Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Dispute over Hofeller files severed from Common Cause redistricting lawsuit

The fight over the files from deceased Republican mapmaker Tom Hofeller has taken on a life of its own.

On Monday, the three-judge panel overseeing the remedial redistricting process in partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis officially severed the issue of whether the Hofeller files should become public or not. They assigned Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier to preside over any related hearings and make the final decision.

“During the course of the litigation of plaintiffs’ action challenging the validity of the acts of the General Assembly in 2017 … an issue now wholly separate from plaintiffs’ claims has developed that will in all likelihood outlast the full resolution of plaintiffs’ action: a dispute as to proper ownership and possible protection of what is now referred to as the Hofeller files.”

Hofeller’s daughter, Stephanie Lizon Hofeller, turned over his electronic files to the Common Cause plaintiffs after his death. The confidentiality of those files has been at issue almost during the pendency of that litigation, though 35 specific documents related to North Carolina redistricting in 2017 were released for a trial.

A few other documents related to Hofeller’s involvement in creating a citizenship question on the 2020 Census were also released before the three-judge Wake County Superior Court marked the files confidential pending litigation. Geographic Strategies, a political consulting firm Hofeller co-founded, was the first to try to claim ownership of the documents, despite admitting knowing what all was contained in them.

The court has since given the firm an opportunity to review the files and identify specifically which documents they own, but in the mean time, Hofeller’s daughter released the entirety of the Hofeller files to the New Yorker. Now Geographic Strategies has filed a motion to hold Stephanie Hofeller in contempt of court and to enjoin the New Yorker from releasing any more information about the files. That matter is still pending.

In an unrelated motion, the Republican National Committee has filed a similar motion to Geographic Strategies’ to also claim ownership of the Hofeller files. Nueces County has filed a separate motion to inspect the files and asked the court not to destroy any files that belong to them, and North Carolina lawmakers have asked for permission to destroy the “privileged’ files it has possession of, according to Monday’s order.

Those and several other motions are still pending before the court related to the Hofeller files, which remain confidential until at least 11:59 p.m. Friday.

The Monday order states there is a longstanding principle that trial judges have the inherent authority and discretion to manage proceedings before them — that includes separating claims and issues within an action. It states that separating the claims will also convenience the parties to Common Cause, the court and non-parties, will avoid prejudice and keep the court from having to expend resources.

The three-judge Common Cause panel will retain authority over any issue or claim arising in the Hofeller files dispute that will require an order or judgement to be entered affecting the validity of acts of the General Assembly that has to do with apportionment or redistricting.

Rozier has been provided all relevant and necessary materials, filings and pleadings, according to the order. It’s expected there will be a court hearing to follow shortly.


Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Tonight: “Notorious RBG” to speak in Raleigh for Meredith College event

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will speak tonight in Raleigh as part of a Meredith College lecture series.

There are no longer tickets available for tonight’s installment of the Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture Series, but to make it more accessible to the public, the college is offering two viewing alternatives — a live-stream online and another that will be broadcast at Jones Auditorium on campus. That broadcast is open to the public and free to attend.

Ginsburg, 86, is known for her work to advance women’s rights and has become a cultural icon, particularly in the age of President Donald Trump. She is a liberal-leaning associate Supreme Court Justice who has been outspoken on the bench about voting, civil rights and gender equality.

She’s vowed to continue her work on the high court until at least January 2021 to avoid giving Trump a third appointment, despite some health setbacks. She completed radiation just weeks ago for her fourth battle with cancer.

Ginsburg — affectionately nicknamed the “Notorious RGB” — will be in conversation with Meredith College alumna Suzanne Reynolds, the first woman to serve as dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law, according to the press announcement.

Reynolds is known nationally for her expertise in family law and was a principal drafter of statutes that modernized the laws regarding both alimony and adoption. She is the author of a three-volume treatise on North Carolina family law that has become the authoritative source for law students, lawyers, and judges.

Meredith College is a private university in Raleigh grounded in the liberal arts. The school only accepts women as undergraduates, but the student body has grown to nearly 2,000, including men who are part of the graduate programs, according to its website.

