Defending Democracy, News

Expert: Want to preserve our democracy? End gerrymandering (with video)

If this week’s roller coaster legislative sessions have left you reeling, take time today to learn about how redistricting reform could greatly improve the political discourse in our state.

Tom Ross, former President of the University of North Carolina system and co-chairman of the bi-partisan board of directors of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, will speak at Campbell University’s School of Law in downtown Raleigh at noon to address the benefits of reforming the way North Carolina draws its Congressional and legislative districts.

Mr. Ross’ presentation will include an update on the redistricting cases before the Supreme Court and other critical legal battles.  He will also outline a plan of action for North Carolina to fairly draw Congressional and state districts.

NC Policy Watch had the opportunity to talk with Ross this week about the benefits of an independent system of redistricting where politicians do not draw their own districts.

This afternoon’s event is open to the public and is co-sponsored by the North Carolina Business Council and North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform. It will take place in room 313 at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, located at 225 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh.

Doors will open at 11:30am and the presentation will start at 12:00pm.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Report: How might the U.S. Supreme Court rule on partisan gerrymandering?

Court watchers across the country were holding their breath this morning for a U.S. Supreme Court opinion on partisan gerrymandering that didn’t come.

Justices heard the Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case, Gil v. Whitford, in October. They heard arguments in a similar case out of Maryland, Benisek v. Lamone, in March. Whatever decision comes from the high court in either case could have an effect on redistricting practices in legislatures across the nation, including in North Carolina.

The court released a couple of opinions this morning, but the Wisconsin and Maryland cases were not among them. The Hill in Washington D.C., though, published an article speculating what the court might do in the two pending partisan gerrymandering cases.

What might the justices do? We see several possible outcomes.

At one end of the spectrum, the court could categorically reject both challenges as “nonjusticiable.” Partisan gerrymandering, they could say, is fundamentally a political matter, not a legal issue for the courts. Four of the nine justices said just that back in 2004, when the court addressed partisan gerrymandering head on.

At the other end of the spectrum, the court could side with the challengers in both cases and endorse both proposed legal tests. Even under this scenario, the challengers will have more work ahead. It is too late to impose new maps for the 2018 election. Instead, the challengers will aim to have compliant maps in place for 2020. This will likely entail further litigation, because the party in power presumably will try to maintain as much of its existing advantage as possible. Another fight looms when the next round of redistricting takes place after the 2020 census.

A mixed result may be the most likely. The justices could turn away one or both cases on procedural grounds. In particular, a majority may hold that the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case lack legal standing to challenge the entire statewide map. (Reading the tea leaves, court-watchers have deduced that Chief Justice Roberts, who expressed skepticism about plaintiffs’ standing at oral argument, is probably drafting the Wisconsin opinion.)

A final, unsatisfying possibility is that a majority will not coalesce behind any result. That’s what happened in the 2004 gerrymandering case, which is why the issue is back now. If the justices are struggling to find common ground, they might schedule the cases for re-argument this fall. And they could even add a third case to the mix — a challenge to a North Carolina gerrymander that is also teed up for review. Justice Breyer alluded to this re-argument option during oral argument in the Maryland case.

Read the full article here. Monday is the next chance for opinions from the high court.

Commentary, Defending Democracy

Former GOP Supreme Court Justice: NC should reject voter ID requirement

Bob Orr

Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and one-time candidate for the Republican nomination for governor penned an important op-ed in the Charlotte Observer yesterday entitled “I’ve changed my mind on voter ID.” In it, Orr cites the recent excellent biography of President Ulysses Grant by historian Ron Chernow that describes Grant’s tireless and ultimately frustrated efforts to rein in the voter suppression efforts of the KKK and other racist white southerners in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Having plowed through Chernow’s tome myself in recent months, I can confirm that it is an important read for those who wish to gain a better understanding of some critical aspects of our nation’s history, including the attitudes of many modern Americans — particularly Americans of color — as they confront modern voting law changes that echo the actions Grant combated.

As Orr notes in conclusion:

“What does any of this have to do with voter ID? The latter part of Grant’s career as president overlapped with Reconstruction of the South, the new freedom of the slaves and the granting of rights to them, particularly the right to vote. For those of us who grew up in the South and are of a certain generation, the history books told us that Reconstruction was all about carpetbaggers from the North, traitorous Southerners (or ‘Scalawags’) and freed blacks all taking advantage of those poor white home folks below the Mason-Dixon line. Nobody told us of the extreme violence and intimidation aimed at those newly freed black slaves.

