Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

League of Women Voters asks federal court to reopen partisan gerrymandering case, make final judgement by September

The League of Women Voters of North Carolina (LWV) is urging a federal court to move swiftly in reopening the state’s partisan gerrymandering case so that a remedy can be implemented before redistricting in 2020. Legislative defendants disagree and think the case should be dismissed.

Today is the deadline for parties to the partisan gerrymandering cases — League of Women Voters v. Rucho and Common Cause v. Rucho — to weigh in about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in a Wisconsin case affects the merits of theirs.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court for the middle district of North Carolina had struck down the state’s 2016 congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Supreme Court recently vacated that decision and remanded it back to the panel for further consideration in light of the decision in Gill v. Whitford — the Wisconsin case.

The brief filed on behalf of LWC states that the Gill decision has no impact on the federal court’s holdings that invalidated the 2016 congressional map.

“Nor does it undermine the Court’s conclusion that the 2016 plan constitutes unlawful vote dilution under the Equal Protection Clause,” the document states.

The record in the case, though, is not adequate to establish standing to challenge the plan on vote dilution grounds because it does not show where packing and cracking in North Carolina could have been avoided.

That could change if the court allows LWV plaintiffs to admit into evidence additional information about the district maps that were previously generated by one of their experts. The information would offer no new analysis, but would identify individual plaintiffs and/or LWV members who were placed in cracked or packed districts by the 2016 plan but who could have been assigned to uncracked or unpacked districts by a fair map, according to the brief.

The brief asks the court to make a final judgement in the case by September.

Common Cause North Carolina, the plaintiffs in the second case (both cases were tried and decided together), also wrote in a brief that Gill had no impact on their case. They stated, however, that the established record was sufficient in their case to prove vote dilution.

“Our plaintiffs clearly have standing and have suffered real harm by the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering, as the district court unanimously ruled in its landmark decision from January,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the organization. “This case is key to protecting the constitutional right of citizens in North Carolina and across the nation to have a voice in choosing their representatives.”

Legislative defendants in the case wrote in a separate brief that they believe all the claims are nonjusticiable and that the Supreme Court’s lack of action in the case requires it to be dismissed.

“The decision in Gill clarifies beyond any doubt that plaintiffs cannot challenge the alleged statewide effect of a redistricting plan on the plaintiffs’ partisan preferences and that plaintiffs cannot establish standing through evidence of alleged statewide deficiencies.,” their brief states.

They state that most of the plaintiffs in both partisan gerrymandering cases live in districts that continue to elect their candidates of choice, so they have not established standing in the case.

If the court allows new evidence in the case, attorneys for the legislative defendants state they will need to depose plaintiffs and new experts about the information and then they will offer their own expert testimony.

“Among other evidence to be offered by the legislative defendants, the evidence will show that there is no precedent for either a packing or cracking theory where a district is based upon whole counties and whole voter tabulation districts, such as districts in the 2016 Plan,” the court document states.

The state defendants and the Board of Elections offered no position on how Gill affects the North Carolina cases.

Read the full court documents below.

LWV Partisan Gm Brief by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Common Cause Partisan Gm Brief by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

NCGA Partisan Gm Brief by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Thursday: Board of Elections to hear appeal from Berger challenger

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement could decide Thursday if Jen Mangrum was rightfully disqualified from her attempt to unseat Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).

As previously reported by NC Policy Watch’s Billy Ball, Mangrum’s residency in Berger’s district was challenged by Republicans and a panel of election officials from Berger’s Senate District 30 voted on party lines to oust her.

Mangrum, a UNC-Greensboro professor and former elementary school teacher, appealed the decision and now it’s scheduled for a hearing before the full State Board on Thursday.

The State Board will also take up vacancy appointments to the county boards of elections and the establishment of a special filing period for a Superior Court district 15A in Alamance County. The vacancy was created after Judge Jim Roberson announced he would retire June 30.

The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in a board room at 430 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. It is open to the public or they can listen in to the proceedings by calling 914-614-3221 (code: 689-691-678).

See the full agenda below.

Meeting Notice 2018-07-12 Revised by NC Policy Watch on Scribd

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Editorial: North Carolina lawmakers seek to manipulate voters in N.C. Supreme Court race

N.C. Supreme Court candidate Anita Earls

North Carolina lawmakers’ latest attempt to manipulate the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot passed last month and has become law.

Today, Capital Broadcasting Company published an editorial skewering legislators’ move as a transparent effort to boost the Republican candidate for the state Supreme Court.

From the editorial:

“If at first you cheat to rig an election and succeed; try, try again.”

If that isn’t a saying around North Carolina’s General Assembly, it should be. Back in 2016, a mid-campaign change to laws on the ballot order listing for state Court of Appeals candidates helped elect Phil Berger Jr., son of powerful state Senate leader Phil Berger.

Last month, a new law passed, also in mid-campaign, to help secure victory for their favorite Republican candidate for state Supreme Court Justice.

More significantly, the new law puts the Democratic candidate, Anita Earls, at the bottom of the ballot list. Earls has drawn the particular ire of legislative leaders as the key lawyer who challenged, with significant success, bills they’ve passed aimed at making it more difficult for minorities to vote as well as impose racial and partisan gerrymandering.

