News

voteNew data put out today by Democracy NC found that voter participation was higher in the state for the 2014 midterm election than it was in 2010. In general, voter turnout increased across the board for most subgroups but the most significant increase came from the group of unaffiliated voters. Of the 250,600 more people who voted in the 2014 election, almost two-thirds were Independents. Among Democrats and Republicans, the changes were slight. Even though more Democratic women came out to vote in 2014, Republican men continued to turnout in higher numbers. Since the percentage of party-affiliated voters didn’t change drastically, it certainly seems that Independent vote had a serious impact on the outcome of the election.

According to Bob Hall, director of Democracy NC, “Thom Tillis gained the edge from independent voters, conservative Democrats and the higher turnout of Republican voters,” while “Senator Kay Hagan benefited from the increased turnout of Democratic women and African Americans.”

The African American vote increased by 1.9 percentage points in the midterm election, which Hall credits to the efforts of groups including, Democracy North Carolina, the NC NAACP, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters, who mounted yearlong campaigns to educate voters about the new voting rules.

However, Hall notes that, the increases in voter participation, both within subgroups and overall, aren’t necessarily a cause for joy. He explained that no party or group can be proud of an election where more than half the registered voters did not participate. “The loss of same-day registration cut out at least 20,000 voters,” he said, “and the end of straight-party voting and out-of-precinct voting created long lines and enormous problems that pushed away thousands of more people.”

Democracy NC’s full press release can be read here and voter turnout data can be found here.

Commentary

school_booksIn case you missed it, there is an excellent article on the main Policy Watch site today that highlights the unfortunate problems with the new history curriculum financed by the arch-conservative Koch family. The Bill of Rights Institute, funded by the Koch family and whose Board includes Koch employees, received a contract to help develop materials for North Carolina public school teachers to use in a course, required for all students, about America’s founding principles.

As Ian Millhiser, Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and author of the article, notes this could have been a great opportunity for North Carolina students to learn about important areas of American history that are often ignored by high schools. However, rather than present a balanced view, the materials push a clear Koch-sponsored agenda.

They present a selective view of history, exaggerate conflicts that have largely been resolved, emphasize subjects congenial to a conservative worldview and ignore entirely major threads of constitutional law and history. The students who learn from these materials are likely to emerge more skeptical of federal power and more sympathetic to a libertarian view of property rights. They are likely, in other words, to emerge more like Charles and David Koch.

Read More

News

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court handed their counterparts in North Carolina a victory this week, affirming the state Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Heien and holding that that a traffic stop is justified if based upon an officer’s reasonable but mistaken belief that a violation of law has occurred.

Heien, you may recall, involved an officer’s stop of an Hispanic man driving a vehicle with a broken tail light, on the ostensible but mistaken belief that having only one tail light working was against the law in North Carolina.  A vehicle search followed, then an arrest and ultimately a conviction for cocaine trafficking.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday came down with barely a nod to the current climate of racial unrest and minority suspicion of policing in the community — except for the lone dissent by Justice Sonia Sostmayor — and added yet another layer of ambiguity to the bounds of reasonable policing at a time when just the opposite is needed, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick aptly points out in this essay.

Says Lithwick:

Why does any of this matter? Because Vasquez wasn’t stopped by the cops for having a broken tail light. He was trailed by an officer because he was driving while looking “stiff and nervous” and for “gripping the steering wheel at a 10 and 2 position, looking straight ahead.” In other words, he was a Hispanic man driving a beat-up car in North Carolina, and the officer followed him for doing what the rest of us do every single day: driving while holding on to a steering wheel and looking forward.

Justice Sotomayor tried to point this out during argument, but to no avail.  Lithwick adds:

You would think that we had not just lived through a summer in which we were painfully reminded of the realities of militarized police, civil asset forfeiture, racial profiling, relentless police harassment of citizens, and frivolous stops for trivial infractions. These infractions can lead to mounting debts which in many minority communities turn the criminal justice system into something like a series of debtors’ prisons. The discussion in Heien never reflects the fact that a long, sordid history of pretextual and harassing traffic stops have fostered fear and anxiety in minority communities. As President Obama put it, there is a “simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.” But from the perspective of the high court, it’s as if the summer of 2014 was happening in an alternate universe.

Commentary
MP-Tobacco

Members of British parliament tour an NC tobacco field

How bad is the situation for farmworkers in North Carolina these days? This ridiculously bad: A member of the British parliament gave a speech yesterday in the House of Commons in which he spoke about his fact-finding mission here and likened what he found to “modern slavery.”

It’s hard to know what’s worse: that we’re rightfully being treated as some kind of third world country or that it takes someone from Great Britain to do the job being ignored by our own leaders.

This is from the good people at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee:

MP POINTS TO ABUSES IN NORTH CAROLINA TOBACCO FIELDS DURING HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATE AS A MODERN SLAVERY RISK

December 16, 2014 – In an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons this morning on human rights abuses in UK company supply chains, Ian Lavery, MP from Wansbeck, spoke to the conditions he found on a fact finding visit to the tobacco fields of North Carolina in July of this year as a “modern slavery risk.” The debate was in support of the Modern Slavery Bill, which would investigate and monitor modern slavery risks in UK company supply chains, is presently going through Parliament.

British American Tobacco, based in London, is a major customer and largest owner of Reynolds American Inc., which contracts with North Carolina tobacco growers.

Lavery said “the working conditions that we saw were absolutely atrocious, with unbelievably long hours of manual labour in unbearable heat; squalid living conditions, which mean workers have a lower quality of life than inmates in UK prisons; and employers showing a total disregard for basic health and safety regulations … which meant that many of them develop green tobacco sickness, an affliction with symptoms including nausea, intense headaches, vomiting and insomnia.” Read More

News

Loretta BiggsJust before midnight, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote a slew of pending Obama judicial candidates, including Loretta Copeland Biggs, who will serve in the state’s Middle District.

Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

Her addition to the court is welcome news and will begin to address the stunning lack of diversity on the state’s federal bench. She will be the first African-American woman to serve as a lifetime appointed federal judge in North Carolina.

But the state’s Eastern District continues to operate with a district court vacancy that has been pending for more than nine years.

The president’s nominee for that slot, Jennifer Prescod May-Parker — who would have been the first African-American to serve as a federal judge in that part of the state — failed to get even a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s because Sen. Richard Burr has inexplicably withheld the “blue slip” indicating his approval, even though he initially supported her nomination and despite his public statements condemning delays and other obstructive tactics interfering with judicial confirmations.

Read more about Biggs here.