The event will start at 7:30 p.m. in Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The Jones Auditorium, for anyone who wishes to attend the live-stream there, is located at 3800 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh. You can view the online live-stream here.

NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton will be covering the event. Follow her on Twitter, and check Policy Watch tomorrow for a recap.

Defending Democracy, News

New report: NC’s Latinx communities poised to have big impact in 2020 election

This graphic from the report shows some of the growth in turnout by Latinx voters.

The good people at Democracy North Carolina are out with a new “must read” report this morning on the state’s Latinx voters. This is from the release that accompanied “Emerging electorate: Latinx voters in North Carolina”:

DURHAM, N.C. (September 19, 2019) — Latinx voter turnout in North Carolina surged in 2018, and the number of Latinx North Carolinians who are eligible to vote is growing quickly as young Latinxs come of age. These are top takeaways from a new  report by Democracy North Carolina, El Pueblo, and North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations; the piece looks at Latinx communities in both rural and urban parts of the state, presents Latinx-specific concerns and needs related to elections, and highlights the work of local organizations who are mobilizing Latinx voters.

Read the full report now at demnc.co/latinx

The report examines the latest trends in voter turnout, voter registration, and population growth for Latinx North Carolinians. Democracy North Carolina Senior Researcher Sunny Frothingham, who authored the report, noted data that suggests an even greater proportion of Latinx North Carolinians will be eligible to vote in future elections. “While about two thirds of North Carolina Latinxs are citizens, almost all Latinxs under 18 are citizens — 94 percent. As a result, we can expect Latinx communities to play an even greater role in elections to come, as younger Latinxs reach voting age.”

“This report demonstrates the tremendous potential that our communities have to influence the future of North Carolina,” stated Angeline Echeverría, Executive Director of El Pueblo. “In addition to the focus on trends in voting, the report sheds light on the 2020 Census and the concerted effort that must be made to count Latinx families–and particularly children under the age of 5.”

North Carolina voters will see additional barriers to voting take effect in 2020, including a photo ID requirement and the elimination of the last Saturday of Early Voting, some of which will disproportionately impact Latinx voters.

Looking ahead to 2020, Tomas Lopez, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, stated that “Many people in Latinx communities feel concerned and increasingly unsafe in the current political climate— whether because of or in spite of that climate, their voices mattered more than ever in North Carolina in 2018, and that’s poised to continue.”

Key findings include:

  • The number of Latinx voters in North Carolina has quadrupled since 2008. As of Summer 2019, there are almost 200,000 self-identified Latinxs registered to vote in North Carolina, accounting for 2.9 percent of North Carolina’s 6.6 million registered voters.
  • Latinx voter turnout surged in 2018. Two and a half times the number of self-identified Latinx voters cast ballots in North Carolina in 2018 than in 2014. In 2018, 35 percent of Latinx registered voters cast ballots in 2018 compared to just 20 percent in 2014.
  • The county with the most Latinx voters was Mecklenburg, where over 12,000 Latinxs cast ballots in 2018, for a turnout rate of 38 percent.
  • The vast majority of Latinx voters in North Carolina are registered as either Democrats (43 percent) or unaffiliated voters (42 percent), while only 14 percent are Republicans and 1 percent are Libertarian. Less than 1 percent of Latinxs are registered with the Green Party or the Constitution Party.
  • The greatest number of Latinx voters are concentrated in urban counties, while Latinxs make up a greater share of registered voters in several southeastern counties. Cumberland, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Onslow, and Union are in the top ten for both number and percentage of registered voters.

Click  here to read the full report.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Now that new maps are enacted, political scientist Bitzer takes a look at partisan data

A PlanScore analysis of new enacted maps posted on Old North State Politics

North Carolina lawmakers have enacted new remedial maps after a court ordered redraw to fix House and Senate districts that were gerrymandered to entrench the Republicans in power.

They have until 5 p.m. tomorrow to submit those maps to the court, and parties to Common Cause v. Lewis have until 5 p.m. Oct. 4 to object to the maps and supply any alternative maps.

Lawmakers were barred by the court from using political data during the remedial redistricting process, but now that it’s over, Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer has analyzed the new maps for his blog, Old North State Politics.

