Commentary

New SCOTUS ruling sends strong message to North Carolina

Editor’s note: Cross-posted from the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed what North Carolina death row inmates have been saying for years: Race discrimination in jury selection is a serious problem, and states cannot continue to ignore it.

Watch our new video on racial bias in jury selection:

The justices ruled overwhelmingly (Clarence Thomas was the only one to dissent) that the Georgia courts must consider evidence showing that prosecutors purposefully excluded black jurors from a capital case. For decades, the Georgia courts had used technicalities to refuse to even consider the egregious facts the defendant uncovered – and continued to push him toward the execution chamber in spite of clear Constitutional violations.

This wasn’t one of those cases where the evidence was iffy. In Timothy Tyrone Foster’s case, the prosecutor’s private notes showed that he highlighted the names of black jurors, marked them with a letter “B,” and put them first on his list of jurors to strike. The prosecution also ranked the African Americans in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.”

It doesn’t get much more blatant than that. But sadly, we have examples just as outrageous in North Carolina – and the courts here have done their best to ignore them.

Here is just a taste of the evidence that the N.C. courts have refused to act on:

  • A prosecutor’s handwritten notes that labeled prospective jurors with terms like “blk wino” and “blk, high drug neighborhood.”
  • A note attached to a black juror’s questionnaire showing he was accepted because he attended a “multiracial” church, rather than a black one, and went to “predominantly white schools.”
  • A training session, sponsored by the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, where prosecutors were given a cheat sheet of “race-neutral” excuses that they could use to justify their illegal strikes of black jurors.

In North Carolina, unlike in Georgia, we have solid data to back up what those notes imply. A comprehensive statewide study of capital cases from 1990-2010 found that prosecutors removed qualified black jurors from jury pools at more than twice the rate of white jurors.

While the evidence is clear, the courts here — just as in Georgia — have refused to do anything about it. Only four of the more than 100 claims filed under the Racial Justice Act were ever heard in court.

Today, the Supreme Court said it’s time to stop making excuses and to stop ignoring even the most obvious evidence of discrimination. We must give African-Americans the right to serve on capital juries, and we must not carry out death sentences tainted by racial bias.

Cross-posted from the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Original posting here.

Commentary

Justice Clarence Thomas takes his extreme views to a new level

Clarence_Thomas_official_SCOTUS_portraitIn case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision yesterday when it overturned the conviction of an African-American man from Georgia whose trial featured some of the most outrageous, race-based behavior by prosecutors you can imagine. Basically, as Chief Justice Roberts detailed in his opinion, prosecutors did everything they could to keep people of color off the jury and then left a paper trail of their outrageous behavior. The decision to overturn was 7-1.

Sadly and weirdly, Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter. Here’s Ian Millhiser explaining at Think Progress:

It is tough to imagine a more egregious case of jury discrimination than Foster v. Chatman. The prosecutor’s office in this Georgia death penalty case struck every single black member of the jury pool. They made four copies of a list of prospective jurors, highlighting every African-American on the list in green next to a legend indicating that such highlighting “represents Blacks.” An investigator working for the prosecution advised prosecutors that “if it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” then one in particular “might be okay.” A note on one of the prosecution’s internal documents suggested that the office did not want a particular juror to be seated because of the juror’s membership in a “Black Church.”

And yet, even with all of this evidence and more at his fingertips, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Court should not rule that unconstitutional jury discrimination took place in this case.

Fortunately for Timothy Foster, the death row inmate who was tried under these conditions, Thomas was alone in this view. All seven other members of the Court agreed that Foster’s constitutional rights were violated (although Alito did so in a separate opinion that only he joined).

Though Mr. Foster prevailed, the case is a window into why individuals alleging that their convictions were tainted by jury discrimination rarely succeed in court. In many jurisdictions, including Georgia, attorneys in criminal cases are permitted to strike jurors from a jury pool using “peremptory challenges.” Normally, these challenges can be exercised for any reason. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky, however, such challenges may not be used to engage in “purposeful racial discrimination.” Read more

Commentary, News

ICYMI, David Gergen’s full address at Elon (video)

CNN political analyst David Gergen spoke this weekend at Elon University’s commencement ceremony. In case you missed it, here’s the video of his speech (excerpt and link to transcript below):

I would like to depart from the tradition of showering you with personal advice. Instead, at the risk of offending some of you, I want to talk about the deepening concerns that I and many others have about the future of North Carolina, our beloved state.

Repeatedly in recent years, and especially in recent months, forces of political extremism have asserted themselves here, representing a sharp break from our past. After decades of struggle to become a just and fair people, we are sliding backwards. We are not only damaging our reputation but putting our fellow citizens at risk.

Enough is enough. For those of us who have stayed on the sidelines, it is time to stand up and be counted. It is time to raise our voices against this darkness. Indeed, it is time for fellow citizens of all stripes – white and black; young and old; native and newcomer; men, women and people of chosen gender — everyone — to join forces and preserve the best of who we are as a people.

[Read entire speech transcript here]

Commentary

Whatever the Charlotte City Council does now, the fight for LGBT equality will go on

NO-HB2The Charlotte City Council backed off a plan to “repeal” the anti-discrimination ordinance that gave rise to HB2 last night. Good for the seven members who took that action — though the fact that they ever started to go down that road was a huge mistake.

First of all, the notion that there needed to be a “repeal” of a law already invalidated by the General Assembly didn’t make any sense. If the ball is in anyone’s court on this matter, it’s the legislature’s and Governor McCrory’s. Even if there is to be some kind of a compromise on this issue, it cannot involve HB2 staying in effect. The repeal of HB2 is the first thing that has to happen.

But even if the Council had caved into pressure from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, here’s an important thing we now know about this debate: it wouldn’t have changed anything. The boycotts would still continue and North Carolina would still be a national pariah and laughingstock.

The simple fact at this point is that the issue is already too far down the road for the Charlotte City Council to somehow walk things back. North Carolina is at the epicenter of a huge national and international fight over basic equality for LGBT people and it’s not going to end until state leaders admit that they were wrong and agree to guarantee basic rights — the right not to be fired, the right not to be discriminated against in public accommodations and, yes,the right not to be denied access to a bathroom simply because of who you are.

Commentary, News

BREAKING: Charlotte City Council pulls anti-discrimination ordinance discussion from tonight’s agenda

The Charlotte Observer reports a bit of what appears to be good news:

“The Charlotte City Council will not discuss the economic impact of House Bill 2 at its meeting Monday, the city announced Monday afternoon.

That means there also will be no vote on repealing the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that was approved in February.

Legislative leaders in Raleigh have asked council members to repeal the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that provided legal protections to the LGBT community, even though HB2 nullified almost all of that ordinance.

In return, the General Assembly could modify HB2, in hopes of ending the impasse.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.