Commentary, Courts & the Law

Expert: NC voter suppression law will be revived if Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is confirmed

In case you missed it the other day, U.S. Supreme Court expert Ian Millhiser posted another damning and sobering assessment of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. His first finding: if Gorsuch had been on the court last year, North Carolina’s “monster” voter suppression law would be in full force. This is from his latest column, “Which rights are on the chopping block if Trump’s SCOTUS nominee is confirmed?”:

In the long term, [a Justice Gorsuch] could mean massive, sweeping changes to American law. Gorsuch’s previous judicial opinions suggest that he could hobble federal regulation of the environment and the workplace. He may even support more ambitious plans to cut away a string of progressive accomplishments stretching back to the New Deal.

And in the short term, there are plenty of looming issues on the Court’s docket that Gorsuch could have more immediate influence over.

If he is confirmed, Gorsuch’s first few years on the Court is likely to feature a stream of cases involving voting rights, workers rights, LGBT rights, and the right of religious conservatives to defy laws that they object to on religious grounds. In all of these cases, the news is not good for the little guy.

And here’s his take on Gorsuch and North Carolina’s voter suppression law:

Before Scalia’s death, the Roberts Court was not friendly toward voting rights. The Court permitted state-level voter ID laws, a common method of voter suppression. It struck down a major prong of the Voting Rights Act. And it’s placed increasingly high procedural hurdles in front of litigants seeking to protect their right to vote.

In one particularly notable case, a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law. As the appeals court explained, North Carolina lawmakers “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices,” then used this data to design a voter suppression law that disproportionately targeted African Americans and that minimized its impact on white voters.

And yet, when this case reached the Supreme Court, all four of the Court’s conservatives voted to reinstate the North Carolina law. If Scalia were still alive, the law would have been in effect during the 2016 election.

Gorsuch, if confirmed, will almost certainly provide these four conservatives with the fifth vote they need to uphold laws such as North Carolina’s—even, apparently, when the law was enacted for the very purpose of preventing black people from voting.

In addition to voting rights, Millhiser lists several other issues that seem sure to go the wrong way  if Gorsuch is confirmed, including gerrymandering, union rights, transgender rights, access to birth control, discrimination by religious employers, worker rights and Trump’s Muslim ban. In other words, if you think the battle over the Gorsuch nomination is not the biggest and most important fight of 2017, you’re just plain wrong.

Commentary, News

Governor Cooper’s teacher pay plan explained

As WRAL.com reported this afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper proposed a new teacher pay plan  today that seeks to get North Carolina to the national average in five years:

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that his proposed budget will include 5 percent raises for public school teachers in each of the next two years and laid out a plan to bring teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average within five years.

“These aren’t just investments in our teachers. They are lasting investments in our economy and in our own children’s future,” Cooper said at an event at Collinswood Language Academy in Charlotte. “Education is part of North Carolina’s legacy, but recently we’ve fallen behind. My proposal is a serious, multi-year increase in teacher salaries that will get us to the national average so we can show our teachers the respect they deserve.”

North Carolina currently ranks 41st nationally in average teacher salary.

Advocates at the North Carolina Association of Educators welcomed the announcement. This is from a statement released by the group.

“Governor Cooper’s two-year teacher pay proposal is a significant step toward restoring respect back to the profession and making North Carolina a teacher destination state once again. It also does not leave out our most experienced educators, which has been the case in recent years. The most valuable resource a student can have to help them be successful is a qualified, caring teacher in front of the class. Governor Cooper’s strong commitment to public education, educators, and students will make sure North Carolina can recruit and retain the qualified educators and gets North Carolina back on the right track.”

As part of the announcement, Cooper distributed a one-page fact sheet that spells out some of the details of the proposal. Click here to check it out.

Commentary, immigration

Charlotte-Meck teacher: Schools must address fear that anti-immigrant policies are provoking in kids

In case you missed it, there was a fine op-ed in the Charlotte Observer last Thursday by a local public school teacher on the disastrous impact that the nation’s recent anti-immigrant turn is having a lot of innocent children.  The essay — “4 things CMS should do right now to help immigrant students” was written by a teacher named Justin Parmenter. It ought be required reading for school officials and politicians across the country (including the prevaricator-in chief in the White House). We’re happy to reprint it here:

4 things CMS should do right now to help immigrant students

By Justin Parmenter

I am a 7th grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy. I’m also the proud husband of an immigrant.

Our school system serves students from all walks of life, and almost 30 percent of our students have a home language other than English. This rich multicultural tapestry offers a daily opportunity for us to learn from each other and experience a variety of perspectives. I welcome every single student who walks through my door with no questions asked because that’s my job and, more importantly, that’s what they need from me. In addition to teaching children how to read and write, I try to instill in them positive character traits such as compassion and empathy. I’ve learned the best way to do that is not by lecturing them about compassion and empathy but by treating them that way myself.

In the last month I’ve heard the level of fear on the part of many of my students increase, have seen it in their writing as they react to news of changes in immigration policy and arrests of undocumented immigrants in our community. Across the state my colleagues report rising absenteeism along with impacts on the mental and physical health of our students.

