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NCGOP expects legislature to resurrect “monster” voting law ‘in an acceptable fashion’

North Carolina Chairman Robin Hayes reacts to a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court not to take on a voting rights case. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

North Carolina’s GOP Chairman Robin Hayes is confident the legislature will move “very quickly” to pass a new law that reflects the “monster” voting bill’s premise.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that it would not take on an appeal to reinstate the omnibus voter law, which would require an identification to vote, reduce early voting from 17 to 10 days, abolish same-day registration, preregistration for teens in civic classes and out-of-precinct voting.

In an unusual move, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the decision was not reflective of justices’ opinions on the merits of the case.

Republicans were disappointed in the decision but took Roberts’ statement as an opportunity to blame Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein for meddling in the case as the reason it was denied certiorari. Democrats are celebrating the decision as a victory for voting rights.

When asked if he would call on the legislature to react with a new bill, Hayes said, “I don’t have to call on them, they have already in their statements that I’ve looked at made it very clear that they would aggressively and responsibly move forward again to make sure that the rights of everyone in North Carolina to have free and fair elections is established.”

He didn’t have any concrete information about what was coming, but said he expects lawmakers to look at the basics of the law that was struck down, stick to those basics and build something around things that are precedent and already in place in other states.

“The legislature is going to respond in a way to make sure that this happens in an acceptable fashion,” he added.

He and NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse specifically pointed to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting as “intense issues” that needed to be targeted.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice released a report a few weeks ago that found same-day registration was used broadly by Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters; it allowed for participation from North Carolinians who move frequently; it created a safety net for voters whose registration had been inadvertently removed or not processed; and it provided a secure and convenient way to register eligible voters.

According to the report, 100,258 North Carolinians used same-day registration in the November election, an increase from the 97,100 who used the process in the 2012 general election.

Slightly more Democrats used the process in terms of absolute numbers, but a higher proportion of Republicans used it according to the report. Democratic registrants comprised 35 percent of all same-day voters; Republicans 34 percent; unaffiliated 30 percent; and Libertarian 1 percent.

Hayes said the process is an “unnecessary and unfair burden on the people that we have tasked to run these elections.”

When asked about the lower court’s ruling that the omnibus law targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision,” Hayes said a judge did not act as a judge — though three judges were part of the decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, with only one judge dissenting from one part of the bill.

“This person was tasked to interpret the law, not interpret what people’s motives were,” Hayes said of the decision. “How he can take the liberty to say, ‘they did this because,’ is insanely absurd. That was never the case. That’s the last thing we want injected, or maintained or to be a part of this.”

He called the ruling improper, and said he thinks the legislature will hopefully come up with something that is “right, fair and makes sense and will pass the judicial test, hopefully with a fair judge.”

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BREAKING: U.S. Supreme Court will not review North Carolina’s “monster” voting law; law remains struck down

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The U.S. Supreme Court will not take on an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s “monster” voting law, which was struck down by a lower court because it was passed with intent to racially discriminate against African American voters.

The case is North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the omnibus voting restrictions law sought to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” to limit access to the ballot box.

It’s been referred to as one of the strictest voting laws passed since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The high court’s move means that the lower court’s order striking down the law will remain, a voting rights victory that was celebrated on social media Monday.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in an unusual statement respecting the denial of the certiorari, said the case was made complicated when Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein filed a motion to withdraw the appeal and legislative leaders filed a motion to intervene in the case.

“Given the blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this Court under North Carolina law, it is important to recall our frequent admonition that ‘[t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.'”

None of the justices dissented with the decision not to take on the case.

The omnibus voter law put in place identification requirements for voting, cut early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminated same-day registration and some teen voter preregistration and banned counting votes cast in the wrong precinct.

Previously, the Supreme Court, in a deadlock, denied a pre-election request to block the lower court’s ruling striking down the law.

Cooper said the Supreme Court’s decision today was good news for North Carolina voters.

“We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder – and the Court found this law sought to discriminate against African-American voters with ‘surgical precision,’ he said. “I will continue to work to protect the right of every legal, registered North Carolinian to participate in our democratic process.”

Stein posted a link to the decision on Twitter and said, “Great news! #SCOTUS denied cert in anti-voter case. Restrictions on NC voters are gone. Right to vote is fundamental.”

He followed up with, “.@JoshStein_ is committed to protecting the right to vote for all North Carolinians.”

