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Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

As the case challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan languishes in state Supreme Court, two similar cases out of Alabama that may bear directly on the legality of our state maps are set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabamaparties are challenging the legality of “packing” minority voters into districts where they already are in political control, reducing their impact elsewhere.

As summarized by SCOTUSblog:

Both [cases] challenge decisions by a federal district court that upheld (by a split two-to-one vote) a new boundary map that kept the  same number of state senate and state house districts that previously had majorities of African-American voters, but added to those majorities in almost every district.  Sponsors of the plan insisted they were doing so to obey their obligations to protect minority voters’ political strength under federal voting rights law, but the challengers argued that this was an unconstitutional use of racial gerrymandering.

In both the Alabama cases and the case pending here (Dickson v. Rucho), state lawmakers have argued that the Voting Rights Act required them to redraw districts and pack African-American voters into districts — even though those voters, while still a minority of the voting age population in their previous districts, had been electing their candidates of choice.

The viability of that argument will be before the nation’s highest court in the fall, and yesterday — in a friend-of-the-court brief filed there — attorneys for the parties challenging the North Carolina maps urged the justices to reject redistricting on that basis as “an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.”

Here is an excerpt from that brief:

This Court reiterated in Bartlett v. Strickland the well-established principle that the “‘moral imperative of racial neutrality is the driving force of the Equal Protection Clause,’ and racial classifications are permitted only ‘as a last resort.’” The Court further cautioned that “[o]ur holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns.”

The North Carolina legislature, like the Alabama legislature, misapplied these principles in the 2011 redistricting by imposing a racial proportionality target for the number of majority-black districts and requiring every district to meet a specific black population percentage target. As in Alabama, the North Carolina General Assembly believed that these fixed racial targets were required by the Voting Rights Act.

Ignoring decades of progress in increasing opportunities for black voters to participate in the political process, in 2011 the General Assembly created more majority-black districts than ever before, thereby entrenching racial stereotypes and tearing apart effective cross-racial coalitions that had evolved over time. The General Assembly’s use of racial targets in redistricting was justified only by the mistaken belief that they were required by federal law. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, there is only one other redistricting case, currently pending in Virginia, in which it is alleged that the Legislature admittedly and explicitly used racial targets in drawing districts.

Thus, what is needed here is not a revision of voting rights jurisprudence; nor will reversal of the trial court result in significant upheaval of redistricting maps throughout jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather, the misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s requirements resulting in the unfair imposition of racial targets in redistricting in a few states is an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.

Read the full brief here.

 

 

 

 

 

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools, Uncategorized

trackingCuts-web-600The Macon County News reports that Jackson County will have to dip into $500,000 of its general fund balance in order to pay for teacher positions, teacher pay raises and teacher assistants, thanks to a state budget that disinvests in public education for another year in a row.

In addition to county support, Jackson County has taken the initiative to start cutting positions in hopes of bracing for the impact of the lack of funding from the state.

“We have been cutting back on teacher assistant positions when possible because of the trend to not fund them,” said Dr. Murray [Jackson County Schools Superintendent]. “We have currently only done this through attrition or through transfers within our own district. The trend statewide will be to eliminate teacher assistants in all areas except K-1 classrooms. 

Like so many other educators across the state, Jackson County recognizes the need for teacher assistants and hopes that the state level will make changes soon. “Our teacher assistants are valuable members of our educational family,” said Dr. Murray. “They are used appropriately and help reduce our class size by working with students in small groups and assisting the teacher in providing differentiated instruction in the classroom.”

Rowan-Salisbury Schools made  a decision on how they will handle the state’s budget cuts to public schools — they laid off 46 employees last week.

Forty-six Rowan-Salisbury employees found out Friday they will be without a job this school year.

“Schools operate like families, so when you lose someone on your staff — for a school, it’s like losing a family member,” said Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.

Due to state budget cuts and a dwindling fund balance, the district cut 79 positions — 18 district-wide personnel, 15 school-based personnel and 46 teacher assistants.

Of those 46 layoffs, 32 were teacher assistants. Many of those TAs doubled as school bus drivers (see my story about this issue here).