A month ago, the Senate Select Committee on Elections, led by Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, revived the little-noticed House-passed bill that had been gathering dust for more than a year. It was “regarding the placement of candidates on official election ballots.”

In two days this resuscitated bill, initially sponsored by Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, had three sentences added and passed the Senate without a dissenting vote. It was overwhelmingly approved in the House of Representatives. Two weeks later it was law without Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.

The new law does two critical things to tilt an election:

  • Abolishes the requirement in general elections, that the first name on the ballot for each partisan contest be the nominee from the party of the current governor (Now a Democrat. You can bet the old law wouldn’t be changing if there’d been a 10,000 shift in votes for governor in 2016).
  • Maintains for the current general election only, contrary to past practice, the ballot placement order set by the “random selection process” for the 2018 primary election. There is a detailed description of that ballot order process, including a video, here. As a result, candidates are listed in alphabetical order, starting with the letter “F.” Thus, Earls is last.

In 2016, a mid-campaign shift ended up both making the Court of Appeals contest Phil Berger Jr. was in listed as the first race, and had his name listed on top.

Being first matters. Research by Darren Grant at Sam Houston State University has documented the advantages — at 10-percentage points or more.

In Florida, Democrats have gone to federal court claiming a law that mandates candidates of the governor’s political party to be listed first on a ballot creates “position bias” and gives the governing party an unfair advantage.

Legislative leaders have stuffed the ballot with irrelevant and unnecessary State Constitutional Amendments, meddled in the days and hours citizens can go to the polls and vote, stacked the composition of legislative and congressional voting districts and injected last-minute bias to the order names appear on the ballot.

Why all this desperation, manipulation and cheating?

Clearly, these leaders both lack faith in voters to make choices that are in THEIR interests and not in those of their rulers. Even further, they lack faith their own ideologically-driven agenda holds any attraction to voters. Why else would they be so compelled to inject bias into the elections?

We have faith that North Carolina voters will see through the fog of manipulation and deceit.

We’ll see you at the polls.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

“Democracy Reform” town hall scheduled for July 19 in Raleigh

For those who find themselves increasingly distraught and frightened about the survival of American democracy in the age of Trump and rogue legislative bodies like the North Carolina General Assembly, here’s an event worth checking out. On July 19 — two weeks from today — there will be a “democracy reform town hall meeting” in Raleigh hosted by an array of progressive organizations and leaders at the Cameron Village Regional Library.

This is from the official announcement from Congressman David price:

“From extreme partisan gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights to foreign interference in our elections and rampant corruption in Washington, American democracy is at a crossroads. A lack of accountability and transparency has left many Americans disillusioned about their government and wondering what they can do to restore trust and integrity to the democratic process.

I hope you will join me at a special Community Forum on Thursday, July 19 to receive a congressional update on these issues, hear from local advocates about the democracy reform agenda in North Carolina, and offer your own thoughts and ideas for solutions to the challenges facing our nation. We will also discuss the road ahead in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court’s redistricting rulings and the General Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendments.”

Click here for more info and the RSVP.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Cooper announces judicial appointment, legislative confirmation of 2 others

Jonathon Sargeant

Gov. Roy Cooper announced an appointment today to the District Court bench.

Jonathon Sargeant will serve as a District Court Judge for Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties. He is replacing Chief Judge David Brantley, who resigned on March 31.

Sargeant served as an attorney in private practice for over 25 years and has been a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Family Law since 2001, according to the Governor’s Office. He holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Two of Cooper’s judicial nominees were also confirmed last week by a joint resolution of the General Assembly. Chief District Court Judge J. Stanley Carmical was confirmed to fill a Special Superior Court vacancy created on May 2. Chief District Court Judge Athena Fox Brooks was confirmed to fill Special Superior Court vacancy created on May 16.

“These North Carolinians are committed to justice and public service,” Cooper said in a statement. “I’m grateful for their willingness to fill these important roles in our legal system.”

Lawmakers also voted last week not to confirm another one of Cooper’s appointments — Bryan Beatty, who was nominated to fill a Special Superior Court vacancy created March 6.

Bryan Beatty

Beatty served as a Commissioner for the North Carolina Utilities Commission for nearly a decade and he was previously Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety and Director of the State Bureau of Investigation.

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) recommended Beatty on the House floor for the position, but most Republicans voted against him. No one spoke out about why they voted not to confirm Beatty.

Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said in an email last week that Beatty has been recognized as one of North Carolina’s most prominent African-American leaders and he appeared before three separate legislative committees during the confirmation process without any opposition from legislators.

Republicans’ vote against Beatty, Porter said, is a continued effort to seek inappropriate influence over the judicial branch.

“Make no mistake, these same legislative leaders had no problem confirming former-Governor McCrory’s staffer Andrew Heath to a similar position,” he added. “This is yet another instance of Republicans working to inject partisan politics into our courts.”

Heath was a budget director to former Governor Pat McCrory. He was appointed during a special session to a judgeship and is now running for a seat on the state Court of Appeals.