N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said after the decision that Cooper and Stein blocked “the people’s desire for voter I.D. and other common sense voting protections.”

“However, as noted by Chief Justice Roberts, ‘The denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case,'” Hayes stated. “Republicans will continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter I.D. measures, similar to what many other states already have. While Governor Cooper and Attorney General Stein have stymied voter I.D. for now, they will ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections.”

The party is having a press conference at its headquarters today at 2:30 p.m.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger nor House Speaker Tim Moore released a statement that echoed the party’s, and blamed Cooper and Stein for causing “the vast majority of voters who support voter ID to be denied their day in court.”

They vowed to continue fighting for a voter ID law.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II said the NAACP and all its local branches are reinforced by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We urge the General Assembly to finally accept that racially discriminatory laws have no place in our democracy, and certainly not when it comes to the sacred right to vote,” he said. “The legislature cannot erect barriers that are plainly motivated by a desire to disenfranchise African-American and Latino voters and undermine the growing voting strength of communities of color. Now is the time to move forward toward a shared prosperous future for all North Carolinians and to heal the core of our democracy in this State and in this nation.”

Penda Hair, legal director of Forward Justice and lead attorney for the NC NAACP in the case, said it’s a deeply meaningful victory for the plaintiffs, Rosanell Eaton, Carolyn Coleman, Mary Perry and Maria Palmer, who led the battle for over four years.

“Last month, Mrs. Rosanell Eaton celebrated her 96th birthday,” Hair said. “Today’s decision from the court is a testament to her, and to so many others who have committed their lives to the fight for racial equality and access to the ballot.”

Rick Hasen, of Election Law Blog, posted an analysis after the order calling the denial a significant victory.

“While the Court could well issue an adverse decision in the future, the 4th Circuit opinion stays on the books for now, and it has already been relied upon to hold other strict voting laws illegal (as in the Pasadena Texas case, as described in my forthcoming paper),” Hasen wrote.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and the ACLU of North Carolina celebrated the decision. Both organizations had challenged the law.

“This law, enacted with what the appeals court called discriminatory intent and ‘almost surgical precision’ targeting African-American voters, is meeting its much-deserved demise,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

A news release from the two groups states that the state has now exhausted all avenues of appeal when it comes the the law.

The ACLU, ACLU of NC, and SCSJ represented the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, Common Cause North Carolina, Unifour Onestop Collaborative and several individuals.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy nor our elections,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with SCSJ. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”

Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause, said they are pleased with the decision.

“The restoration of early voting hours and the reinstatement of same-day voter registration, along with the elimination of an onerous voter ID requirement, have been a victory for North Carolina voters,” he said. “However, we must continue to be vigilant against any further attempt by the NC General Assembly to enact unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional barriers to voting.”

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke said the Supreme Court’s move “brings to a close a long and protracted battle over a law deemed one of the most egregious voter suppression measures of its kind.”

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Make sure to check back for more news.

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National courts expert: North Carolina legislature leading national trend targeting state courts

Alicia Bannon, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice

North Carolina’s is not the only legislature targeting the court system for political gain, but it is an outlier, and folks across the nation are following closely what happens, according to Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center for Justice.

A new report that Bannon co-authored found that at least 41 bills in 15 states have targeted state courts, including efforts to control the ways by which judges reach the bench, to unseat judges currently on courts and generally to restrict courts’ jurisdiction and power.

She spoke briefly WFAE in Charlotte earlier this week about how North Carolina is leading the national trend.

“In part because of the sheer number of bills that have been considered in the legislature this session and including the number that have actually passed, North Carolina has really been an outlier in the extent to which the legislature has been targeting the courts in a number of different dimensions,” she said in the interview. “I also think the political context in North Carolina is really notable.”

She said it wasn’t until the November election, when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper was elected and state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan’s election turned the high court back to Democratic control, that the legislature started making a partisan push for control of the courts.

Bannon also spoke about House Bill 100, which made Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again. On one hand, she said, the “R” or “D” on the ballot could give voters more information, but on the other, there’s a real concern about judges being too closely linked to political parties.

She added that the measure also happened in an environment where the move was plainly motivated by partisan interest.

“What I think is so concerning is that it’s very important that judges have this space to hear cases and decide those cases based on their understanding of the law, and that the public should be confident that that’s what they’re doing,” Bannon said.

