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School vouchersLate last week the state Supreme Court moved on the school voucher case now pending there, allowing the State Education Assistance Authority to undertake administrative steps needed to get the program on track for an August 2015 disbursement of funds, but otherwise keeping in place an order preventing any such disbursement until the justices say otherwise.

The court also expedited the appeal process and set February 17, 2015 for argument.

In papers filed Dec. 10,  Sen. Pres. Phil Berger,  Speaker Thom Tillis and parents who intervened in the case asked the court to allow the program to move ahead full throttle while the appeal is pending — including the disbursement of funds in August 2015 in the event the court has not rendered its decision.

The court granted that request only to the extent of allowing program administration to move forward — including the application process scheduled to run from Jan. 20 – Feb. 27, 2015.

 

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(Updated: Late this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Loretta Biggs along with two other district court nominees, sending them to the Senate floor for a full confirmation vote.  For more information, read below and here.)

North Carolina’s latest nominee for a seat on the federal bench, Loretta Copeland Biggs, is slated for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee today, and if approved moves one-step closer to a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

But Biggs — like several other pending nominees hanging on as Congress approaches adjournment for the year — may be running out of time.

As The Hill reports this morning, Senate Republicans are digging in their heels and hoping to delay votes on the President’s nominees until January, when they take control of the chamber. At that point, all those who are pending will have to be renominated and will face a tougher road to confirmation.

That’s more than 170 nominations, including nine district court nominees who’ve already been approved by Judiciary and another three (with Biggs) who are scheduled for a committee vote today, plus 18 State Department picks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he’ll keep the Senate in session until his colleagues vote at least on the President’s picks for the head of  Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Sarah Saldaña;  head of Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin; and the nine pending federal judges.

Advocacy groups are also pushing for floor votes on Biggs and the other two court nominees who’ll hopefully come out of committee today.

Biggs’ nomination has been pending for a little under three months and appeared to be heading smoothly toward confirmation after receiving support from both home state senators, Kay Hagan and Richard Burr.  If confirmed, she’ll fill the seat vacated by U.S. District Judge James Beaty in the state’s Middle District.

Meanwhile, the candidate named to fill the country’s longest running federal district court vacancy — now open in eastern North Carolina for 3,287 days — Jennifer May-Parker, has yet to receive even a committee hearing. That’s because Sen. Burr, who once supported her, refuses to return the “blue slip” to get May-Parker a date on the Judiciary Committee calendar.

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. 

News

justice2What can you do with a drunken lawyer?  Last night Georgia executed Robert Wayne Holsey,  a man of questionable intellectual capacity convicted for killing a sheriff’s deputy in 1995 — despite the fact that his court-appointed lawyer failed miserably in his defense and admitted to drinking up to a quart of vodka in the evenings while trying the case.

Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project discusses the sad truth in response to his own question — “What Can You Do With a Drunken Lawyer” — that very few defendants get a new trial due to their attorney’s incapacity.

Says Armstrong:

One reason is the test that courts use to evaluate such claims. A defendant must show not only that his lawyer was incompetent, but that the trial’s outcome would likely have been different had the attorney been more capable (and sober). This second prong has been used to defeat so many claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that some practitioners consider the whole exercise virtually pointless. One attorney put it this way: “We just simply put a mirror under the lawyer’s nose, and if it clouds up, that’s effective assistance of counsel.”

You can send a kid to Harvard for what it cost to keep him incarcerated.  Also at the Marshall Project is a report out by the Justice Policy Institute on the costs of jailing youth offenders entitled “Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration.”

“We could send a [juvenile justice youth] to Harvard for [what we pay for incarceration] and we don’t get very good outcomes,” one state family service director said in the report.

The price tag for confinement  in North Carolina, according to the report? Up to $437.67 per day for one juvenile — or $39,390 for three months; $78,781 for six months; and $159,750 for a year.

The mysterious case of Bobby Chen.  In early November, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by a man — acting as his own attorney — who had sued the city of Baltimore for allegedly razing his row house to hide damage caused by the city’s demolition of a house next door.  As the Wall Street Journal reports here, Bobby Chen asked the court to address his inability to get court extensions of time because of difficulties serving papers on city officials.

Mr. Chen filed his petition to the Supreme Court in March. Parts of it were hand written. His grammar was often incorrect. And he made a motion to submit the case without paying the court’s $300 filing fee because he said he had virtually no money. Despite incredibly long odds, his appeal caught the court’s eye. The justices announced on Nov. 7 that they would hear Mr. Chen’s case.

The problem now? Nobody can find Mr. Chen — who has until Dec. 22 to file his opening brief.

 

News

chooselifeFor several weeks now, the state’s “Choose Life” license plate case — pending for potential review at the U.S. Supreme Court — has been scheduled for consideration by the justices during conference and then relisted for a later date.

It now appears, though, that consideration of the case will be on hold while the high court reviews a similar case out of Texas which the justices accepted last Friday, according to SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston:

“The Court was asked in the Texas case, and in a separate North Carolina case that is now apparently being kept on hold, to clarify a split among federal appeals courts on whether vanity plate messages are to be treated as government or private expressions.”

In the Texas case, Walker v.  Sons of Confederate Veterans, the state is defending the refusal by a state agency to allow plates displaying the confederate flag as offensive to some people. The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, and says Denniston, “ultimately won a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, declaring that specialty plate messages are a form of private speech, and that the state agency had engaged in forbidden viewpoint discrimination.”

In North Carolina’s license plate case, Berger v. ACLU, critics said that by offering a “Choose Life” plate but not a similar pro-choice one the state had likewise engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

U.S. District Judge James C. Fox agreed, ruling in December 2012 that the state’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate violated the First Amendment, and the Fourth Circuit agreed.

Argument in the Texas case will likely be in the spring.

 

News

Roy Cooper 3North Carolina will not be joining Gov. Pat McCrory as a plaintiff in the multistate lawsuit filed earlier this week challenging President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration.

McCrory signed on to that lawsuit in his capacity as governor and without the apparent support of his attorney general. Seventeen states and three other governors are also plaintiffs.

Yesterday, after the lawsuit had been filed on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper, asking him to join the case on behalf of the state.

In a letter today, Cooper declined, adding that he did not think it beneficial for the state to join the lawsuit and add to the divisiveness and inaction already surrounding the immigration debate.

Cooper’s words:

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