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State officials have asked the three-judge panel that late last week tossed Congressional Districts 1 and 12  as racial gerrymanders to stay their order requiring a new congressional redistricting plan by February 19, arguing that disrupting the primary elections already underway will lead to “significant voter confusion and irreparable harm to the citizens of North Carolina.”

They have asked the judges for a ruling today so that they can seek emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and have also filed a notice of appeal of last week’s decision to the high court.

In an affidavit filed in support of the request, Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach noted that 46 congressional candidates are competing in the 2016 elections, including two in District 1 and five in District 12.

County election officials began issuing mail-in absentee ballots on January 25. According to state data those officials mailed 8,621 ballots to voters, 903 of whom are located outside the United States, and hundreds of those ballots have been voted and returned.

According to Strach, should the General Assembly redraw districts by the Feb. 19 deadline, election officials would need to late May to make necessary adjustments for the primary elections — well beyond the March 15 scheduled date.

Bifurcating the primary elections with congressional races held sometime in late May would add to early voting costs as well, Strach added.

In its final judgment on Friday, the judges also forbade state officials from conducting any elections for the U.S. Representative until a new plan is in place.

Since then though election officials have been encouraging absentee voters to keep voting and to cast the full ballot, including in House of Representative races — contending that the court’s order with respect to “conducting elections” was unclear.

“There are a lot of contingencies that we don’t want voters to have to filter through – in a district for example  that wouldn’t be affected by a redistricting effort,”  Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson said.

“Our message was ‘vote it if it’s on your ballot,’ but the legal significance of that, whether or not we certify that, is still something that’s controlled by the courts,” he added.

“We’re trying to make sure that not everyone thinks that this jeopardizes participation, because it may not.”

Read the state’s papers here.

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News

A federal three-judge panel threw out North Carolina’s Congressional Districts 1 and 12 as racial gerrymanders today and gave the General Assembly until February 19 to redraw new maps.

Writing for the court in a decision handed down late this afternoon, Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory said:

After careful consideration of all evidence presented during a three-day bench trial, the parties’ findings of fact and conclusions of law, the parties’ arguments, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have shown that race predominated in both CD 1 and CD 12 and that the defendants have failed to establish that its race-based redistricting satisfies strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the Court holds that the general assembly’s 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan is unconstitutional as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Having found that the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Court will require that new congressional districts be drawn forthwith to remedy the unconstitutional districts.

U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. agreed with Gregory, while Judge William L. Osteen, Jr. dissented in part.

The court’s decision conflicts with decisions by the state Supreme Court in Dickson v. Rucho, which has twice upheld the 2011 legislative and congressional maps — most recently after a remand for further review by the U.S. Supreme Court.  (For more on how the redistricting battles are playing out here and elsewhere, read here.)

And its order requiring a do-over by Feb. 19 disrupts the current election calendar heading into the March 15 primary elections.

Read the decision here.

 

News

State BarThe North Carolina State Bar has reversed a prior panel ruling and cleared attorney Cassandra Stubbs of ethics violations alleged to have occurred during her representation of death row inmate Marcus Robinson in his Racial Justice Act challenge.

Stubbs is the second of Robinson’s attorneys to have her name cleared, after charges were lodged against her and attorney Gretchen Engel for allegedly providing inaccurate affidavits to Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks during Robinson’s case.

Weeks ultimately ordered in that case that Robinson’s death sentence be reduced to life without parole after finding that racial bias permeated his jury selection, and has said that the affidavits at issue did not impact his decision, according to WRAL.

In July 2015 a State Bar panel admonished Stubbs for violating rules of professional conduct,  but two months later a separate panel cleared Engel of ethics violations in connection with the same affidavits.

In her hearing, Engel said her failure to correct the affidavits was an oversight and not intentional.

Once Engel was cleared, Stubbs asked the State Bar panel to reconsider her case, which it did yesterday — issuing this order dismissing the complaint against her.

News

Saying that the General Assembly violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution when it empowered lawmakers to make appointments to commissions that performed largely executive functions, the state Supreme Court today backed the governors who challenged what they called a usurpation of power by the legislature.

The battle between the branches of government came to a head in the fall of 2014 after lawmakers created the Coal Ash Commission, Oil & Gas Commission and Mining Commission and authorized the House speaker and Senate president to appoint most of the members on each.

Gov. Pat McCrory, joined by former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, then filed suit against the speaker and president, alleging that lawmakers had overstepped their authority in limiting the governor’s appointments to commissions that functioned under the province of the executive branch.

But the legislative leaders claimed absolute authority to make those appointments, saying that the state constitution clearly gave them that power.

A three-judge panel ruled for the governors in March 2015, holding that state lawmakers had violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Mark Martin, the court ruled that the statutes in question did not violate appointment provisions of the state constitution but did nonetheless extend executive functions to the legislature in violation of the separation of powers clause.

Martin wrote:

When the General Assembly appoints executive officers that the Governor has little power to remove, it can appoint them essentially without the Governor’s influence. That leaves the Governor with little control over the views and priorities of the officers that the General Assembly appoints. When those officers form a majority on a commission that has the final say on how to execute the laws, the General Assembly, not the Governor, can exert most of the control over the executive policy that is implemented in any area of the law that the commission regulates. As a result, the Governor cannot take care that the laws are faithfully executed in that area. The separation of powers clause plainly and clearly does not allow the General Assembly to take this much control over the execution of the laws from the Governor and lodge it with itself.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Newby wrote that the General Assembly acted well within its authority when it enacted the challenged statutes.

Read the full decision here.

News
(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

Perhaps you haven’t been paying much attention yet to the upcoming election cycle, but here’s a fact that every voter who cares about the state of democracy in North Carolina should know.

In almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative districts, only one candidate has filed to run for an open seat — meaning that there will be no competition in both the primary and general elections in those districts.

The reason?  Gerrymandering.

Here’s more from the folks at Common Cause North Carolina:

The driving force behind this lack of competition is gerrymandering, the longtime practice of partisan politicians drawing the state’s voting maps to heavily favor one party or the other. In turn, opposing candidates have little or no chance of winning in these districts — deterring many potential contenders from even bothering to run and leaving voters with no choice on their ballot.

Just one candidate filed for office in these 54 legislative districts, effectively deciding the outcome of these elections before a single ballot is cast. In all, almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative seats will have no competition in both the primary and general elections.

Over 3 million North Carolinians reside in the 41 state House districts that lack any competition this year, and nearly 2.5 million live in the 13 state Senate districts where just one candidate is running.

In the 54 days leading up to the March 15 primary, the group is taking a daily look at each of the 54 NC General Assembly districts where just one candidate is running for office.

Here’s today’s focus, Mecklenburg County’s House District 99:

(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

And here’s state Sen. Jeff Jackson on why this lack of competition is a dangerous thing for North Carolina voters:

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You can follow Common Cause as the group counts down the Forgotten 54 here  or on Twitter at @CommonCauseNC.

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