Supreme courtIn orders released this afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court added two controversial cases to this term’s docket, agreeing to hear a case out of Texas concerning a requirement that abortion physicians have hospital admitting privileges and a case out of Virginia concerning the redistricting of one of the state’s congressional districts.

The Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Colemarks the high court’s first foray into an abortion controversy since 2007, when the justices in a 5-4 decision upheld a ban on “partial-birth abortions.”

The New York Times summarizes the issue in Cole here:  

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

The Virginia case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, involves the one congressional district in the state that has a majority-black population.  The question is whether race was used unconstitutionally in shaping that district’s lines. Although granting review, the court left open the possibility that the case might be dismissed on procedural grounds, asking for briefing on the question of whether plaintiffs had standing to bring the case in the first instance since none resided in or represented the subject district.


vote2State Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) offers up five ways North Carolina could make voting easier in this post on Medium this morning, all of which are simple and common sense moves that have been time-tested and proven successful in other states.

They include automatic registration through the DMV, vote by mail, permanent absentee voting, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and online voter registration.

Jackson points out that almost every other state has adopted at least one of these measures, but North Carolina has instead passed laws making it harder to vote:

Our state had been pre-registering high school students to vote in their required Civics and Economics classes, but in 2013, it cut this initiative because… well, nobody really knows why. We also had 17 days of early voting, but now it’s 10. We ended same-day registration. We made it mandatory that voters present photo ID at the polls, despite there being thousands of legally registered voters who do not have photo ID.

We know what to do to make voting more convenient, more efficient, and more accessible for North Carolinians. Other states have completed the trial runs of these initiatives and we can choose to follow and improve on their success. If we truly believe in encouraging citizens to participate in our democracy, this is the path forward.

As U.S. Circuit Court Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. asked during oral argument in the Fourth Circuit appeal concerning the state’s 2013 election law changes, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”



Heirs of some state residents sterilized against their will under North Carolina’s state-sanctioned eugenics program will make their case for compensation before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals on Monday afternoon, arguing that the legislature’s distinction between living and deceased victims for purposes of restitution violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

They’ve been excluded from payments because of a provision of the eugenics compensation law that requires victims to have been “alive on June 30, 2013.”

Between 1926 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized some 7,600 state residents against their will. Decades later, Gov. Mike Easley publicly apologized to the victims and their families and lawmakers began discussions about compensation for the state’s shameful program.

They spoke of health funds to cover victims’ medical expenses and public education efforts to inform state schoolchildren about eugenics history, funded an interactive exhibit about the program at the N.C. Museum of History and proposed awards as high as $50,000 per victim, with no cap on a compensation fund.

But by the time compensation became a reality in 2013, the state’s offering had been stripped down to a capped $10 million fund, with little else.

Nearly 790 victims or their families filed claims for payment from that fund by a June 30, 2014 deadline. The Industrial Commission then reviewed the claims and found that 220 qualified for compensation.  An initial payment of $20,000 was sent to them in October 2014, and a second in the amount of $15,000 went out at the beginning of November.  The remaining funds are being held pending appeals.

“This second check represents the next step in making amends for one of the darkest chapters in our history,” Governor McCrory said in a statement following the second payment. “No amount of money can undo the harm that occurred, but it is my hope that this compensation will give victims some measure of solace, comfort and vindication.”

Among those denied payment are the heirs of victims otherwise qualified but who died before the June 30, 2013 cutoff date set by the General Assembly.

The victims include Kay Francis Redmond, who as described in a recent editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal “was labeled ‘feeble-minded’ and forcibly sterilized at 14 in Iredell County. “

Redmond later suffered from depression after learning what happened to her and died five years ago at 69.

Redmond had a daughter before the state sterilized her, though, who went on to graduate from high school, attend college for a year and now works as a phlebotomist and has been the administrator of her mother’s estate.

The Industrial Commission’s denial of her claim is “just unfair,” Nichols told the Winston-Salem Journal in October. “Everyone didn’t get justice.”

In papers filed with the court, lawyers for the state argue that the exclusion of heirs of victims who died before the cut-off date aligns with the purpose of the funding law, which was to compensate victims only.

But as the heirs who’ve been denied compensation point out, that argument is undermined by a separate provision of the law that allows for compensation to the heirs of victims who filed a timely claim but died after the cutoff date.

