News

VoteWake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan  has refused to dismiss a case challenging the state’s voter ID law, sending the case to trial in July instead.

Under the so-called monster voting law passed in 2013, voters will have to show one of seven forms of photo identification to cast a ballot starting in 2016.

“On behalf of our clients, we look forward to trying this case in July and demonstrating the disenfranchising effect of the photo ID requirement,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s George Eppsteiner, one of attorneys for the parties challenging the law.

Those parties include 78-year-old Alberta Currie, whose family picked cotton and tobacco on Robeson County fields and who has no birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

Joining her in the lawsuit, Currie v. North Carolina — filed in August 2013 when three federal actions were likewise filed — are several other individuals as well as the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the North Carolina A. Phillip Randolph Institute.

Together they allege that the photo ID requirement creates a new qualification to vote and discriminates against African-American voters, all in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.

At a hearing in late January, both the state and the challengers asked the court enter judgment in their favor based solely upon their respective court pleadings.

In his order filed on February 24, Morgan ruled instead that the challengers’ claims that the photo ID requirement constituted an impermissible qualification on the right to vote and also violated Equal Protection provisions of the state constitution could only be decided after a full presentation of evidence at trial.

Read the full decision here.

 

News

#ConfirmLoretta2

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to serve as the country’s next Attorney General by a 12-8 vote.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with three Republican senators — Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake — joining all nine Democratic senators on the committee in voting “yes.”

North Carolina’s new senator, former state House Speaker Thom Tillis, voted “no” on the Lynch nomination, a decision he announced via Twitter just shortly before the committee meeting this morning.

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In a later release, Tillis elaborated on his reasons — which included the Justice Department’s voting rights lawsuit against the state and Lynch’s alleged stance on the President’s immigration policies — but said that if Lynch was confirmed he would work with her “on key areas of agreement.”

I hope she will prove my concerns unfounded by rebuilding the Department of Justice’s fractured relationship with Congress, put an end to the costly and politically motivated ligation against North Carolina, and most importantly, restore the Department’s reputation for legal integrity that is divorced from politics.

With the committee’s approval, Lynch now moves to a vote by the full Senate, on a date and time yet to be set. If confirmed there, Lynch will become the first African-American woman and the first native North Carolinian to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As chief there, Lynch earned the respect of law enforcement officials and prosecutors from both sides of the aisle, many of whom voiced support for her nomination at the time of her committee confirmation hearing in January.

And prior to the committee vote this morning, even those Republican senators voting “no” on her nomination conceded that she was immensely qualified and had done an impeccable job leading one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s offices in the country.

None had voiced opposition during Lynch’s confirmation hearing, but in the time since partisan pressure built among Republicans to defeat her nomination.

In a February 19 letter, fifty-one Republican senators urged Judiciary Committee members to oppose her nomination, saying they suspected that Lynch would likely continue the policies of Eric Holder, whom she’d succeed as Attorney General.

 

News

Loretta LynchThe U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this morning on the nomination of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to serve as the nation’s next Attorney General.

If approved by the Committee, her nomination will move to the full Senate for a final vote, and if confirmed there Lynch will become the first African-American woman to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office there.

Colleagues and adversaries alike have called her a tough, fair, and independent lawyer and a leader of one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the nation.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called her “a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor.

Former NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised Lynch as a person who “upholds the highest ethical standard” and “would serve our country well” as the attorney general.

And former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn’t think of “a more qualified nominee” and was “happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation.”

Lynch also garnered the respect of several senators serving on the 20-member Committee, before whom she appeared for questioning in late January.

Eleven of those senators are Republican — including newly-minted North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – and nine are Democrats.

With a supporting vote, Tillis could help make Lynch the first North Carolinian to lead the Justice Department.

But he has not publicly announced his support, and his office did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Others on both sides of the aisle have expressed their support, though.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Lynch’s performance at her confirmation hearing one of the best she’d witnessed.

“I see the combination of steel and velvet,” Feinstein said.

And Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said he was impressed by Lynch and plans to support her.

