Courts & the Law, News

NC Court of Appeals throws out voter photo ID for now, says law likely passed with discriminatory intent

A three-judge North Carolina Court of Appeals panel has ruled unanimously that the state’s voter photo ID law will not stand pending a trial on the merits of the underlying lawsuit.

The 45-page ruling, written by Judge Toby Hampson with Judges John Arrowood and Allegra Collins concurring, states that the plaintiffs demonstrated they would likely succeed on their claims that the law, Senate Bill 824, is discriminatory and will cause irreparable harm. It also states that since the federal courts have already prevented the law from going into effect for the upcoming primary election, the decision to continue an injunction would prevent further voter confusion.

“While the future of that injunction and litigation is uncertain, enjoining the law during the litigation of this action, which the parties acknowledged would still be ongoing after these primaries, further helps prevent voter confusion leading up to the general election this fall and during the pendency of this litigation, which voter confusion has a strong potential to negatively impact voter turnout,” the ruling states.

Lawmakers enacted SB 824 after North Carolinians passed a vaguely written constitutional amendment to enshrine the use of a voter photo ID. It was passed with 55.4 percent of the vote.

The plaintiffs in Holmes v. Moore filed their lawsuit in state court the day SB 824 became law, and then they appealed a lower court’s decision not to issue a temporary ban on voter ID during the pendency of litigation.

Hampson wrote that the General Assembly’s history with voter ID laws, the unusual sequence of events leading to SB 824’s passage and the disproportional impact it will likely have on African American voters all point to the conclusion that discriminatory intent was a primary motivating factor of the measure.

“This is especially true where the Amendment itself allows for exceptions to any voter-ID law, yet the evidence shows the General Assembly specifically left out types of IDs that African Americans disproportionately lack,” the appellate ruling states. “Such a choice speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner. Accordingly, we conclude, on this Record, Defendants have yet to show S.B. 824 would have been enacted in its current form irrespective of any alleged underlying discriminatory intent.”

Republican lawmakers are already attacking the three-judge panel’s partisan affiliations. Hampson, Arrowood and Collins are all registered Democrats.

“Three elitist Democratic judges just decided that the people cannot amend their own Constitution, even though the voter ID amendment received more votes than any of the judges,” says a joint statement from Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth). “Democrats and their allies on the judiciary will have to answer for overturning the clear will of the voters come November.”

Similarly, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest linked to a John Locke Foundation blog post and tweeted: “Activist Democrat judges are undermining the votes of more than 2 million North Carolinians by throwing out our voter ID law. It’s time to restore the rule of law in North Carolina.”

Allison Riggs, chief counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the plaintiffs in the case, tweeted about how pleased she was with the ruling.

“This victory was made possible by the numerous legislators, election administrators, advocates and voters who were willing to stand up, fight a racially discriminatory law, and put themselves through a trying discovery process to do the right thing,” she wrote. “My heart is full.”

Read the full ruling below.



Voter ID Appeal Ruling (Text)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Advocates offer pro tips on how to combat burdensome court fines, fees

The People’s Convening on Fines and Fees in North Carolina kicked off a campaign over the weekend to end the practice of saddling poor people with overburdensome court fines and fees.

The two-day event, held at Bennett College in Greensboro, informed attendees about court fines and fees and how they operate in the state, and they allowed impacted individuals to lead discussions. They also proposed solutions and encouraged community members to get involved on the local level.

Below is the information they provided for people to take action.

Court data and the experiences of impacted people show that people involved in North Carolina’s criminal justice system — especially people of color — are too often being set up to fail because of their inability to pay the range of costs that have become attached to virtually every aspect of the criminal justice system, including reentry.

The collateral consequences of criminal justice debt are often long-term, severe, and economically crippling: indefinite driver’s license suspension, violations and extensions of probation, wage garnishment, tax liability, property forfeiture, bankruptcy, civil judgments, liens, and incarceration. People, families, and communities of color disproportionately and more severely experience these costs and collateral harms. 

