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Gay marriage 3Federal courts in North Carolina have stayed proceedings in the same-sex marriage cases here while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Bostic v. Schaefer, finding Virginia’s marriage ban unconstitutional.

Five petitions for review of lower court rulings on the issue are now pending before the high court in various stages of readiness — one each from Utah and Oklahoma and three from Virginia (from different parties).

Lyle Deniston at SCOTUSblog has this full rundown of where the cases stand. Here’s his suspected timing:

Following the series of lower-court rulings on same-sex marriage, petitions posing that issue began arriving at the Court on August 5.  In the twenty-four days since then, the other four petitions have come in, so at this stage cases from Oklahoma and Utah are close to being ready for the Justices to consider promptly, as are at least two of the three petitions about Virginia’s ban.

Whether the Court is prepared to step into the controversy at an early point may depend upon whether the Justices are convinced that there is a split on the core issue among lower federal appeals courts.  There is a split, but it depends upon taking into account an appeals court decision years before the Court’s ruling last year in the Windsor case.   Every federal court ruling on the issue since then has resulted in a nullification of state bans, relying on the reasoning in the main Windsor opinion.

The Justices may want to wait to see if a new split is going to develop at the appeals court level.  Many observers now appear to believe, in the wake of a recent hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, that that court may uphold one or more state bans in the four cases it heard.

A split in the circuits may now also be bolstered by today’s ruling from a federal judge in Louisiana, upholding that state’s ban.  Of course that decision — the first from a federal district court to uphold a state ban — would have to pass through the Fifth Circuit first, and likely not in time to make it up to the Supreme Court this term.

Here is the order staying proceedings in Fisher-Borne v. Smith and Gerber v. Cooper.

Here is the order staying proceedings in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

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Supreme courtTwo reports out today reveal a public disenchanted with their court systems and suspicious of the influence that campaign cash is having on judicial conduct.

One, a survey commissioned by the Coalition for Court Transparency to assess perceptions about transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals that the public strongly wants to see more of the high court in action. 

As noted in the Legal Times, “seventy-four percent of the respondents favored live camera access and 72 percent said the court should at least allow the broadcast of audio of oral arguments and other public court proceedings.”  Those polled also overwhelmingly wanted more financial disclosure by the justices  – who they rated negatively and suspected were rendering opinions based upon personal or political views.

State court systems didn’t fare much better — at least those in states where, like North Carolina, judges have to campaign for their seats on the bench.

As the executive director of Justice at Stake Bert Brandenburg notes in this Politico piece:

recent survey showed that an overwhelming 87 percent of Americans fear that campaign cash is affecting decisions in the courtroom. Even more chilling: A poll by the National Center for State Courts and Justice at Stake shows that nearly half of state judges agree. “It’s pretty hard in big-money races not to take care of your friends,” said retired West Virginia Chief Justice Richard Neely in 2006. “It’s very hard not to dance with the one who brung you.”

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NCSupremeCourt

After more than 20 years on the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Sarah Parker stepped down on Saturday, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 in August.

Her picture has already been removed from the court’s website, with one of the newly-appointed temporary chief, Justice Mark Martin, taking its place.

Her legacy drew praise from colleagues and contemporaries alike.

“Sarah is a quintessential professional,” former justice Bob Orr said in this post. “She has a sense of the history and tradition of the court as well as the system. She’s been a good chief justice in difficult times.”

Parker was mindful of those difficult times, especially near the end of her tenure, as the court itself became increasingly politicized and the state’s judicial system struggled under the weight of draconian budget cuts. She drew attention to both of those problems in her remarks to the state bar association this summer.

With her departure the court has just six justices serving — at least for this week.  Next week, Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter, Jr. will temporarily fill the spot vacated by Justice Martin.

Six is a tough number for parties awaiting a decision from the state’s highest court. If the justices are split three to three on an issue, then no decision follows. Rather, the decision of the court below stands.

