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Despite overwhelming support for the program from judges, voters and former governors, Republicans in the House have stepped in line with the Governor and their colleagues in the Senate and proposed in their budget, released today (at page 12), to eliminate public funding for judicial campaigns. 

Someone is really holding their feet to the fire on this one.

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Here’s a quick look at the impact that the House budget (being released in piecemeal fashion) would have on the courts:

Magistrates: Adds 16 magistrates to counties currently with only three, in line with the Governor’s proposal. The Senate proposed restoring 39.5 magistrate positions, to four magistrates per county, at a cost of $1.8 million.

Court reporters: No cuts to state court reporters, in line with the Governor’s budget. The Senate had proposed cutting court reporting funds and positions by half, with the savings to be used for contracts with private vendors.

Administrative Office of the Courts: Reduces the AOC budget by $3 million, in line with the Senate budget.

Funds for interpreters, expert witnesses and jury fees: Appropriates $1 million, in line with the Senate and the Governor.

Special Superior Court Judges: No cuts, in line with the Governor’s budget. The Senate proposed eliminating 12 Special Superior Court judgeships.

Drug Treatment Courts: No funding for Drug Treatment Courts, consistent with the Senate budget. The Governor’s budget appropriates $3.36 million to restore them statewide.

Prisoner Legal Services: Reduces that contract by $231,000 “to reflect decline in number of inmates,” consistent with the Governor’s budget. The Senate had proposed to eliminate the contract completely, using “prison legal terminals” instead.

 

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Per their order entered on May 13, the three-judge panel handling the redistricting case will hold hearings today and tomorrow to consider specific factual issues before deciding the parties’ respective requests for judgment.

The judges have asked for testimony and additional evidence in two separate areas:

First, were challenged districts subject to the Voting Rights Act drawn in places where racially-polarized voting existed — i.e., where black voters in the minority of voters were unable to elect candidates of  their choice — and was the drawing of such districts a reasonable response under the Act?

And second, in certain districts not subject to the Act (Senate 31 and 32, House 51 and 54, Congressional 4 and 12), where a majority black voting population was not achieved during redistricting, is there additional evidence that race nonetheless was the predominant factor in drawing those districts?

The court has held in abeyance any ruling on these and other issues raised by the parties in their requests for judgment pending completion of these hearings.

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A new survey by a Republican polling firm finds that legislators may want to think twice before scrapping North Carolina’s embattled judicial public financing program. Here’s more on the findings from North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections:

‘The poll, conducted by a firm that has worked for Sen. Jesse Helms and many leading conservatives, shows that 67 percent of Republican women especially like the fact that the program has increased female representation on the state’s top courts – and by a 57 percent majority, they are less likely to vote for lawmakers who end the public financing option and allow money to play a greater role in judicial elections. Overall, a super-majority (68 percent) of voters said they would hold lawmakers accountable at the polls for ending judicial public financing.

Sixty-one percent of voters are particularly worried about the potential for corruption if the program is eliminated and say the program “should remain in place because even the hint of bribery is too much in our judicial system.”

poll released last month by the NC Center for Voter Education indicates the program has broad support, with backing by 67 percent of Republican voters and 65 percent of independents.

The new poll by the Republican-leaning Tarrance Group was commissioned by NC Voters for Clean Elections and delved into more specifics on voters’ feelings about the program. Leaders from both parties came together in 2004 to implement the Public Campaign Fund, in order to relieve judicial candidates from the big-money chase. Contrary to the pessimism about government programs, supporters say this one has clearly worked.

A majority of the NC Supreme Court justices are now women for the first time in history – and all have used the program to win election. Overall, 80 percent of appellate court candidates have used the program, including all four African-Americans appellate judges elected since 2004 and eight of the ten Republicans who won contested elections.

Despite years of success and bipartisan support, the program is under attack. The state Senate eliminates the program in its budget bill passed recently, and a similar provision was proposed by the governor’s budget. Read More

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The Fourth Amendment makes strange bedfellows.

Today’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Maryland v. King—that police can take DNA samples from individuals arrested for serious crimes—found the unlikely combination of Justice Antonin Scalia with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joining on the dissent.

States allow the collection of DNA for those convicted of a crime, but lower courts are split on whether states can collect DNA without a warrant from people who have only been arrested. The federal government and 28 states allow the collection of DNA from arrestees.

In 2009, after Alonzo Jay King Jr. was arrested on assault charges in Wicomico County, Md., police obtained his D.N.A. profile by swabbing his cheek. That profile matched evidence in a 2003 rape case, and King was later convicted of that crime. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a state law authorizing D.N.A. collection from people arrested but not yet convicted violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches.

Writing for the majority and reversing that court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said:

When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s D.N.A. is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

But Justice Scalia and his colleagues typically on the other side of court rulings disagreed, with Scalia summarizing his opinion from the bench—a rare move signaling sharp disagreement among the members of the Court.

Scalia wrote:

“The court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the state’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous.

Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes. Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the ‘identity’ of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

The Court has yet to issue its decisions on another 25 pending cases, among them the controversial and potentially historical cases involving affirmative action, marriage equality and voting rights.

The next round of rulings are expected on Monday, June 10.