Commentary, News

Raleigh lawmaker to host bipartisan town hall event on threats to NC’s independent judiciary

Rep. Cynthia Ball

Folks who haven’t yet gotten fully up to speed regarding the ongoing effort at the General Assembly to raze and remake the North Carolina courts system may want to check out a bipartisan event next week being sponsored by State Representative Cynthia Ball of Wake County.

This is from the announcement distributed by her office:

Threats to an Independent Judiciary

Raleigh, N.C. – On Tuesday, January 30th, Representative Cynthia Ball will host her fifth nonpartisan Town Hall Forum. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from former Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Don Stephens, former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, and Dr. David McLennan, Professor of Political Science at Meredith College, about recent laws and proposals that affect the way North Carolinian’s select their judges. This is a highly controversial issue that has stirred the public interest and attracted national media coverage.  This Forum will provide the public an opportunity to hear from experts and become better informed.

Anyone wishing to come—regardless of whether they reside in NC House District 49—is invited to attend.

The Town Hall Forum will be held on Tuesday, January 30th, at Meredith College’s Ledford Hall, Room 101, located at 3800 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. Registration will begin at 6:30 PM. The program will begin promptly at 7:00 PM. There will be ample opportunity for questions from the audience.

In announcing the forum, Rep. Ball noted:

“There may be no more important issue before our General Assembly today than proposals that impact the independence of our judiciary. Redrawing district maps and changing the way we select judges may pose a threat to our democratic system of checks and balances. This Forum will shed important light regarding what is at stake regarding the future of North Carolina’s judiciary.”

To RSVP, please contact Rep. Ball’s office at ballla@ncleg.net  / 919-733-5860 or via Facebook at facebook.com/events/281050622423967/

Commentary

Jurors issue another verdict on the death penalty: It’s time has come and gone

In case you missed it, Kristin Collins over at the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty had an insightful post yesterday on the decision of a Wake County jury to reject imposing the death penalty in the aftermath of a recent murder conviction. Check it out below:

This keeps happening: Wake jury rejects death penalty for 9th time in a row

By Kristin Collins

It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day in Wake County. Every year begins with a capital trial, and every year, the jury chooses life. This week was the ninth time since 2008 that a Wake jury said no to the death penalty. [Donovan Richardson sentenced to life in prison for 2014 double murder]

Donovan Richardson

We’re hoping that, from now on, we can skip this annual ritual.

Wake is the only county in the state where a defendant has been tried capitally every year for the past three years. Since the beginning of 2016, three of North Carolina’s 10 capital trials have been in Wake County. By contrast, Mecklenburg County — home to Charlotte — hasn’t had a capital trial since 2014.

Why has a county where a jury hasn’t agreed to death sentence in a decade become North Carolina’s leader in death penalty trials? It makes no sense.

It’s not as if a capital trial is the same as a non-capital one with another sentence option thrown in. Adding the death penalty to the mix transforms the entire process. The defendant has a right to two attorneys, the jury members must be chosen based on their willingness to impose a death sentence, the trial lasts weeks longer, and the process costs more than four times as much as a non-capital prosecution.

There’s something else, too, that’s starting to get repetitive in Wake County. At every capital trial, it’s a black defendant having his fate decided by an almost entirely white jury. At the last three capital trials combined, there were only two black jurors.

In fact, we got curious and looked back. Of Wake’s nine failed capital trials since 2009, seven of the defendants were black. And during those years, several white defendants were tried non-capitally for high-profile crimes. Remember Jonathan Broyhill, Joanna Madonna, Jason Young, or Bradley Cooper?

There are just so many reasons for North Carolina’s capital county to leave the shadow of the death penalty behind.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Latest GOP redistricting appeal: “A case of deja vu all over again”

In case you missed it late yesterday (or simply find yourself hopelessly confused by the whole mess and have just given up trying to stay on top of it), Republican lawmakers have yet again sought to stop a federal court from ordering the implementation of fairer, less gerrymandered maps for the election of the members of the North Carolina General Assembly. As Gary Roberton of AP reported last night:

“Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to halt a second lower-court redistricting order that went against them recently, this one involving challenges to state House and Senate districts they approved last summer.

Lawyers for the GOP lawmakers filed their formal request for the court to block a three-judge panel’s decision that accepted alterations to two dozen legislative districts made at their request by a court-appointed expert. The judges directed the changes be incorporated into boundaries that didn’t need to be fixed and the amended maps be used in this year’s elections, beginning with candidate filing that starts Feb. 12. Primaries are in May.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to block an order by another three-judge panel that determined the state’s congressional map was coated in over-the-top partisan bias that favored Republican candidates. The justices stopped the judges’ demand that new lines be approved by Wednesday.

