The state Court of Appeals today denied the request by parents who intervened in the school voucher case to delay a stay of the program entered by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood in February — a request which, if granted, would have effectively allowed that program to move forward while the court considered any such appeal.

Cynthia Perry and Gennell Curry, parents who support the state’s newly-enacted school voucher program, joined the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality with Hobgood’s permission, granted shortly before he halted the program pending a hearing on its merits.

The state did not appeal Hobgood’s preliminary ruling, but Perry and Curry did, contending that their right to “direct the education of their children” would be harmed by the court’s delaying implementation of the voucher program, which state officials had already moved forward with despite the  lawsuits.  At least some of the $400,000 budgeted for administration of the program had already been spent, and more than 4,000 applications for vouchers received.

With the Court of Appeal’s order, here, the school voucher program remains suspended pending further court action.

Holding true to their inclinations revealed at oral argument and splitting along party lines in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that 2-year aggregate limits on campaign contributions are invalid under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia,Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the result, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

At issue in McCutcheon was the federal law that caps the total amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates over a two-year period at $48,600. It also limits the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates to $74,600 and caps the total amount for contributions in the two-year cycle at to $74,600.

Read the full opinion here.

The New York Times wasn’t the only news outlet today — Day 285 of the Burr “blue slip” watch —  to chastise U.S. Sen. Richard Burr for obstructing the judicial nomination process and refusing to return the traditional “blue slip” allowing his own nominee for a seat on the federal bench in eastern North Carolina, Jennifer May-Parker, to move to a Judiciary Committee hearing in the Senate.

The Carolina Mercury and the News & Record  both picked up the Times editorial, and several others chimed in with their own thoughts.

The Asheville Citizen-Times editorial board gave Burr a grade of “F” for his tactics:

F to Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, for his puzzling move to block filling the seat of a federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The seat has been vacant for more than eight years. In 2009 Burr recommended federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to fill the seat. Last June President Obama nominated May-Parker. But she has yet to receive a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of the Senate’s “blue slip’’ tradition. The practice, dating to the early 20th century, means if a home-state senator doesn’t return a blue piece of paper signing off on a judicial nomination, the nominee doesn’t get a committee hearing, a step before heading to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. Burr has changed his mind on May-Parker and hasn’t explained why. Thanks to this sort of stonewalling, there are more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench. Burr should explain his reasoning or the Senate should re-examine this practice, which isn’t even a formal rule.

And citizens too weighed in, voicing their own disapproval in letters to editors.

Reader Vicki Boyer reminded the senator in this letter in the Durham Herald Sun that women voters here are watching and waiting for more women judges, and warned that if he didn’t return his “blue slip” they may be sending him a “pink slip” come 2016:

That our senator, Richard Burr, would keep the entire U.S. Senate from having hearings on the appointment of Jennifer May-Parker as federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina is indicative of what is wrong in Washington.

Here we have a perfectly qualified candidate for the judiciary, originally approved by Burr, who cannot even get a hearing on the hill because Burr has flipped-flopped and won’t turn in his “blue slip” on her nomination. This senate “courtesy” to fellow senators has long been used to hold up nominations. That one person can hold up the work of the Senate and the judiciary for, in this case, reasons he refuses to explain is ridiculous.

I call upon Senator Burr to send in that blue slip or publicly explain himself. Our courts need May-Parker. She is very well qualified and a woman. Women are 54 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters. And we want to see more women sitting on the bench.

So, sign that blue slip, senator, or in 2016, women will be sending you a pink one.

 

The court handling the challenges to the voting law changes enacted by the General Assembly last session ruled today that the doctrine of legislative immunity did not give legislators absolute protection from having to disclose some emails and other documents generated while those changes were being considered.

“North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

In League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina, Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake wrote:

The Court concludes that while the judicially-created doctrine of “legislative immunity” provides individual legislators with absolute immunity from liability for their legislative acts, that immunity does not preclude all discovery in the context of this case; instead, claims of legislative immunity or privilege in the discovery context must be evaluated under a flexible approach that considers the need for the information in the context of the particular suit presented, while still protecting legislative sovereignty and minimizing any direct intrusion into the legislative process.

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The Court must consider the context of this suit under the Voting Rights Act in making a particularized determination of the extent of any privilege, balancing the need for obtaining the information with the impact on legislative sovereignty and the need to “insure that legislators are not distracted from or hindered in the performance of their legislative tasks.”  In undertaking this inquiry, the Court notes that many of the documents requested by the subpoenas and discovery requests involve communications with outside parties or are other documents that are considered public records under state law. Requiring production of those documents is not unduly burdensome or invasive of the legislative process. However, other categories of documents may require further scrutiny in balancing the competing interests. In addition, the protections of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine can also be claimed by the individual legislators, and those issues have not been addressed in detail as to the specific requests presented.

“Today’s ruling is good news for every North Carolinian who values integrity and transparency in our elections,” Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, added. “The public has a right to know how and why officials drafted legislation making it harder for North Carolinians to vote, and with today’s ruling, we can hopefully get to the bottom of those questions.”

Read more here about this chapter of the litigation pending in federal court in Winston-Salem.

Read the court’s full order here.

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Looking for a break from the headlines dominating your workday? Weary from breaking news about March Madness, Malaysia Flight 370, Hobby Lobby and Obamacare at the Supreme Court?

Here’s a few fun, quirky, noteworthy and just plain happy bits to chew on during your Hump Day lunch break.

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Tiles In a rare showing of bipartisan cooperation, support in Congress is growing for the building of a national museum on women on or near the National Mall, the New York Times reports today.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed versions of legislation in support of such a museum over the last decade, but never during the same Congress. Some have raised doubts about whether supporters could come up with the estimated $500 million needed to build it.

“I don’t know of a national museum anywhere in any of the capitals of the world that chronicles the achievements of women,” Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York said. “I find that astonishing.”

The group pushing the project said that it had already raised $14 million for the museum.

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smileyEver wonder where emoji — those cute, quirky pictures that show up in texts and tweets — come from?  The Wall Street Journal has the answer, along with a graphic that has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about those little characters.

Spoiler alert: It turns out there really is an emoji “governing body” of sorts.

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Per this piece in Salon, fans of the long-running television series “The Office” can now while away their workday hours viewing “The Office Time Machine,” an online catalog of every cultural reference ever made in episodes of the show.

There’s more to the compendium than just fun, though, creator Joe Sabia said:

I created this project to advocate for copyright reform and highlight the importance of fair use in protecting creators and their art. To prove culture is not only everywhere, but that certain references to films, songs, and works of art are critical for our collective understanding of comedy and to the importance of relating to content, I found every cultural, real-life reference from every episode of The Office.

Here’s a clip of references from 1993:

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No, it’s not necessarily new (now playing on YouTube with more than 140 million views), or offbeat (you’ll see plenty during March Madness coverage), but the Pharrell Williams video “Happy” is just that, and a great way to get over the hump today.

 

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Happy Wednesday!