Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Breaking: U.S. Supreme Court rejects GOP appeal of absentee ballot extension

Stacks of boxes holding mail are seen at a U.S. Post Office sorting center. Photo by Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

In a victory for voting rights groups and the state State Board of Elections and a defeat Republican legislative leaders, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled tonight that a court settlement that allowed the state to continue to receive absentee ballots until Nov. 12 will stand.

The high court’s ruling, which came in the case of Moore v. Circosta, featured a 5-3 vote in which Chief Justice Roberts was joined by Justices Kavanaugh, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in upholding a Fourth Circuit decision from earlier this week. Justices Gorsuch, Alito and Thomas dissented. Justice Barrett did not participate.

The ruling denying the GOP request to enjoin the lower court ruling did not feature a written explanation, though Justice Gorsuch authored a three-plus page dissent for himself and Justice Alito, in which he approvingly cited the argument of GOP lawmakers that it was improper for the State Board of Elections to extend the deadline six days beyond the General Assembly’s designated date of Nov. 6.

The ruling means North Carolinians whose absentee ballots are properly completed, postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 12 will be counted.

According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, “more than 1.45 million voters requested absentee by-mail ballots and more than half (over 819,363) had returned them as of Wednesday morning.”

Not everyone who requested an absentee ballot must vote that way. Many voters have been exercising their option to discard the absentee ballot and vote in person — either at an early voting site or at their regular polling place next Tuesday. Early voting will conclude this coming Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

Earlier today, the Court also rejected a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to expedite consideration of their request to shut off counting ballots on Nov. 3. The ruling, for now allows the state to continue counting ballots received through Nov. 6, but the Court could still take action to approve the GOP request and the state will segregate ballots received after Nov. 3 to be on the safe side. The Court previously approved an effort by the GOP to halt counting on Election Day in Wisconsin.

COVID-19, News

Cooper announces new eviction protections

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its deadly toll and wreak havoc with the North Carolina economy, Gov. Roy Cooper took new action today to attack one of the pandemic’s most vexing side effects: residential evictions. Cooper said his new order is in response to confusion that has surrounded a September moratorium on evictions issued by he Centers for Disease Control on the same subject. Full details on Cooper’s new action, what it does and does not do can be found in the announcement below.

Click here to view a document exploring key frequently asked questions (and answers).

Today, Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 171 to strengthen eviction protections to help North Carolina renters stay in their homes. With COVID-19 case counts increasing and many people continuing to work and learn remotely, preventing evictions is critical to the state’s fight against this virus. This order supplements the existing NC HOPE initiative started two weeks ago that pays landlords and utilities directly to keep people in their homes with the lights on.

“Many families are trying to do the right thing, but this virus has made it difficult. Roughly three to 400,000 households across North Carolina are currently unable to pay rent. Therefore, today, I have signed a new Executive Order to prevent evictions in North Carolina for people who can’t afford the rent,” said Governor Cooper. “The result during this global pandemic will be more North Carolinians staying in their homes, more landlords getting paid rent, and fewer utility companies shutting off power.”

The economic toll of COVID-19 has left thousands of families struggling to make ends meet. According to a report from the National Council of State Housing Agencies, approximately 300,000 – 410,000 households across North Carolina are currently unable to pay rent, and an estimated 240,000 eviction filings will be submitted by January 2021.

Last month, the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) put a temporary residential eviction moratorium into effect nationwide from September 4 through December 31, 2020. The CDC order protects residential tenants from eviction for nonpayment of rent. However, confusion over who this order protects has caused inconsistent enforcement and unwarranted evictions in some parts of the state.

Executive Order No. 171 requires landlords to make residential tenants aware of their rights under the CDC Order. For eviction actions commencing after Executive Order No. 171, landlords must give residents the option to fill out a declaration form before starting any eviction action.

The Order also sets forth procedures to ensure protection for residential tenants once they provide the required declaration form to the court or to the landlord.

Executive Order No. 171 also clarifies the CDC moratorium so that it clearly applies to all North Carolinians who meet the CDC’s eligibility criteria, regardless of whether they live in federally-subsidized properties. The Order ensures that recipients of the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program are still able to qualify and that these renter protections will apply to North Carolinians regardless of the CDC Order’s status in other courts.  Read more

COVID-19, News

New lethal virus projections offer bad news for key electoral swing states like NC

The Center for American Progress reported the sobering news this morning that the election will conclude next week at the same moment that the COVID-19 pandemic is spiking. What’s more, several key swing states like North Carolina will be among the hardest hit. This is from the news release the group distributed:

The election will occur in the midst of skyrocketing, exponential spread nationally, and in particular, in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

We used the Oliver Wyman Navigator model to estimate the percentage increase in daily new cases (7-day average) from October 1 and this past Sunday (October 25) through November 3 and November 15. This model is among the most accurate, with a mean absolute percent error (MAPE) of only 1.5 percent for U.S. projections. Further, we believe this model is well calibrated: applying the summer’s epidemic curve to September’s baseline yields approximately the same incidence as the model in early November.