‘This is a case of deja vu all over again,’ Washington-based attorney Paul Clement wrote in the brief for the GOP lawmakers in seeking a stay, referring to a quote attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra.”

As a lawyer for the Republicans, Clement isn’t right about much, but he’s right in his Yogi Berra characterization. The new appeal is just the latest in an endless string of them from the GOP lawmakers. Using another sports-based reference a few weeks back, I described the Republican strategy in this area as the political equivalent of Dean Smith’s old “four corners offense.”

As they have in the past, the GOP lawmakers are simply trying to run out the clock so they can have yet another election based on illegal maps in 2018. Their bogus argument — that the new and fairer maps present some kind administrative burden — flies in the face of their own action in recent days to commence the process of completely overhauling state judicial districts in recent weeks.

To use yet another sports analogy, the Republicans are throwing a last minute Hail Mary in their never-ending quest to preserve their illegal maps. Let’s hope the Supreme Court doesn’t abet their scam.

News

Anti-gun violence advocates: Tomorrow is deadline for comments to feds on killing tool used by Vegas mass shooter

The good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence are calling on people to speak up ahead of tomorrow’s deadline for comments at the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau on the dangerous firearm add-on often referred to as “bump fire stocks” or “bump stocks.”

This from their announcement:

“On the night of October 1st, 2017, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel into the 22,000 persons crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. The gunman fired more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition in 11 minutes, using semi-automatic rifles modified with a dangerous firearm accessory designed to dramatically accelerate the rate of gunfire, commonly known as “bump fire stocks.”

These devices are intended to circumvent the restrictions on possession of fully automatic firearms in the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the National Firearms Act of 1934 by allowing an individual to modify a semiautomatic rifle in such a manner that it operates with a similar rate of fire as a fully automatic rifle. While often marketed as a novelty item for recreational shooters, bump stocks and similar devices that accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic firearm are extremely dangerous and pose a substantial risk to public safety.

Please take a minute to send in a comment to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau. They are accepting comments until January 25, 2018.”

The announcement is followed by a sample comment that calls on the devices to be banned and which states, in part:

“In the absence of action by Congress, ATF should issue a new rule clarifying that the definition of ‘machinegun’ in the National Firearms Act of 1934 includes conversion devices like bump fire stocks that convert a semi-automatic rifle into the functional equivalent of a fully automatic rifle. In creating this rule, ATF must take into account the toll of gun violence on communities like Las Vegas, in terms of injuries, loss of life, and the financial loss to businesses in the communities that are affected.”

Pro-gun groups have sent mixed messages on bump stocks — at times saying they should be left unregulated and, at others, saying they should be regulated but not banned.

Click here to access the federal site at which you can learn more and submit comments.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Today’s must read: National courts and law expert on mounting threats to American democracy

Ian Millhiser

While it’s clear that the age of Trump is a profoundly dark period in American history, as a general rule, caring and thinking Americans would do well to steer clear of conspiracy theories and alarmist assessments of where things stand and what lies ahead. After all, the nation has weathered many terrible, even existential, threats during the last 240+ years and will certainly survive the present one.

That said; burying one’s head in the sand is no solution either. The better we appreciate the depths to which the powers-that-be are dragging the nation during the current regressive spasm, the better our chances of fashioning an effective resistance and pulling out of the national nosedive as soon as possible.

With this in mind, today’s “must read” is a brief essay by courts and law expert Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress. As Millhiser explains in “American democracy is failing. The courts are finally starting to notice.” the current mess is deep and dangerous:

“There is something profoundly wrong with the United States of America’s system of government.

For proof, briefly take stock of the last ten years in American democracy, in which a combination of factors — the filibuster, the way we draw legislative districts, Senate malapportionment, and the Electoral College — converged to rob American voters of a meaningful ability to choose their own leaders.”

Millhiser then goes on to flesh out this list by reminding us of the details — including the Republican minority’s use of the filibuster to undermine the Obama presidency, the extreme gerrymandering that helped transform Congress and numerous state legislatures (including North Carolina’s) in 2010, and the outrageous blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. As he sums it up:

“The government of the United States no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And by the time voters head to the polls in November to elect a new Congress, America will have existed in this state of profound undemocracy for nearly a decade.”

And while Millhiser sees rays of hope in the growing trend (in the courts and elsewhere) to combat gerrymandering and the move to abolish or render obsolete the Electoral College, he worries that the problems posed by geographic clustering (in which progressives tend to gather in a handful of states and large urban areas) combined with the undemocratic Senate (in which Wyoming gets the same number of votes as California) may be too large to overcome without some important constitutional amendments. Here’s is sobering conclusion: Read more