Outlined below are several education and advocacy efforts that can be pursued in your community by impacted people and their allies, including you. For regular updates on campaign activities and additional materials, please visit https://www.endcriminaljusticedebtnc.org/ and https://ncsecondchance.org/.

  1. Establish a program to eliminate traffic court debt and restore driver’s licenses. 

In NC, failing to pay a traffic ticket causes an automatic, indefinite suspension of a person’s driver’s license. Court data reveals that traffic court costs are very rarely paid after two years of nonpayment. In 2019, district attorneys in Durham and Mecklenburg led initiatives to eliminate millions of dollars in long-term traffic court debt and thousands of driver’s license suspensions. The debt relief programs piloted in these jurisdictions can be efficiently replicated in all North Carolina jurisdictions if there is support from local court officials, including district attorneys, district court judges, and clerks of court.

Local decision-maker(s)/advocacy target(s): district attorney, judges, clerk of court

Contact for additional guidance/support: Laura Holland, NC Justice Center, laura@ncjustice.org, 919-861-1462

Materials and other resources: https://ncsecondchance.org/resources/second-chance-mobility-starter-packet/ https://sites.law.duke.edu/justsciencelab/

  1. Revise the local bail policy to be fairer, reduce pretrial confinement, and comply with the statutory restrictions on secured money bonds.

North Carolina law provides a common-sense procedure for determining conditions of pretrial confinement that only allows a judge to impose a secured cash bond if the judge determines the person is a flight risk, poses a danger of injury to any person, or is likely to tamper with evidence. Unfortunately, many jurisdictions have substituted these statutorily established procedures and considerations with unfair and problematic bail schedules that imposed specific secured cash bond amounts by default based on the charged offense. In 2019, several jurisdictions have piloted bail policies meant to reduce pretrial confinement.

Decision-maker(s)/advocacy target(s): senior superior and chief district court judges, district attorney

Contact for additional guidance/support: Jennifer Marsh, Self-Help, Jennifer.Marsh@self-help.org, 919-956-4692

Materials and other resources: https://cjil.sog.unc.edu/areas-of-work/bail-reform-2-0/

https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/bail-reform-in-north-carolina-what-are-the-options/ https://www.rstreet.org/2019/04/25/how-a-north-carolina-county-became-a-laboratory-for-bail-reform/

  1. Promote regular use of petition and order forms by local court officials to facilitate fair consideration of a person’s ability to pay a fine and/or fee at sentencing and prior to imposition of any sanction for failure to pay.

Several statutes provide judges the authority to waive and otherwise eliminate fines and fees in a broad range of circumstances, including inability to pay, change of circumstances, and “proper administration of justice”. For several reasons, judges are rarely using their authority to eliminate fines and fees, including the absence of petition and order forms in a court system that is purposely reliant on standard forms. Jurisdictions can adopt local forms based on the templates linked below.

Decision-maker(s)/advocacy target(s): senior superior and chief district court judges, district attorney

Contact for additional guidance/support: Whitley Carpenter, Forward Justice, wcarpenter@forwardjustice.org, 919-323-3889

Materials and other resources: https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/a-swiss-army-form-for-fines-and-fees/ https://ncsecondchance.org/resources/template-forms-motion-and-order-to-waive-remit-fines-and-fees/

  1. Use court facility fees to establish a municipal fund to help people pay criminal justice debt.

Read more

Higher Ed, News

Second ECU trustee resigns in wake of scandal

Resignation letter takes apparent swipe at N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

Robert Moore, the East Carolina University Board of Trustees member censured as part of an SGA election scandal earlier this month, has resigned from the school’s governing board.

Former ECU Trustee Robert Moore.

In a letter to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) Monday, Moore said his resignation would be effective immediately — and appears to have taken a swipe at the House speaker on his way out.

“In closing I want to again thank you for the opportunity to serve the institution that I have come to adore and love,” Moore wrote to the Speaker. “I would also like to wish you the very best of luck in your continued pursuit of the position of Chancellor at East Carolina University.”

Tim Moore has for months been rumored to be pursuing the UNC System presidency. Moore has repeatedly denied the rumor, though his denials have become less emphatic.

