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.

 

Commentary

Reproductive rightsThe state Department of Health and Human Services will be holding a hearing this Friday morning on new proposed abortion provider regulations. As explained in this recent post by the good people at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, there is actually cause for optimism that the rules will not unduly burden women’s health. That said, anti-choice advocates are banging the drum to alter the proposed regs in a negative way and, as a result, advocates for women’s health will gather Friday on site in support of keeping the new regulations safe and sane.

This is from an alert sent out by the good people at Progress NC:

December 19: Put Women’s Health First!

The NC Department of Health and Human Services has proposed new regulations on abortion providers. The Department has included the input of women’s healthcare providers throughout the rulemaking process, and we need to stay vigilant and make sure that any new regulations put women’s health FIRST.

That’s why Planned Parenthood in NC, NARAL Pro-Choice NC, ACLU-NC, NC Women United, NC NOW, NC Women Matter and Progress NC need you to join us on Friday, December 19 at Dorothea Dix Campus, Brown Building, Room 104, 801 Biggs Drive, Raleigh, NC.

Click here for more information.

 

News

Two for-profit companies vying to tap into public education funding streams and enroll thousands of North Carolina children into virtual charter schools will be in front of a state education committee tomorrow.

K12 logoA special committee designated by the State Board of Education to review virtual charter school applications will meet from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday on the seventh floor of the state Education Building, 301 N. Wilmington Street in Raleigh. Audio of the meeting, which is open to the public, will also be steamed here.

The full State Board of Education, responding to the state legislature’s creation of a pilot program for virtual charter schools, will meet in  January to decide if the online schools can enroll students – and receive public funding – for the 2015-16 school year.

Virtual charter schools teach students from kindergarten through high school through classes delivered through children’s home computers. Parents or guardians often serve as “learning coaches” to assist with lessons while teachers remotely monitor students’ attendance and performance.

North Carolina’s legislature opened the door for two virtual charter schools to open next August when it tucked a provision in this summer’s budget bill that created a four-year pilot program for two online-based charter schools to open by August 2015.

The country’s virtual education market happens to be dominated by two companies, K12, Inc. (NYSE:LRN) and Connections Academy, a subsidiary of Pearson, an educational publishing company also traded on Wall Street (NYSE: PSO). Both companies employed lobbyists in North Carolina last year.

Read More