So, if a victim died before June 30, 2013, the families get nothing. But if a victim filed a claim by that date and then died, the families are compensated.

That results in similarly-situated victims being treated differently, their attorneys argue, and bears no rational relationship to the purpose of the compensation program — which is to provide restitution to all who suffered at the hands of the state under the eugenics program.

“One could indeed surmise that the apparent purpose of the living victim threshold is to limit the number of compensation recipients,” the attorneys argue in papers filed with the court.

“Even if the Legislature’s motive was benign (to issue larger shares of the fund to each recipient), not only does that purpose bear no rational relationship to the Program’s remedial purpose, but it would perniciously incentivize the rejection of claims. Such a rationale cannot withstand even the lowest level of Equal Protection review.”

Argument in three separate cases brought by victim’s families will be heard before Judges Linda McGee, Chris Dillon and Mark Davis at the N.C. Court of Appeals on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.


Health careThe U.S. Supreme Court has agreed for a fourth time to wade through an Obamacare dispute, this time in several consolidated cases involving the contraceptive mandate.

This from the Associated Press:

The newest “Obamacare” case involves objections by faith-based hospitals, colleges and charities to the process the administration devised to spare them from paying for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans, and yet ensure that those women can obtain birth control at no extra cost.

The groups complain that they remain complicit in making available the contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs.

Seven out of eight federal appeals courts have agreed with the administration that requiring the faith-based groups to make their objection known and identify their insurer or insurance administrator does not violate a federal religious freedom law.

Argument in the cases is expected in March 2016.


vote2As voters in the state head to the polls today, parties in the federal voting rights cases are moving forward towards a trial on the remaining voter ID challenge, according to a report filed with the court yesterday.

In late October, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder denied the state’s request to dismiss those claims on the grounds that recently enacted “reasonable impediment” provisions mooted the constitutional challenge.  Schroeder rejected that argument, saying that the law’s challengers still had remedies available to them should they establish a disproportionate impact upon African-American and Latinos.

Per yesterday’s report, the parties are proposing some limited discovery with a trial on voter ID to proceed in late January, unless the plaintiffs decide to seek a preliminary injunction — presumably to block implementation of the photo ID law during the March 2016 presidential primary and perhaps beyond.

A ruling on the remaining challenges to the state’s 2013 voting law remains pending after being tried in July and fully submitted to Schroeder in August.

Speaking of voting changes, the Brennan Center of Justice has a new report out detailing progress states have made toward electronic and digital voter registration.

As noted there, states are increasingly (albeit slowly) moving in that direction. Five years ago, the Center found that 17 states electronically registered voters, and at least 6 states allowed voters to register online. Today, 27 states have electronic registration at the DMV (some of these states also offer it at additional agencies) and 26 states have online registration.  Looking ahead, five more states have authorized online registration and three have authorized electronic registration, but have yet to implement such changes.

North Carolina took the first step in 2006 when it launched DMV registration but has not moved beyond that point.

As discussed in detail in the report, states are finding that moving to digital saves money, boosts registration and improves the accuracy of voter rolls:

  • States continue to implement modernized voting systems. A total of 38 states now have electronic registration, online registration, or both. Electronic registration is available in 27 states, and 26 states have online options. In 2010, when the Brennan Center first studied these systems in depth, 17 states electronically registered voters, and only 6 allowed citizens to sign up online. As states continue to adopt modernized techniques, they speed up the process of registering voters.
  • Modernization boosts registration rates. In one data sample, 14 of 16 states with electronic registration saw sustained or increased registration rates at DMV offices through the 2014 election. For example, since Pennsylvania eliminated paper registration at DMVs in 2005, registration rates at the DMV5 have more than quadrupled. Online registration is also popular with voters. In 11 of the 14 states that had online voter registration in 2012, online registrations accounted for more than 10 percent of all new sign-ups between 2010 and 2012.
  • Electronic and online registration increase voter roll accuracy. Election officials in almost every state interviewed reported that both electronic and online registration made their systems more accurate because staff no longer need to interpret illegible handwriting or manually enter voter information, thus reducing the chances for errors.
  • Modernized voter registration systems save money. Not all states attempted to track cost savings, but of the 29 states that reported they did, there was unanimity that electronic and online registration reduces costs. Washington State, for example, saves 25 cents with each online registration.

Read the Brennan Center’s report here.