Nationally, the U.S. is projected to hit 125,000 new cases per day in mid-November. In the states examined, in the month leading up to November 3, new cases are projected to have more than doubled. From October 25 onward, in these states, new cases are projected to rise by 26 percent by November 3 and to skyrocket by 82 percent by November 15. Every state examined is projected to experience an astronomical spike between now and November 3 through November 15.

In the month leading up to November 3, new cases are projected to have more than doubled in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. From October 25 through November 15, new cases are projected to more than double in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio.

The Center also distributed a series of graphs that chart the expected spikes for several states (see North Carolina’s below). One can only hope that voters take note of this sobering reality as they cast their ballots — both to stay as safe as they can and to inform their votes.

 

 

News, Voting

YWCA poll shows top concerns, voting plans for NC women ahead of election

A new poll paid for and promoted by the YWCA shows that an overwhelming percentage of North Carolina women polled say they are certain to vote this year or have already voted. But more than a third said they aren’t sure if their vote will be counted accurately.

Among the poll’s key findings:

Seventy-six percent of North Carolina women polled say they are “almost certain” to vote or have already voted, the likelihood varies widely by age. Fewer than half of of the North Carolina women 18-23 (46 percent) said they had already voted or are almost certain to do so.

Asked how they have voted or will vote, the largest percentage (41 percent) said they planned to vote by mail. Nearly as many (39 percent) said they would vote on in-person on election day while just 15 percent said they would vote early in-person.

 

Making financial ends meet and health care issues were the top concerns across nearly all sub-groups of those polled, across racial and partisan lines.

Financial insecurity and inequality in treatment by police, including safety from police violence, were also top concerns, especially among black women in the poll.

 

Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court were also much on the minds of those polled. Of those who reported an increased concern over the availability of reproductive health care and services, including the right to have a legal abortion, just over half (51 percent) said their concern is driven by a conservative shift in the makeup of the nation’s highest court.

“This has been a defining year for women,” said Alejandra Y. Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the female-driven ‘shecession’ have intensified women’s concerns about affordable healthcare and economic security. Even though there are doubts about the electoral process, women remain motivated to have our voices heard in this election.”

See the full poll results, including information about methodology, here.

COVID-19, News

NC prison termed “deadliest of all federal facilities” for COVID-19 in new lawsuit

Image: Adobe Stock

With the aid of a major international law firm, a pair of civil rights organizations sought immediate assistance today for inmates endangered by the COVID-19 pandemic at a North Carolina federal prison.

As the release below from the ACLU of North Carolina spells out, the plaintiffs say the federal prison complex in Butner has become the “deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic”:

CHARLOTTE – In response to intensifying COVID-19 outbreaks at the federal prison complex in Butner, North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Winston & Strawn filed a class-action lawsuit today seeking adequate medical care for people incarcerated in Butner Federal Correctional Complex. The lawsuit is asking for the rights of people incarcerated to be protected and conditions be made safe for those who remain in custody amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Corrections institutions have continuously failed to take even the most basic life-saving measures to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19 — nowhere is this truer than Butner, which has been the deadliest of all federal facilities during this pandemic,” said Maria Morris, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Prisons and jails are the sites of the biggest hotspots for COVID-19 everywhere in the country. If the courts don’t intervene to mitigate the humanitarian crisis unfolding, they will be responsible for the lives lost.”

Plaintiffs claim that people who need medical care for issues other than COVID-19 also haven’t been able to access it during the pandemic, a violation of their rights. The lawsuit also states that everyone who has died from COVID-19 at Butner had a known medical condition that made them more vulnerable to the virus, yet officials didn’t take adequate steps to protect them, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

“More than 1000 incarcerated persons at Butner have been infected with COVID and 27 have died,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “This was avoidable had the Bureau of Prisons taken steps to reduce the population to allow for physical distancing or implemented well-established and widely published infection control practices. The failure to do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus continues to today. The callous indifference to the health and safety of persons who are held in the facility is shocking.”

John Dailey, who died of COVID-19 in early July, represents one such instance of the failure of prison officials at Butner to protect incarcerated people. John was sick for weeks before he was evaluated. By the time they took him off his housing unit to be evaluated, his condition had already deteriorated so much that he had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.

“The government’s inaction to save lives in Butner is unconscionable, but we believe there’s still time to rectify the situation,” said Em Harwell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’ve seen people die from COVID-19, like John Dailey, before even getting any medical attention. Quite literally, there are lives that rest in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. For thousands of people, acting now is better late than never.”

The new lawsuit comes after a U.S. district court judge denied a preliminary injunction in a previous case in May. The ACLU of North Carolina has an ongoing lawsuit in state court to release and protect people currently incarcerated in state prisons.

Link to lawsuit here: www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/sites/default/files/scarantino.pdf