And while the interim ascension of Judge Hunter will make seven, for all practical purposes nothing will change, as he’ll have to recuse himself from ruling in cases on which he sat in the Court of Appeals or in which he hasn’t participated while on the Supreme Court.

That includes the 15 or so cases argued this past year for which a decision is still pending.

And among those are some of the weightiest and most controversial issues facing the court this term: redistricting and the Racial Justice Act.

In those cases, with this composition on the court, it’s at least possible that with six, you get nothing.

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Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

As the case challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan languishes in state Supreme Court, two similar cases out of Alabama that may bear directly on the legality of our state maps are set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabamaparties are challenging the legality of “packing” minority voters into districts where they already are in political control, reducing their impact elsewhere.

As summarized by SCOTUSblog:

Both [cases] challenge decisions by a federal district court that upheld (by a split two-to-one vote) a new boundary map that kept the  same number of state senate and state house districts that previously had majorities of African-American voters, but added to those majorities in almost every district.  Sponsors of the plan insisted they were doing so to obey their obligations to protect minority voters’ political strength under federal voting rights law, but the challengers argued that this was an unconstitutional use of racial gerrymandering.

In both the Alabama cases and the case pending here (Dickson v. Rucho), state lawmakers have argued that the Voting Rights Act required them to redraw districts and pack African-American voters into districts — even though those voters, while still a minority of the voting age population in their previous districts, had been electing their candidates of choice.

The viability of that argument will be before the nation’s highest court in the fall, and yesterday — in a friend-of-the-court brief filed there — attorneys for the parties challenging the North Carolina maps urged the justices to reject redistricting on that basis as “an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.”

Here is an excerpt from that brief:

This Court reiterated in Bartlett v. Strickland the well-established principle that the “‘moral imperative of racial neutrality is the driving force of the Equal Protection Clause,’ and racial classifications are permitted only ‘as a last resort.’” The Court further cautioned that “[o]ur holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns.”

The North Carolina legislature, like the Alabama legislature, misapplied these principles in the 2011 redistricting by imposing a racial proportionality target for the number of majority-black districts and requiring every district to meet a specific black population percentage target. As in Alabama, the North Carolina General Assembly believed that these fixed racial targets were required by the Voting Rights Act.

Ignoring decades of progress in increasing opportunities for black voters to participate in the political process, in 2011 the General Assembly created more majority-black districts than ever before, thereby entrenching racial stereotypes and tearing apart effective cross-racial coalitions that had evolved over time. The General Assembly’s use of racial targets in redistricting was justified only by the mistaken belief that they were required by federal law. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, there is only one other redistricting case, currently pending in Virginia, in which it is alleged that the Legislature admittedly and explicitly used racial targets in drawing districts.

Thus, what is needed here is not a revision of voting rights jurisprudence; nor will reversal of the trial court result in significant upheaval of redistricting maps throughout jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather, the misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s requirements resulting in the unfair imposition of racial targets in redistricting in a few states is an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.

Read the full brief here.

 

 

 

 

 

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EARLY VOTINGThe League of Women Voters and other groups and individuals challenging the state’s new voting law in federal court today appealed a lower court ruling rendering the law effective for the November elections.

They’ll ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite the matter with a view towards a quick ruling.

“We will be seeking expedited review to get a ruling that can be implemented well in advance of the elections,” said the ACLU’s Chris Brook, one of the attorneys in the case.

The league joins the NC-NAACP, which filed its notice of appeal yesterday, and students who joined the cases who appealed earlier in the week.

Together they’re appealing U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s August 8 ruling allowing voting changes to take effect in November.

For North Carolina voters, that means that there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted.

“If one person’s right to vote is denied or abridged this election, this democracy suffers,” NC NAACP president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II said yesterday in a statement. “While restoring the rights of North Carolina voters and renewing the integrity of democracy in our state will require a long legal fight, we must start now by doing everything we can to block this law for the November election.”