Despite that support, an effort is apparently underway among Republicans in the Senate to derail her nomination, according to this report in the News & Observer.

Fifty-one Republican senators have signed a letter urging Judiciary Committee members to oppose her nomination, saying they suspected that Lynch would likely continue the policies of Eric Holder, whom she’d succeed as Attorney General.

Holder made few friends among Republicans in the Senate, and during her confirmation hearing, Lynch found herself being pushed to distance herself from that.

“If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself,” she said in response to questioning.

“I would be Loretta Lynch.”

 

News

Supreme courtIn a 6-3 decision released today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state Board of Dental Examiners lacked immunity from antitrust laws and could not enforce regulations that effectively limit competition.

The case, NC Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, arose from the Board’s repeated efforts to stop non-dentists from rendering teeth-whitening services, saying that such services constituted the “practice of dentistry” subject to its regulation.

After years of cease-and-desist orders issued by the Board to unlicensed providers of that service, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and accused that body of stifling competition. In response the Board argued that as a state agency it was immune from antitrust laws.

The FTC and the Fourth Circuit disagreed, finding that the Board wasn’t really acting at state direction and was more akin to a private group using state regulation to restrain competitors.

The Supreme Court agreed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy found that because the Board was comprised mostly of dentists practicing and competing in the teeth-whitening market with non-dentists, it could only invoke state-action antitrust immunity if the state actively supervised the its actions concerning that service.

“The Board does not claim that the State exercised active, or indeed any, supervision over its conduct regarding nondentist teeth whiteners; and, as a result, no specific supervisory systems can be reviewed here,” Kennedy wrote.

Beyond the specific North Carolina situation, Kennedy — who was joined in the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan —     offered this guidance:

The [antitrust laws] protect competition while also respecting federalism. [They] do not authorize the States to abandon markets to the unsupervised control of active market participants, whether trade associations or hybrid agencies. If a State wants to rely on active market participants as regulators, it must provide active supervision if state-action immunity  is to be invoked.

Justice Samuel Alito dissented, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The full opinion is here.

 

News

U.S. Attorney’s offices across the state filed a series of criminal cases today accusing Duke Energy of negligent discharge of coal ash and coal ash wastewater into rivers adjacent to company coal ash plants.

In Raleigh, the misdemeanor charges were filed in connection to spills at the H.F. Lee Steam Plant.

In Charlotte, similar charges were filed arising out of spills at the Riverbend and Asheville plants, according to the Charlotte Observer.

And in the state’s Middle District in Winston-Salem, charges were filed for negligent discharge at the Dan River Steam Station in  Eden and permitting and inspection violations at the Cape Fear Electric Steam Station in Moncure.

The charges follow Duke’s announcement earlier in the week of a possible $100 million settlement of the federal government’s investigation into spills at the plants.

In a statement released late yesterday, the company said that it had reached a proposed agreement with the federal government settling the charges that includes payments of $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation — to be borne by shareholders, not customers.

The settlement agreement, which as of the time of this post has not been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s offices involved, must be approved by the court. 

It also does not resolve claims in pending civil cases arising out of coal ash spills and does not appear, per the Duke Energy statement, to provide specifically for clean up at each of the company’s plants in North Carolina.

In response to the announcement, Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents several citizens groups in those pending actions, said in a statement:

Today, Duke Energy has admitted that it committed environmental crimes in its coal ash storage across North Carolina.  We informed Duke Energy and DENR of these violations of the Clean Water Act in 2013, yet Duke Energy’s polluting coal ash storage has yet to be cleaned up and has now resulted in criminal prosecutions.  The important points is this:  Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal, it has to clean its way out.  Duke Energy and its executives must show the people of North Carolina that they are sorry for these crimes by moving the dangerous and polluting coal ash to safe, dry, lined storage away from our rivers and drinking water supplies.

Read the Criminal Informations in the Raleigh cases below.

Duke Criminal 1 by NC Policy Watch

Duke Energy Criminal 2 by NC Policy Watch