Courts & the Law, News

NC NAACP asks for independent redistricting process, special elections in racial gerrymandering case

The North Carolina NAACP filed a motion in the state’s recent racial gerrymandering case asking for the three-judge panel to assign an independent entity to redraw the unconstitutional maps and to order special elections this year.

The group’s proposed amicus curiae brief (the document must be approved by the court) also asks the court to prevent the General Assembly from convening and enacting any further legislation until new members are elected under a new map.

“This bad faith, all-white caucus created by racist maps must be stopped,” said the Rev. Dr. William Barber II in a statement. “If the current unaccountable and unrepentant General Assembly is allowed to continue to act in the name of North Carolina, the consequences are dangerous for people of color, for those living in poverty, for women, for immigrant communities, for the LGBT community, for workers, and for our children. There can be no further question about whether this General Assembly is illegitimate.”

Irv Joyner, legal redress chair for the NC NAACP, said the court document asks the three-judge panel to take the redistricting process out of the hands of the people who racially gerrymandered the maps in the first place.

“The appointment of a Special Master and a judicial remedy will ensure the possibility of a non-discriminatory election in 2017 to start to renew the trust of North Carolinians in our state’s representative democracy,” Joyner said.

The NAACP is a plaintiff in similar racial gerrymandering challenges. You can read the group’s full court filings in North Carolina v. Covington here.

Courts & the Law, News

Lawyers’ Committee, ACLU sues Election Integrity Commission over lack of transparency

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law plans to use every tool in its arsenal to stop the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

The organization filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the Commission for its failure to operate in a transparent manner under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

The lawsuit was filed after the Commission didn’t respond to a Lawyers’ Committee request a week ago for documents regarding an upcoming meeting scheduled for July 19, which will be live streamed but not open to the public.

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said during a teleconference Tuesday that the Commission has been operating covertly and its actions have been shrouded in secrecy.

“We believe that the Commission is being used to advance private agendas,” she said.

In its lawsuit, the Lawyers’ Committee alleges the Commission’s failure to disclose communications and make its meetings open to the public violates FACA.

FACA was enacted in 1972 to govern the behavior of federal advisory committees.

The Commission came under fire recently after it sent a letter to all 50 states requesting an assortment of voter data, though that request has since been put on hold.

In addition to the lawsuit, the Laywers’ Committee has also filed a Hatch complaint against Commission Vice-Chair Kris Kobach, who recently announced his candidacy for the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial election. He is accused in the complaint of exploiting his Commission role to promote his candidacy and solicit campaign contributions.

Other actions the Committee has launched in an effort to stop the Commission include setting up a hotline for the public to report instances of voter suppression and sending letters to to Secretaries of State demanding they not comply the Commission’s request for voter roll data.

Clarke said the demand for voter data has already had a chilling affect across the nation, prompting some people to withdraw their voter registration.

In a separate action Monday, the ACLU also sued the Commission for its lack of transparency.

The 31-page lawsuit also cites FACA violations including that the Commission already held its first meeting without public notice; without making that meeting open to the public.

The lawsuit contends that the Commission was created to legitimize President Donald Trump’s claim that he won the 2016 election by popular vote once millions of illegal votes are subtracted.

That purpose strays from the state purpose of the Commission, according to the lawsuit.

“This commission was designed to sell a lie,” said Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

If the President wanted to look at the voter rolls and registration of every American, why won’t he show the public his own documents related to the Commission, Ho asked.

Ho and Clarke called the voter data requests unprecedented.

Courts & the Law, News

Legislators to three-judge panel: General Assembly leadership, not Attorney General, speaks for NC

Legislative defendants in a recent racial gerrymandering case filed a court document today that argues the General Assembly speaks for the state of North Carolina, not the Attorney General.

The North Carolina v. Covington document was filed in response to the Attorney General’s position statement that his office represents the state and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

“The Attorney General’s statement asserts, without supporting citation, that his ‘authority to represent the State has overlapping roots in the North Carolina Constitution, common law, and statutes.’ … A cursory review of North Carolina law demonstrates this statement is incorrect.”

Legislators contend in the document that the Constitution “confers no authority on the Attorney General at all.” They say that the General Assembly created the Department of Justice and designated the Attorney General as the head of that agency.

“North Carolina law also expressly recognizes that, in cases challenging the constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly, the ‘State’ includes both the executive branch of state government and the legislative branch. … The Attorney General’s duty under these laws is to ensure that the legislature’s proper role as part of the State of North Carolina in such cases is recognized and respected.”