When asked whether the state was being used as a test for other areas to try similar measures, she said she thinks there are a lot of people watching North Carolina very closely.

“I do think that North Carolina is very much now a state where there’s a lot that’s being tried out, there are a lot of boundaries that are being tested, and I think how the state responds to that is going to be a very telling lesson for people that may be looking to do similar things in other states as well,” she said.

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Legislator on Raise the Age bill: ‘Let’s don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’

A 36-page fiscal note attached to a House bill to raise the juvenile age of prosecution estimates the measure will cost $143.5 million over the next five years.

House lawmakers are poised to raise the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old, but as expected, the money could pose an issue.

36-page fiscal note attached to House Bill 280 estimates the project will cost $143.5 million over the next five years — $25.3 million next year for the construction of a new 96-bed Youth Development Center, no fiscal impact the following year and $44.3 and $44.5 million the following two years.

Legislators aired their concerns Thursday morning at an appropriations committee meeting about where the money would come from. Bill sponsors tried to ease their worries but didn’t have a direct answer about the source of funding.

Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), who is carrying the bill, said there wasn’t another way to move forward — the bill and the policy needed to be in place to work out the financials. He also promised to do the best he could in terms of the budgeting process.

“Adopting a budget is about negotiations and compromise,” he said.

He added that the Senate included a provision (though not funds) in its budget for raising the age, something he’s never seen happen before with a House Bill, though he noted the provision differs from HB280 in terms of how and when raise the age would be implemented.

The bill was ultimately given a favorable report in a voice vote with few “no’s.” It will move now to the House floor for a full vote.

Other concerns included what impact raising the age would have on counties’ budgets — unfunded mandates such as housing additional court staff and spending more time in the juvenile system than what it would take in the adult system.

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes)was one of the legislators who pointed those issues out, and noted that she actually works in the system.

McGrady said he fully expects that the legislative body will have to revisit the costs to counties at a later time, but there was no way to know until implemented what those costs will be.

“Let’s assume there’s some cost up front, what about the long range here?,” he asked. “You get the juveniles out of the criminal justice system and your recidivism rates drop. Who’s going to benefit from that in terms of jail space down the road?”

He said money has always been a concern but that 49 other states have done this and there’s going to be some cost savings associated with raising the age.

Ashley Welch, District Attorney for Cherokee, Swain, Clay, Graham, Macon, Haywood and Jackson counties, said the funding is vital for the Conference of DAs to get on board — the group currently does not have a position on raise the age, she added.

Welch said the Administrative Office of the Courts budget and funding shows the state is already short 74 assistant district attorneys, and she is short seven in her counties.

“We are drowning,” she said.

New Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), who is a former judge and honorary co-sponsor of HB280, said that while she appreciated Welch’s concerns, many other district attorneys she’s spoken to wanted to raise the age and implement the policy right the first time around to prevent repeat offenders.

“If you do it right up front, you are going to save the victims, you are going to save time down the road and I think the vast majority of DAs do want this,” she said. “We are the last state in this country to criminalize 16 and 17 year olds.”

One of the committee chairmen, Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), who was the former chief of police in Salisbury and High Point, urged his peers to think back to a similar situation when they were discussing the Justice Reinvestment Act.

“It has worked as predicted; it has saved money as predicted,” he said.

Juvenile justice, he added, gets in the pocket of every citizen in the state. He said if they can save even one juvenile from becoming a recidivist, “that may be yours that’s coming out of your pocket now.”

“I urge that we be a little brave and that we listen to what we’re trying to accomplish here, and let’s give this bill a chance and then we’ll work out the dollars and cents,” he said. “We are a very strong state in terms of doing things right and it’s time we jump on this train.”

William Lassiter, Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice at the Department of Public Safety, said his agency stands ready to take on the additional juveniles, “and I call them juveniles because that’s what it is, that’s who they are.”

He said they’ve already proven they can do it — the budget since 2008 has been cut by $41 million and juvenile crime has reduced over the last 10 years, thanks to the hard work of each legislator’s judicial staff in their districts.

“Fiscal research does an outstanding job of analyzing cost; what they cannot do is analyze the benefits,” Lassiter added. “Every cost-benefit analysis that you guys have commissioned as legislators has shown that this will save the state money, every single one.”

A way to cut costs up front, he said, would be to start with building a 60-bed Youth Development Center, not a 96-bed facility. If they find they need more space later, they can add another 60-bed facility for almost the same cost.

