Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

SCSJ makes interim director permanent ahead of Supreme Court argument

Kareem Crayton

Kareem Crayton was announced Wednesday as the new executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). He has served as the organization’s interim director since January 2018.

“We are proud to name Dr. Kareem Crayton as the Executive Director of our organization,” said Ryan Roberson, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors. “It is abundantly clear to the Board that Dr. Crayton is the right person to continue leading SCSJ forward.”

Crayton was brought on after current state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, former executive director and founder of SCSJ, resigned to pursue running for a seat on the high court.

Crayton is a Montgomery, Alabama, native and was managing partner of Crimcard Consulting services, a firm that he founded to assist communities globally in their effort to seek political efficacy and equality. He had served on faculties including Harvard, the University of Southern California, the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina and most recently, Vanderbilt University Law School.

The SCSJ announcement comes less than a week before the organization takes its second case in two years to the U.S. Supreme Court. Next week’s cases, Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina paired with sibling case Rucho v. Common Cause, are partisan gerrymandering challenges to North Carolina’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan. The high court could establish a national standard for how lawmakers use partisanship in the redistricting process.

Crayton said in a news release he is convinced this this pivotal moment in time in America makes the most sophisticated and mission-oriented work of civil rights advocates more crucial than ever.

“SCSJ’s work remains vital to protect voting rights and to advocate for key reforms in the criminal justice and youth justice arenas as well,” he added. “Our distinct brand of work as a community-centered organization has impact not only in the South but across the country. I am therefore proud to continue leading this talented and creative team as it defines a story that is true to SCSJ’s original vision while drafting a new chapter in its second decade of service.”

Commentary, Courts & the Law, News

A must-read: New series shows long odds for sexual assault convictions in NC

From time to time, good reporters go above and beyond in their public service.

Case in point: A new four-part series publishing this week details the stunningly long odds of a sexual assault conviction in North Carolina today. And in some counties, it’s near impossible.

The numbers indicate, quite frankly, what many advocates have long believed to be the case: the criminal justice system is stacked against victims. 

From Carolina Public Press’ synopsis of the series:

Analysis of 4 ½ years of North Carolina court data shows that about 1 in 4 sexual assault defendants who were charged and had their cases resolved in that time window were convicted of either sexual assault or a reduced and related charge. Of those cases in that time period, 50 defendants went to trial; 23 were found guilty. But individual counties had different outcomes. More than 30 of the state’s 100 counties had no sexual assault or reduced-charge convictions at all. A few were well above the statewide level.

A collaborative investigative project spanning 6 ½ months and including 11 news organizations analyzed statewide court data and conducted extensive interviews with sexual assault survivors, victim advocates, medical professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors and state officials across the North Carolina.

The result is Seeking Conviction, an investigative series examining sexual assault convictions in North Carolina, the challenges to successful prosecution, the differences across jurisdictions and the issues state court rulings create when it comes to consent.

Keying on its exhaustive analysis of court records, the series found that the prospect of a sexual assault conviction varies depending on your zip code.

Indeed, in some counties, suspects face very little chance of a conviction, while in others, the chances are markedly higher.

This week’s series is a call to action. Make it the first of many, many conversations.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Wake County judge: Voter ID challenge can move forward in courts

A state constitutional challenge to North Carolina’s new voter ID law can move forward, according to a Wednesday order from Wake County Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier Jr.

Six plaintiffs filed the lawsuit alleging the voter ID law discriminates against and disproportionately impacts minority voters, creates separate classes of voters, imposes a cost and property requirement for voting and impedes the ability of voters to engage in political expression and speech. Legislative defendants responded with a motion to dismiss the suit, which Rozier denied after hearing arguments earlier this month.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley will now appoint a three-judge panel to hear the case as a whole.

“We appreciate that the court recognized that the voters who brought their case deserve to have a full hearing in front of a three-judge panel,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We look forward to representing plaintiffs as they continue to challenge this discriminatory and unconstitutional law.”

One part of a claim brought by plaintiffs was dismissed by the judge because none of the plaintiffs in the case who were under the age of sixty-five possessed an acceptable state-issued ID that was more than one year expired. Rozier wrote in the order that because the plaintiffs did not fall within the category of voters potentially affected by the claim, there was a lack of standing.

Lawmakers fast-tracked a bill this week, that was signed Thursday by Gov. Roy Cooper, that delays the implementation of the voter ID bill until the 2020 elections.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is representing plaintiffs in the voter ID litigation, along with pro-bono counsel from the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice also represented plaintiffs who successfully challenged the state’s 2013 monster voter suppression law that was ultimately struck down by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Read Rozier’s order below.



18 CVS 15292 VMR Order on Facial v as Applied (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Advocates: The time is now for SCOTUS to set partisan gerrymandering standard

In less than two weeks, attorneys will be back in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to argue a North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case — but this time, they hope, things will be different.