When it comes to remedial action to right the constitutional wrongs in Covington, the legislators ask the three-judge panel to defer to the General Assembly’s leadership to speak on behalf of North Carolina.

Reminder: This is the same General Assembly leadership that created the unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered maps in question.

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper takes legal battle over state elections, ethics board to NC Supreme Court

Gov. Roy Cooper has taken his legal battle with legislative leaders over the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Cooper asked last week that the court block the law creating the bipartisan Board, of which he has yet to appoint members to. The Governor’s spokesman, Ford Porter, told The News & Observer yesterday that Cooper wants the Supreme Court to make a decision before he acts.

The newspaper article has a full rundown of Cooper’s Supreme Court request and legislators’ reactions.

Attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger called on the court Monday to deny the request, and both the GOP legislative leaders and the N.C. Republican Party say Cooper needs to make appointments immediately.

A statement from Moore and Berger last week says the board “sits vacant with no accountable oversight of lobbying, ethics or campaign finance.” Agency staff members are in charge of the elections and ethics board for now but can’t take any actions that require the board to weigh in.

The article also outlines Cooper’s previous attempts in lower courts to get the law struck down.

In the request seeking a block on the new law, Cooper’s attorneys said that if the Supreme Court sides with the governor, he’ll immediately appoint five new members to the old version of the election board. That board would consist of three Democrats and two Republicans. But if the court rejects the request, he’ll appoint members to the new board – four from each political party, selected from a list submitted by the parties.

Cooper’s lawsuit argues the change in the elections board violates the constitutional separation of powers, and his attorneys urged the Supreme Court to take the case.

You can read the full article here.

Courts & the Law, News

Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

The three-judge panel overseeing North Carolina’s latest racial gerrymandering case has now heard from all parties involved and stands ready to make a decision on a timeline for new maps and whether or not there will be a special election.

The court had asked parties in the case to file briefs addressing lingering issues in North Carolina v. Covington. The plaintiffs filed their brief almost right away and the defendants (legislative, the state of North Carolina and the North Carolina Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement) filed their briefs yesterday.

The legislative defendants asked the panel not to order special elections as a remedy to the constitutional violations affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Court should not order special elections, but should instead allow the North Carolina General Assembly to enact new districts in time for their use in the 2018 election cycle. In any event, the Court should not order a special election unless and until elections officials have provided the Court with evidence regarding scheduling and logistical issues posed by a special election and the legislative defendants have had an opportunity to respond to such evidence.”

The court document outlines the legislative defendants’ stance in Covington as it pertains to the redrawing of the unconstitutional maps and the potential remedial special elections.

Legislators also asked the court not to order a reduced period of time for the legislature to enact remedial plans without evidence from elections officials regarding the time needed for a plan to be implemented in time for the 2018 elections.

“Whether or not the Court decides to order a special election, the legislative defendants request an opportunity to be heard, through briefing or otherwise, specifically on the timeline for enacting remedial legislative plans under whatever election schedule the Court intends to adopt.”

The state took no position on special elections, other than to note that such a remedy would disrupt state government, but regardless, it stands ready to act should it need to.

“The State does not dispute the severity of the harms that flow from unconstitutional gerrymandering. Even so, a special election would disrupt the ordinary processes of state government and would intrude to some degree on state sovereignty. But should the Court decide that the nature and severity of the harms found in this case justify such a remedy, the State and the State Board stand ready to implement it.”

The state and the Bipartisan State Board, both represented by the state Attorney General’s Office, also took no position on the schedule for the remedial map drawing that is set to be decided.

Kim Westbrook Strach, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Board, submitted a declaration outlining some factors for the court to consider when deciding whether to hold a remedial special election.

“The State Board may ordinarily act … to adopt temporary rules implementing an order of this Court. However, members of the State Board have not yet been appointed by the Governor, who has challenged legislation creating the new State Board. Staff has not been delegated authority to adopt temporary rules. Therefore, unless and until the Governor makes appointments, the State Board is unable to adjust any portion of the election schedule set by law, such as the length of the absentee voting period or the dates of a primary or general election. Any departure from the statutory election schedule must be made either by the General Assembly or by an order of the Court.”

Gov. Roy Cooper is currently challenging the creation of the Bipartisan Board at the state Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Strach said in her declaration that she would make herself available to the three-judge panel should they “desire logistical estimates regarding specific election scenarios, such as a reduction of either absentee voting or the one-stop early voting period, or the elimination of one or more primary elections.”

It’s unknown when the three-judge panel will issue a decision in Covington, but it could be as early as today. Have more questions and can’t wait that long? Check out this Q&A with more information about the case.