Courts & the Law, News

Rep. Joe John talks judicial, legislative experience in midst of partisan battles over the courts

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) holds a picture from his office that was taken during his time as a judge. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

When House lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12, Rep. Joe John was crushed.

The Wake County Democrat spent a quarter of a century in the courts; he’s worked as a legal-aid attorney, a prosecutor and has served on the bench as a District Court judge, Superior Court judge and Court of Appeals judge.

“I took that one pretty hard,” he said of House Bill 239. “I was down; I was depressed.”

He spoke out on the House floor before a vote was taken along party lines. He pointed out that the appellate court’s workload didn’t justify the reduction of judges. He used his experience to try to give insight to legislators who might not understand the weight of their decisions.

“It is possible that folks who had never been judges — and I am the only former judge in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as far as I gather — it’s possible they don’t appreciate and understand the judicial branch is not and has never intended to be a political branch of government,” John said.

The General Assembly has been taking aim at the judiciary since former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the election in December. There have been a number of bills passed that change the structure of the courts.

The bills, altogether, deal a blow to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — lawmakers appear to want to strip him of appointment power, and subsequently keep the opposition from becoming the majority.

Cooper has said politics have no place in the courts and John agrees.

The first-term lawmaker won’t go as far as saying he’s gotten used to his peers voting for judiciary bills, but by the time they took a vote last week to override Cooper’s veto of a bill that makes judicial elections partisan again, he wasn’t surprised.

Still, John spoke up before the vote.

“I say to you it is no exaggeration to characterize this issue as not just a vote, but a vote upon which the future of an independent judiciary in North Carolina depends,” he said.

His colleagues didn’t listen. Read more

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

There’s so much to criticize in state and federal government these days that picking top editorials is always a tough chore. This weekend’s best, however, comes from the Greensboro News & Record. The subject: a new proposal from North Carolina lawmakers to harass immigrants and local government that might want to help them. Here are some highlights from “Immigration bill would target cities”:

“If the ‘Citizens Protection Act of 2017’ passes, someone will have to explain it to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein.

‘I have no idea how we would comply with it,’ Stein said during a recent interview at the News & Record.

Filed as House Bill 63 by several Republican representatives, the measure would direct the attorney general to investigate ‘noncompliance with a state law related to immigration’ by a local government. Cities or counties found to be in violation could be penalized by losing state funds.

This is meant to punish so-called sanctuary cities, which Republicans from President Donald Trump on down seem to think are shielding illegal immigrants from arrest and deportation.

The N.C. League of Municipalities says there are no such cities in this state, prompting one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan), to say it’s meant to be a deterrent.

In other words, it is a solution in search of a problem….

Immigration violations are federal issues, and Trump has ordered excessively vigorous enforcement. He’s also seeking to beef up the federal agencies that hunt, arrest and deport illegal immigrants, without much regard to the threat they pose to public order and safety….

Those who do commit crimes are subject to arrest by law-enforcement officers the same as anyone else who breaks the law. Police don’t have a secret agenda of letting illegal immigrants get away with crimes. But if police have to devote resources to arresting law-abiding, although illegal, immigrants, they won’t have enough time or manpower to deal with real crimes.

Stein would be put in a similar position under this bill. It would allow any person to lodge an anonymous complaint against a city or county with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that the local government wasn’t ‘in compliance’ with an immigration law. This could be a mistake as minor as hiring a contractor who employed an undocumented worker….

It’s easy to see that all this could set off enough wild goose chases to keep both the attorney general and the SBI from more serious responsibilities. If nothing else, they would be consumed with the paperwork demanded by this bill. And for what? To do the federal government’s job of investigating immigration violations?

HB 63 stirs up too much trouble for no good purpose. Like an old tire, it should be scrapped.”

Commentary

Chris Brook of the ACLU of NC speaks about HB2 litigation

At this past Thursday’s Crucial Conversation (“One year later: What now for HB2?”)  multiple audience members asked ACLU of NC legal director Chris Brook for his take on the impact of the Trump administration on HB2, as well as the broader question of what the fight over HB2 means for LGBTQ rights more generally.

“There’s a general interest in what’s going to happen next in the litigation. What is the the impact of our new administration in Washington? And are there aspects of the litigation that deal with the general issue of discrimination against LGBT people, not just about bathrooms, but in terms of employment, and housing, and accommodations.” – Rob Schofield

“The thing that I’ve been saying since the passage a year ago, is that we need to quit calling this “the bathroom bill.” We need to start calling it HB2. And that’s not because we need to be afraid of talking about bathrooms. We need to talk about bathrooms; we are going to win those arguments. It’s just inaccurate though!” – Chris Brook

 

Commentary, News

This week’s top five on NC Policy Watch

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch 

1. School choice supporters tout questionable data on charters

Charter schools in North Carolina are becomingly increasingly white and affluent. Those are two of the overriding conclusions derived from recent analysis of the state’s charter population by a variety of stakeholders.