“The North Carolina case is the best test case to right the wrongs in North Carolina and frankly to set a standard throughout the country,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at Common Cause. “Paired with the Maryland case, which is an example of Democratic gerrymandering, we believe that this is the moment for SCOTUS to clearly articulate a partisan gerrymandering that is unconstitutional.”

Oral arguments in sibling cases Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho will be heard March 26. A federal court has already found twice in the partisan gerrymandering cases that the state’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan was unconstitutional.

Feng gave an overview of the cases Wednesday in a teleconference. She said the undisputed facts of the case make it different from others heard by the high court in the past — mainly that GOP legislative leaders said on the record they drew districts to maximize partisan gain.

Daniel Tokaji, an election law and First Amendment professor from Moritz College of Law, agreed and said the strongest legal basis of the Common Cause case was the violation of First Amendment associational rights. The state Democratic Party is a party in the case.

Tokaji said there is 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting associational rights and that in some cases, voting is an associational right.

“It’s not only the affect on who gets elected to office that courts should consider … but also effects on the disfavored political party and its supporters outside the electoral process,” he said.

That includes difficulties fundraising, registering voters, generating support, recruiting candidates and accomplishing policy objectives. North Carolina has undisputed evidence of all of it.

Tokaji said the North Carolina best captures the type of injury inflicted by gerrymandering, a systemic injury to a group of people. It also provides the court an opportunity to set a nuanced standard — just because there is intent for partisan gerrymandering doesn’t mean a map is unconstitutional; the court can allow states to present reasons for gerrymandering, like keeping districts compact or geographical considerations.

“To me the biggest reason for being hopeful here — we don’t know for sure what the court is going to do — is that the evidence about how bad the problem has gotten and how toxic it is for our politics as a whole becomes clearer and clearer over time and this isn’t a problem that’s going to fix itself,” he said.

Love Caesar, 20, a student at North Carolina A&T University and a democracy fellow with Common Cause NC, described the effects of partisan gerrymandering on her campus and said it’s very disheartening for students.

“There’s no other college in this country divided into two congressional districts, especially right down the middle,” she said. “It’s so blatantly clear how it’s done. The United States has a history of taking the Black vote and suppressing it, so it’s clear how this gerrymandering dilutes the people’s power at A&T.”

She added that she thinks it’s important for the Supreme Court to set a precedent now because “it’s setting an example to us who are future leaders of this country … about how they want us to act in the future.”

“Will they act with integrity and strike down unconstitutional gerrymandering?” she asked. “I would really, really love to vote on a constitutional map.”

The high court will also hear a Maryland case involving Democratic partisan gerrymandering.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Burr, Tillis, help Senate confirm true extremist to nation’s second highest court

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

It’s easy to become numb to the steady parade of extreme reactionaries that the Trump administration continues to install in offices of great responsibility, but here’s one that folks ought to take notice of. Today, the United States Senate approved Trump’s nomination of Neomi Rao to serve as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the court generally recognized as the nation’s second highest. Rao takes the slot vacated by Brett Kavanaugh when he ascended to the Supreme Court. North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both voted “yes” on the nomination.

Check out what the nonpartisan court watchers at the Alliance for Justice had to say about today’s vote and Rao’s abhorrently extreme views:

“The Senate voted today to confirm Neomi Rao for Brett Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit over the objections of advocates and communities representing millions of Americans, including sexual assault survivors, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and people with disabilities. Rao has blamed sexual assault survivors for being attacked, shamed women for seeking equality in the workplace, belittled the fight for racial justice, and demeaned LGBTQ people. She has proven her willingness to put her dangerous rhetoric into policy time and time again during her tenure at OIRA, rolling back public protections for these communities, the environment, immigrants, and more. She has made clear she wants to use the courts to weaken protections for health and safety, workers, and consumers. Neomi Rao is unfit to serve for a lifetime on the federal bench, but Senate Republicans strong-armed members of their own party to confirm her anyway. With this vote, they have proven that they will go to outrageous lengths to pack our courts with more of Trump’s abhorrent judicial nominees.”

And this is from the good people at the Center for American Progress:

“President Donald Trump and the Senate majority are trying to pack the courts with yet another narrow-minded, partisan judge who will put the interests of big business and the wealthy before those of everyone else. While serving as Trump’s regulatory czar, Neomi Rao signed off again and again on regulations that give powerful corporations special breaks at the expense of people’s health and safety. She has also shown a disturbing bias against victims of sexual assault and has an unacceptable history of disparaging women’s rights.

But this is about more than just one judge; it’s about the whole conservative court-packing scheme playing out before our eyes. The Senate majority refused to confirm scores of federal judges in the last two years of the Obama administration and is now changing the rules to fill those stolen seats as fast as humanly possible. Conservatives have cut home-state senators out of the process, ignored negative ratings from the American Bar Association, and rubber-stamped judges without looking closely at their records. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to put the process on steroids by changing the rules for district court judges. Court-packing is happening right now. And if we do nothing, it’s going to have consequences for an entire generation. We need to fight for a fair-minded judiciary that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

All in all, it’s a truly sad day for the country.