It’s not the first time Rowan-Salisbury has had to reduce its workforce.

Since the financial downturn in 2008, roughly 300 positions have been cut.

This time the cuts are because of reductions in state teacher assistant funding and the district’s fund balance.

The state budget called for a 22 percent, or $1.3 million, reduction in funding for teacher assistants.

Got more public school cuts resulting from the new state budget to report? Email me at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

 

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EARLY VOTINGThe League of Women Voters and other groups and individuals challenging the state’s new voting law in federal court today appealed a lower court ruling rendering the law effective for the November elections.

They’ll ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite the matter with a view towards a quick ruling.

“We will be seeking expedited review to get a ruling that can be implemented well in advance of the elections,” said the ACLU’s Chris Brook, one of the attorneys in the case.

The league joins the NC-NAACP, which filed its notice of appeal yesterday, and students who joined the cases who appealed earlier in the week.

Together they’re appealing U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s August 8 ruling allowing voting changes to take effect in November.

For North Carolina voters, that means that there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted.

“If one person’s right to vote is denied or abridged this election, this democracy suffers,” NC NAACP president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II said yesterday in a statement. “While restoring the rights of North Carolina voters and renewing the integrity of democracy in our state will require a long legal fight, we must start now by doing everything we can to block this law for the November election.”

 

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DMVThere have been several important court decisions of late so you may have missed an important one that came out this week. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle denied the state’s motion to dismiss an important lawsuit challenging discriminatory practices by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles in the treatment of people with disabilities.

According to Vicki Smith of Disability Rights North Carolina, the group’s director, DMV has long been making use of a set of imprecise and ill-defined procedures whereby many safe drivers who happen to have disabilities but who long ago received licenses and have had no change in their physical status are, as the result of simply being eyeballed by DMV examiners,  subjected to extra and burdensome tests and requirements to keep their licenses.

This is from a media release announcing the court victory: Read More

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This afternoon, the state Mining and Energy Commission will hold the second of four public hearings on proposed rules for regulating oil and gas development in North Carolina.

The hearing at the Wicker Center in Sanford comes amid new worries about the  waste water produced by hydraulic fracturing.

Think Progress reports on new research that finds ten percent of the contents of that fluid is toxic, but what’s really concerning is just how much we don’t know about the substance being injected into the earth.

Here’s more from Andrew Breiner’s story:

Frack_wikiAt least 10 percent of the contents of fracking fluid injected into the earth is toxic. For another third we have no idea. And that’s only from the list of chemicals the fracking industry provided voluntarily. That’s according to an analysis by William Stringfellow of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, reported in Chemistry World.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the practice of injecting fluid at high pressure into the earth, which breaks up oil- and gas-filled rock formations that is then extracted to the surface. The contents and makeup of that fluid have been a subject of controversy, largely because drilling companies are able to keep what’s in it a secret, and because the fluid has been known to leak and spill on a regular basis.

Stringfellow mostly used FracFocus’ voluntary registry of 250 fracking chemicals provided by the industry to check against existing toxicology information. He found that about 10 percent of the chemicals are known to be hazardous “in terms of mammalian or aquatic toxicology,” Stringfellow said at the a meeting of the American Chemical Society. But for almost a third of those 250 chemicals, there’s no publicly available information on their toxicity to humans or other life. And that’s not even counting the chemicals that the industry can simply choose to keep a secret.

FracFocus was in the news last week when drilling companies came under scrutiny for injecting diesel fuel into the earth to frack oil and gas, something for which they are supposed to have a permit. When that came to light, many companies simply went back and removed past mentions of injecting diesel.

Pressure is growing for companies to stop concealing the chemical mixtures they use for fracking. The companies Baker Hughes and Schlumberger chose to disclose their entire fracking formulas, and other companies may follow suit. “Industry knows what its problem compounds are, and they’re trying to replace those,” Stringfellow said. And until then, they’re likely to keep their formulas a secret.

Read the full article here.

For those wanting to attend Friday’s public hearing in Lee County, it will run from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Wicker Center, 1801 Nash Street, Sanford.