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VoteWhat were state GOP lawmakers’ intentions when they enacted House Bill 589, one of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation?

That’s the question the groups challenging the law want answered by legislators they served with subpoenas last December, asking for emails, letters, reports and other records used when pushing for voting law changes in 2013.

Plenty has transpired since then. The voting cases pending in Winston-Salem ran through the federal courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of a stay of the new law’s provisions, pending the November elections.

Now though the court and the parties are digging in as a mid-summer 2015 trial date looms.

And in an order issued yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi E. Peake told state lawmakers they could no longer hide behind a claim of legislative privilege and withhold certain categories of communications relevant to the claims asserted in the pending cases.

Among the documents sought are lawmakers’ communications with constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations regarding the reasons for voting law changes; studies and reports on voter fraud, race and ethnicity of voters; and analyses of costs associated with administering the new provisions.

State lawmakers’ files may be one of the few sources of proof for plaintiffs hoping to establish that those legislators had a discriminatory purpose in enacting House Bill 589 – a critical element in proving certain of plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and in obtaining future preclearance relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

In her ruling, Peake held that communications between legislators and third parties regarding House Bill 589 are not privileged and must be disclosed. “Third parties” would include any person or group beyond lawmakers and their staff — constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations, for example.

Peake also ruled that communications between lawmakers and outside counsel before the lawsuits were filed on August 12, 2013  are not automatically privileged and may also be subject to disclosure. The state defendants must provide a log of any such communications being withheld as privileged, with sufficient detail  for the parties and the court to assess whether they can be withheld or should be produced.

Communications between lawmakers and staff, however, remain privileged and need not be identified on a log or otherwise disclosed.

The state defendants still have the option of objecting to Peake’s order and asking for a review by the judge handling the cases, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder.

If that happens, it may be January before documents start arriving, according to Allison Riggs, an attorney from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice representing groups challenging the law.

“We’re pleased with the ruling,” Riggs said. “We’re eager to get this relevant discovery and build the case for trial next summer. The state needs to comply with the order and produce this discovery quickly.”

For more background on the dispute over documents in the voting cases, read here.

Read Judge Peake’s order here.

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UNC Not Fair

(Source: UNCnotfair.org)

Edward Blum must have found his plaintiffs.

Blum is the retired stockbroker who, with the financial backing of several conservative donors, has been pumping named plaintiffs into some recent high-profile civil rights challenges that have landed before the U.S. Supreme Court — namely, the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case and the Shelby County v. Holder voting rights case.

Over the past year or so, through his Project on Fair Representation, Blum has targeted the admission practices of  three universities — UNC-Chapel Hill, Harvard University,and the University of Wisconsin — inviting students who were rejected by those schools to contact the project.

On websites set up for each school — at UNCnotfair.org, for example — the group poses this question: “Were you denied admission to the University of North Carolina? It may be because you’re the wrong race.”

Today the group announced the filing of two separate lawsuits against Harvard and UNC – Chapel Hill, respectively, alleging that the schools unlawfully used racial and ethnic classifications in admissions.

The UNC complaint, filed in Greensboro, begins with this: “This is an action brought under the Fourteenth Amendment and federal  civil rights laws to prohibit UNC-Chapel Hill from engaging in intentional discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity.”

The cases represent the first step in a long march towards a hoped-for U.S. Supreme Court ban on all forms of racial and ethnic preference in university admissions, according to SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston:

The basic thrust of the new lawsuits is that Harvard and the flagship university in North Carolina are using admissions programs that cannot satisfy the tough constitutional test for judging race-based policy — “strict scrutiny.”  But their broader theme is that the Supreme Court’s affirmative action efforts beginning with the Bakke ruling have failed to end racial bias in admissions programs, so it is now time to overrule Bakke and at least one other decision.

***

[T]he Harvard and UNC lawsuits clearly were prepared to build a case in lower courts so that, perhaps two or three years from now, the lawsuits could reach the Supreme Court for an ultimate test of affirmative action, at least in college admissions.

In the lawsuits, brought under the name “Students for Fair Admissions Inc,”  .”The lawsuits do not ask the courts to abandon the idea that racial diversity among college students is a valid educational goal.  Instead, they contend that diversity can be achieved by race-neutral alternatives, so public colleges and those that receive federal funds should be ordered to end, altogether, any use of race in the process.

Read the full UNC complaint here.

 

 

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Winston-Salem attorney Mike Robinson, who challenged sitting Justice Cheri Beasley for her seat on the state Supreme Court, has asked the state Board of Elections for a recount of the votes cast in that race, according to the board’s public information office, Josh Lawson.

The latest posted results from the SBOE show Beasley ahead by 5,427 votes — with 1,239,217 votes to Robinson’s 1,233,790.

State law allows a candidate in a statewide race to request a recount when the difference between the votes cast is one-half of one percent (0.5%) or 10,000, whichever is less.

In an email Lawson added:  “We’ll be working on guidance to the counties so that they can have the recount completed by canvass next Tuesday.”

The board is expected to issue a statement on the recount shortly.

 

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Remember the “Star Chamber” bill, signed into law last summer by Gov. Pat McCrory? That’s the bill rushed into last minute passage giving the justices of the state Supreme Court the sole authority to discipline judges — including themselves – and allowing them to decide if, when and who to discipline in secret.

Aside from support from sitting Justices Mark Martin and Paul Newby — whom lawmakers then identified as pushing for passage — the bill drew widespread opposition from other judges and justices of the state Supreme Court as well as all living presidents of the state bar association, who in a letter asked the governor to refuse to sign it.

The bill became law nonetheless and, as current bar association president Catherine Arrowood notes in this News & Observer commentary, “for the first time in 40 years, North Carolina voters cast their ballots for judges without any information about pending judicial ethics complaints.”

In a call for repeal, Arrowood continues:

Permitting the Supreme Court to discipline itself does not have the ring of fairness. If a justice on the Supreme Court violates the Code of Judicial Standards while running for re-election or fails to recuse himself or herself appropriately, the Supreme Court itself will be conducting the hearing. And the public will not know about the fact of the proceeding unless and until the court decides if the justice accused is to be disciplined. I cannot imagine that the members of our court find this a palatable or proper process.


A secret trial behind closed doors is the hallmark of a totalitarian government (if indeed any trial is allowed at all), not a democracy. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that an accused, no matter his or her status, have a public and open trial. This presumption that our courts will be open, subject to very limited exceptions, also finds roots in the First Amendment. Under the First Amendment, the press and public must be allowed reasonable access to view proceedings in our courts.

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President Obama’s pick for federal judge in the state’s Middle District, Loretta Copeland Biggs, continues to move forward in the confirmation process with her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled for today at 11 a.m.

If approved by the committee, Biggs will next move to a full confirmation vote on the Senate floor. And if confirmed by the Senate, Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

Her addition to the court would be welcome news and would begin to address the stunning lack of diversity on the state’s federal bench.

But another nominee, Jennifer Prescod May-Parker — chosen by the President to fill the country’s oldest federal District Court vacancy out in eastern North Carolina — continues to languish. 

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr inexplicably continues to withhold the “blue slip” indicating his support for her for, despite his public statements condemning delays and other obstructive tactics interfering with judicial confirmations.

Click here for more on the tortured history of North Carolina’s federal judicial vacancies and the lack of diversity of those who have served.