But a new set of numbers circulating among prominent school choice advocates in Raleigh indicates the opposite, much to the consternation of public school backers in North Carolina. [Read more…]

2. One year in, LGBT lawmakers address HB2

Thursday marks one year since HB2 was signed into law, setting off a firestorm of controversy that led to statewide boycotts, mass protests and contributed to the downfall of the governor who supported it….

There are only two out LGBT members of the North Carolina General Assembly. N.C. Representatives Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) and Debra Butler (D-Brunswick) have experienced the battle over HB2 very differently than their peers. While other lawmakers discuss LGBT rights in the abstract, these conversations have been visceral and personal for those actually impacted by the law. [Read more…]

3. Enough is enough: tax-cutting frenzy threatens North Carolina’s future

Two weeks ago a group of state Senate leaders unveiled a plan to raise principal pay in North Carolina and raise funds for school construction in rural areas. Both are good ideas.

Many small and poor counties don’t have the tax base to afford to build new schools and North Carolina ranks 50th in principal compensation.

But the GOP Senators weren’t proposing funding their plan from the state’s General Fund budget. Instead, they want to increase lottery advertising to raise new revenue from low-income communities to pay principals more and build new schools. [Read more…]

4. Roy Cooper’s lonely and courageous battle: It’s a difficult and sometimes nasty job, but somebody’s gotta’ do it

One of the hard and often underreported truths of American politics is the role that both luck and timing play in the perceived successes and/or failures of elected officials – particularly chief executives. Enter office at just the right moment – when, say, the economy is humming along and one’s political party enjoys a large majority – and elected office can be a lot of fun. Chances are you’ll have strong approval ratings, considerable clout in legislative decision making, lots of invitations to speak to large and friendly audiences and an opportunity to leave a significant imprint on your city, state or nation. [Read more…]

5. New data document the many perils of Trumpcare for North Carolina

This Thursday, March 23, marks the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) — the landmark federal law that secured and guaranteed health insurance for millions of previously uninsured Americans and saved tens of thousands of lives. Unfortunately however, Thursday is also the day on which leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives currently plan to vote on a “replacement” for the ACA that they have dubbed the “American Health Care Act” and that many outside of Washington have come to refer to as “Trumpcare.”

If actually enacted into law, Trumpcare would have disastrous implication for millions of vulnerable people and the economy as a whole – especially in light of the findings released last week by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. [Read more…]

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina not creating enough jobs to keep up with demands of working-age population

There’s more sobering news today on the state economy that conservative lawmakers are constantly (and, as it turns out, erroneously) touting as some kind of incredible success story. The bottom line: North Carolina continues to under-perform much of the rest of the nation in the post-Great Recession national recovery. This is new from the experts at the NC. Budget and Tax Center:

North Carolina’s economy is not creating the jobs needed to keep up with the demands of the working-age population in the state. The state unemployment rate dropped in February 2017 to 5.1 percent but remains above the national rate of 4.7 percent according to data released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce.

Since February 2017, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has remained higher than the national average and that gap has grown slightly from a 0.3 percentage point difference to a 0.4 percentage point difference in February.

Even after years of a national recovery, job growth in North Carolina has not been sufficient to bring more people back to the labor market and provide jobs to those who are actively looking for work.

“North Carolina’s employment levels remain below pre-recession levels” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “As the labor force grows with an improving national economy, it is critical that the state’s job growth match the growth in the working-age population and the numbers still looking for work.”

The February labor market data underscore a number of important economic realities, including:

  • North Carolinians remain “missing” from the labor market: There are likely nearly 190,000 people in North Carolina that are not officially counted as unemployed but who would have been part of the labor force in earlier periods of economic growth.
  • Many North Carolinians still looking for work: There were approximately 252,500 North Carolinians looking for work in February, which is up approximately 30,000 since the Great Recession started.
  • Employment levels remain below historic levels: Job growth in North Carolina has not kept pace with the state’s growing population over the past several years. Approximately 59 percent of North Carolinians had a job in February, still well below what the state experienced in the 1990s and 2000s and below the immediate pre-recession level of 61.9 percent.