The state legislature has set aside $8 million to defend lawsuits challenging the litany of controversial laws passed by the Republican majority in recent years, according to the Associated Press.

The litigation list is long and includes several state and federal actions seeking a rejection of voting maps adopted in 2011 and a reversal of voting law changes enacted in 2013, as well as challenges to the state’s same-sex marriage ban, the private school voucher program and the “Choose Life” license plate offering.

Funds for litigation costs go to private counsel retained to represent state officials in court, typically the job of the Attorney General. In some instances though, Attorney General Roy Cooper has declined to represent the state in cases which his office has determined are indefensible.  For example, after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that a Virginia gay marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution, Cooper stated that his office would no longer defend the similar North Carolina ban in court. It was time to stop fighting court battles the state could not win, he said at the time.

In other instances, Republican lawmakers have retained private counsel even while Cooper was likewise defending the state, voicing concerns that he wouldn’t adequately represent their interests.

The primary beneficiary of the General Assembly’s largess has been the Raleigh office of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, with attorneys from that firm representing state officials in several lawsuits, including the voting rights and redistricting cases. That’s the same firm that also advised Republican leaders during the drafting of the 2011 redistricting plan.

Outside bills since summer 2014 alone exceeded $3 million, according to the AP — $2.9 million of that incurred by Ogletree Deakins to defend the voting rights cases.

Those cases are far from over, as dispositive rulings from the federal district courts remain pending and appeals to the Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to follow. The same is true for the redistricting cases in state and federal courts, and new lawsuits challenging other controversial laws are on the horizon.

As the AP points out, a challenge to the state’s “magistrate recusal” law, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages based upon a “sincerely held religious objection” to gay marriage, could be filed in the coming months.

According to Roy Cooper’s office,  the Attorney General has defended state laws in at least 15 cases and didn’t need the help of costly outside counsel.

“Our office hasn’t requested that the General Assembly hire any of the private lawyers they’ve been paying, and we think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to pay outside lawyers to do the work we’re already doing,” Cooper’s spokesperson Noelle Talley said in a statement.


Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

One would have thought it tough to top the shameless pandering that Gov. Pat McCrory has engaged in in recent days over the issue of the rights of transgender people. As is explained in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, McCrory plumbed new depths this week with his embarrassing effort to limit the rights of a Virginia boy trying to live as who he is.

The Governor even went so far as to issue a statement in which he essentially said that transgender people do not exist, but are merely people of one gender masquerading as people of the other.

Now, however, comes word that it may be possible to outdo McCrory. Yesterday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger issued a statement attacking Attorney General Roy Cooper for not joining McCrory’s pro-discrimination effort. Berger even issued the following through-the-looking-glass tweet:

“Shame on AG for Putting Politics Above Student Safety”

You got that?! Berger is attacking Cooper for playing politics. This is like Vladimir Putin accusing the people of Crimea of aggression against Russia.

The bottom line: If not joining a lawsuit designed to deny basic human rights to a mild mannered 16 year old boy is “playing politics,” North Carolina could use a whole lot more a such “play” and a whole lot less of whatever it is that Berger is shoveling.

NC Budget and Tax Center

New research out the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire shows the powerful anti-poverty effect of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit in states.  North Carolina, it turns out, has seen one of the greatest shares of its population benefit from this policy in the country.

A full 3 percent of the overall population would have been poor in North Carolina were it not for the federal EITC. Such a growth in poverty would have further held back the economy from reaching its full potential as working families struggle to maintain spending and make investments in their careers and families that can boost the economy.

The boost to the economy from the economy occurs in the short- and long-term.  Children in families that receive the EITC also are more likely to do better in school and have increased lifetime earnings.

Here are some of the key findings from the report for North Carolina: Read More


Here’s a spot of good news to brighten a rather dreary Thanksgiving week landscape: a science program at Fayetteville State, one of North Carolina’s network of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) is being celebrated as a national leader. This from an article in the the Fayetteville Observer:

“, a website that tracks forensic science programs, lists FSU as No. 2 among its top 15 programs in the nation, based on teaching hands-on skills with laboratory classes, seminars and internships or field study. The site also looked at facilities, partnerships and career placement opportunities. The website, which is run by an educational publishing company called Sechel Ventures, says it seeks to provide a detailed, researched directory of programs and careers in the forensics field.”

The rating comes as a welcome boost to HBCU’s which have so long suffered from underinvestment and small-to-non-existent campus endowments. The obvious take away: HBCU’s can and often do provide a high quality education to thousands of students. The key is to give the schools the resources and tools they need to survive and thrive. Let’s hope state lawmakers are paying attention.


voteKentucky governor Steve Beshear announced today that he would be ordering the restoration of voting rights to some 170,000 non-violent ex-felons who have completed their sentences, a step that would bring that state in line with others offering the same reinstatement.

Kentucky had been one of the last states still permanently barring convicted felons from voting, along with Florida and Iowa. Kentucky’s constitution did provide for a restoration of voting rights upon the intervention of the state’s governor though.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out, there has been significant movement towards restoring felons’ voting rights, with more than 20 states taking steps in that direction over the past 20 years:

One key factor in this progress is the growing bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, and the recognition that restoring voting rights is a smart-on-crime policy. Leaders of both parties are acknowledging that we imprison too many people for too long, and do not provide adequate opportunities for people to reintegrate into society — rather than recidivate — after they leave incarceration. That recognition has led law enforcement professionals, faith leaders, and public officials from across the political spectrum to endorse voting rights restoration proposals nationwide.

In North Carolina,  a felon’s voting rights can be restored upon completion of a sentence, including prison, parole, and probation.

“We’re seeing growing national momentum for rights restoration, and Kentucky is the latest place to join in on that trend,” Brennan Center Counsel Tomas Lopez said in a statement. “Restoring the right to vote will improve Kentucky’s democracy, strengthen its communities, and increase public safety. We hope the state will build on today’s reforms and make the right to vote accessible to all Kentucky citizens living and working in their communities.”