Robert Moore’s suggestion that the Speaker is pursuing the chancellorship of East Carolina University comes while that school is beginning the search for its next leader. Its last full-time chancellor was forced to resign by the UNC Board of Governors — and no reason was ever publicly given. Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned the position after it was alleged he drank heavily with students in bars near campus — and then drove home.

As revealed in a UNC investigation of the Gerlach affair, several figures close to the scandal suggested the Speakers’ office was involved in attempts to make damning photos and video of Gerlach publicly available.

Earlier this month Robert Moore and fellow ECU Trustees Phil Lewis were brought before the Board of Governors after they were recorded trying to convince ECU student Shelby Hudson to run for SGA president. The two told Hudson they could arrange for a professional campaign manager and finance her campaign as long as she kept the source of the money secret. Hudson recorded the lunch conversation without Moore or Lewis’ knowledge.

On the recording the two trustees disparaged the current ECU student government president, Colin Johnson, who is a voting member of the board of trustees. Lewis and Moore have opposed a number of Johnson’s votes, going back to a contentious meeting wherein he was the swing vote in the election of a new of board chair. Vern Davenport, the current board chair, won the position 7-6 on the sharply divided board. On the tape, they told Hudson they had voted for a student fee increase to “punish” Johnson and suggested she could be an SGA president more in line with their vision for the board and the school. They also made disparaging remarks about ECU leaders and the UNC Board of Governors.

Lewis abruptly resigned his position at a hearing on the matter earlier this month before the Board of Governors could vote on whether to remove him from the board of trustees.

Because Robert Moore was appointed by the N.C. House, that body would have had to remove him.

His resignation Monday came before that debate could take place.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Here’s the danger at the heart of Trump’s meddling in the judiciary

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was absolutely right about this much: President Donald Trump has learned his lesson. And he’s learned it by heart.

Thanks to the Senate’s cowardly abdication of its responsibilities two weeks ago, the Republican president now feels absolutely emboldened to trample on what few constitutional norms remain standing in Washington D.C.

In the barely 14 days that have elapsed since Collins, of Maine, and her fellow Republicans acquitted Trump on the two impeachment articles sent over from the U.S. House, the authoritarian-in-chief purged the White House of perceived critics; demanded a reduced prison sentence for a crony (with the apparent acquiescence of his own attorney general); and declared Friday that he has “a legal right” to intervene in court cases.

Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, columnist Eugene Robinson compared Trump’s Washington to the banana republics he’d covered during a four-year stint as the newspaper’s South American correspondent from 1988 to 1992.

“There has been considerable hyperventilation, some perhaps by me, about the grave harm Trump is doing to our democratic institutions,” Robinson wrote, adding that he was not hyperventilating now. “Public faith in justice is a delicate, precious thing. Once squandered, it is incredibly hard to regain.”

I’m not hyperventilating now either. There is a profound difference between the daily, schoolyard bullying that’s sadly become just a routine part of the former reality television star’s administration, and his direct, incredibly damaging, and ongoing assault on the judiciary.

It’s already well-established that when Trump isn’t treating the law like his personal plaything by issuing pardons to such friends and supporters as former Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he’s insulting or undermining judges and courts he believes should bend to his will.

That includes U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump disparagingly referred to as “Mexican” in 2018, despite the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana. Trump has also used the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, as a personal punching bag because it’s dealt Trump a series of legal setbacks on some of his most radioactive proposals.

“I mean, it’s really sad when every single case filed against us is in the 9th Circuit,” Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House in 2018, according to CNN. “We lose, we lose, we lose, and then we do fine in the Supreme Court. But what does that tell you about our court system? It’s a very, very sad thing.”

What it would tell anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the judiciary is that the system is working. Courts follow law, and they follow precedent, not the political whims of whoever’s sitting behind the Resolute Desk, or whichever party commands a majority on Capitol Hill.

That’s why it was possible in 2008, for instance, for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom no one would mistake for a fire-breathing progressive, to simultaneously declare that, while the U.S. Constitution provided for an individual right to bear arms, the government still had a compelling and legitimate role in regulating them. Read more