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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.

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

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.

There will be two great opportunities today to hear from one of the nation’s experts on the state of the judiciary — and particularly the right’s intentional and successful effort to gain control of it.

Who: Michael Avery, author of “The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals.”  Click here to read about the book.

Where/When: Offices of the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh (Click here for directions and parking informationTODAY at 3:00 pm — The author will also be speaking at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill tonight at 7:00 pm. Read More

Close to 100 attorneys, progressive advocates and Triangle-area residents gathered today to discuss the continuing judicial vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, growing numbers of federal judicial vacancies elsewhere, delayed U.S. Senate confirmations of presidential nominees and the ongoing need for increased diversity on the bench.

Speakers at the event, “Why Courts Matter,” included 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James A. Wynn, Jr., and Andrew Blotky, director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

As Blotky pointed out, there are 82 current vacancies on the federal bench, with an additional 20 vacancies that will occur this year—meaning that nearly 65 percent of the population lives in a community with a courtroom vacancy.

And while it took roughly 35 days for the Senate to get George W. Bush’s nominees to a vote, it’s taken 150 days for Barack Obama’s to get to that point.

Both Wynn and Blotky called for the quick confirmation of fair, impartial, clear-thinking and diverse judges to fill those vacancies—which even when filled, Wynn added, would only solve the backlog. The U.S. Judicial Conference has called for the creation of additional judgeships to meet caseload demand.

The judges who sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina handle one of the heaviest caseloads in the country, approaching nearly 800 cases per judge in 2012. And they’ve been waiting for help for close to eight years now.

The court, based in Raleigh but with courtrooms elsewhere along the eastern part of the state, now has the dubious distinction of having the oldest federal judicial vacancy in the country. The seat&mdashh;opened up on Dec. 31, 2005, when Judge Malcolm J. Howard took senior status—has been unfilled for more than 2,500 days. Read More