Chernow points out that while ex-Confederates were resentful over losing the war and their ‘property’ in the form of slaves, the real stick in their craw was that blacks now had the right to vote. That voting power enabled blacks to hold office and exercise their electoral power. The book traces the horror and violence that descended upon blacks in the South attempting to participate in the most basic of democratic institutions – the right to vote. In 1868, more than 2,000 blacks were killed in Georgia alone in efforts to suppress voting.

Over time, despite federal efforts against the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, the burning, lynching and terror resulted in a significantly reduced willingness by blacks to try to vote. Fast forward to the beginning of the 20th century, and here in North Carolina and across the South, a new wave of repression took root. Jim Crow laws became the order of the day.

Not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did the fruits of the 15th Amendment begin to seriously be fulfilled for black voters in the South. Is it any wonder then that our fellow citizens of African-American heritage are particularly sensitive when it comes to voting issues? Is it any wonder that they are genuinely concerned that a voter ID requirement is just one more in a long line of measures to limit their right to vote?

Maybe a photo voter ID isn’t all that bad, but I’m willing to say today after reading Chernow’s ‘Grant’: Let’s put this proposal on the shelf as simply the right thing to do.”

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Breaking: Republicans unveil last minute bill to limit early voting

Surprise! The destructive, last minute mischief and mayhem continue at the Legislative Building. The latest development: Republicans unveiled a new bill out of nowhere late last night to limit early voting in North Carolina. The proposal would come as a proposed amendment to an old bill from last year — what’s referred to in legislative parlance as a “proposed committee substitute” or “PCS.” Former legislative staffer and elections law expert Gerry Cohen summarized the measure in a series of tweets earlier this morning. Here are a few:

Policy Watch will provide further updates as the day goes on.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Boswell releases emails amid ACLU lawsuit pressure

Rep. Beverly Boswell

The ACLU of North Carolina has forced a House Representative’s hand in a battle over public records.

Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Beaufort) “decided to” release her unredacted emails after Kitty Hawk resident filed a lawsuit. She had initially refused to release anything, then later released documents concealing the identity of everyone her office communicated with.

The full release comes more than a year after one of her constituents, Craig Merrill, first asked for public records of phone and email correspondence between her office and the residents and businesses she represents in North Carolina House District 6, which includes parts of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, and Washington counties.

The ACLU filed the public records lawsuit on behalf of Merrill in January.

“We are glad that Representative Boswell finally agreed to do the right thing and stop hiding who she was communicating with about the public’s business,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of N.C. “North Carolinians deserve transparency from their elected officials – and the law requires it.”

In a letter addressed to Brook about the records release, the special deputy attorney general who represents Boswell, Olga Vysotskaya de Brito, said the lawmaker “made a decision to disclose the in-redacted set of documents” Merril requested.

“In our view, today’s production of documents resolved the pending controversy,” the letter states.

They also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion essentially states the case is moot and should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

In a motion for summary judgment filed last month, the ACLU said that there was no legal justification for Boswell to conceal who she and her office were corresponding with on matters related to her work as a public official on issues including the Outer Banks plastic bag ban.

Many of the documents Boswell provided contain the following message: “Email correspondence to and from this address is subject to North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.”

“The public deserves to know how our representatives are conducting business on our behalf so that we can hold them accountable,” Merrill said. “I am glad my representative has finally agreed to follow the law, but it never should have taken more than a year and a lawsuit for her to do the right thing and be open about her work with a constituent.”

Brook said Wednesday that Boswell provided the unredacted records after they filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Merrill was legally entitled to know who she was corresponding with on matters of public interest.

“Put another way, Representative Boswell only provided unredacted records after we made plain that we would continue pursuing the matter in court,” he said. “The ACLU-NC has not agreed to dismiss the lawsuit as it is not yet fully resolved. The state Public Records Act entitles individuals who substantially prevail in public records litigation to receive attorneys’ fees. We will be seeking fees to recover money spent litigating a case that we offered Representative Boswell every opportunity to resolve prior to filing a lawsuit.”