Our district is obligated under federal law to educate all children who come to us. I believe that it’s implicit in that mandate that we must consider their overall well-being and do everything we can to support them.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that we take some additional steps at this time. I’d like to see our school district:

  • Provide additional counseling for students who have been negatively affected by recent ICE activity in our county;
  • Work in concert with local advocacy groups to educate our families on what their rights are as they relate to immigration policy;
  • Strive to be open and transparent about what’s happening in our community and whether our schools and bus stops are safe from ICE raids.
  • Finally, we need to keep in mind that not sending their children to school can result in our parents entering the criminal system and becoming a priority for deportation. I would ask that, as a district, we ensure that our schools and bus stops are safe harbors and communicate that clearly to parents so they are not keeping their children home out of fear. Along those lines, I would like to thank Superintendent Ann Clark for seeking to verify with local law enforcement and federal immigration officials that our students are safe in our schools.

Taking these steps to mitigate the stress and anxiety many of our students are living under right now will help us to carry out our vision of preparing every child to lead a rich and productive life. In so doing, as a district, we can model the compassion and empathy that we want our students to learn.

Commentary

Story on anti-Muslim meeting highlights Dan Forest’s controversial connections as he prepares to challenge Cooper in 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

As Joe Killian’s blog post from earlier this morning highlights, Greensboro journalist Jordan Green had a disturbing story over the weekend about a group of troubled Triad-area conservatives who recently gathered to discuss their passionate — even violent — opposition to Islam. At the public meeting, attendees discussed, among other things, a supposed surreptitious plot by “moderate Muslims” to take over the United States. At least one attendee talked openly of “killing the hell” out of Muslims.

An interesting side note to the story was the self-identification of one attendee with the national anti-Islamic activist group, Act for America (a group that proclaims itself “the NRA of national security”). Although the person who identified himself as a member of the group apparently tried to calm down an attendee who was talking openly about killing Muslims, he also at one point indicated that he could “understand” the man’s point of view.  This makes sense since Act for America is a group that the watchdogs at the Southern Poverty Law Center describe as”far and away the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.” The group’s founder and leaders has publicly stated that:

“[A] practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah … who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.”

It is also an organization that once employed Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s Chief of Staff, Hal Weatherman as its National Communications and Marketing Director. This makes sense, of course, since Forest is a crusading soldier of the religious right and an ally of  hateful Islamophobes like Franklin Graham and Steve Noble.

According to a statement his boss made in New Bern over the weekend, Weatherman could also be working for the Governor of North Carolina before too long. Forest told attendees at the Craven County Reagan Day Dinner that he plans on being Governor in North Carolina in 2021 — presumably as the result of running for the office against Roy Cooper. This statement comes despite Forest’s claim that he prays for Cooper and that “I want him to do a good job and I’m not going to be spending my four years battling Roy Cooper.”

There was no word from Forest or Weatherman on how many times per day it would be permissible for Forest to pray before his loyalty to the country could legitimately be subject to question.

Commentary, HB2

Is this the most illogical/dishonest defense of HB2 yet?

Confronting the passion with which some on the religious right cling to HB2 — a law that is taking on the status of a virtual holy icon in some circles — is always something of a through-the-looking glass experience. The notion that an utterly illogical and unenforceable law designed to respond to a non-existent problem could rouse such passion amongst its defenders never ceases to amaze.

The truly delusional Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spewed a remarkable bit of this brand of nonsense last week when he said the following about Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest effort to bend over backwards with a proposed compromise that would up penalties for anyone engaging in predatory behavior in a bathroom:

“If Governor Cooper’s proposed bill for repealing HB2 becomes law, it will create a state-sanctioned ‘Look But Don’t Touch’ policy in our bathrooms. Heterosexual men will be able to access women’s showers and bathrooms by simply posing as a transgender individual. They will be able to watch women and children shower, or shower next to them. As long as the man doesn’t touch them, assault them or film them, no legal protection would be afforded the offended woman or child. Nothing.”

The award, however, for last week’s most utterly vacuous HB2 defense had to go to the staff of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. This is from a post attacking Cooper that appeared on the group’s website last Thursday:

“Thirdly, NC Family believes the enhanced penalty section of the proposal is simply an admission by the bill sponsors that they expect crimes to increase in intimate settings if the protections provided by House Bill 2 are repealed and men are allowed full access into girls’ and women’s bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms. The bill proposes to increase penalties for the following crimes: second degree forcible rape, second degree forcible sexual offense, indecent exposure, secret peeping, taking indecent liberties with children or a student, stalking, and assault. If the bill sponsors did not expect these crimes to increase, of if they did not see a need to create a greater deterrent for these crimes, there would be no need for this section of the bill.”

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the inanity of this passage. Earth to the NC Family Policy Council: If you had listened to what Cooper (and Senator Dan Blue and Representative Darren Jackson) said at their press conference last week, you would know that it’s precisely because they DO NOT expect any problems to occur that they proposed the change. Read more