(Credit: WRAL)

To kick off your Monday, here’s a cautionary tale from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick about what’s happening in Tennessee judicial elections — a tale that’s unfortunately all too familiar here in North Carolina.

In a reprise of what happened in that state back in 2009, three Democratically-appointed Supreme Court  justices who are up for a retention election (essentially a vote of confidence) are under attack from well-heeled Republicans who, having gained control of the legislature and the governor’s seat there, want to complete their trifecta by ruling the high court as well.

Sound familiar?  (See Robin Hudson).

In an interesting twist, though, the state bar association has launched a counterattack, raising nearly $600,000 in bipartisan support of the justices.

While admirable, that effort plays right into the quandary of lawyers giving money to judges before whom they appear and feeds an unfortunate spending spiral.

Says Lithwick:

And that’s the real problem. When judicial races turn into spending races, what suffers most is not Democrats or Republicans, but judicial independence and integrity. As has been exhaustively chronicled by one nonpartisan study after another, judges don’t want to be dialing for dollars from the attorneys who litigate before them, and litigants don’t want to appear before judges who dial for dollars. All of the data shows that the effect is a decline in confidence in the independence of the judiciary and a spending arms race that spirals ever more out of control. That’s the paradox of course: Cynically preying on an unspecified public fear of out-of control judges will ultimate result in actual jurists who are actually compromised, either by taking money they shouldn’t be taking, or making promises and pledges they are in no position to make. In either case, imaginary judicial shadiness  becomes a lot more real.

 

Lawyers who practice in the area of unemployment appeals will no longer be able to obtain copies of appeal notices from the Division of Employment Security, at least pending resolution by the Court of Appeals of a case pitting Durham unemployment attorney Monica Wilson against the division.

Wilson, who had been picking up copies of those notices on a daily basis for years, argued before Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that those records constituted public records to which she was entitled. Getting them as they were issued enabled her to reach out to claimants and offer legal representation in a timely fashion.

But the division, which had recently restricted the practice, said that continuing the practice would be a violation of a recent U.S. Department of Labor cease and desist letter.  The Department expressed concerns that by releasing the appeal notices DES may have been disclosing confidential information.

Judge Ridgeway agreed with Wilson and in an order issued in March blocked enforcement of any new DES restriction, allowing the practice to continue.

Yesterday, though, the Court of Appeals halted the practice, pending a resolution of an appeal by DES.

Read more about the case here.

As of June 1, 520 Eugenics Board sterilization victims or their families have filed claims for compensation from the $10 million fund established by the state in 2012, according to the Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims.

The office has forwarded 320 of those claims on to the Industrial Commission for a determination of eligibility; the remaining claims have been logged in as valid pending further information from the victims or additional research by the office.

That’s an increase over the 442 claims by potential victims reported by the office in May, 281 of which had then been forwarded to the Commission for further consideration.

Some 7500 men and women were involuntarily sterilized from 1929 to 1974 under the guise of state law.

By the state’s own numbers nearly 1800 of those victims may still be alive, given that more than 2000 were under the age of 18 at the time of sterilization (as reported by the Winston-Salem Journal in its comprehensive series “Against Their Will”).

By early 2013, though, the state had only been able to verify 176 as still living.

Victims have until June 30, 2014 to file a claim form (found here) for recovery from the fund.

To read more about the Eugenics Board sterilization program and the state’ efforts to compensate victims, click here.

In a victory for local rule, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr. yesterday struck down a 2013 law transferring control of the Asheville water system to a newly-created regional entity as unconstitutional.

As reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Manning said the law violates the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law because it “transfers the water system to another entity without any rational basis for doing so.”

The act would not change the use of the assets of the system, “will not result in any higher quality of water” and would give the system to “an entity that has never owned or operated a public water supply and delivery system,” Manning wrote.

The law would result in an “unlawful taking” of assets that the city runs similarly to a private corporation and that are entitled to similar protections, Manning wrote.

The state cannot require such a transfer of a private company’s assets and the water law “is not a valid exercise of the sovereign power of the legislative branch of government (or the state of North Carolina) to take or condemn property for public use.”

Even if the law were to be found valid, Asheville “is entitled to be paid just compensation” for the system, Manning wrote.

An appeal of Manning’s ruling is likely.

For more on the case, read here .

 

Check out this new report by Pro Publica on what’s happened to voting rights across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.

It’s the visual that gets you. Two maps, showing the movement of voting laws across the country from less restrictive to more (from light yellow to red), reveal how quickly lawmakers reacted to the court’s ruling and passed restrictive voting measures.

Here’s the country, pre-Shelby County:

before-shelby2

And here’s the country post-Shelby County:

AfterShelby

 

North Carolina’s change has been most striking, moving clear across the spectrum.

“What North Carolina did was definitely at the extreme of practices in this country,” Yale University law professor Heather Gerken said in the report. “So if anything is vulnerable to a suit, it’s likely to be the North Carolina law.