Commentary

It’s time to delay the March primary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence. Read more

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Finally, a nominee for the Eastern District

President Obama announced today that he would nominate Jennifer May-Parker to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. May-Parker will fill the nearly-eight year vacancy created when Judge Malcolm Howard stepped down in 2005.

A graduate of the State University of New York, May-Parker is currently the Chief of the Appellate Division at the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina, a position she has held since 2010. She started her career as an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. She then worked as an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Environmental Division of the North Carolina Department of Justice before moving on to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1999.

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Quick and decisive action needed to resolve judicial emergencies

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

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New Obama court appointee: A positive sign for NC?

With the in-state news so universally dreadful this week, a body is forced to look elsewhere to find some shreds of hope.

Here’s at least one non-NC item that might even portend something good for our state: Today, President Obama appointed an excellent lawyer named Jane Kelley to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. As you may or may not already know, the Eighth Circuit is headquartered in Kansas City and covers seven Midwestern states: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Here’s another fact about the Eighth Circuit: In the history of that court, there have been 57 justices. Of that number, 56 have been men. We’re not making this up. 

The President’s selection of Kelly will make it two out of 58 — still awful, but, hey, 3.4% is better than 1.8%. It’s a start, anyway.

And what is the implication for North Carolina, you ask? Read more