News

In papers filed with the state Supreme Court yesterday, lawmakers told the justices there was no reason to expedite proceedings in the North Carolina redistricting case, Dickson v. Rucho, sent back here last week by the U.S. Supreme Court — at least not within the time frame that challengers to the state’s redistricting plan want.

That order by the nation’s highest court came on the heels of its earlier decision in a similar case out of Alabama, in which the justices held that the Voting Rights Act required lawmakers to assess whether minorities had the ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice and to draw voting lines in order to facilitate that goal — not, as Alabama had done, to achieve specific numerical minority percentages.

North Carolina lawmakers operated under the same mistaken premise when designing the state’s 2011 plan, according to challengers.

Here’s Eddie Speas, one of the attorneys representing those challengers:

One of the things we think is important in the Alabama case is that the Alabama legislature engaged in a mechanical process when drawing districts that is inconsistent with the sensitive, strict scrutiny and narrow tailoring that the Supreme Court said has to happen in these redistricting plans.

And North Carolina lawmakers were guilty of this sin twice: First they adopted the rule that they would draw majority – minority districts in numbers proportional to the state’s black population. And then they drew each of those districts to have at least 50 percent total black voting age population.

Just after the Supreme Court order sending the case back, plan challengers asked the state’s high court to expedite the case — hoping to get a final resolution and any necessary redistricting changes in place in time for elections in 2016.

Lawmakers opposed that request yesterday, arguing that they needed time to fully brief the arguments they managed already to outline for the court and citing, ironically, scheduling conflicts they had with trial dates in the federal voter suppression cases.

(Several of the attorneys for the plan’s challengers are also involved in the federal cases.)

It’s been rare in recent history for the state Supreme Court to hear cases during the summer months.

However, with Chief Justice Mark Martin at the helm, the court has begun taking certain cases directly (bypassing the usual appeal process) and setting quick argument dates.

In October 2014, the court took up five cases for expedited review, including the challenge to the private school voucher program.

The court has also expedited argument in the appeal of the Governor’s lawsuit against the legislative leaders concerning commission appointments, setting that down for June 30.

To read the redistricting plan challengers’ request for expedited review, click here.

To read the lawmakers’ opposition, click here.

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Commentary

[This post has been updated] No, that headline is not a typo. The Senate Education Committee passed a bill this afternoon with less than two minutes of discussion that would require the following items to be taught in American history classes in the state:

  • Constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt.
  • Money with intrinsic value.
  • Strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military.
  • Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.
  • Eternal vigilance by “We the People.”

And after this, look a for a proposal to require students to be taught the 800 number for investing in Glenn Beck’s latest gold scam.

That 800 number might also be useful for deciphering what in the heck such a bizarre set of requirements even means.

News

Lawmakers moved a bill Tuesday that would improve the formula for how the state’s schools are now awarded A-F letter grades to make them more reflective of how a school helps its students grow academically over time.

There are a number of bills floating around the General Assembly that would change how schools receive letter grades — but the one that would change the formula to 50 percent growth, 50 percent performance, sponsored by Reps. Glazier, Johnson, Lucas and Horn, seems to have gained the most traction.

First unveiled earlier this year, North Carolina’s A-F school grades are, to a large extent, a reflection of how well a school’s student population does on standardized tests on a given day. The formula is currently weighted 80 percent “performance” (how students perform on those tests on one day), and 20 percent “growth” (how students perform on those tests over time).

When the grades were first released in February, a public outcry ensued as they largely tracked the demographics of a school’s population. High poverty schools received mostly Ds and Fs; more affluent-serving schools scored higher.

A-F school grades are the brain child of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Versions of the system have been implemented around the country.

Rep. Glazier (D-Cumberland), a sponsor of HB 803 that moved forward Tuesday, noted that Florida has already tweaked its school grading formula at least 34 times since its inception.

Virginia recently repealed the A-F school grading system.

At least one lawmaker is skeptical that the Senate will take up a fix for the A-F school grades. Stay tuned as the bill makes its way through the General Assembly.

News
(Sketch: Art Lien @Courtartist)

(Sketch: Art Lien @Courtartist)

Starting at 10 a.m. , the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing two-and-a-half hours of argument in the cases challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.

Since no cameras or other audio/video equipment is allowed in the courtroom, there will be no live feed of the argument.

The Court is, however, expediting the release of the taped argument, which should be available by 2 p.m. today.

In the meantime, we’ll be posting about the arguments here as we learn more from experts and others who are in the courtroom.

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More on audio feed at the Court:

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Images from outside the Court:

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Hillary Rodham Clinton showing support:

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From the New York Times:

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First updates from SCOTUSblog:

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Reaction so far:  “skeptical” questions from the justices:

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Attorney for challengers wrapping up initial argument (from SCOTUSblog):

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First update on challengers’ argument from NYT:

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SCOTUSblog on questions from Justice Anthony Kennedy:

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Justices “deeply divided,” says NYT’s Adam Liptak in this initial report:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed deeply divided about one of the great civil rights issues of the age: whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

The justices appeared to clash over not only what is the right answer but also over how to reach it. The questioning illuminated their conflicting views on history, tradition, biology, constitutional interpretation, the democratic process and the role of the courts in prodding social change.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said he was concerned about changing a conception of marriage that has persisted for millennia. Later, though, he expressed qualms about excluding gay families from what he called a noble and sacred institution. Chief Justice John C. Roberts Jr. worried about shutting down a fast-moving societal debate.

In the initial questioning, which lasted about 90 minutes, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked whether groups of four people must be allowed to marry, while Justice Antonin Scalia said a ruling for same-sex marriage might require some members of the clergy to perform the ceremonies, even if they violate their religious teaching.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer described marriage as a fundamental liberty. And Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan said that allowing same-sex marriage would do no harm to the marriages of opposite-sex couples.

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LISTEN NOW — Audio from first part of same-sex marriage cases is up and can be heard HERE

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Second part of the argument focused on the questions of whether states must recognize gay marriages legally performed elsewhere.  That argument wrapped up at 12:30 p.m. and concluded today’s session.

Below are few more snippets from the day:

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Commentary

construction workerToday is Worker Memorial Day, a day to honor workers who have died on the job. The recent construction accidents in Raleigh are stark reminders of why this day matters. Worker advocates will gather at 10:30 at 7 W. Lenoir Street in Raleigh, the site where 3 workers died, and will walk to the NC Department of Labor. There they will deliver a letter asking Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry to provide an accurate count of all worker deaths in North Carolina, and to convene the OSHA Advisory Council as required by law. Check out the op/ed today by the NC AFL-CIO’s MaryBe McMillan.