Courts & the Law, News

Legislature overrides veto, joins seven other states in making partisan judicial elections law

Superior and District Court judicial candidates will now be identified on the ballot with an R or D by their name. The Republican-led General Assembly voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 100.

The House voted along party lines to override the veto yesterday and the Senate voted today.

Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, released the following statement:

“Injecting partisan politics into our courts is wrong and harmful to our state. Once again, as with HB2, legislative Republicans have created a solution in search of a problem to advance a divisive political agenda that won’t create good jobs, improve our schools, or put more money in the pockets of middle class families. Governor Cooper will continue to fight for better priorities.”

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger posted a picture of the Senate’s override on his website.

“For years, Gov. Cooper and his allies have stoked fears of voter disenfranchisement – yet when he had the opportunity to actually increase voter involvement, he rejected a measure that the data suggests would do just that. I’m pleased the General Assembly corrected the governor’s misstep and this bill is now law.”

Republican proponents of the bill have argued that voters have a right to know the political ideology of a judge. Democrat opponents have argued that judges should remain untouched by partisan elections to keep the judicial branch independent.

North Carolina joins only seven other states in the nation that have partisan judicial elections.

Courts & the Law, News

N.C. House overrides Cooper’s veto of bill making judicial elections partisan again

The Republican-led House voted Wednesday 74 to 44 along party lines to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would make Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again.

The Senate must also vote to override House Bill 100. If the body overrides the bill and it becomes law, North Carolina joins only seven other states that have partisan judicial elections.

House Republicans and Democrats debated for about 10 minutes whether to override the bill before there was a vote. The body debated helmets for autocycles afterward for about an hour.

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake), a former Court of Appeals judge, was particularly outspoken about not making judicial elections partisan again.

“I do not look upon this as a partisan issue but a bipartisan one affecting all … judges alike,” he said.

Rep. Joe John

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake)

John, who also served as a District and Superior Court judge, asked his peers not to throw judges into the “muck and mire of partisan political elections,” and said he wished he could fully express the dangers of politicizing the courts.

“It’s not often in time we’re given a second chance,” he said.

He wore a pin on his jacket that he earned after serving on the Court of Appeals and said now more than ever North Carolina needs an independent judiciary.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly) said voters deserve to know the political ideology of judges and that HB100 would restore voter’s rights.

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court: Schools must provide more than minimal education to disabled students

In a unanimous opinion released today, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a disabled student and his family who did not believe a Colorado school district was doing enough to provide an adequate education.

School districts must provide students with disabilities more than a “merely more than de minimis” education, according to the opinion. That language was developed by lower courts over time as a legal standard and upheld in a separate case, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley.

It was also used by a lower court that decided because the student in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District had received “some educational benefit,” the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) standard to provide free, appropriate education had been met.

The parents of Endrew F., a minor with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sought private school reimbursement under IDEA after pulling their son from public school over a proposed IEP for his fifth grade year.

In the high court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a child’s individualized education plan (IEP) must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”

“Rowley did not provide concrete guidance with respect to a child who is not fully integrated in the regular classroom and not able to achieve on grade level. A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” the opinion syllabus states.

You can read the full opinion here.

On a side note, Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for a vacancy on the Supreme Court, has relied on the minimal education standard in the past. You can read more about that here.

 

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper files notice of appeal of Senate confirmation hearings; asks court to pause process

Gov. Roy Cooper is appealing a three-judge panel’s ruling that the North Carolina Senate’s confirmation hearings are constitutional. He has also asked the Wake County Superior Court to stop the hearings while the appeal is pending.

Cooper’s attorneys filed the notice of appeal and motion for stay Monday.

“Here, staying the effectiveness of the Advice and Consent Amendment during the pendency of the Governor’s appeal will preserve the ultimate relief that the Governor seeks. If the Governor is ultimately successful on appeal, he will not suffer injury from the Advice and Consent Amendment taking effect before a final appellate determination of constitutionality can be made. If allowed to continue to have effect, the Advice and Consent Amendment will require the Governor’s chosen department heads to prepare for and appear at confirmation hearings before Senate committees. The time, effort, and focus that will be required to prepare for the confirmation hearings set by Defendants will distract the principal department heads and their staffs from their day-to-day work carrying out the business of the State and implementing the Governor s policy priorities.”

The motion for stay states that if one of Cooper’s picks to lead a department is rejected by the Senate, he will have to find another individual willing to serve, and ultimately, if the courts reject the advice and consent amendment, his original choice likely will have moved on.

“North Carolina’s government has functioned for decades without the Senate exercising the power to veto the Governor’s chosen principal department heads.”

The three-judge panel that ruled the process constitutional sided with Cooper on striking down two other laws the legislature passed during a special session in December.

They ruled that it was unconstitutional for state lawmakers to pass legislation combining the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission.

They also ruled to block the Republican-controlled legislature from trimming exempt positions from 1,500 jobs (under the McCrory administration) to just 425 positions for Cooper.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore did not return requests for comment about whether they planned to appeal the court’s rulings.

In a statement last week, Berger said they would decide whether to seek additional remedies from the court system after a further review of the order.

Courts & the Law, News

All 15 judges on U.S. Court of Appeals to hear Rowan County prayer case tomorrow

All 15 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear a case tomorrow in Richmond, Va., about the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ current prayer policy.

The process is referred to as en banc review. It was granted in response to the ACLU of North Carolina asking the federal court to reconsider after a 2-1 ruling in September that reversed a U.S. District Court decision holding that the county’s state sponsored prayers violated the Constitution.

“Our clients simply want to ensure that when they and others attend local government meetings, they will not have to worry about being coerced into participating in a sectarian prayer that goes against their beliefs and being discriminated against by local officials when they don’t,” said ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook. “We believe that the First Amendment is on our side, and we look forward to making our argument to the full appeals court.”

At the current Rowan County Board meetings, the chairman directs the public to stand for the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting is called to order and then there is another invocation or prayer, according to the ACLU’s court filing.

The majority of prayers are Christian, according to the document.

You can read more about the case here. NC Policy Watch will report the outcome of the en banc review.