Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court takes no action after re-visiting “monster” voting law

The U.S. Supreme Court did not announce any action Monday regarding a North Carolina voting rights case justices discussed at a Friday conference.

As Rick Hasen said last week, “no news is no news,” and doesn’t necessarily indicate anything good or bad. The Election Law Blogger speculated that the case may be relisted for a third time this upcoming Friday conference, with a possible announcement next Monday.

There are three parts to consider in the case North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACPand justices could decide to take up and/or resolve one part, all or none.

The first part is the appeal as a whole. The second part is a motion to dismiss the appeal that was filed by state Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper. The third part is a motion filed by the state legislature to intervene in the case and keep the appeal alive.

You can read more about the case and the Supreme Court’s review here.

public health, Trump Administration

Trump budget weakens NC’s ability to respond to public health, workforce needs

President Trump and the GOP want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and restructure Medicaid, and “American First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” provides further evidence that they do not want to invest in a healthy and thriving North Carolina. While many North Carolinians may not feel the impact of the provisions outlined in the budget immediately, there are significant threats to public health, our state’s ability to address their health, and capacity to strengthen our healthcare workforce.

In addition to an 18 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Trump budget outlines a $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the only mention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is in reference to a $500 million block grant to states. These cuts are threats to North Carolina’s public health because the NIH funds research that could help identify innovative cancer treatment, the EPA helps to ensure that rural communities have access to safe drinking water (Note: 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are rural), and cuts to the CDC could impact vaccine development for the next epidemic. Read more

Courts & the Law, News

Court of Appeals judge resigns in reaction to bill shrinking bench; Cooper appoints new judge in wake of veto

John Arrowood

Judge Douglas McCullough

It looks like Republican lawmakers are going to have to wait a little longer for their plan to reduce the Court of Appeals to take effect, even if they choose to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 239 this week.

Judge Douglas McCullough, who is a registered Republican, resigned today from the state Court of Appeals. The judge was facing mandatory retirement in May because of his age.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced after McCullough resigned that he appointed Judge John Arrowood to fill McCullough’s vacancy.

Arrowood, who is openly gay, was working as an attorney at James, McElroy & Diehl in Charlotte. He is a North Carolina native who previously served on the Court of Appeals (2007 and 2008 after former Gov. Mike Easley appointed him) and as a Superior Court Judge.

After law school, Judge Arrowood served as a clerk for Judge Gerald Arnold at the state Court of Appeals, and he was a staff attorney and head of the central staff for the Court, according to Cooper’s office.

“I am deeply appreciative to Judge McCullough for his service to our state and our country,” Cooper said in a news release. “I’m proud to appoint Judge Arrowood to fill this vacancy on the Court of Appeals, a court where he has previously served with distinction. His experience as a judge on this court makes him uniquely qualified to hit the ground running and ensure that justice is swiftly delivered.”

You can read McCullough’s resignation letter here. Cooper held a press conference but only gave about 15 minutes notice beforehand.

John Arrowood was sworn in Monday morning to serve on the Court of Appeals. (Photo released by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office)

Arrowood, who is a registered Democrat, was sworn in at 9:45 a.m.

Cooper, on Friday, vetoed HB 239, which would reduce the Court of Appeals by three judges.

The bill mandates that vacancies not be filled until the court reaches 12 judges. Since the bill was vetoed, McCullough’s resignation allowed for Cooper to make an appointment.

Judges on the Court of Appeals serve in three-judge panels. If McCullough were to retire as mandated by his age, the court of would have lost an entire panel in May, increasing its workload by an automatic 20 percent.

The next two judges who serve on the Court of Appeals to face mandatory retirement are Robert Hunter Jr. and Ann Marie Calabria in 2019, both registered Republicans.

Experts, advocates and legal stakeholders said that losing a panel on the Court of Appeals would almost certainly result in delays.

Cooper said at the press conference, according to a tweet, that McCullough resigned from the court because he did not agree with HB 239.

Republican General Assembly leaders have not yet released a response to the news of Arrowood’s appointment. Rep. Justin Burr, who sponsored HB 239, also has not released a response.

News

After months of delays, Senate committee to hear class-size funding fix

A long-stalled proposal to assuage a looming class-size funding crisis in North Carolina public schools is finally slated for a hearing in the state Senate.

Late Sunday night, Senate leadership added House Bill 13 to the Senate Education Committee’s agenda Monday evening.

The bipartisan proposal is written to offer relief to districts across North Carolina who say they will have to find millions more in local dollars or fire scores of arts and physical education teachers to make room for new core subject educators.

The controversy comes after GOP lawmakers offered budget directives last year that would, beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, require districts trim class sizes in grades K-3. Without additional state funding or greater local flexibility, districts said there would be painful repercussions for many school systems in order to enact the smaller class sizes.

Last week, Policy Watch reported on House Bill 13’s ongoing logjam, which prompted stern warnings from leaders in North Carolina’s largest school district—Wake County Public School System—that a lack of local flexibility over class sizes would reap “enormous disruptions” in the school system.

Those disruptions could include, in addition to many layoffs, packed classrooms of up to 40 students with two teachers and student reassignments. Many districts say they would also be facing a pressing need for more classroom space.

And, with many districts currently developing their budgets for the coming school year, K-12 leaders say state lawmakers must act quickly to offer clarity as soon as possible.

The proposal was originally assigned to a heavily backlogged Senate Rules & Operations Committee, but officials withdrew the bill and reassigned the legislation to the Senate Education Committee late Sunday.

Tonight’s committee meeting is currently set for 6 p.m. Check back with Policy Watch for updates on this major piece of legislation.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

The Republican power grabs just keep on a comin’ in Raleigh and so do the denunciations by the state’s leading newspapers. Yesterday’s lead editorial in the Wilmington Star News is the latest to blast GOP’s dishonest remake of the state Court of Appeals — what it calls a “naked grab for partisan power.” Here are some highlights:

Four former chief justices of the state Supreme Court, one of them a Republican, believe the N.C. General Assembly is taking actions that “seriously harm our judicial system” and “hurt the people of our State,” according to a story in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

In a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the former justices criticized a bill adopted by the GOP-dominated legislature cutting the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12….

This latest move appears to continue the General Assembly’s effort to reach into every aspect of governance and render it almost irrevocably Republican.

After Cooper was elected, the Honorables limited the number of staffers appointed by the governor. They also began requiring Senate approval of cabinet secretaries. There was no such requirement for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. That decision is being challenged in court.

The courts are also pondering changes imposed on state and local elections boards that weaken the power of the governor and of Democrats in local districts during years of crucial elections. A U.S. District Court judge said the General Assembly’s attempt to redraw district lines for Greensboro City Council is unconstitutional.

Last year, the courts threw out the congressional maps drawn up by the Honorables, forcing a special primary. We’re still awaiting a ruling on the General Assembly’s state legislative districting plan.

And last year, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a voter ID law it said was designed to disenfranchise minority voters.

The list goes on.

There’s no imperative to reduce the number of judges on the Court of Appeals. This is not “good governance,” as our state constitution mandates. It is another naked grab for partisan power.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen it before.