voteWith just two days remaining to file a notice of candidacy for a seat on the state’s highest court, primaries look likely in at least two races with new candidates throwing their hats in the ring in recent weeks.

Justice Robin Hudson, running for re-election and challenged thus far by Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson, a Republican, now has another contender to face: Jeanette Doran, who filed her notice of candidacy yesterday.

Doran, recently named to head the unemployment benefits review panel, has been the executive director and general counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, an organization long associated with state budget director Art Pope.

By year-end 2013, Justice Hudson had raised $133,000 for her campaign; Judge Levinson had raised $63,000.

And in the race for the seat currently occupied by former Court of Appeals Judge Cheri Beasley, Winston-Salem conservative attorney Mike Robinson has declared his candidacy, joining Beasley and conservative Brunswick County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis. 

By year-end 2013 Justice Beasley had raised $81,000 for her campaign. Judge Lewis, who has yet to file a notice of candidacy, had raised $69,000.

In other races, Justice Mark Martin remains unopposed for the Chief Justice slot, and Court of Appeals judges Bob Hunter and Sam Ervin IV will face off for Martin’s associate justice seat. All have filed notices of candidacy.

Read more here about the upcoming Supreme Court race.

The National Journal has this quick summary of where the fight for marriage equality stands across the country, along with an interactive map that highlights how the push to expand rights is predominating the landscape.

In a sign of changing times, the fight over marriage rights is now overwhelmingly being waged by activists who favor same-sex marriage, rather than those working to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. A decade after 11 states passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage thanks to a coordinated effort by supporters of President Bush to boost his numbers, only two states—Indiana and Wyoming—are currently pursuing limitations to the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Meanwhile, efforts are underway in 24 states to expand them.

In North Carolina, that push is playing out in federal court in Greensboro in Fisher-Borne v. Smith, the case in which several families who originally filed a complaint concerning second parent adoption have  added a challenge to the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Demand a plan on gunsIn this must-read, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick discusses the growing use of “stand your ground” laws across the country and poses this question:  Whatever happened to the duty to retreat, and what does that say about us as a nation?

Her answer, sadly, is an astute one.  We are now an armed and terrified people who assume that everyone has a gun and everyone is justified in using it.

I would say that, whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

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Think about it: The National Rifle Association that has pushed so hard for “stand your ground” laws in recent years is the same National Rifle Association that has put so many guns, and such lethal guns, in so many hands—concealed carry, open carry, wave-it-around-and-call-it-free-speech carry. The gun lobby has single-handedly made certain that the very definition of what one might reasonably expect from an altercation at a Walmart, a movie theater, or a gas station has changed. By seeking to arm everyone in America, the NRA has in fact changed our reasonable expectation of how fights will end, into a self-fulfilling prophecy about how fights will end.

 

Remember the $99,000 settlement the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources tried to push in the coal ash spill lawsuits, but then pulled from court consideration after the media exposed it as a sweetheart deal with Duke Energy?

That settlement — and then some — may be back on the table, according to a letter sent to Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway on February 20.

In that letter (below) DENR indicates that it may add other Duke Energy coal ash sites, including the Dan River plant, or propose other modifications to the settlement — a decision it expects to reach by March 21, 2014.

2014 02 20 Judge Ridgeway Ltr Re DENR’s Update on Consent Order for Stat by NC Policy Watch

Saying that challengers to North Carolina’s recently-enacted school voucher program had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood today stopped the program from moving ahead, pending a final resolution of two lawsuits currently before him.

State officials had already moved forward with the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the face of  those 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.

Attorneys for parties challenging the voucher program argued that the state constitution required funds for purposes of public education be used “exclusively” for free public schools.

But the state responded that only funds specifically earmarked for public education must be spent “exclusively” for free public schools. Here, state attorneys said, the General Assembly lawfully appropriated $10 million from the General Fund – not funds set aside for public education – for the Opportunity Scholarship program.  It was a new appropriation for a new program, they argued, placed within the budget for the state’s university system.

Attorneys for those challenging the program also argued that taxpayers would be harmed if the program was allowed to proceed while the cloud of unconstitutionality hung over its head. Once taxpayer funds were spent they could not be recovered, and the state might then be bound to recipients for funds coming from a program likely to be declared unconstitutional.

“The state would like to turn the tax spigot on until millions and millions are spent,” former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr told Hobgood.

Read more about the case here.

And read more about the voucher program in Lindsay Wagner’s excellent three-part series here, here and here.