Both sets of new maps saw a decrease in the efficiency gap, partisan bias, and mean-median differences from the 2018 maps, according to Bitzer.

He explains that his work is based on using the website PlanScore.org and creating a classification based on its analysis of the districts and predicted vote shares for both parties based on 2016 election data.

My classification system is:

  • Those districts with greater than 60 percent for one party: “likely” party district
  • Those districts with between 55 and 60 percent vote share for one party: “lean” party district
  • Those districts with between 50 and 55 percent vote share for one party: “competitive but favor one party” district

A few reminders before reading much further: the following analysis only paints the districts as potentially within one of these six categories based on 2016 election data. As I discussed yesterday on Twitter in a length thread, my interest is in ‘explaining’ and understanding how politics works, and one of my research interests is in North Carolina redistricting, electoral behavior, and voting patterns. For those partisans and political operatives who want to ‘read’ into these classifications that their party will win, have fun: that’s not my job. Again, as I indicated in the Twitter thread, my job is to help educated and hopefully provide context and analysis to understanding North Carolina politics. This redistricting is a major component of North Carolina politics, and thus my analysis hopefully gives a sense of where things stand in these districts in a ‘2016-based’ performance.

Bitzer shows his results through charts and graphs with a comparison to previous maps. Read the full analysis here.

Defending Democracy, News

Public comments on proposed remedial maps split — some approve, some vehemently oppose

Lawmakers heard public comment Monday on proposed remedial maps after being taken to task by a local court for partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Members of the North Carolina public were finally able to weigh in Monday on proposed remedial legislative maps that would be used in the 2020 elections.

The House and Senate Redistricting committees held a joint hearing this afternoon to allow for public comment before the final maps are enacted and sent to the court that ordered them. A three-judge panel ruled lawmakers redraw districts after they used unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering to redistrict maps in 2017.

The new maps are due to be submitted to the court by 5 p.m. Friday. The House took a floor vote on its proposed maps Friday, but they still could be amended. The Senate plans to hold a floor vote on its remedial maps this evening.

Public comments were mostly split — numerous people commended the legislature for finally using a transparent process to shed some light on the redistricting process, but several more people scolded them for continuing to prioritize incumbency protection and not implementing transparency to the highest degree.

“I am here to mourn the passing of public trust in this legislature,” said Jennifer Rudoph, of Wake County. “It’s dead. It died years ago. … Now the only way to revitalize our trust is for you to step aside and let the courts draw fair maps.”

She was not alone in calling for the courts to step in. The Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, clergy and pastor of Greater Grace Christian Church, a predominately African-American church in Youngsville, and Bishop Todd Fulton, of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, both spoke about the need for districts that don’t target or split their votes.

“This process divides the African-American community,” said Fulton. “On the final analysis, we will not allow our taxpayer dollars to be used for partisan gerrymandering.”

Johnson said he sees no distinction between partisan and racial gerrymandering and that the process of gerrymandering hasn’t changed over the past week.

“Already I’m a little frustrated that you’ve declined to draw districts from scratch,” he said. “It is totally illegitimate. The people of North Carolina deserve clean and fair elections. This is not a fair process.”

A number of people spoke about their disappointment with specific county clusters and districts, including in Alamance, Mecklenburg, Davie and Cabarrus counties.

On the other hand though, there were several speakers who approved of the process and said they liked the proposed maps. They also criticized calls for a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe in unicorns, I don’t believe in Easter bunnies, and I don’t believe in nonpartisan commissions,” said Jay DeLancy, founder of the conservative Voter Integrity Project.

Veronica Martish, of Willow Spring, told the committees the “judicial gerryrigging” has got to stop.

“I urge you to resist those calls because elections have consequences,” she said. “Don’t betray your party voters by surrendering your cause for a redistricting commission.”

Renee Miller, of Cary, said she finds herself at a loss — the Republicans were elected in 2010 on Democrat-drawn maps and the rules have been the same for all of them.

“Why are we having to go through this?” she asked.

She added that the time and resources spent on this remedial redistricting process were a waste.

The court has appointed Stanford Law Professor Nathaniel Persily to help review the remedial map the legislature enacts. He could be ordered to draw new maps if the court does not approve.