donna Stroud and John Tyson.

Cooper responded to the opinion at a Council of State meeting.

“This case will ultimately be decided by the State Supreme Court,” he said. “With the makeup of this three-judge panel we fully expected this result. They essentially kicked it upstairs to the Supreme Court. We believe that these arguments are sound and that these laws will end up being declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore did not return a request from NC Policy Watch for comment after the opinion. They did, however, release this joint statement online:

“As the court noted, ‘a constitution cannot violate itself,’ and ‘a legislature that has the authority to create executive agencies also has the authority to require legislative advice and consent.’ It is in the people’s interest for their elected representatives to conduct a fair, constitutional and transparent review of the governor’s cabinet secretaries.

Gov. Cooper has no legal grounds to continue his pursuit of unchecked power and should quit wasting taxpayer money on divisive, baseless and self-serving lawsuits.”