He also pointed out that one of the biggest differences between the juvenile and adult systems is the mental health services offered to teens. Every juvenile that enters the juvenile justice center gets a mental health analysis.

Lassiter said of the juveniles currently in the system, only one does not have a mental health diagnosis, and 82 percent of them have two or more mental health diagnoses.

Rep. William Brawley (R-Mecklenburg), said he realizes HB280 is less than perfect, but encouraged his peers to pass it anyway.

“Yes, we will be piece-mealing this, but many of the good things that we have done over the last six years have been done over a series of bills,” he said. “We don’t claim to have the entire answer today; what we do have is a vision for what should be and we are beginning the journey to get there, so let’s don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

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Raise the Age legislation passes first House hurdle, will head to appropriations next

House lawmakers on the Judiciary I Committee gave Raise the Age legislation a favorable report in a unanimous voice vote Wednesday.

House Bill 280 is now expected to be heard tomorrow morning in the House Appropriations Committee meeting.

Community members, advocates and stakeholders flooded the meeting in the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday and a few got the chance to speak in favor of raising the juvenile age of prosecution from 16 and 17 years old to 18 years old.

Ben David, the New Hanover County District Attorney, said that only 3 percent of juvenile cases he handles involve violent felonies, and that he’s often the first to ask for those cases to be transferred to Superior Court — something HB280 still allows.

“What about the other 97 percent?” David asked. “The other 97 percent, as we have all done when we were younger, made mistakes, and unlike many of other states, in fact the other 49, when our juveniles make them, they get branded for life. They wear the scarlet letter F for felony or M for misdemeanor, and when they do their lives are different.”

David said the adult criminal system sets kids on a different trajectory in life, one that involves despair and a revolving door to the criminal justice system.

“College is not going to take them, federal student loans won’t finance it, the military most likely won’t enroll them and federal housing says, ‘not here,'” he said. “Who’s going to hire a young person with a criminal record? The street has always been an equal opportunity employer.”

New Hanover County Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening also spoke in favor of HB280 and said other than getting a call from state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin once, doing so was the most important three minutes of his career.

“Our children need us,” he said. “This is great legislation.”

Corpening commended the school-justice partnership provision in the bill and gave some insight to the success a program in his county has enjoyed.

“Keeping kids in school, out of court and off the street is a good thing,” he added.

Some community members also spoke, a few who had previously worked in the judicial system, though there wasn’t time for comments from everyone who showed up. Numerous organizations were at the meeting to show support for HB280, including the ACLU of North Carolina, the Conference of DAs, Conference of Clerks, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC Child and Disability Rights NC.

Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Moore, Randolph) had some concerns with the bill but introduced an amendment that would address gang activity among youth in the juvenile system. It passed in a voice vote, with only Democratic Leader Darren Jackson voting against it.

Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes) briefly presented a slippery-slope argument.

“The same brain science that we argue about that these children’s brains are not fully developed says they’re not fully developed until they’re 25, so do we work on extending this through college?” she asked.

She also had concerns about the bill including low-level felonies and whether the juvenile system was prepared to take in “all those elements of crime.”

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), who is a former judge from Durham County and helped pilot a misdemeanor diversion program, explained that not all felonies are the same. She said HB280 still gives district attorneys and judges discretion to transfer juveniles to adult court.

“I hear your concern, and I think one important thing to say is, a felony is not a felony is not a felony,” Morey said. “A felony can also be going into Walmart, getting a T-shirt and snipping the inventory tag.”

Stevens wondered if the discretion among judges to transfer cases would create inconsistency in the state, and Morey said they all follow the same set of guidelines in the law to transfer cases.

“The statute is very clear,” she said.

Rep. David Rogers (R-Burke, Rutherford) expressed concern about resources and confusion over juvenile charges, though he said he ultimately supported raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.

Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell) spoke in favor of the bill and urged his colleagues to pass it.

“These kids, we really do need to give them every opportunity to become to reach their full capabilities,” he said. “With the laws we have now, we might as well hand them their death certificate, many of them, because their life is over in terms of the life that we know.”

He added that he knew of a number of people in the legislative body who did not grow up in North Carolina because if they had, things would be different.

“Had they lived in North Carolina, they wouldn’t be serving in the General Assembly today; they wouldn’t be members of this staff, and the reason for that is that they had a second chance,” he said. “We should do no less for our kids in North Carolina. Let’s give them that same chance.”